Ife, still the greatest at 50
I linked up with an old classmate two weeks ago after 22 years! And in the last two weeks, we’ve had a very wonderful time on phone reliving our Great Ife days, reconnecting with the golden years, recollecting the long forgotten pearls of our formative days in Ife. And as we did this, we remembered that that our citadel of learning and culture is 50 this year. And I told her, indeed, the celebration was on. As we wondered about the rust of 22 years of drift from the affinity of our class, we also realised that it has also been a solemn metaphor for our distance from Ife in those long years.
My friend reminded me that we entered Ife when it was just a youth of 24 years. And that as we explored the labyrinth of the complexities of Great Ife, each of us found our goal. Yes. I was clear from the beginning about what career I wanted from life - Journalism and politics. And Ife provided bowls of opportunities for me to dip my soul into those worlds. I reminded my friend about my Campus journalism exploits. How some us founded a campus magazine we named UNIQUE with a clear focus on positioning and redefining journalism on that campus. How Ife gave us the opportunity to make our mark even while established others like the fearful, fearless, COBRA still evoked awe in the dark crevices of female hostels.
My friend was surprised I could think of politics. “I saw you as a quiet boy in that class,” she said.
That is the myth of Great Ife. I reminded her of the first Student Union election we witnessed in Ife after the military removed its jackboot from the heart of our union. I reminded her of the Speech Night which could not be matched by any presidential or governorship debate in Nigeria. I reminded her that in that 1987 election, a third force emerged in the politics of Ife that levelled the established order of SCAP (Society for Current Affairs and Progress) represented by the disciples of Lanre Arogundade. That third force was a coalition of some elements in our class and a determined group in education faculty led by Yemi Adegbite who emerged union President while Yinka Odumakin of SCAP became PRO. The victorious group later christened itself MSJ (Movement for Social Justice). I revealed to my friend that I was in the “computer room” of that political machine. Now, I asked her, what does that tell you about life in Ife? Great Ife gave all of us the grace and the opportunity to form whatever we craved and become whatever we wanted.
I told my friend to look at her own Evangelical Christian Union (ECU) and see if the strategic alliances it forged with political groups in all the elections she witnessed were not in the best interest of its members. That was a christian group with a political wing led then by a calculative, committed leader, Kola Awobenu. All those groups were formed with the most noble of intentions. Whatever they became thereafter could only be explained by the insidious rot assailing the nation. Looking back at those years and the deliberate steps the university took to develop us into leaders in whatever area we chose, my friend asked me if I did not think we were indeed, lucky to have been in Ife. I agreed. I told her that is why even after moving on to take other degrees from other schools, home and abroad, we still proudly adorn the badge of Great Ife anywhere, everywhere!
I remember there was something for everyone. Even in the choice of what to eat, there was the New Bukateria where the trendy went to satisfy his pocket and ego. I told my “ Omo butter” friend- some of us were rarely seen in that part of the campus. We were more regular at the more popular Old Bukateria. I told her about another classmate of ours whose delicacy at the Old Buka was goat tail. Our friend had money but would say the New Buka lacked the richness of life uphill where life mixed with the ease of sugar, gari and water.
Things worked in Ife. And on our first day on campus in 1986, the notice that welcomed me at Angola Hall, and my friend at Mozambique Hall, told us that “the taps are running, power is constant...” And my friend asked me how the campus is now. That question just confirmed that we have all been too distant from Great Ife’s presence. And we cannot be blamed. We do it to ourselves too. For my friend and I, and many of our colleagues, Facebook and the search engine, Google, now give us a glimpse of what we now are while reminiscing about what we were and the dreams of those wonderful years. And so we could gist and ask questions about how Ife looks now.
I told my friend that like she insisted she is old now and I stressed that little had changed in her beauty, Great Ife may be 50, it is definitely not a Elton John’s Lady Diana, a candle in the wind. The in-built shock absorbers buried in its birth have ensured its having a succession of first class administrators, activist lecturers and student leaders who have seen the Ife dream as hallowed, inviolable. These have ensured the survival of our own even when hurricanes and superstorms of governmental inaction assailed the ivory tower.
And we may not have been part of the long days of celebration in Ife, but we are no less part of the joy each day we chant Great Ife even in the quiet chambers of our family bedrooms and offices. We will continue to do this. We will do more. We are renewed in our commitment to its development. We will not apologise to those who envy our celebration of this heritage. We have it and we will continue to flaunt it. Happy golden celebrations!
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