Prof. Tony Esijolomi Afejuku, a don and poet who recently retired from the University of Benin, Benin City, has canvassed unity and oneness among those living in multi-ethnic communities across the country.
He particularly sued for an abiding oneness among communities in his home state, Delta, particularly Sapele, his brought-up city, so development could thrive. Afejuku made the appeal when those he grew up with gathered to fete him on his retirement after 40 years of academic excellence under the auspices of Safi Boys Club (SBC) in Sapele, Delta State on Sunday, July 9, 2023. The event took place at the expansive country home of businessman and politician, Chief Charles Obule at whose ornately decorated lounge the gathering was held.
While addressing his club mates, Afejuku said, “We are one and we must remain one. We must all embrace one another, talk to ourselves. We must use our club to bring unity to our Sapele, our Delta, our Niger Delta and Nigeria.”
While celebrating Afejuku, his childhood friend and 73 year’s old Mr. Atseneyin Kofi Teye, a retiree from Chevron, revved up old memories about his relationship with the professor of English and Literature when he said, “I knew Tony Afejuku over 60 years ago. We were just boys at Oguanja. We never knew the paths we would take, me in Shell and he in academia. I was always going to see Tony in the evenings. When I got there, I would see Tony lying down on a little bed reading. In those days, we used to call him Tony-kporo; he used to be a good athlete. Tony has been very bookish. Tony is somebody I respect.”
Mr. Teye said he was motivated to go back to school to study English because of Afejuku’s influence at 60 years of age. That was when Afejuku was newly elevated to the rank of a professor, and he was retiring from Shell. He then challenged himself to go back to school to study English. He said the idea hit him while in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to watch the 2016 World Cup. But he would crossover to the University of Ghana to study English on account of incessant strikes in Nigerian universities. Mr. Teye was full of praise for Afejuku for emerging out a professor from their part of Sapele known for producing academic heroes.
Also, Chief Solomon Arenyeka, Eson of Warri Kingdom, said he was there to honour “a delectable, erudite professor of English and Literature, Tony Etsijolomi Afejuku. My coming here is no coincidence, because brother Tony is my cousin. Afejuku and Arenyeka were born of the same father. Brother Tony was my mentor at St. Peter Claver’s College, Aghalokpe, Sapele.” Arenyeka said Tony took him under his wings at the college and therefore saved him from the menace of other senior students during sports and labour periods.
“Today is not a day for speech-making, but to give thanks to God Almighty for the life of Tony,” Arenyeka, who is a politician continued, “that our brother started a career in the study and teaching of English language to a logical conclusion and rose to the peak as a professor of English. It is not easy to study English, a foreign language. As a young man, I always wanted to be like Tony Afejuku. He would hand me novels to read, and because I wanted to be like him, I studied English for my first degree like him. However, whether it was for political reasons, I couldn’t quite continue to the professorial level. And I want to say that whatever I missed in academia and have gained in politics, I ascribe all of it today to Prof. Tony Afejuku who motivated me through giving me books to read!”
Politician, former student of Afejuku and Erhi of Okpe Kingdom, Chief Charles Obule, who hosted his club mates, said although he was not Afejuku’s friend but just his student, he took valuable lessons from the tough way Afejuku handled his courses and students. Obule said he had an eye for making money, and so couldn’t contemplate going further in acquiring more degrees, but veered off to Law instead, and has since been in business and politics. Obule said Afejuku, like all retirees from the academia, who have been badly treated by Nigeria’s poor university remuneration system, needs all the assistance he could get from his Sapele Boys Club (SBC) mates, so he could have a liveable retirement period.
While responding, the retired professor, who self-styled himself ‘No Paddy for Jungle’ on account of his tough disposition towards his students, began on a philosophical note when he said, “Let me begin by saying that this is one occasion where I would like be silent, because there’s oratory in silence. Silence can speak more volumes than words. But based on what has been said so far, I would like to be silent without being silenced. I wanted to leave UNIBEN not with a bang, but with a whimper. But my friends and colleagues said ‘no’; they would not allow me to leave just like that. For a good 43 years plus as lecturer, I never went on leave one day! I was there working continuously. I’d go abroad, come back and continue with my work.”
Afejuku admitted to being a tough lecturer who is akin to a tough army general, so he could get the best from his students, because he too grew up in tough times that shaped his life of toughness. He said his toughness didn’t give room for favouritism even to his relatives.
“I was tough and rightly tough,” he said in his characteristic manner. “I grew up in Oguanja City. And we were meant to be tough, because we went to an excellent but tough school, which was a part of a tough Sapele environment. I wanted the best from my students. A general (lecturer) who’s tough cannot but produce successful students. I treated everybody equally.”
-Ajeluorou is a writer and journalist based in Lagos