By YINKA OLUDAYISI FABOWALE
As a youth, he was a self- confessed ‘truant’ and ‘rascal’- traits that caused his parents, doubtful of his seriousness and ability to stay and finish up secondary education in Lagos, to send him to a secondary school back in their village in the now, Delta State, ostensibly to ensure stricter monitoring and disciplining.
It is thus an irony that the youthful prankster would go on to become an intellectual, bagging degrees in Sociology and Philosophy up to Ph.D level and become the spearhead of a campaign in defence and furtherance of scholarship and academic development in the country.
But, that is the life story of Dr. Kemi Emina, the National President, University of Ibadan Alumni Association.
However, the Delta State University, Abraka lecturer and former Special Adviser on Research and Documentation to the former Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, said this should not be so surprising, as despite his rascally ways as a child, he was close to his books and had always excelled in his studies.
The university don, who even attempted to venture into priesthood and had a stint as a journalist with the Delta State –owned Pointer Newspaper before berthing in academics, in this interview, speaks on his oddysey.
Emina, whose alumni association built and plans to hand over a 54-bedroom postgraduate hall of residence to UI management, is championing a campaign to raise at least N100 million yearly to support the premier university in terms of research, scholarship and infrastructural development in face of financial crisis bedeviling it like most tertiary institutions.
There is a something about your name that sounds feminine and Yoruba. How do you explain that given that you are a Niger Deltan, as it were?
Well, I am from Delta. I am from a small town called Ebu. Ebu is about 20 minutes drive from Asaba. And the Ebu are bilingual. They speak Ibo and also speak Igala language. And the Igala language, when you hear them speak it, is quite close to the Yoruba language and you can pick one or two things from there. But the name Kemi actually came from my mother’s relation who is a Yoruba, that gave the name and the name has stuck over time. Also, it is because I schooled in the West.
Where exactly and do you care to tell us about your growing up years?
Oh! (Laughs) I try not to talk about growing up and all that, because it was growing up rascally, growing up in a place called Surulere, Lagos. I went to school and you are given money for transport, but you prefer to trek to school, because you want to keep extra change. And when I close from school, most of the time I was in morning session, you close from school and you have to stop over to play football. I played football and would start trekking home at about 5pm or 6pm. And when they ask you, you would say there was traffic. Why? You played football and then you trekked, so you are going to get home a bit late. But what saved the situation a bit for me was that I had this uncle that stayed with us. In the evening, they would call me to read my books and I would read it. So, even though they were angry with me that I played football, again they were not too angry, because I could measure up in my studies. They were not too angry, because that area too was not suffering. So they would always let go. It was good! I left the school because of the idea that I might be a truant. I was now asked to go to secondary school in my village called St Paul’s Catholic School. I was actually going to attend St. Gregory’s in Obalende, but they said not St Gregory’s, that I should go to St Paul’s Catholic School. I got to St Paul’s Catholic School and found myself dancing the Atilogu dance, this Nkpokiti thing. My school was a state champion in terms of Atilogu dance in the whole of Bendel State then. I had already left school before Delta State came up. When I left there automatically many people felt I should read Law. More so, because my village was involved in land issues with another village and they felt I was articulate enough to read law.
(Cuts in) From a life of truancy you rose to become an intellectual with a Ph.D. At what point did you decide to self-discipline and structure your life for success?
You know like I told you before, I have always been close to my books in the midst of truancy. I was not horribly bad, but I also knew all the pranks younger persons of my age played, I played them all. But I felt called to the priesthood, because a lot of persons, my senior friends were priests, so I felt called to the priesthood. And I actually went to the seminary, SS. Peter & Paul in Bodija, Ibadan!
So we have a priest in you?
Although, I was not ordained, I did three or four years in the seminary and I was asked to go on probation. But along the line, I lost the vocation. I found myself back in the university. I actually lost the vocation totally when I went for youth service in Kafanchan. Yes, I knew I had lost it, this idea of becoming a priest, but I have never regretted having the volition for one day. I am still a rabid Catholic.
What made you drop that ambition? Be honest with us. (laughs).
The priesthood? Maybe the priesthood dropped me. Yes! Maybe the priesthood dropped me in the sense that the church asked that I should go and do a year probation and in between a year probation somebody said to me you would be good in academics and the person who told me that was a Catholic priest because I was hell-bent on being a priest. As a matter of fact, a late Rev. Fr. was preparing me to complete the priestly training abroad. But as fate would have it, while he was preparing me for the priestly training, one of the priests also felt that I could continue with my education in the university and after my B.A Philosophy that I would be well-equipped in terms of psychological maturity to now come back to the seminary to complete the priesthood, that I could not have lost anything if I had gone to the university and then come back into the priesthood. So that was why when I left I had to continue with Philosophy, because Philosophy is quite needed in the Catholic priesthood. But like I said, when I left for youth service in Kafanchan I lost it. Looking back now, I think I was not called for the priesthood, it is a special calling and again I would not like to be a priest that would be a disappointment to God and to man.
What was your experience as an undergraduate in the University of Ibadan.
My very first idea about University of Ibadan was also through the seminary. I was among the first students who were brought into the seminary to do a degree programme without necessarily writing JAMB, because the seminary is an affiliate of the University of Ibadan. Once in a while, the lecturers of UI will come into the seminary to teach us. Prof. Bodurin, Prof. Ladipo, Dr. Bello, Prof. Ajayi in Economics will all come to teach us in the seminary. That should be 1985. I did three years. Three years here in University of Ibadan and then I did a year of spiritual outside.The lecturers had a great impact on me, especially Prof. Bodurin and also Prof. Ladipo, they were my early lecturers including Prof. Ajayi, there was also a young and pretty lady who people called Masoya. Masoya was pretty and she was conscious of the fact that she was pretty, she would come to teach seminarians who apparently were going to take their vow of celibacy. She would come to seminary wearing fine skimpy dress and short skirts, but she covered the necessary parts anyway. She was pretty. And she was bound to distract you. So when we were having a class, we would just say that the devil must not tempt us. We would want to focus more on what she was teaching. She knew that she was a source of distraction to us. I think she enjoyed it, but we would always pray against the devil.
Can you trace the journey of your involvement in UI Alumni association and ascendancy to its Presidency?
Oh! The ascendancy to the presidency I never planned for. But the UI Alumni association, I love UI because UI loved me first. In my local chapter at Asaba, I functioned very well with them. All assignments given to me I tried to carry out. In Asaba chapter, I have persons who matriculated in the 50s. We have persons who matriculated in 1948. So, for us in Asaba, we are simply small boys, we cannot, given our tradition, be there and the elderly ones do menial jobs. And along the line, they felt that we were good enough to begin to hold some positions and I was made the publicity secretary of the association. Later when there was vacancy, they took me up to become the second vice chairman. They also felt that I was good enough to represent them at the national level. So I came into the national association as ex-officio. Now, between my second tenure as ex- officio, my colleagues felt that there should be a change in the association. They felt that I should lead the association at that point in time. And since then, I have been working with my colleagues. The truth is this; I have heard so many people say that I have done so many things for the association, but I do not like that. I have not done so much for the association, because I never worked alone. I was working with colleagues. I am not the brightest, but I would say I am the luckiest, because I have men and women who will go out of their ways to do things and at the end of the day I take the credits. You know, I am virtually a very lucky president. In the first place, they wanted me to lead the team and I led the team. Secondly, they would do the work, they do not have to wait for me. They would do it as if they are doing their personal jobs, but when people see it they would think I did it. I just take the credit.
Some believe that people who get involved in activities of associations such as this do so basically to peddle influence or gain advantage for themselves. What is your reaction to this?
No! That is not correct. But I would not deny the fact that in the midst of working for the Alumni association that I have gained one or two things. But God who sees my heart will know that was not the motive… Old students need to get involved in the progress and development of their alma mater. I just think that those who show apathy to these responsibility are selfish. Honestly, I just think they are selfish. If there is any institution that ought not to be poor, I think it is UI. But some of the alumni of UI, I do not know. I think they are either selfish to themselves or they are outrightly wicked. But things are gradually changing. There are so many Uites too who think and breathe UI, they love UI so much, but I want to say that they are just one quarter.
We who are active in the Alumni association are just a thousand, maybe two thousand out of about 200,000 graduates in the whole country. But because we know we have the human resource, that is why the NEC of this association that it pleases God to let me lead now, has evolved a scheme where we are thinking we are going to capture at least a hundred thousand alumni and then give them the task of giving us a thousand Naira each year, which we will plough back into the university. If you give the university N50 million every year from the Alumni association, UI will change, because I know the financial capacity of UI today. As a member of the governing council, I know that the University of Ibadan, in terms of finance is walking a tight rope, but that is where the Alumni association ought to come in. That’s why we formed University of Ibadan Alumni Trust fund. It is a 10 to 11 member- committee of great Uites to man that board as independent from the executives of the Alumni association to manage the funds and then plough it back into the university.