By Kate Halim
They were members of same class in the Department of Theatre Arts, University of Ibadan, between 1987 and 1991. Today, these four former course mates are Heads of different departments in different universities in Nigeria. They came from different backgrounds, had different life ambitions, faced different challenges but were taught and nurtured under the same environment to become the men they are today.
Indeed, their lecturers then – Prof Dapo Adelugba, Prof Femi Osofian, Dr Femi Fatoba, Prof Hyginus Ekwuazi would be proud of these academics. These men who love teaching and imparting knowledge in their students shared their life stories with Saturday Sun.
Dr. Alphonsus Orisaremi is HOD at their alma mater, Department of Theatre Arts, University of Ibadan. To him, being the HOD means having a sense of commitment towards service delivery because it is a career role that most academics play at some point or the other after a given period in a given service. It is an administrative role that must not undermine one’s teaching and research.
Going down memory lane, Orisaremi said he was a regular student with a sense of commitment towards theatre design and technology from the moment he joined the department.
“I spend more hours late into the night, sometimes without sleep for two to three days building stages and fixing lights at night and going to classes during the day,” he said.
Orisaremi said he had always wanted to add screen experience to theatre arts and he found that fulfilment as the pioneer lighting director of AIT in the late 1990s. In terms of high tech lighting, there was no equipment he asked for that High Chief Raymond Dokpesi did not provide for him, he said.
“He has been very instrumental to my career development because even while in the University he supported me and is still supporting me till date. As we speak now, I am still a consultant to AIT.”
It was from there that he learnt digital and computerized lighting which he eventually introduced to his students in UI- in classrooms and in the field. He noted that the University of Ibadan has always been student-centred, even in his time there as a student. On that premise, he knows he is there because the students are there, and certainly not the other way round. So how does he relax? Orisaremi said ways of relaxing are easy when your profession is your hobby. He relaxes by designing the stage and lighting sets. In fact the smell of a brand new LED screen, stage and lighting equipment being used for the first time relaxes him. Sometimes, he hangs out with friends and allies over some chilled bottles, even though that habit is no longer as strong as it used to be.
Describing himself as a religious person “who restricts my beliefs to myself and my immediate family,” Dr. Orisaremi’s future plan is to continue practising his profession as a consultant theatre designer and technologist. maintain his profession. He might change occupation, he says, but his profession won’t change. Professor Diran Ademiju Bepo, the current Head of Department of Theatre and Film, University of Jos is the son of two traders who never had the opportunity of passing through the four walls of a school like he did, but they had tactile passion for education.
At the University of Ibadan, he got his three degrees in Theatre Arts, specializing in Media Arts, Playwriting, Directing, Dramatic Criticism and Film Dramaturgy.
Bepo revealed that his ambition was to make his parents and family proud. His prayer, metaphorically, like the Biblical Jabez, was for God to rewrite the story of his family and expand his coast.
He recalled that he went through the university in tears on many occasions as he barely had enough to make it through. But by dint of hard work and perseverance, and the mercy of God, he overcame.
“I wanted to study Law, because of its prestige and presence, but I eventually embraced Theatre Arts and I have never regretted the choice. In fact, until I finished my PhD, my mother of blessed memory, believed I was studying Law. She wanted a lawyer son,” he said.
He noted that he had always wanted to teach and nurture young minds. Fortunately, his one-year compulsory national youth service was as a secondary classroom teacher in Garko, Kano State.
Immediately after his youth service, he enrolled for his Masters degree in 1992 and had to source for a job in a Nursery and Primary school in order to support himself through the programme.
His words: “I was privileged to get involved in students politics and campus journalism. My plays represented the department and the university twice at the then National Universities Theatre Arts Festival (NUTAF), and I received recognition awards as Playwright of the Year.”
Ademiju-Bepo, also known as Maks or Mask Ujimeda in UI, (a corruption of his surname, Ademiju) practised journalism between 1993 and 2002, even as he also worked with the apex government institution in the film industry, the Nigerian Film Corporation, before going into full time lecturing. He also served the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) as branch Vice Chairman and Acting Chairman for about six months.
On his reflections about his alma mater, Ademiju-Bepo said the University of Ibadan remains the best in Nigeria. “The standard is still being sustained, since its establishment in 1948, which is something to cheer about.” He would want the authorities to upgrade the university someday soon. Bepo described himself as easy going, focused, highly visionary, a firm believer in any cause he believes in, an advocate of good governance and equality, and above all, a child of God.
As the current Head of Department of Theatre and Film, University of Jos, his plan is to leave the office better than he met it. He wants to leave legacies that are evident and reference points behind after his tenure. b He wishes to still study law, and to activate the foundation he established in memory of his late parents.
Dr. Tochukwu Okeke said he became an academic because the quest for knowledge is never ending and he understands that the human mind is infinitely elastic. So, it is the desire to know and to impart knowledge into others that pushed him into being a lecturer.
But he was quick to add that the call came by default. Like the biblical Jonah, he had taken the next exit but this ‘fish’ came and the rest is history. He enjoys what he does “because it is always a great feeling when you see joy on the faces of your students after each lecture.” Even though he enjoys teaching students today, he wasn’t a bookworm while in the University. He was actually among those who shied away from the library but are never afraid to seek new ideas. For him, life in the University was more of an adventure than anything else. It was fun, intriguing and exciting.
“I have fond memories of the University of Ibadan. It was a window to the world for me. The school gave vent to my creative muse. It gave me the opportunity to meet many literary legends and that shaped my tomorrow,” he said.
He added that he was privileged to be taught by the masters, and it made the world a springboard for a greater tomorrow. The school gave him and others the opportunity to explore avenues to greatness and he had great classmates.
Recalling one of those fond memories while he was in school, he said: “We were so united in our diverse ways that for our final year practical, we staged Bode Sowande’s ‘Farewell To Babylon.’ We wanted to escape from the hassles of lectures and rehearsals. It is amazing how some of us are teachers today.”
He continued: “In those days, Aluta was very positive. I remember the few occasions when water was not forthcoming and we had to stage some protests to the Vice Chancellor’s lodge and the Vice Chancellor would come out to plead with us. And the second semesters were always great with the departmental weeks and hall weeks. There were so many social activities.”
Back then, some students became small time entrepreneurs. He wasn’t left out as he used to make ends meet through photo coverage of events. He had a Yashica camera and it came in real handy during the second semesters and during matriculation ceremonies. When he remembers how it all started and where he and his course mates are today, he bows in gratitude to God for letting his late parents send him to the University of Ibadan. It was really a thing of pride to be a student of UI. He always looks forward to visits to Ibadan, which to him, brings back great memories
He said life has taught him contentment, to be grateful for what God has given him and he plans to build a rich library for posterity’s sake.
While at the University of Ibadan, Dr. Joe Umukoro was a serious student. He made sure he attended lectures, and submitted his assignments in line with deadlines given by his lecturers including his elder brother who was one of his lecturers. What made him go into academics, he said, was due to the inspiration he received from his elder brother, Prof. Matthew M. Umukoro. Joseph started living with the elder Umukoro immediately after his secondary school education.
Umukoro said: “Immediately after my Masters degree, he encouraged me to apply for teaching appointments at Delta State University and University of Uyo. But I got a faster response from University of Uyo to assume duty immediately. That was in July 1994.”
Umukoro said he enjoys his job because it gives him the opportunity to give back what he received from his alma mater under the tutelage of Professors like Femi Osofisan, Matthew Umukoro, Lanre Bamidele, Dapo Adelugba (late), Dr. Jide Malomo(late) among others. He said life has taught him to continue to be himself and to exhibit absolute trust in the almighty God because with Him, all things are possible.
And how does he relax? “By listening to cool music or watching comic movies apart from reading and writing,” he added.