Nigeria lost one of her celebrated writers on March 27 following the death of Phebean Ajibola Ogundipe in the United States. Popularly known as P. A. Ogundipe, the nonagenarian teacher and writer passed on at Charlotte, North Carolina and was buried same day. She would have been 93 in May. A renowned language clinician, foremost educationist and popular author, Ogundipe’s death is a sad reminder that another legend has just departed from the fast-depleting tribe of passionate promoters of education, language, arts and culture in Nigeria.
A prolific author, PA Ogundipe published several English textbooks that impacted the lives of millions of students in Nigeria and across the world. Some of her popular books include Brighter English Series, which she co-wrote with M. Macaulay and C.E. Eckersley, Practical English Series, which she co-authored with P.S. Tregidgo, New Practical English for Senior Secondary School Series, also co-authored with Tregidgo, Up-Country Girl – A Personal Journey and Truthful Portrayal of African Culture, and a Yoruba novel, Ijapa Tiroko Oko Ayanrinbo, a book woven around the many exploits of the tortoise in Yoruba folktales.
Born as Phebean Ajibola Itayemi in Esa-Oke, an Ijesa town in Osun State on May 6, 1927, the late writer had her early education at Esa-Oke and Imesi-Ile. She subsequently moved to Queen’s College, Yaba, Lagos, where she enjoyed a full scholarship for her secondary education. She attended the University of St Andrews in Scotland where she obtained a Master’s degree in English. After completing her programme, she returned to the country and started a career with the Federal Ministry of Education, serving for years as English teacher in different schools.
While teaching at the Queen’s College, Ede, Osun State, Phebean met her husband, Adebayo Ogundipe.
Besides teaching, P. A. Ogundipe also served as Deputy Chief Federal Adviser on Education and National Secretary for UNESCO. She retired as Acting Director in the Federal Ministry of Education. Retirement was not enough to dampen her passion for education. She co-founded the popular remedial educational centre, Top Tutors at Ilupeju, Lagos, a pre-university coaching centre for students preparing to sit for University Matriculation Examinations (UME) and the General Certificate in Education (GCE) examinations. She also continued to write and publish books. In 1979, she received the national honour of Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON).
Besides being invaluable assets to secondary school pupils seeking knowledge in English language, many of Ogundipe’s other textbooks are tailored to teach the younger generations on Yoruba norms and ethos.
Notable Nigerians have eulogised the passage of the prolific author.
In his tribute, President Muhammadu Buhari said that the author’s meticulous service in the education ministry left an indelible mark in the nation’s education sector, particularly in the teaching and learning of English Language. Members of the arts community in the country have also lamented the demise of the popular author whose books made the learning and teaching of the English Language a delight for many generations of primary and secondary school pupils. We believe that every word of adoration on the exploits of the departed heroine is well earned. Indeed, every lover of education should be thoroughly grateful to Mrs. Ogundipe for her contributions to education.
Beyond that, there is need to properly contextualise her indelible contributions to scholarship within Nigeria and beyond, and to permanently establish her name among the nation’s true patriots. It is necessary that both the Federal Government of Nigeria and the government of her home state, Osun, must immortalise her and permanently etch her name and memory in the minds of the present and future generations. The government should rename an educational institution in her name.
However, one of the best ways of immortalising Ogundipe is to ensure that educational libraries in the country are equipped with relevant books, including hers. As of now, the advent of the Internet has done a lot of damage to the use of English. Illiteracy now reigns, even among the educated. Libraries across the country are forsaken and are in varying degrees of rot and disrepair, with shelves stacked with old books that are no longer in use.
Ogundipe’s death, therefore, should be used to resuscitate our passion for the book and crave for excellence in the use of the English language. We commiserate with her family, friends and fans on the irreparable loss and ask God to grant her soul eternal repose.