IN every generation, there are individuals with outstanding qualities. Although we live in an era with a short supply of such people, yet some have made giant strides in the society at a personal level, state level, national level, and in their immediate place of primary assignment. Unfortunately, our generation is steeped in the evanescing illusions of glitz, perceiving success through the prism of materiality. Some people achieve greatness through material provenance while some people become great by the degree of their investment in the lives of other people.
Times have proven that our society easily celebrates wealth and other signposts of materialism, ignoring the more enduring legacies of virtue by some rare breeds among us. Some people achieve pyrrhic success while some people achieve success by sheer ingenuity and doggedness. It is in the latter category that Professor Hope Eghagha is situated. As he turns sixty, the heavens blaze his name and mere mortals applaud his person. Eghagha is a man of many parts. He is a playwright, poet, novelist, biographer, and a critic. However, it is basically as a conscientious academic that he is widely known and acclaimed.
I met Professor Hope Eghagha for the first time as a 100 level student in the Department of English, University of Lagos. As he graciously walked into the class that Thursday morning, he caught the figure of a soldier with his imposing frame but without the legendary starched khaki uniform. The course was Theatre Workshop. Of note was the baritone in his reassuring voice which resonated across the class. He taught with grace, commitment, and style peculiar to him. At the end of the class, we unanimously agreed that this was the quintessential teacher.
Eghagha was one of the few lecturers who gave assignments, graded them and returned the scripts to the class with detailed comments on them. It was in one of those exercises that I had a personal encounter with him in my 200 level in 1996. He had given the class an assignment to “Critically discuss the dimensions of physical trial and psychological trial in Ngugi’s ‘The Trial of Dedan Kimathi’, not more than three pages”. I wasn’t one of those students who showed too much interest in academics, those we called ‘efiko’ but I surely knew what I was doing, or so I thought. After handing out all the scripts, he demanded to know who Promise Adiele was. First, I adjusted the collar of my shirt and then stood up with a swagger to the admiration of my fellow backbenchers in class. He asked me to meet him immediately in his office, a meeting which was providentially scheduled to turn my career path around.
At the door of his office, I first did a sign of the cross, a ritual performed by some students before entering the office of a lecturer. In his office, he accused me of copying from a textbook to write my assignment. I pleaded my innocence but he wouldn’t agree with me. To prove myself, he asked me to write a one-page essay on Military Brutality in Nigeria. This was at a time when the country was suffocating under the strangulating, military junta of Sanni Abacha. After fifteen minutes, I submitted the assignment. He read it, smiled and released my original script on the general assignment. I scored sixteen out of twenty.
That marked the beginning of a relationship which would lead to a Ph.D. degree. For some of my course mates, it is the 10th wonder of the world that I ended up as an academic. Thanks to a man who saw the diamond in the mud. As a Graduate Assistant lecturer, Eghagha taught me the rudiments of academic engagements. Besides supervising my Ph.D. thesis, he mentored me, taught me humility, hard work, and above all tenacity.
As an academic, Eghagha blazed the trail in Ondo State University where he taught for some years.
Till today he is still a household name in the University. While there, he was an active member of ASUU, championing the course of his colleagues and the welfare of Nigerian university community across the country. As a distinguished member of Guardian Newspaper editorial board, he interrogates multifaceted issues in Nigeria every week. His column draws a wide range of reactions by his many followers across the country. As a former guest speaker in OGTV where people phoned in, he made clarifications on several national issues which led to changes in the procedure of governance. In 1998, he wrote his first play, ‘Death Not A Redeemer’, an academic piece which is read across many universities in Nigeria. His other plays include, ‘Onawawi Shall Rise Again’, ‘Oily Marriage’ and ‘Two Mothers and Son’. He has written six different collections of poetry, ‘Mama Dances Into the Night’, ‘Pepper in my Throat’, ‘Rhythms of the Last Testament’, ‘Premonitions and Other Dreams’, ‘The governor’s Lodge’, and ‘This Story Must Not Be Told. He has also written a novel ‘Emperors of Salvation’. Today, the literary, academic community is blessed with a critical text ‘In Theory and Practice, Engaging the Writings of Hope Eghagha’, edited by Dr. Patrick Oloko of the Department of English, University of Lagos. Scholars across the world, postgraduate students, and undergraduate students have quoted copiously from the text.
Eghagha’s numerous strides caught the attention of the former governor of Delta State Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, and in 2009, he was appointed as the Commissioner for Higher Education, serving in that capacity for six and half years. During those years, he transformed the face of higher education in Delta state. Undergraduates of Delta origin got their bursary across Nigeria and scholarships were awarded to indigenes of Delta State who made first-class degrees to pursue higher education.
During his time as a commissioner for Higher Education in Delta State, the numerous tertiary institutions witnessed a significant turnaround in terms of administration, infrastructural development and staff welfare. Many people in Delta state affirm to the effectiveness and result oriented dimensions of his tenure in the exalted office. In 2012, Eghagha became a victim of Nigeria’s infirm security structure when he was kidnapped by hoodlums and was in captivity for sixteen days before regaining freedom. His experience in the hands of the scoundrels will soon be captured in a literary blockbuster.
After his tenure as a Commissioner for Higher Education in Delta State, he returned to the University of Lagos in 2015 and in 2016, he became the HOD, Department of English. As the Head of the Department, he instituted periodic academic readings where renowned writers visited the department to read from their works. During the University of Lagos graduation ceremonies in 2019, the department produced eleven Ph.D. students, the highest in its history.
As he turns sixty, the whole world celebrates him, his wonderful family celebrates him and the teeming number of students who drank from his well of knowledge across the world also celebrates him. He has been a good ambassador to Nigeria, Delta state, the academic community and the University of Lagos in particular. Happy Birthday Sir and God bless you.
Adiele writes from Lagos via [email protected]