ALWAYS VERY COOL AND CALM

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John Odah pays tribute to his friend and colleague, Seun Salako, at age 60

Back then, 40 years ago, in 1979 as young and impressionable new undergraduates, one thing that stood us out was our hunger for knowledge. Compared to many of the first generation universities, our university had many challenges, including the one that persisted and was a constant source of worry: ours was a “university on the wheels”. With hostels scattered around Jos town, and the temporary (now permanent) site located on Bauchi Road, and the permanent site where the students village and Naraguta hostels were located, further down on Jos and Bauchi roads respectively, coordinating logistics to attend lectures, go to the cafeteria and hostels were a constant hustle.

Partly as a result of the very favourable temperate weather condition in Jos, UniJos then attracted some of the best lecturers from around the world. In our Sociology class of 1979-1983, we had lecturers from the UK, Germany, Poland, India, Ghana, Sierra Leone, to cite a few, and some of the best Nigerian sociologists, anthropologists and criminologists trained from Ivy League universities in America, Britain and other parts of the world.

The situation was hardly different in other departments and faculties of our UniJos. This was why in the ’80s, ’90s and even later on, its products excel in virtually all areas of human endeavour – from the arts to the sciences, nationally and internationally.

This was the setting in which we spent a very productive and fruitful four years together with Seun Salako, being moulded to play our role in the national development of our country. We left UniJos at the end of our course as eager young Nigerians ready to put what we had learnt into practice. Our teachers, the Onoges, Alemikas, Adelakuns, etc., ensued that we didn’t think anything of our ethnicity or religious backgrounds. We were Nigerians in the purest sense of the word!

With Seun, our paths crossed early. Apart from being in the same class, we became ideological soulmates, and our world view on a range of issues agreed substantially. Based on the above, we collaborated to transform our Sociological Students Association, and made it a radical association that was organizing radical lectures and radical programmes that was distinct in the Faculty of Social Sciences, and indeed the entire university. Seun and I, mid-way in our stay, served the association as Vice President and President respectively.

As progressive sociology students, our class of ’83 provided three members of the student union executive council in the 1981/82 session, under the radical Musa Yelwa presidency of the students union. Seun was Public Relations Officer (PRO), Festus Osayi (who later went on to read Law, after our graduation), was Treasurer and my humble self was Welfare Secretary. Without being immodest, we were at the heart of the profound changes that were brought to the student union leadership during that era. This included abolishing some of the privileges that students’ union executives used to enjoy.

Of course, we were thorns in the flesh of the university leadership led by Prof. Emmanuel Emovon and late George Korgba, Vice Chancellor and Registrar respectively. The students’ union leadership then insisted on improvement to the living and learning conditions of the students, against the background of some of the challenges peculiar to the university earlier highlighted at the beginning of this tribute. Mrs Emovon, a princess of the Benin Kingdom, who taught us Nigerian Ethnic Relations course in our 3rd year, which also coincided with the year three of us were in the students union exco, had several work out of our class, as a result of our taking her up on issues pertaining to our engagement of her husband as Vice Chancellor, which she would bring up in our lectures.

I also recall the disappointment of the Registrar, who had singled out Seun to try to get him to talk us out of a boycott of classes, we had ordered as a result of welfare conditions on the campus. Because Seun was usually very cool and calm, the registrar felt that he could work through him to weaken the leadership. He told Seun, that most of the Executives from the catchment areas of the university were not necessarily interested in studies, but to foment trouble, but persons like him from the South, who came to the university primarily to study, could work with the university to bring about sanity in the radicalism of the leadership of the students union. When he met a brick wall in Seun, he muttered: “you are just like them”, and chased Seun out of his office!

At the more personal level, during holidays, myself and the ‘Lagos Boy’ used to travel to my community in Edumoga in the heartland of Idoma, where we relished original pounded yam prepared by my peasant Mum.

After National Service in 1984, Seun joined the teaching service of Lagos State Government. In 25 years of service as a teacher, Seun’s legacies in the three secondary schools he taught are the scores of young graduates that passed through him, who are now men and women in their own right, many of them PhD holders, making waves in their respective fields. The ‘can-do’ spirit and the progressive thought he had inculcated in his teachings and bringing up of these youthful Nigerians are part of the lasting legacies of our Seun.

Happy Diamond Jubilee Seun

 Odah, former General Secretary of NLC, is currently Executive Secretary,

Organization of Trade Unions of West Africa