Olufemi Kayode: A Brother and Mentor Like No Other

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Eyitayo Lambo

I first knew Professor Kayode only at a distance. That happened exactly six decades ago at Okene, Kogi State, in 1959 when he was in Form 6 and a highly admired Head Boy at the Provincial Secondary School (PSS). I was a first year student in the adjacent Government Teachers’ Training College (GTTC) but we attended the same church on Sundays. Although I did not relate with him closely, I saw him as a very good looking, neatly dressed, very articulate, outgoing and always smiling young man. I earnestly desired to be like him.
I did not see him again after he left Okene PSS in December 1959 until 1965 at the University of Ibadan. He graduated in June 1965 in the Second Class Upper Honours Division in Economics but stayed behind to undertake his postgraduate studies in Economics. I was admitted to read Economics at the University of Ibadan in October 1965 and I was assigned to Tedder Hall, his own Hall of residence for not just his undergraduate but postgraduate studies. I introduced myself to him when we met in the Hall and he was very happy, not just to see me again but that I had come to read Economics at the University of Ibadan. He was in the Postgraduate wing whilst I was in the C wing of the Hall. Thereafter, he started relating with me as a brother and also willingly assumed the role of my academic mentor, adviser and personal ‘tutorial master’. He constantly monitored my academic progress and succeeded in ‘infecting’ me with his passion for the discipline of Economics. He was away to London School of Economics (LSE) and Harvard Business School (HBS) during my second and final years of undergraduate studies. After his return to Nigeria, he was very happy to hear that I graduated in the Second Class Upper Honours Division in June 1968.

The next phase of our relationship was 1970-1974. He was already back from LSE & HBS and had become a lecturer in the Department of Economics whilst pursuing his doctoral studies at the same time. I was a Graduate Assistant but also registered in the Master’s degree programme in the Department. He continued his mentoring role that he had started earlier. He and his wife were very happy when I got married in September 1970. Before my wife and I proceeded to the United States of America for further studies in 1971, we had a set of twins but we painfully decided to leave them behind with my parents in-law in Owo so that we could concentrate on our studies. We also decided to take the financial burden of taking care of our twins off my parents in-law by remitting some money for their upkeep through Professor Kayode every month.

However, he never waited to receive our remittance before sending money to my parents in-law every month. Because of our limited financial resources, we defaulted in making some remittances particularly in the last year of our stay in the United States. Professor Kayode kept on sending money to Owo promptly every month. By the time we came back in 1974, we had defaulted for a few months and when we wanted to pay him the outstanding amount later in 1974, he declined to accept the payment.

From 1974 to 1984, we were both colleagues in the Department of Economics, University of Ibadan. He had already obtained his PhD in 1972 and had become a senior member of the academic staff by the time I returned to the Department in 1974. He, however, did not relate with me like a senior colleague but like a friend, a brother and a mentor. He was generous in offering wise counsel whenever I sought it. He was a great encourager and was one of the people that put “good” pressure on me to complete my PhD on time.

During this period, we had become very close family friends; not only did I relate closely with him, my wife related very closely with his wife and our children bonded very well with theirs. When I was offered appointment as Foundation Professor of Business Administration by the University of Ilorin in 1983, I was not really keen on moving from Ibadan to Ilorin. Professor Kayode knew that such a movement would negatively affect our day-to-day interaction, yet, after doing a cost-benefit analysis of the movement, he advised me to take the offer, particularly because of the potential satisfaction that I could derive from a successful pioneering effort. That contributed immensely to my final decision to move to Ilorin in 1984. Professor Kayode worked closely with Professors Ademola Oyejide (my Head of Department then) and Bode Aiyepeku to ensure that my movement was smooth. That eventually happened in August 1984 and I have never regretted that movement to the glory of God.

Professor Kayode was the first Director of the Consultancy Services Unit of the University of Ibadan. He occupied the position from 1978-1984. He involved me and at least three other colleagues (Folabi Soyode, Demola Oyejide and Ibi Ajayi) very extensively in the relevant consultancy projects executed in the Unit throughout his tenure. This helped me in developing and strengthening my capacity in undertaking consultancies and it also provided a very robust additional source of income for me and my family. This enabled us to do many things that would have been impossible if we had relied totally on our salaries. A good example was our annual vacation to London with our children most of the time. Throughout the period, there was never an urge for me to go to the Central Porters’ Lodge at the University of Ibadan at the end of every month to check whether my pay slip was in my ‘pigeon hole’ (mailbox) or not!

When I went on Sabbatical Leave from the University of Ilorin in the 1990/91 session followed by a Leave of Absence in the 1991/92 session to the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa (WHO-AFRO) in Brazzaville and ultimately decided to take early and voluntary retirement from the University of Ilorin and continue my services with the WHO-AFRO, Professor Kayode did not initially see that as the best of the options available to me. Subsequently he did, particularly when he was offered a short-term consultancy by my organization and he saw me at work during the period. We had the opportunity of interacting very closely during his one-month consultancy. At the end of his stay, he was fully convinced that I took the right decision to move out of the academics to become an international civil servant. He was then surprised when I told him in 1999 that I was going to take an early and voluntary retirement ( seven years ahead of the mandatory retirement age) at the end of that year. I think the statement that I made that caused him to give up trying to talk me out of my decision was, “Egbon, there are times one needs to leave the known for the unknown and ask God to help one.” The “unknown” then became “known” in 2003 when Professor Kayode was involved in the evolution of the “known”.

Two years after leaving the WHO, I received an invitation to be the Director of a two year health programme (Change Agents Programme for Health Sector Reform) in Abuja, funded by the Department for International Development, United Kingdom (DFID-UK). I was still on that job when President Obasanjo was re-elected in 2003. Given his decision to bring in some technocrats into his Cabinet, he set up a Search Committee to help him head-hunt for some technocrats that he could consider. Professor Emmanuel C. Edozien (my teacher, mentor and another great ‘vessel’ that God had used to impact my life) was a member of the Committee. Professor Kayode called to inform me that Professor Edozien wanted a copy of my curriculum vitae because he (Professor Edozien) would like to present me as one of the possible candidates to be considered. I flatly rejected the proposal. Professor Kayode tried to persuade me for three days but I did not bulge. He later suggested that I should call Professor Edozien and explain myself. I did but was insistent on the position that I took with Professor Kayode earlier. When Professor Edozien realized that I was determined not to change my mind on the issue, he then said, “Tayo, I am not even sure at this point if the other members of the Committee will accept my recommendation and, even if they do, the final decision would rest with President Obasanjo.” He then suggested that I should just give him the CV and let us wait and see what would happen later. At that point, I could no longer further resist “succumbing” to the desire of a man who had played such an important role in my life in the past. I, therefore, sent my CV to him through Professor Kayode. What happened after is now history.

Throughout my tenure as the Minister of Health of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (2003-2007), Professors Kayode and Aiyepeku served as my external “Think Tank”. I always bounced my innovative ideas on them and they provided very prompt and useful opinions that shaped my thinking. They did that at no cost; they were both only very keen on seeing me succeed as Health Minister. Whatever success was achieved during my tenure as Minister, I owe these two genuine brothers and friends and some other people my utmost gratitude and appreciation.

There is another very important testimony about Professor Kayode and his darling wife also of blessed memory. We had our first children (twins) in 1971 after which we were away to the United States for further studies. We planned not to have any children while we were in the United States of America. But, shortly after we returned and settled down in Nigeria for a couple of months in 1974, we desired to have our next child. This did not happen for almost a year. Our unfulfilled desire was causing us some anxiety. We did not tell anybody about this except God. During the last quarter of 1975, Professor Kayode told me that they (his family) were going to Ikogosi Warm Springs Resort to spend a long weekend and he invited my family to come along with them. We readily accepted the offer. As it turned out, we enjoyed the four to five days that we spent there. It was a very relaxing environment. Shortly after that never-to-be-forgotten vacation, my wife got pregnant and we had a bouncing baby girl, Abimbola, in August 1976 to the glory of God.

It was sad losing Dr. (Mrs.) Clara Modupe Kayode three years ago and, of course, the passing of Professor Kayode on August 10, 2020 has bruised our hearts beyond imagination even though we knew that his health had been failing lately. As Christians, my family had accepted the reality that God called them home at their appointed time and to Him be the glory for their impactful lives.

From the foregoing, it is clear that our intimate relationship progressively happened over a period of almost 55 years. What started as a relationship between a vibrant young Olufemi Kayode and I blossomed to become a family relationship. He developed (along with his loving wife) genuine love for me and members of my nuclear as well as extended family. The Kayodes demonstrated this by generously giving of their time, money, wisdom, experience, etc. to us. Over the last 50 years, Professor Kayode has been a great confidant, encourager, motivator, burden-lifter, problem-solver, counsellor and family supporter. Knowing Professor Femi Kayode has been one of the greatest blessings from God to me and my family.

With his demise, I have lost all my academic mentors! My loss started with the passing in 1994 of my foremost mentor, the erudite Professor Ojetunji Aboyade who was my Head of Department during my undergraduate years (1965-1968) at the University of Ibadan. That left me with the trio famously referred to as “the 3 Musketeers of the Department of Economics, University of Ibadan” (Professors Emmanuel C. Edozien, Owodunni Teriba & Olufemi Kayode). Professors Edozien and Teriba had earlier passed on in August 2019 and April 2020 respectively and Professor Kayode has now followed them. It is disheartening to lose the trio within a year but I thank God for using them as “vessels” for the development that had taken place in many areas of my life in the last 55 years.

“My dear Egbon” as I fondly called you, I celebrate your life today and will continue to do so until I take my exit too. Indeed, you lived a life of meaning, purpose and fulfillment. During your lifetime, you impacted the lives of numerous people including me and other members of my family. May the seed you had sown in the lives of all of us yield bountiful harvests for your children, grandchildren, etc to reap in Jesus’ Name. Amen. May your gentle soul rest in perfect peace. Amen.
––Lambo is a former Minister of Health