Olugbenga Ogunmoyela: An Omolúwàbí in the Midst of Cultural Anomie
By Tunji Olaopa
Celebrating my knowledge and affinity with Professor Olugbenga Akin Ben Ogunmoyela certainly goes beyond the fact that he is my in-law. My invaluable wife, Olufunlola, hailed from the enviable Ogunmoyela family of Ifon, in Ose LGA of Ondo State. It is now more than 38 years ago when I first encountered the Ogunmoyela family, and that encounter had furthered my learning curve, especially with regard to the role of values as a core ingredient in the shaping of national rebirth and progress. I started that bit of my learning experience when I met the patriarch of the family, Papa V. B. T. Ogunmoyela, of blessed memory, who welcomed me to his Ibadan home at that time with a story that demonstrated the way families could serve as the value foundation of a nation. It is this unreserved commitment to family values that occasioned Papa’s immense respect and appreciation to my grandfather, Rev. D. A. Olaopa, the first chairman of the Afijio LGA of Oyo State and Balogun of the ancient Oyo town. As the narrative went, Papa’s career as an administrator went off to a commendable next level with a good dose of mentoring from Rev. Olaopa, when the former came on a posting to Oyo town.
Prof. Ogunmoyela is now the current olori-ebi (or patriarch) of the Ogunmoyela family. And he just retired from the Bells University of Technology, where he held the chair in Food Technology. He is the very living exemplar of all that is best in the Ogunmoyela’s family tradition; indeed, all that is virtuous in the value orientation that I grew up with in the fast-fading traditional value system that builds character and families. This makes Prof. Ogunmoyela worth celebrating as one of the remnants of a traditional framework that Nigeria requires. For those who have followed my commentaries so far, I place a great stock by value rebirth as a significant piece in achieving national development in Nigeria. Even the most brilliant diagnostic assessment of the postcolonial Nigerian predicaments must factor the high level of cultural and value anomie that we need to transcend to restore Nigeria to greatness. The absence of a value prism—indeed a national integrity system—accounts for why there is no ethical framework guiding political action across all strata. It accounts for why corruption, political, bureaucratic and nominal, has taken the center stage as the most significant value issue Nigeria has to engage. Corruption and the erosion of values in Nigeria raises the fundamental need for a cultural adjustment programme; a need for a moral rebirth as the first order of business for Nigerians.
And this is what brought my celebratory lens to Prof. Ogunmoyela. He just achieved a double honor. He has entered the septuagenarian hall of fame, at 70; and he just delivered a deep valedictory lecture to signal his exit from Bells University after many years of meritorious service. 70 is an iconic age in biblical and social significations. When a person reaches the zenith of what the scripture and culture signal as the zenith of wisdom and hoary grace, I mean when a person becomes elderly in the deep Yoruba sense of an agbalagba, such a person deserves our attention in terms of what is said and what is communicated. In an age of instant wealth, and instant any other thing, character and values are becoming hard to come by. And so those who embody them require attention. I am talking about a character forged within the context of a good home, deep sense of service, and fundamental respect for others and for humanity. There is no surprise therefore that Prof. Ogunmoyela’s valedictory lecture delivered on the 21st of September, 2022 at Bells University, Ota, has that inherent quest to make the world a much better place for others. It is a didactic narration of a child that had to go through the battles of life without any significant assistance—a cow without a tail! For such a person, principles of success are expected, and he did not disappoint: believe in yourself, dare to trust God, think outside the box, be diligent and disciplined, invest in yourself.
The one that appeals to me the most is “always remember the son of whom you are.” That imperative resonates with my upbringing and cultural tutelage while growing up in my little hometown, Aawe in Oyo State. That injunction carries the burden of cultural heritage that every family name encodes. I carry this injunction around all through my training at the secondary school and the university education. I doubt if there is any student from a home founded on good Yoruba value that did not carry that burden. I am stretching my imagination with a question as to where we all lost that cultural imperative not to soil the family’s good name, especially when we grew up to become professionals, government functionaries, public servants, and so on. Why have we failed to translate such a cultural imperative into solid principles of service to the Nigerian nation?
I am aware that this question, no matter how fundamental, has to be balanced by the context of deep anomie that those who want to do right and act with principles have to confront and engage with. In our attempt to make sense of life and progress in Nigeria, we all would have come across the saying: “If you can’t beat them, you join them.” There are so many who have been dragged into abandoning supposedly futile cultural and moral instructions to “join them.” While many who have refused to join them have either left the country or have adopted the siddon-look posture of cynicism, resignation and non-involvement. This leaves only few individuals who keep struggling with the patriot desire to build Nigeria, even at great cost to their lives and existence. And this is no mere worry. Many heroes and heroines have been hounded, in the whole dynamic, to death and then celebrated after they are dead. Those who choose to remain within that national space of demanding tension have to make a choice among forthrightness, capitulation or resignation. I have lived with this tension. And this is especially with regard to my professional course as an institutional reformer in a national context of a Federal civil service that is averse to reform, reform-mindedness and being change agent. I started my professional reform sojourn with the arrogant naivety that reform requires 70% technical expertise and only 30% political acumen. It took many years of institutional frustration to come to the critical sense that the reverse is the case. And even after that shocking realization, I kept struggling to ensure that I do not get too comfortable as to become that someone I would not recognize with time.
Prof. Ogunmoyela carries the weight of an omolúwàbí so well through all the years when life has bounced him through all the thick and thin without anyone to guide him. In all his years wading through the tough terrains of research, academia and industry, Prof. Ogunmoyela has remained uncompromising in carrying the spirit of his spiritual and cultural principles; of always remembering the son of whom he is, even while being derided for rigidity and eccentricity, or as it’s commonly put, ‘he’s principled to a fault’. That is a tough accomplishment given that he has had to operate within several situations of anomie and even hostility from those who prefer to compromise by joining the crowd.
An omolúwàbí, within the Yoruba cultural and moral framework, is not a perfect being or a saint, and Prof. Ogunmoyela is not one. He is just a person who has made the conscious decisions to achieve two ends. The first is to consciously adopt and adapt behavior and attitudes that make him a social being who deploy the highest moral comportment as a member of the moral community—forthrightness, civility, integrity, transparency, compassion, humility, and so on. An omolúwàbí is of course beloved, because he or she is a valuable member of the societies; and he or she is valuable in two senses—one, for adopting values that make progress possible, and for being invaluable to the community. The second end has to do with the omolúwàbí’s other-regarding qualities. Indeed, the omolúwàbí is someone whose is valuable to the community because he or she has relational qualities that will not jeopardize communal sense of belonging. An omolúwàbí will not corner the commonwealth for personal use. And would not undermine the communal bond for self-aggrandizement. Of course, the omolúwàbí is not immune to temptation. Its just that he or she would be checked at all point by the counter-suggestion that a good name is better than gold.
This is the lesson to be learnt from the trajectories of life and career of my dear brother, Prof. Ogunmoyela—even in the absence of godfathers to pave your ways, you can still leave marks through dedication and service. Ogunmoyela ran the gauntlet of life and profession by trusting in his principles and in God. His eyes were always cast back to his cultural formation and the moral lessons inscribed on his conscience by a virtue-conscious family, a sense of purpose and an unrelenting desire to always tread the path of honor, with eternity in focus. From him, we recognize what Aristotle has been saying many centuries ago: a nation becomes the site of continuous moral rebirth if value consciousness can be ingrained upon the national consciousness through millions of individuals who have been habituated to behave well. Starting from the family, the value trajectory of virtuous individuals—like Professor Ogunmoyela and the godly children he has been commissioned to train to be like him, in the order of Abraham—reaches forward into communal and national development.
Of course, all citizens cannot be virtuous. What Nigeria is lacking is a critical mass of virtuous and patriotic omolúwàbí. At least we have one in septuagenarian Ogunmoyela—and his entire household after him.
*Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary & Professor, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos (firstname.lastname@example.org)