By ‘Joba Ojelabi
My first encounter with Professor Anthony Elujoba was in my sophomore year in the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-ife. It was my first year in the Faculty of Pharmacy and sadly, my first time handling a working microscope. Like most of my colleagues, I did not know what I was expected to see under the lens so at the sight of everything not the bright background light, I called the laboratory demonstrator. It was in the midst of this that he walked in. It was as though even the air of the laboratory recognized the oldest lecturer in the department of Pharmacognosy as it, alongside other staff present stood still. This was not his first time of stopping by the laboratory to assess the performance of the demonstrators and students. The events that followed showed that it would not be his last. At the time, he did not hold any official position, his visits were only that of the concerned elder whose presence in the market square ensured the neonate properly rested on his mother’s back. Looking back now, I think maybe the old Professor just wanted to ensure that we did things right.
The drama that ensued at the exit of Professor Bamitale Omole is one that the Obafemi Awolowo University community would not forget in a hurry. The alleged misdoings of the Professor of International Relations and the fact that his deputy emerged in what many described as a corrupt process threw staff unions, especially the non-academic staff, into a massive frenzy. It is therefore not strange to hear believers of the supernatural to describe the emergence of Professor Anthony Elujoba as the acting Vice-Chancellor of the university as divine. The Village Chemist walked into the new office with a tremendous amount of humility or at least, so the media made it seem: He was kneeling for prayers in open spaces; for the first time in a long while, principal officers of the university paid unannounced visits to the undergraduate Halls of Residence; he was prostrating to greet the Ooni of Ife etc. These, amongst other things, made it seems as though the new Vice-chancellor might actually be the man to save the day. However, still some doubt existed.
Halfway into his administration, several questions were asked again. Going by the laws of the University, an acting Vice-chancellor could only operate for a renewable six-month term. Was Anthony Elujoba going to be around for another six months? The insatiable students had already begun to grumble about how he was all talk and no action and the renovations that had come earlier in his administration might just be a hoax. But still, quite a number of members of the university still wanted the “doing things right” Professor to remain, for although the electricity condition on campus might not have improved greatly, somehow he had managed to keep the gates of the University open for six months despite several threats of strike actions had come from several quarters. And when it came to the Non-academic staff, it was as though the man had something that just gave them hope and joy. For whenever they saw him, they had a huge tendency to burst into ecstasy. Once I met some Non-academic staff who asked me where they could buy “Professor Elujoba’s Jedi Decoction” in the Faculty of Pharmacy and although I knew that my home faculty dealt in some herbal remedies, I did not know that Professor Elujoba had invented such a remedy but I directed them to the Faculty anyways. A reaffirmation of the love the people had for Anthony Elujoba would once again be proven when he was invited to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. The mere thought of his invitation sparked a lot of outrage amongst members of the university and the day that he honored the invitation would be remembered in the OAU campus as the day almost, if not, all unions in the Obafemi Awolowo University stood on the same ground, all for one man!
As a true student of the Obafemi Awolowo University, I have visited the Oduduwa Hall of the university more times than I can remember but Wednesday, the 7th of June 2017 would remain one of my most memorable visits to the Hall. That day, I saw the kind of joy which, before then, I had only seen in fans of soccer. One not merely born of obligation or compulsion but of love. I saw old men sing the “Elu…” song at the top of their voices for the man whom had somehow managed to gain so much love for himself. And although some students and staff remained indifferent about the performance of the ecclesiastical professor after his ten months tenure, not a lot of people disliked him and whatever their number was, it remained almost insignificant compared to the amount that had come to revere him. I do not believe Professor Anthony Elujoba is the best speech giver. I feel he is more of a preacher but preacher or not, every word of his valedictory speech drew resounding applause and ultimately, I feel some of that love might have been transferred to his successor, Professor Eyitope Ogunmodede.
Professor Anthony Elujoba might not have been the best Vice-chancellor but he is surely a man to laud. His “doing things right” philosophy which he managed to sing at every opportunity seems to have worked out just fine for him and his humility was one that left mouths agape. Only a few can match his tremendous work in and love for academic research, little wonder that barely a month after his exit from office, the Professor of Pharmacognosy is already facilitating research and seminars.
I do not know how history would keep the memories of Anthony Elujoba but it is certain the Obafemi Awolowo University would not forget the Professor who did things right.