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Babatunde Aliyu Fafunwa, a tribute

October 12, 2010

Babatunde Aliyu Fafunwa, educationist, died on October 11th, aged 87. A friend mailed a personal account of the late professor; I’m re-posting it.

I only met Professor Fafunwa a few times, during which I made his acquaintance. I visited the house whenever his son-in-law, a good friend of mine, was in the country. My friend habitually stayed over at his parents-in-law’s. But those few times were enough to gain a fair picture of the man.

It is possible that I usually arrived by coincidence only when he had something to cheer about. But it is more likely that his pleasant countenance was a stable one. He always wore a smile and never had airs about him when you were introduced. His study (I believe it was) could be seen from the sitting room and one thing I do remember is that it was always awash with volumes. Often, the pack of books spilled over into the living room, a welcome treat and feast for me – it was a happy pastime to browse them.

One thing I do remember vividly, though, is his magnanimity. It isn’t that I timed my stay to coincide with his lunch hour, but in catching up with my friend, we often deliberately ignored our watches and the turn of the clock. Which, to appease our sense of guilt, was always a good thing, because we ended up lunching with Prof. Fafunwa. It was an unwritten rule of his household that if you happened to be there at meal time, you joined in. And I cannot recall many better table companions than the professor.

If you asked the right questions and broached the right topics, he would regale with anecdotes from his experience and he would also proffer his opinions, without – at all – imposing them. He made you feel like your point of view had great merit, even though – if you were objective – you would frequently see his submissions were of greater weight.

Professor Fafunwa struck me as a genuinely detribalised Nigerian, if you allow that adjective that is a rather clumsy word, but is worth its every syllable in gold where our country is concerned. It pained him that he had to leave Nsukka and the university there, as a result of the civil war. He would regale with stories and happy memories of his time there (if I am not mistaken he became a professor at UNN). He traversed vast territories of Ibo land, driving in his car. He got to know eastern Nigeria like the back of his hand. But the civil war uprooted him and his family, and what was UNN’s monumental loss, became the monumental gain of the then University of Ife.

Unfortunately – for me – I never met Mrs. Fafunwa. Just as by fortunate coincidence, I happened to visit when Professor Fafunwa was home, by a regretful misfortune, my visits always coincided with Mrs. Fafunwa being away. But it wasn’t difficult at all to see and feel her mark in their household. For one, she is white and American, married to a Nigerian and a muslim. I risk being preemptive here, but I saw, from the little I noticed in that family, an atmosphere of a refreshing but responsible freedom. At least one of their children (my friend’s wife) is Christian, having converted to Catholicism during her courtship. You might think my friend had a heavy hand in this, but I know he won’t mind me noting here that he didn’t. Indeed, she steered him closer to his Catholic faith, an occurrence he readily gratefully narrates. I believe that that blissful outcome, maintaining a happy and united larger family, must be due in large measure to the maternal nurturing and affectionate vigilance of Mrs. Fafunwa.

Professor Fafunwa’s death does serve to remind me that I am getting on in age. As a friend once put it to me, a person’s adult life can be divided into three phases. In one, we are attending each other’s wedding. In the second, we attend the funerals of our parents. While in the third, we witness at one another’s own funerals. Mrs. Fafunwa and her family should take plenty comfort in the knowledge that their husband and father lived to the age he was, and that – most importantly – he left a mark and legacy that any family would fervently wish and pray to be their lot. I am grateful to have made Professor Fafunwa’s acquaintance, and I have no doubt at all that I am the richer and better for it. May God rest him.

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