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“I feel accomplished becoming a professor, raising children alone after my husband’s death,” says 75-year-old Prof

Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), retired Professor, Adetanwa Odebiyi, has said that she feels accomplished having trained all her children and bagging Professorship despite her husband’s death.

In an interview with Punch correspondent, Prof Odebiyi talked about her life as an academic and how she raised her children after the death of her husband.

What schools did you attend?

I started my schooling at Children’s Home School, Ibadan. We were very few who got into the school then. We were not up to six years old, which was the official age to start schooling at that time. When I turned six, I went to ICC Primary School, Okebola, Ibadan. I went to Queen’s School, Ede, present-day Osun State. It was a government school, one of the best for girls in those days. I did my HSE there before I proceeded to the University of Ibadan, Oyo State, and bagged a degree in Sociology. I graduated with 2.1 grade, so I was awarded the university scholarship to go for my postgraduate studies. It was automatic then. If you made 2.1 or first class honours, the university would sponsor you for your postgraduate studies. Then, I moved on to do my master’s at the same university. That was when I met my husband. I met him in postgraduate school. He had also graduated with 2.1 and was on the university’s scholarship. He just told me we should get married.

Was it love at first sight?

(Laughs) You know we were in the same PG school. He was studying for MSc in Biochemistry. In fact, what happened was that after our first degree, if you graduated with a good grade, the government would sponsor you to go to Britain for summer holiday. So, we both travelled abroad. There was a club we used to go in London then – Q Club. It was on Paddington Street. There was a way we used to dance in that club. So, when we came back to Nigeria and we had to attend a party, we could tell from the way people danced those who had been to Q Club. There were some dresses that were trending then. He bought the ones for the males; I bought the ones for the females. So, we had so many things in common. He would wear his see-through shirt; I would wear my see-through blouse. We started to notice each other. We started dating as well. So, it was more or less mutual attraction. That was when he told me that he wanted us to get married and start a family. So, I had to reduce my academic career pace, because we were mates in PG school. We said to ourselves, “Look, the two of us cannot be chasing this thing at the same pace!” We eventually got married and began a family.

We were married for only 17 years during which we were blessed with all the children we had. After 17 years, he passed on in a ghastly motor accident on the Ife-Ibadan Road in 1987. After then, I made up my mind that I wouldn’t want my children to suffer because of the loss of their dad. I would have to work extra hard to make up for the gap. So, I remember I used to write proposals, go for conferences so I would get promoted when the time came. Those days, the universities were very buoyant. Once the organiser of a conference accepts your abstract, the university would sponsor you for that conference. So, almost every year, I would have one conference or the other to go to, and I would be sponsored by the university. My children used to look forward to that, because they knew that whenever I travelled, I would make sure I buy them gifts. I would tell them, “Get me the list of things you need!” and they’d be so happy. They were my priority. I remember there was a time I came back from one of the conferences and emptied my box, and they asked me, “Mummy, what did you get for yourself?” and I told them I would buy something for myself when I went for my next trip. I was always satisfied whenever I could satisfy their own needs. As a sociologist, I knew that a downward slide can affect children. If you are used to one level and then you sharply go down, it can affect one. They had been wearing some type of clothes before and then they could not afford it. They would need to change some of their friends. I knew it could have a negative effect on the children, so I tried as much as possible to make up. Although I knew it couldn’t be the same, I made sure they did not lack anything.

Was your late husband a lecturer as well?

He was an associate professor at the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, when he died. He was returning to Ife when he had the accident that claimed his life. When he finished his PhD programme, we moved to the then University of Ife.

You both lectured in the then University of Ife?

Yes, we did.

What was the experience like working with your husband in the same university?

There were many people like that on campus. It wasn’t anything different for us. The only thing was that it was really very challenging for the women. It meant that they had to put in so much in their academic work and at the same time make sure that the home front did not suffer in any way. The women had to learn how to balance things. It was very challenging. I had to put my home first. As a woman, if you don’t want anything to suffer, then, you’d have to put the home first. You wouldn’t want to offend your husband in any way; at the same time, you must also give your work the best. You must not lack in anything in terms of the stuff you are going to be giving your work. I remember I would be in the library, conducting research into issues. The students, in those days, used to have a magazine, where they gave some excellent lecturers awards. Whenever I saw my name published, it made me feel fulfilled. I knew I was doing something right. At home, your husband, too, should not be complaining that you are deficient in anything. I would still have to monitor my children’s academic performance. I would bring in private teachers to teach them and make sure I had enough time for us to talk. The one that indicated interest in the keyboard, I also got him a private tutor. I was so happy when he played at the University Chapel. It made me so pleased. It was a lot of balancing. It was tough, but it was not impossible.

Where did you begin your lecturing journey?

I spent 35 years at the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) at the Department of Sociology. I was a Senior Lecturer when my husband passed on in 1987. I was Head, Department of Sociology for five years. I was Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences for two years. I was also the President of the Nigerian Anthropological and Sociological Association for five years. I became a professor in 1991.

What was your experience like in the teaching sector?

I must say I enjoyed my profession. I had always admired my teachers when I was in UI. I used to envy them as a student. I didn’t know I would get there, too. I remember I used to pray, asking God to help me to be like them. I used to see them as mini-gods who knew everything. When I started climbing the ladder of my profession, I then began to understand what they went through to get to that level. To get promoted, you have to make sure you publish in reputable journals. In OAU, 20 per cent of your publication must be in international journals before they would accept you for professorship, so everyone needed to work hard. Just knowing somebody would not help, because the application would go through rigorous processes and have different committees look at it. They would access your publication based on the laid-down regulations. We were on our toes. The common slogan amongst us then was ‘Operation Publish or Perish’.

How did you feel when you found out you were going to be a professor?

If you got the promotion, your case would be decided at the Appointment and Promotions Committee meeting. Most of the time, your Head of Department would have let the cat out of the bag. All the deans who were going to defend your case must have been given your file to get prepared for the committee meeting. Normally, people, on hearing that, would go to their homes and prepare snacks and buy refreshments, because you would get visitors till late in the night who would be rejoicing with you. When I got to know, I just thanked God for bringing me thus far. It wasn’t easy. When my husband passed on in 1987, the promotion came in 1991, about three years later. It was really very tough. One thing about us women is that we try to please our men. After he (my husband) passed on, I had more time to focus on my career and the children. I was able to do more work, since I didn’t have all these additional ‘lovingitis’ to attend to. It was all about work, and to God be the glory.

What would you say has been your most remarkable achievement?

Apart from the professorship, which I worked for and got, I think being a single mother (for most of the time) and having been able to see all my children through school was a huge achievement. When the last child graduated from university, I was so grateful to God. When my husband passed on, the first child was just a few months in the medical school. It was a major challenge for me. But when I look back over the years now, I am just so grateful. I began singing and dancing around the house.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t let anyone or anything hold you down. Keep moving! You can achieve anything you put your mind to!

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