The professorial cadre is the most coveted position in academics. It’s the highest rank that an academic can rise to if he/she has the necessary publications, among other basic requirements. Back in the days when the Nigerian education sector was still good, no one gets to the rank of a Professor by privilege. It’s earned through diligence and not subject to ethno-religious and political sentiments.
As undergraduate students, we craved to be taught by professors because they are very special and outstanding scholars in their respective disciplines. For us, there can be no greater honour than being taught by a doyen, an encyclopedia and embodiment of knowledge.
In 2011 when I joined academics as an Assistant Lecturer, I knew that my job demands that I rise through the ranks to join the league of professors as soon as possible. The popular slogan, “publish or perish” rings in my head all the time. Our success in this field is not measured by our lengthy years of service but by the quantity and quality of our publications. I knew that I had a maximum of 2-3 years to get a Master Degree and 5-6 years to cap it with a Ph.D. It’s a onerous, yet inevitable task that I have to accomplish.
In the University system, a professor is a king; he’s above everyone else. There are certain positions that can only be occupied by one who has attained the rank of professor. A Ph.D holder occupying those positions only do so in an acting capacity. From Heads of Departments to Deans of Faculties to Directors of Academic Planning, centers and units, only professors can occupy them comfortably in full capacity.
In the days when our education has value, professors were “gods” and people literally “worship” them. Today, political professors abound everywhere in our higher institutions of learning. Academics now rise to that rank not by virtue of quality of output and depth of knowledge but by political savvy and privileges.
Last week, the topic of my Khutbah in the University masjid was “هو الموت” and my discussion centered on the spectacle of death and why we should be in constant preparation for the inevitable journey. Today, I followed it up with another discussion on “preparation for death” wherein I highlighted some major steps that we need to take before death overtakes us.
As I was putting the final touches on my Khutbah, the death was announced of professor Lateef Mobolaji Adetona, an erudite scholar of Islamic studies from Lagos State University. He died without the slightest hint of death. He arrived in Ilorin last Saturday for the wedding ceremony of Barrister Musharrafah Oladimeji (daughter of Dr. L.F. Oladimeji). This evening, at about 6pm, he was committed to mother earth, never to be seen among the living again.
As he was being laid to rest, I turned to my boss, Professor MM Jimba, and said, “so, this is it?”, he replied, “àyè asán banza”. His eyes were filled with tears. I walked away from him, shaking my head in disbelief. So, is this how a Professor’s grave looks like? I soliloquized. Where’s all the honour? Where’s the pride? Where’s the knowledge? It’s all dead and buried under a small heap of sand!!!
But why would a Professor’s grave look like a commoner’s? Why? Why would we bury a king of academia like a layman? Why? He’s not just anyone for God’s sake, he’s a doyen!! He’s knowledge personified! He’s an encyclopedia!! Bury him differently! Find somewhere in space to bury him! He should be on top of everyone else!!!
If I die before becoming a professor, I die an ordinary man with no name; a second class citizen in the academia. But if I die as a professor, I die a king; a don; a doyen. And when I’m finally laid to rest, people will point at my grave and say, “here’s the grave of a professor”.
Does it make any difference? No. Will my grave be decorated specially? No. What will make the difference is how many lives I was able to touch, impact and change positively. What will make the difference is how disciplined, chaste, honest, diligent and above all God-fearing I was while I lived among men. In the end, what matters are the life in my years and not the years in my life.
These were the virtues that professor M.L. Adetona lived for as attested to by his teachers, friends and students.
May Allaah forgive him and admit him into Jannatu’l-Firdaws. Aaaaameeeen.