By Prof. Mvendaga Jibo
It is with a heavy heart that I write a tribute to Prof Alex Gboyega who was my mentor and friend. I received the news of his passing from a colleague by text. I could not believe it and sought confirmation from his family. My doubts arose from the fact that on the eve of Christmas, Prof. Gboyega and I had a lengthy telephone discussion about Nigeria’s security, economy, and politics. He sounded alright. We also discussed the forthcoming presidential election and the Nigerian judiciary. This was a very frank and constructive interaction. We agreed on many of the issues and differed on several of them. This is normal, whenever political scientists engage each other. Even when I was Prof. Gboyega’s Ph.D. student at the University of Ibadan, he encouraged these frank exchanges with him. He tolerated my “regional perspectives” which sometimes clashed with his. These exchanges happened during the Gen. Sani Abacha regime – the Yoruba, generally, felt that the regime was hard on them, and here was an appointee of the regime’s Devolution of Power Committee defending it from his deep conviction that it was being unfairly criticized! Elsewhere, my Ph.D. thesis would have been unduly delayed, or worse.
On the contrary, Prof. Alex Gboyega, after these encounters, would invite Dooshima (my unfailing companion to Gboyega’s office because we shared driving from Jos or Katsina-Ala to Ibadan) and me to dinner at his on-campus residence. There we shared dinner with his family, Pastor Dr Mrs Joy Amah Gboyega, his amiable wife, and Olumide and Queen, his children. We felt truly welcome. He went out of his way to reduce the stress usually encountered in students/supervisor relationships in the Nigerian university system. I could not believe things could be that smooth. It was also helpful that the head of the department, Prof Tunde Adeniran, like Gboyega, was a decent, thoroughbred academic who coordinated the affairs of the department very well. The Post Graduate Coordinator, Prof. Adigun Agbaje, was also very supportive. Because I returned to the department as its graduate, I enjoyed much goodwill from all of Gboyega’s colleagues.
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Furthermore, Prof. Alex Gboyega was the epitome of a hardworking, meticulous academic. He painstakingly read my drafts and offered incisive comments which greatly enhanced the quality of my thesis, titled ‘Chieftaincy and Politics: The Tor Tiv in the Politics and Administration of Tivland, which has been published by Peter Lang Publishers, Frankfurt, Germany. He kept each appointment he gave me, even when he was doing his sabbatical at Prof Akin Mabogunje’s Research Centre, in Ibadan. This greatly encouraged me to work hard because I was certain to get timely feedback, once I submitted a draft chapter to him.
It was no surprise, therefore, that at my Ph.D. viva in 1998, only minor corrections were suggested by the external examiner, Prof Davies of the University of Ilorin. And these were effected literally the next day before I left Ibadan for Jos where I was then teaching in the Department of Political Science of the University. Prof Alex Gboyega was, therefore, more than a mentor to me, as I will further indicate.
Our relationship after I successfully defended my thesis
Back to Jos, Gboyega encouraged my efforts to publish and be promoted to a Professorship. He linked me up with senior colleagues Dr. B. Onuoha and Dr. M.M Fadakinte, of the University of Lagos, accepted my chapter contribution to Transition Politics in Nigeria (1970-1999). He also linked me up with CRISE: Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity at Oxford University in 2005. This exposed me to high-quality interactions with scholars all over the world. The paper I presented earned me a few thousand British pounds as well.
Support for my gubernatorial aspirations.
Moreover, when I indicated an interest in the Benue State governorship election in 2007, Gboyega prayed for me and greatly encouraged my aspiration. When I lost the nomination, he, surprisingly, sent me N100,000 to help stabilize me! This gesture was greatly appreciated because it was spontaneous and unexpected.
In 2010 the book which was developed out of my thesis was launched at a colourful ceremony at which the late Och’Idoma, Agabaidu Elias Ikoyi Obekpa, the Gbong Gwom Jos, Pa Buba Gyang, the late Emir of Lafia, Alhaji Mustapha Agwai I, representatives of the late Aku Uka of Wukari, Dr. Shekaru Angyu Masa Ibi and the late Oba of Benin, Oba Solomon Akenzua were present. Not to talk of the Hon Minister of Police Affairs, Maina Waziri, who was the book presenter and did a marvellous job of it. The governor of Nasarawa State, His Excellency the late Aliyu Akwe Doma sent a delegation led by the deputy governor, His Excellency Mike Abdul. The host governor, His Excellency Gabriel Suswam, the Governor of Benue State, and his dear wife, Arc. Yemisi Dooshima Suswam laid out an elaborate reception for all the guests, including Prof. Alex Gboyega, who travelled all the way from Ibadan to honour a former student.
No one could ask for more. I was distinguished to sit next to Prof. Gboyega on the high table that day, on 9th September 2010. It was truly a grand event to which I remain grateful to God, the Suswams and Gboyega, and all the dignitaries who turned up in their numbers to grace the occasion. The Tor Tiv, the late Dr. Alfred Akawe Torkula, who was away in Mexico for medical attention was suitably represented by Ter Makurdi, HRH the late Sule Abenga.
Why did Gboyega go to this length?
It did not take long to discover at our first encounter in 1994 at the University of Ibadan that Prof Alex Gboyega was a believer – he took his academics and religion seriously. Even before I met him, the late Prof. David Ker, my HSC classmate who had taught English in Ibadan before relocating to Ahamadu Bello University, Zaria, had spoken glowingly about Prof. Gboyega as a decent, principled academic and had hoped that Prof. Gboyega would be assigned to supervise my thesis. Happily, that was what happened. My research topic was Gboyega’s specialty in Political Science. His deeply religious widow is a pastor in Ambala Daniel Church, Ibadan. It is, therefore, no surprise that Gboyega was the quintessential academic with a Christian conscience. It is his belief in Christ that led him to relate always with a smile and to do good to all manner of people. He was a work-alcoholic who never lost his cool. No matter the pressure from the schedules he had to keep, he remained very calm and constructive.
In the course of our work, Gboyega introduced me to the Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) and this was the first time I had heard about it. He told me that there was a big class of BSF in Jos and encouraged me to join it when I returned there. I gladly joined the BSF and, even though this proved hectic for me, I faithfully attended its sessions and learnt the Bible in greater depth and new Christian songs, including ‘Great is thy Faithfulness’ which has stuck with me and which I love singing.
In the end, we shall miss Prof Alex Gboyega because he was a scholar who taught a great lesson in decency, hard work, and the belief in God. To Dooshima and I, he was a mentor and a friend whom we shall miss direly. His memory will linger with us till we join him in eternity with our creator, the Almighty God.
May God console Prof Gboyega’s widow, Pastor Dr. Joy Amah Gboyega, his children, Olumide and Queen, and their spouses, colleagues, students, and acquaintances. Prof. Alex Gboyega was a great servant of God.
Prof. Jibo writes from Mkar, Benue State