Almost exactly as he would have wished, the Nasarawa State University, Keffi stood still for nearly three hours today at a valediction for Prof Ochinya Ojiji Friday on the way to his final resting place in Akpa, Benue State of Nigeria. That’s the second time within a week the university was doing so for one of its latest set of professors. Earlier on Monday, the Department of Psychology held a valediction of its own for the departed professor. Not only did it stand still, his seniors, equals in rank and students he supervised declared him a rarity. He could not have bargained for more even as someone correctly observed that Ojiji would have found the rites of passage in his honour completely amusing because, as someone else also said, he found much of the world amusing and chose to worship mainly at his own alters. Prof Ojiji died of cardiac arrest on August 3rd, 2018 and is due to be committed to mother earth tomorrow in Akwete, Akpa in Otukpo Local Government Area. 56 years old at his last birthday, he became a professor of Social Psychology in January this year.
Professor Amaechi Nweze who taught the late Prof Ojiji at the University of Jos before both of them became academics at Nasarawa State University said at the valediction that the late Ojiji was a rarity in finishing his PhD under two years at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and being found appointable as a Senior Lecturer as a fresh PhD holder. It was his rarity that made Profesor Isidore Eyo, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Uyo to find him good fit to be the pioneer Head of Department of Psychology there. According to Prof Nweze, Ojiji “was able to do a thorough pioneering work there”. For him, the Department of Psychology at Nasarawa State University, the university itself and the discipline of Psychology in Nigeria had lost a scholar in Ojiji’s death because any student can testify to that”. There was something that distinguished him, said Prof Nweze who identified that in his capacity to report as well as a disposition to die fighting injustice. All we need to do is pray to God to grant him eternal rest, concluded Prof Nweze.
Dr. Francis Onu, an Associate Professor of Sociology and the Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences of Nasarawa State University, Keffi described Ojiji as a policy analyst, social commentator and, for many years, editor and editor-in-chief of the Nigerian Journal of Psychology, positions which he said measured Ojiji’s subject matter mastery of the discipline as well as interest in research. He too made reference to the feat of accomplishing a PhD under two years in a serious academic institution as the University of Nigeria Nsukka, adding how Ojiji won the award for the best PhD thesis in the year he graduated. Dr. Mairiga J. P, the local chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASUU) did not stray far from his fellow speakers, describing Ojiji as a mentor (of students) to the core. He said only God could answer why Ojiji would die at this point in time when colleagues had not finished celebration of his professorship.
Dr MosesZaruwa, a graduate student supervised by the late Ojiji disclosed how it turned out that Ojiji knew his state of Adamawa more than he does, telling him extraordinary details of the nature and dynamics of conflicts in Adamawa and Traraba states. Ojiji, said Dr Zaruwa, was an authority in Psychology who came to class with confidence. “I saw in him a great man whom Nigeria did not recognise. Even if they did, they did a poor job of it”, said Dr Zaruwa who added how the task is for people like him to try to replicate Ojiji.
Professor Olayemi Akinwumi who relocated from Europe to Nigeria and runs an academic unit dealing with governance at Nasarawa State University spoke of his own encounter with the late Ojiji. Told that Ojiji was his best bet to handle the ‘Peace and Conflict’ module of his unit, he put a call to the late professor to book an appointment but only to find the professor come to his office on the issue.
The valediction that was to have lasted just an hour went nearly to noon, getting those travelling to Benue State to witness the burial goose pimples because of the distance to be covered and the notorious Aliade – Otukpo section of the road. Putting the theological face to the entire valediction, Dr Abraham David, Nasarawa State University Chaplain said what matters is what a lecturer’s students says about him or her at death. He said although people rarely talk bad about the dead, the singular direction of all the speakers indicated Ojiji was a qualitative person in life. He prayed God that there would be no gathering to bury anyone less than a 100 years old in the university again. Addressing Ojiji’s widow, Dr David was sure that God would not forsake her and that this is the time she would enjoy the best of God. Mr. Diego Okenyodo who spoke for the family because the widow is still emotionally drained described Ojiji as the backbone of the family. Ojiji, he said, was someone who had strong convictions about things but who remained able to say his mind without confrontation. As elated and cheered as the audience by the theological dexterity of the university Chaplain, the element of perplexity about Ojiji’s death still pervaded the atmosphere as the ceremony came to a close with attendees singing “It is well with my soul”.
Professor Ojiji’s funeral has become an all-involving affair drawing in a criss-crossing array of mourners, among them the university where he taught; the University of Uyo in Akwa Ibom State where he was the pioneer Head of Department of Psychology; the Institute of Peace and Conflict Resolution, Abuja; the Akpa Development Association; the National Film and Censors Board where his wife works; the Idoma Community Secondary School, Otobi Old Boys Association; the NKST Church, Mabushi in Abuja.
Friday night or Saturday morning (tomorrow) is expected to witness a special staging of the Ichahoho dance for him by youths in Akwete, the section of Akpa he comes from. Ichahoho dance has a mystery around it that goes beyond its definition as the dance that signals to local warriors and young men that there is a danger around the corner, an enemy to be fought. This time, it might be no more than the youths’ consideration for someone they consider to be a warrior. It is not normally staged for non-elders. Prof Ojiji was, until his death, the guardian of many youth groups in the area. He was also a culturalist to the core, shocking people who gathered at the burial of his father a few years back by expertly enacting a few steps of one of the traditional dances. Almost nobody thought after all the years across the universities, he could still dance the footsteps of his forefathers that expertly. Intervention was told he lost considerable interest in traditional matters when he found the succession sequence was being tampered with but he remained the unpaid consultant on conflict settlement within that system.
His school mate at Idoma Community Secondary School and life-long friend as well, Mr. Aje Oitu Oga, told Intervention how strategic Ojiji and another old boy who is also late, Air Vice-Marshal Unaji Oche were to the plan executed by the old boys association involving N1.7m worth of science equipment and Mathematics kit from the National Mathematical Centre, Abuja to their alma mater. The post-gift assessment, he said, had shown a remarkable impact score. Mr. Emmanuel Odoh who read Sociology at the University of Jos where Ojiji also read Psychology spoke to his brilliance. “I am not sure anymore but I think he came out in First Class when some of us were battling with 2.2”
The burial of late Professor Ojiji tomorrow might, however, not be the end of one of the severest battles he is known to have fought in his life. Indications are that his death will not mean the end of that battle which saw himself and another of his colleagues, Mr Lanre Obafemi dismissed from the Institute of Peace and Conflict Resolution, (IPCR) Abuja in 2009 for allegedly disallowing their secretaries from being posted out of the sections of the institute each of the two were heading since the Director-Generalship of the highly regarded Prof Sunday Ochoche who later went to work for the UN. Although the National Assembly which investigated the dismissal is understood to have wondered how it could have happened and demanded the restoration of their services, the IPCR has not complied. So also the intervention of some previous DGs of the institute who found the action funny! While the immediate past DG, Dr Oshita Oshita was inclined to undo the dismissal, internal interests were said to have had their way, prevailing on him not to. What is not clear now is the dimension the struggle would take with Ojiji’s death. Intervention can only report that the matter is far from over and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) might be in severe receiving end of the renewed fight.