By Prof Hassan A. Saliu
I first met Lucky Ovwasa as a colleague in the Department of Political Science, University of Ilorin in 1998 after crossing over from my initial base at the Defence Academy, Kaduna. He had joined the Department much earlier in 1983 as a youth corps member and later as a staff. He is very jovial and easy-going but can be fanatical about ASUU. He is in the area of Local Government, a research area he has made his greatest impact. I recall in 1999 when I edited a volume on Nigeria’s Political Economy, his chapter on local government was conspicuously in the book. We stayed together for a considerable length of time before circumstances forced him to migrate to a University in Delta State and from there to Anyigba and later to where he has retired from, Federal University, Lokoja.
He is a lover of truth. Ovwasa can hardly hold on to a sentiment for too long. By his nature, he can easily let the cat out of the bag. He is brutally frank; he says it as it is even, if it means saying it raw. He was getting on well with students and he is not hypocritical about anything. I recall some incidents that happened between us. The first was when our students in a particular year organised an end of study party for themselves and we, their teachers usually attend such parties to wave them bye from the school. Somewhere in the course of the programme, he put his ears close to mine to say: “Saliu, are you truly from Ilorin because Ilorin people are very lazy but you are hard working?” I answered him by saying that I was from Delta State, not Kwara State. He kept quiet but he was not satisfied with my answers.
On another occasion, he went public with his notion about me. One afternoon around my office (by the way, his office was just opposite mine at the main campus of UNILORIN) by saying that “Saliu, you are like a fish who can hardly survive outside water” I enquired what he meant by that. He then said that I was too much engaged in International Relations and he wondered if I could survive in any other sub-sets of the discipline of Political Science. He was, of course, referring to my Curriculum Vitae, which is decidedly pro-IR. I just laughed with what I considered as complimentary remarks made by him. He was very correct in his assessment but I have equally engaged with some other topics outside IR. For example, in Asaba in 2011, I was assigned to discuss federalism with newly elected members of the National Assembly in an induction course organised for them in the city. I was on that occasion with Profs. Ayo Dunmoye, Sam Egwu, Sulaiman Abubakar, among others. Both Dunmoye and Egwu were surprised when I mounted the podium to deliver my paper on federalism and did justice to the topic. At the end of it all, the duo asked: “Saliu, when did you become a federalist scholar? I jokingly told them that was the topic given to me and because the pay was good, I shed the toga of being an IR person to embrace the direction of the naira. Prof. Sulaiman Abubakar was on that occasion the speaker on Nigeria’s foreign policy.
I was also contacted by the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos, to do a post-mortem analysis of the 2011 General Elections in Nigeria, which I did despite being entrenched in the sub-field of International Relations. I must not fail to remark that the pay this time around was not too good.
Notwithstanding the complicated issues that played out that made him to exit our University, he was a fair-minded person, while he was with us at Ilorin. I recall that Prof. Ovwasa was one of those who had wanted me to continue in office even after the expiration of my tenure in 2008. This, I did not know about until he approached me two years after about the decision of a group he belonged to, to return me to office as the Dean of our Faculty at UNILORIN. I did not initially believe what he had told me. This is because six years earlier, he was all over the place campaigning for my opponent in 2004 when I was going in for my first term in office. He was, however, dead serious this time around. In point of fact, they had started collecting signatures for me to come back to lead the Faculty. Although I had frowned at the efforts of dragging me in again as the Dean at the expense of the younger colleagues who were eyeing the office, I was later told that my record of performance in office was what gave birth to the idea of filling the form for Deanship again for me. Despite my subtle rejection, the effort was getting the attention of more of our colleagues in the Faculty. At a point, I came down with the conclusion that something urgent had to be done by me to keep my integrity and credibility intact. I immediately summoned Ovwasa and told him I would not accept the nomination, two years after leaving office as a Dean though it was permitted by our laws at UNILORIN. As a nomadic kind of lecturer, he criss-crossed about four Universities before retiring.
At the Prince Abubakar Audu University, Anyigba, he was the Head of Department of Political Science and when he got to the Federal University, Lokoja, he also served as Head of Department and the Dean of his Faculty.
As I said at the beginning of this tribute, Prof. Lucky Ovwasa has little space for sentiments. Without him knowing, he will release the bombshell, which in this instance, is the truth about any issues. He was more friendly with the students, which is a plus for him. He was always coming out of the relationships unscratched. He must possess a magic for doing that. As he retires, the exco wishes to remind him that he should utilize his abundant time to also make a contribution at the national level. We are not jealous of him devoting more of his time to the North Central Zone of our Association. All what we ask for is that he should make more presence at the national level. We wish him well after retirement from service.
The author is the President, NPSA