By Ogochukwu Okwuokenye
THE news of Prof. Tony Esijolomi Afejuku’s retirement came to many as a rude shock in and outside Nigeria. Although he officially disengaged his services from the University of Benin, Benin City on June 4, 2023, his 70th birthday and retirement dinner party did not come up until June 11, 2023. The event was organized by Friends of Afejuku (FAJ) which comprises some of his former colleagues at the Department of English and Literature, some of whom he taught at undergraduates, postgraduates, and some he even supervised their Master’s and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees. Others include his professional colleagues at The Nigerian Tribune, The Guardian, The Sun, and a few other notable newspapers.
The event attracted important dignitaries cutting across his professional alignments, from academia to journalism and to even polities. It was a night of Who is Who. The chairman of the occasion was the former Dean of Faculty of Education, Prof. Mon Nwandiani, who applauded Afejuku’s commitment to excellence and scholarship. Also in attendance were the architect, environmental crusader and poet, Nnimmo Bassey and Jonathan Ihonde, the creator and writer of the popular NTA television show Hotel de Jordan and the former Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) warlord and former Edo State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Dr. Osagie Obayuwana.
Indeed, it was a night of appreciation to Afejuku for the lives he transformed, moulded and inspired to greatness. On comments section of the programme, Prof. Felix Ogoanah thanked Afejuku for the role God used him to play in ensuring that the best quality of lecturers were employed in the Department of English and Literature. Ogoanah recalled how Afejuku helped him to join the department after several attempts were unsuccessful. An Associate Professor, Dr. Abigail Eruaga, also commended Afejuku for playing a key role in her employment in the department.
Prof. and Mrs. Alero and Tony Afejuku displaying the souvenir donated by committee of friends at his retirement party from the University of Benin, Benin City
Others who spoke about the celebrant commended him for his commitment to true academic scholarship and global relevance. On his part, Prof. Chukwugozie Maduka, a former colleague and Head, Philosophy Department and one-time Visiting Professor to North Texas University, spoke of his engagement with Afejuku who appealed to him to help with relevant books in phenomenology and was later surprised to see essays written and published by the latter. He went on to add that several of his literary essays are still being used in North Texas University, University of Mumbai, India and several international universities. All these were meant to corroborate his assertion that Afejuku is a global scholar whose scholarly interactions will be greatly missed.
The Dean of Faculty of Arts, Prof. Constantine Lendzemo Yuka, expressed gratitude to God for keeping Afejuku and ensuring that he retired with his health and life preserved. He wished him well and prayed that he would continue to be of service to the nation and the world. Prof. Cyril Obiajulu Mokwenye, former Dean of Faculty of Arts, who retired four years ago, welcomed Afejuku to the club of senior citizens. He praised him for his impressive academic publications and described him as a defender of the system. He highlighted some of his sterling qualities to include honesty, straightforwardness and toughness. He added that Afejuku was highly respected and dreaded by many who did not understand him. Also, a journalist with the Nigeria Tribune, Mr. Suyi Ayodele, extolled Prof. Afejuku’s uniqueness as a fearless upholder of truth, commitment to journalistic ethics of courage and factuality.
On his part, Afejuku expressed gratitude to the organizers of the farewell party in his honour. He began by remarking that “there is oratory in silence,” saying he was moved by all kinds of emotions, when he recalled the fond memories of his journey into academies and how far it had gone and its arrival at a termination point. He explained that “it is good to be tough and to be rightly tough,” and described his toughness as a form of discipline. He expressed thanks to his late parents for nurturing good values in him which he had bequeathed to his students especially the values of hard work, persistence and truthfulness.
In recognition of his exceptional contributions, Professor Tony Afejuku was presented with a beautifully framed photo of himself adorned in academic regalia by the organisers which was a highlight of the significant impact he had on the institution. Overwhelmed with emotions, Afejuku expressed gratitude for the support and camaraderie he experienced throughout his career, emphasising the joy he found in nurturing the next generation of scholars.
The retirement of Afejuku, everyone agreed, represents the departure of one of the strong breeds whose academic staunchness is unrivalled. He was an expert of Modern African prose studies with focus on literary autobiography. Known for his insightful teaching, mentorship and groundbreaking research, Afejuku left a remarkable mark on the world of academia and inspired countless students throughout his tenure. The Itsekiri-born academic may have retired, he is surely not tired. The evening concluded with a lively celebration, as the guests raised their glasses in a toast which was made by Dr. Tunde Adeleke to the commencement of Afejuku’s new chapter as a retired professor. Laughter, memories and well wishes filled the room, as everyone present recognise the profound legacy he has left behind. Reflecting on the event, one of the members of the high table who led the closing prayers, remarked that the night was a testament to the impact Afejuku has had on all. His retirement marks the end of an era but his contributions to humanity continue. The speaker also urged the attendees to utilize their position to impact people owing to the temporal nature of things and the unpredictability of life.
A poetry piece written by Prof. Kola Eke entitled ‘Tony Afejuku’ and performed by Dr. Edafe Mukoro brought literary spice to the event that ushered out the poet and scholar, Afejuku, whose three well received poetry collections include A Garden of Moods, An orchard of Wishes and A Spring of Sweets.
* Okwuokenye is a 300-level student of English and Literature and ELSA Public Relations Officer