I feel accomplished becoming a professor, raising children alone after husband’s death –75-year-old don, Odebiyi

Adetanwa Odebiyi

I feel accomplished becoming a professor, raising children alone after husband’s death –75-year-old don, Odebiyi

Retired professor of Sociology, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Adetanwa Odebiyi, speaks to GODFREY GEORGE about life as an academic and how she raised her children after the death of her husband

What are some of your most remarkable childhood experiences?

One would be when I was selected to play a key role in my primary school in the end of the year nativity play. When I got back home and told my dad, he was so pleased that he raised me and put me on his laps and exclaimed, “Good girl!” I cannot forget that incident even as an adult.

How best would you describe your childhood?

I would say I had a privileged childhood. My father was from Abeokuta. My mom was from Sierra Leone. They met in Lagos when she came with her sister to school. We were a family of seven – five children (two boys and three girls) and my parents. Out of the five children, only three of us are alive right now. I turned 75 in November. I wouldn’t want to say it was a ‘silver spoon’ experience, because my family was middle class. My parents were civil servants. My dad retired as a Deputy Permanent Secretary in Oyo State. My mother also retired as an education officer at the Ministry of Education, Oyo State. Both of them had some education abroad. My mom went to a college in Edinburg, Scotland; same as my dad. They brought us up in a comfortable setting and we never lacked anything. We were driven to and from school.

What schools did you attend?

I started my schooling at Children’s Home School, Ibadan. We were very few who got into the school then. We were not up to six years old, which was the official age to start schooling at that time. When I turned six, I went to ICC Primary School, Okebola, Ibadan. I went to Queen’s School, Ede, present-day Osun State. It was a school, one of the best for girls in those days. I did my HSE there before I proceeded to the University of Ibadan, Oyo State, and bagged a degree in Sociology. I graduated with 2.1 grade, so I was awarded the university scholarship to go for my postgraduate studies. It was automatic then. If you made 2.1 or first class honours, the university would sponsor you for your postgraduate studies. Then, I moved on to do my master’s at the same university. That was when I met my husband. I met him in postgraduate school. He had also graduated with 2.1 and was on the university’s scholarship. He just told me we should get married.

Was it love at first sight?

(Laughs) You know we were in the same PG school. He was studying for MSc in Biochemistry. In fact, what happened was that after our first degree, if you graduated with a good grade, the would sponsor you to go to Britain for summer holiday. So, we both travelled abroad. There was a club we used to go in London then – Q Club. It was on Paddington Street. There was a way we used to dance in that club. So, when we came back to Nigeria and we had to attend a party, we could tell from the way people danced those who had been to Q Club. There were some dresses that were trending then. He bought the ones for the males; I bought the ones for the females. So, we had so many things in common. He would wear his see-through shirt; I would wear my see-through blouse. We started to notice each other. We started dating as well. So, it was more or less mutual attraction. That was when he told me that he wanted us to get married and start a family. So, I had to reduce my academic career pace, because we were mates in PG school. We said to ourselves, “Look, the two of us cannot be chasing this thing at the same pace!” We eventually got married and began a family.

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We were married for only 17 years during which we were blessed with all the children we had. After 17 years, he passed on in a ghastly motor accident on the Ife-Ibadan Road in 1987. After then, I made up my mind that I wouldn’t want my children to suffer because of the loss of their dad. I would have to work extra hard to make up for the gap. So, I remember I used to write proposals, go for conferences so I would get promoted when the time came. Those days, the universities were very buoyant. Once the organiser of a conference accepts your abstract, the university would sponsor you for that conference. So, almost every year, I would have one conference or the other to go to, and I would be sponsored by the university. My children used to look forward to that, because they knew that whenever I travelled, I would make sure I buy them gifts. I would tell them, “Get me the list of things you need!” and they’d be so happy. They were my priority. I remember there was a time I came back from one of the conferences and emptied my box, and they asked me, “Mummy, what did you get for yourself?” and I told them I would buy something for myself when I went for my next trip. I was always satisfied whenever I could satisfy their own needs. As a sociologist, I knew that a downward slide can affect children. If you are used to one level and then you sharply go down, it can affect one. They had been wearing some type of clothes before and then they could not afford it. They would need to change some of their friends. I knew it could have a negative effect on the children, so I tried as much as possible to make up. Although I knew it couldn’t be the same, I made sure they did not lack anything.

Was your late husband a lecturer as well?

He was an associate professor at the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, when he died. He was returning to Ife when he had the accident that claimed his life. When he finished his PhD programme, we moved to the then University of Ife.

You both lectured in the then University of Ife?

Yes, we did.

What was the experience like working with your husband in the same university?

There were many people like that on campus. It wasn’t anything different for us. The only thing was that it was really very challenging for the women. It meant that they had to put in so much in their academic work and at the same time make sure that the home front did not suffer in any way. The women had to learn how to balance things. It was very challenging. I had to put my home first. As a woman, if you don’t want anything to suffer, then, you’d have to put the home first. You wouldn’t want to offend your husband in any way; at the same time, you must also give your work the best. You must not lack in anything in terms of the stuff you are going to be giving your work. I remember I would be in the library, conducting research into issues. The students, in those days, used to have a magazine, where they gave some excellent lecturers awards. Whenever I saw my name published, it made me feel fulfilled. I knew I was doing something right. At home, your husband, too, should not be complaining that you are deficient in anything. I would still have to monitor my children’s academic performance. I would bring in private teachers to teach them and make sure I had enough time for us to talk. The one that indicated interest in the keyboard, I also got him a private tutor. I was so happy when he played at the University Chapel. It made me so pleased. It was a lot of balancing. It was tough, but it was not impossible.

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Where did you begin your lecturing journey?

I spent 35 years at the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) at the Department of Sociology. I was a Senior Lecturer when my husband passed on in 1987. I was Head, Department of Sociology for five years. I was Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences for two years. I was also the President of the Nigerian Anthropological and Sociological Association for five years. I became a professor in 1991.

What was your experience like in the teaching sector?

I must say I enjoyed my profession. I had always admired my teachers when I was in UI. I used to envy them as a student. I didn’t know I would get there, too. I remember I used to pray, asking God to help me to be like them. I used to see them as mini-gods who knew everything. When I started climbing the ladder of my profession, I then began to understand what they went through to get to that level. To get promoted, you have to make sure you publish in reputable journals. In OAU, 20 per cent of your publication must be in international journals before they would accept you for professorship, so everyone needed to work hard. Just knowing somebody would not help, because the application would go through rigorous processes and have different committees look at it. They would access your publication based on the laid-down regulations. We were on our toes. The common slogan amongst us then was ‘Operation Publish or Perish’.

How did you feel when you found out you were going to be a professor?

If you got the promotion, your case would be decided at the Appointment and Promotions Committee meeting. Most of the time, your Head of Department would have let the cat out of the bag. All the deans who were going to defend your case must have been given your file to get prepared for the committee meeting. Normally, people, on hearing that, would go to their homes and prepare snacks and buy refreshments, because you would get visitors till late in the night who would be rejoicing with you. When I got to know, I just thanked God for bringing me thus far. It wasn’t easy. When my husband passed on in 1987, the promotion came in 1991, about three years later. It was really very tough. One thing about us women is that we try to please our men. After he (my husband) passed on, I had more time to focus on my career and the children. I was able to do more work, since I didn’t have all these additional ‘lovingitis’ to attend to. It was all about work, and to God be the glory.

Were you involved in any community service apart from lecturing?

Yes, I was. Together with three other people, we formed an NGO, Centre for Development and Conflict Management Studies. It was outside the university campus. We had our own office. We were able to get grants to do so many projects. We worked for the World Bank, United States Information Service, MacArthur Foundation, amongst others. We were able to contribute to society.  We worked with widows in Ife. I had personal engagements which I did for WHO, Association of CommonWealth Universities, Association of African Universities, amongst others. Being in the academia was very interesting, though challenging. There was a lot of flexibility. If I have an opportunity to come back to this world again, I would go back to academia. After retiring, I went abroad to relax for a while, but came back and joined Lead City University as a professor. Now, I am fully at home. I have written a book, Twisted Love. It is a novel and is available on Amazon.

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What would you say has been your most remarkable achievement?

Apart from the professorship, which I worked for and got, I think being a single mother (for most of the time) and having been able to see all my children through school was a huge achievement. When the last child graduated from university, I was so grateful to God. When my husband passed on, the first child was just a few months in the medical school. It was a major challenge for me. But when I look back over the years now, I am just so grateful. I began singing and dancing around the house.

What major difference can you spot in today’s world that you didn’t find growing up?

I think that should be technology. We are getting to a stage where everything would be computerised. In fact, I saw something recently about a cashless society where everything is now online and automated. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we found out that we could do online teaching, online business, etcetera. People can be in Nigeria and be working in the UK now and be getting their salaries without having to visit the UK.

As a professor of sociology, how would you grade women’s participation in nation building over the years?

Over the years, women have been involved and concerned with nation building. They haven’t been silent. From the days of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and Queen Moremi, we have always been involved in one form or the other. Even in wars, we have always been critical players. You’d find them either helping the men or taking care of those who are wounded at the war front. They have never been given the recognition and support they deserve. In everything, they just push them to the background as if they have nothing to contribute. In many spheres, we are not being accorded the attention we deserve. In some cases, husbands won’t support their wives. If they want to go into politics, you’d hear something like, “No. It is not the area for women!” In the academia, you’d hear, “There can’t be two professors in the house!” These are common things we hear. I remember when I resumed work at the University of Ife then and I told the man that I was supposed to report that, “I am here for duty,” the man just talked to me rudely, “You are coming to report for duty and you didn’t bring your machine?” I asked him, “Please, sir, what is machine?” He laughed and said, “You don’t even know what machine is – typewriter!” Then, I told him I was not employed to be a typist. They just think you are there to be a cleaner or secretary. There is a lot of improvement now though. That is why, today, despite all the hurdles and discouragements, women are still pushing ahead. This is why you are seeing the figures increasing by the day in terms of women making it in the banking sector, in the academia. Right now, we have Professor Chinedum Peace Babalola as Vice-Chancellor, Chrisland University. There is Professor Florence at UNICAL. We have two female DVCs at UI. It is as if women have decided that nobody can push them down. We are tired of the status quo and we are moving on.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t let anyone or anything hold you down. Keep moving! You can achieve anything you put your mind to!

I feel accomplished becoming a professor, raising children alone after husband’s death –75-year-old don, Odebiyi

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