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Excellence of Ayo Banjo: A celebration of scholarship in essence of language

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Excellence of Ayo Banjo: A celebration of scholarship in essence of language

The University of Ibadan has always been lucky , aside its eminence as the first university in Nigeria, it right from inception boasts of first rate scholars in different field: sciences, engineering, medicine, humanities in general.

Its in this mix of giant academic standing of University of Ibadan’s arts faculty that we have a gallery of stars, which includes the recently deceased Emeritus Professor Ayodeji Banjo, Emeritus Professor of English.

Aside being the longest serving vice chancellor of the UI, he was lucky that during his time, the great Ibadan had Professors Jacob Ade Ajayi, Tekena Tamuno, Obaro Ikime, Abiola Irele, Dan Izebvaye, Bade Onimode, and others, who made the humanities beamed and brimmed with globally recognized highest level of scholarship, one that can be regarded as golden age of Ibadan greatness.

Banjo made the study of English simple, and his own style of teaching demystified English structure. His autobiography, ‘Morning by Morning,’ published in 2019, is a masterpiece of autobiography writing.

Banjo loved literature and strove to promote Nigerian literature. He played “a major role” in the establishment of the Nigeria Prize for Literature, sponsored by Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Limited. Today, Nigerian Prize for Literature remains the country’s biggest and most prestigious literary prize.

Banjo was Chair, Advisory Board of the Nigeria Prize for Literature, for about 16 years. He left the position in 2021, to become Life Patron of the Literature and Criticism prizes. His legacy includes this noteworthy contribution to the development of literature in Nigeria.

Banjo, the longest serving vice chancellor of the University of Ibadan made an outstanding impact, as a university administrator. His memoir, ‘In the Saddle: A Vice-Chancellor’s Story,’ published in 1997, captures his years at the apex of university administration at the University of Ibadan (UI), including two years as deputy vice-chancellor, one year as acting vice-chancellor and seven years as vice-chancellor (1984 – 1991), respectively. He was the university’s first two-term vice-chancellor, and the longest-serving vice-chancellor in the university’s history. During this period, he was the chairman, committee of vice-chancellors of Nigerian universities (1989–1990).

In an interview in 2017, he observed that the standard of spoken English in Nigeria had declined, and blamed the situation on the quality of teaching at the various levels of education. “I don’t think the schools have been doing a good job teaching English. Many users of the language are very deficient, whether you look at the pronunciation, the vocabulary or its pragmatics,” he said.

According to him, “Now, with the explosion in public education, many people are taught English, but they are taught very badly. The English of the English teachers is not something to write home about and that is why the language is deteriorating in Nigeria.”

Nothing shows Banjo’s love of teaching more than his humility by returning to the classroom to lecture after completing his tenure as vice-chancellor. He was given the title ‘Professor Emeritus’ after he retired in 1994, showing that he retired in good standing, and in recognition of his distinguished service to the university.

Interestingly, his retirement at the age of 60 had coincided with a new Federal Government policy on extension of the retirement age to 70 years for academic staff, but he chose to exit despite a formal request from the university management that he should reconsider his departure.

A memorable Banjo’s memorabilia was in 2018, when honour again came the way of Banjo, when several scholars spoke glowingly about his essence.

It was at the 2018 edition of the Emeritus Professor Ayo Banjo Personality Lecture organized by the varsity’s National Association of Students of English and Literary Studies. At the event held at the Room 32 Lecture Room of the institution’s Faculty of Arts, scholars that include the Dean of the faculty, Prof. Ademola Dasilva; the Head of Department of English, Prof. Ayo Ogunsiji; a Professor of Pragmatics and Discourse Analysis, Akin Odebunmi, who was the guest speaker, described Banjo as a man of enviable accomplishment and integrity.

But there was another symbolic guest at the programme. This is Banjo’s long-time friend, colleague and co-sojourner in excellent scholarship, Prof. Ayo Bamgbose, who was the chairman. Apart from several other experts present — especially lecturers from the department — one other unique person there was Prof. Festus Adesanoye, who Banjo described as his Daodu — Yoruba word for one’s first son. The reason is that he is Banjo’s first PhD student and graduate.

At the event, Bamgbose noted that Banjo was a man of many parts. According to him, beyond being a great scholar, he is a man of great integrity.

“You have heard some vice-chancellors being invited by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission, you have never heard anything like that about him. He is a good man. Every Wednesday, he comes here (to the campus) and everybody is happy to see him.

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Everywhere he goes, people show affection for him. That is what the Yoruba call O l’eran ife l’ara (born to be loved and admired). When you see a man, who was a VC for eight years, he still comes back and everyone still admires him, he must indeed have done well.”

Ayo Banjo was born on 2 May 1934 in Oyo State, Nigeria to Ayodele Banjo. He attended St. Andrews Anglican Primary School and Christ Cathedral Primary School in Lagos state, Nigeria. He had his secondary education in Igbobi College in Lagos State between 1947 and 1952. In 1966, he won the United States Department of State scholarship for an M.A. in linguistics at the University of California, Los Angeles, U.S. He further obtained a PhD in 1969 from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria.

Banjo began his career as a lecturer at the Department of English Language, University of Ibadan in 1966. He was appointed associate professor in 1973 and became a full professor in 1975 at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. In 1981, he became the vice-chancellor of the University of Ibadan.

He was appointed vice-chancellor of the University of Ibadan in 1984, a position he held till 1991. During this period, he was the chairman of the committee of vice-chancellor of Nigerian universities. He served as visiting professor for one year at the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill as well as visiting fellow at the University of Cambridge, England between 1993 and 1994. He was appointed as the pro-chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt between 2000 and 2004.

After his tenure he was appointed as pro-chancellor of the University of Ilorin for two years (2005–2007). He also served as the incumbent pro-chancellor of Ajayi Crowther University.

 

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