AYO BAMGBOSE AT 80

Filed in General by on January 27, 2012

Ayo Bamgbose at 80
By Oluwole Adejare
Friday January 27, 2012

Ayo Bamgbose, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics (the scientific study of language) turns 80 today 27 January, 2012. An international intellectual giant, Prof. Bamgbose has for almost half a century remained one of the few home-based icons of scholarship who have been making unquantifiable contributions to education in Nigeria and positively enhancing Nigeria’s image in the international community of scholars.

A professor in the Department of Linguistics and African Languages, University of Ibadan, from 1969 to 1990 and a professor emeritus in the same Department from 1994 till date, his birthday is worthy of celebration with sober reflections.
The 80th birthday of Ayo Bamgbose, whose simple approach to life is semiotically reflected in his name, deserves to be celebrated, not only by his family, friends and hosts of former students many of whom are professors today, but also significantly, by a nation to which he has contributed so much in service on matters relating to language, with stunning humility, honesty and a selflessness rare on our shores.

Ayo was born the son of Rev. Bamgbose, a highly respected community leader of Odopotu town, near Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, Nigeria, on 27 January 1932. After primary education he was admitted in 1948 into the highly meritorious, knowledge- focused Nigeria’s premier teachers’ training institution, St. Andrew’s College (now transformed into Ajayi Crowder University), Oyo, as student number 1274. He qualified as a Grade Two teacher in 1951.

While serving his five-year bond with the Anglican Mission as a teacher , Ayo did not toe the line of our television’s fictional Village Headmaster who spends his time meddling with village politics. He studied hard after school instead. Consequently, he gained admission into Nigeria’s premier university, University of Ibadan, then affiliated to the University of London. It must be stressed here that at that time the GCE required for admission was conducted from London. Candidates in Nigeria thus sat for the same examinations written by those in England and the scripts were marked in London. Yet, Ayo Bamgbose, like a few diligent others, passed the examination in flying colours.

Graduating with a high second class Upper Division B.A. (Hons) English degree of the University of London within the minimum time in 1960, he did not join the rush for civil service jobs that flooded the country following the departure of colonial Britain’s civil servants. Instead, he immediately proceeded to University of Edinburgh, Scotland, where he earned a Diploma in General Linguistics in 1961 and his Ph. D in 1963 with the thesis A Study of Structures and Classes in the Grammar of Modern Yoruba.

That is an instructive student career for today’s often disillusioned Nigerian youths, a model worth emulating. Its catalyst for success is hard work and perseverance. Ayo Bamgbose fed his brain as he fed his belly probably because he intuitively realized that the better-fed brain would ultimately control the brutal strength of the well-fed belly with a starved brain. That, of course, demands self-discipline, setting up of a clear bus stop in life, honesty and initial sacrifices to override the inevitable challenges that invariably crop up on the way to success. Prof. Bamgbose’s life proves that God comes in after a man has done his part. It is true that if Paul sows and Apollo waters, nothing will be achieved without God’s blessings. But if Paul refuses to sow anything, what will Apollo water? And what will God bless?

A true scholar, Prof. Bamgbose has immensely contributed to knowledge, developed intellectual manpower and positively projected Nigeria’s intellectual image internationally, as summarized below. The core of Prof. Bamgbose’s contribution to knowledge is his work on the structure of Yoruba that ranks him alongside pioneer 19th century Bishop Ajayi Crowder. Among his twenty-one books, Grammar of Yoruba (Cambridge University Press, 1966) remains a classic in the application of modern linguistics to Yoruba. Equally significant is Fonologi ati Girama Yoruba (University Press Ltd., Ibadan, 1990) which tackles the problem of linguistic metalanguage of Yoruba students. His versatility is evident in Orthographies of Nigerian Languages [Efik, Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba] (National Language Centre, Lagos, 1981), Language and the Nation (Edinburgh Univ. Press, 1991), and Language and Exclusion (LIT Verlag, 2000). With over 130 other papers or chapters in books, a more prolific scholar is hard to come by.

Prof. Bamgbose’s contribution to manpower development in linguistics is equally vast. Apart from a large number of his ex-students, many of whom are professors today, his influence extends to younger scholars as I can attest. Though he never formally taught me, we are both old boys of St. Andrew’s College, Oyo. I first saw Ayo Bamgbose Ph .D on St. Andrew’s College Honours Board. I heard the name again in 1966 when, as College Prefect, I was involved in the college’s 70th anniversary celebrations. I met the intellectual giant after my Sheffield University’s Ph.D as external examiner for my English Department at Ife. He asked for the lecturer of the two courses I gave at the Examiners’ meeting and later requested for my thesis which he read and returned.

Shortly thereafter, University of Ibadan’s Department of English appointed me an Associate Lecturer to teach its postgraduate students my Natural Language Linguistics theory, without my applying for a job. Prof. Bamgbose was alleged to have alerted the Department. The rapport grew to the extent that my forthcoming book, Natural Language Linguistics, acknowledges Prof. Bamgbose alongside giants of linguistics such as Professors M.A.K. Halliday and Margret Berry. Such a recognition and promotion of new knowledge is rare and I am sure others beside me also benefited.

Prof. Bamgbose’s positive projection of Nigeria’s intellectual image abroad is also huge. He consulted for the Ford Foundation (1966-1973), was an expert at 14 UNESCO conferences (1971-2003) and has served as external examiner in Ghana, Cameroon and Zimbabwe. In 1990 he presented a paper and moderated a conference on Language Policy in Thailand. Currently, he is on the Executive Committee of the Permanent International Committee of Linguists (CIPL). The list is long. Among those not mentioned yet are membership of 14 linguistic journals’ editorial boards and membership of highbrow leaned societies such as the West African Linguistic Society, Linguistic Society of America, Philosophical Society of Great Britain, and International Association of World Englishes.

In spite of his achievements and huge contributions to linguistics education in Nigeria at all levels, Nigeria has only honoured patriot Ayo Bamgbose with the Nigerian National Order of Merit in 1990. This is nothing to complain about since our National Honours have been so devalued that the likes of Prof Achebe now reject them. Though virtually unsung at home, Prof. Ayo Bamgbose remains a giant among the poplars, or for us Nigerians, a giant among the arabas.

The question raised by Prof. Bamgbose’s illustrious life is why, in spite of our intellectual icons like him, all Nigerian universities are currently at the bottom of the intellectual league both globally and, distressingly, even in Africa? Reflecting on Prof. Bamgbose’s life provides the answer. Nigeria’s pre-independence and pre-civil war blooming intellectual forests have been turned into deserts which changed the then forests of scholarship into today’s desert of scholar-sheep. Do not turn to your dictionary for the meaning of scholar-sheep.

It is the uneducated mesolectal and basilectal pronunciation of scholarship by ill-educated Nigerian masses, whose substitution of the bound morpheme –ship with the meaning [+wisdom] for the free morpheme –sheep semiotically codes the meaning [+stupidity]. Still in doubt? Just reflect on the meaning of boko haram [knowledge is evil] and its current security challenges. Scholar-sheep and boko haram are thus textual synonyms. Apologies. This is not a lecture on linguistics. Just to demonstrate why our intellectual icon, Ayo Bamgbose (and the few others like him) is blooming oasis in our intellectual desert.

Our intellectual desert will return to its original blooming forest when our educational system returns to its pre-civil war system. That means returning the schools taken over as a palliative for Federal monopoly of state funds commandeered to fight the civil war and pocketed ever since. The government cannot continue with its roles of proprietor and regulator of our educational system. Had things been so up to the 1967, we might not have had the intellectual icon, Bamgbose, to celebrate today.
For the reasons adduced above thanks be to God for keeping alive and in robust health, Prof. Ayo Bamgbose, the intellectual icon. You are a beckon of hope in our current intellectual fog. Your selfless service to Nigeria and humanity will remain indelible. All those for whom you are a role model rejoice with you and your family. Very happy birthday, Prof. Many happy returns. Igba odun, odun kan o (a year of your life will equal 200 calendar years).

Professor Adejare writes from Agbara Estate.

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