IN the early hours of Friday, March 27, foremost language teacher, author and creative writer, Phebean Ajibola Ogundipe, breathed her last in Charlotte, North Carolina, United States. She was aged 92. As many Nigerians are quite aware, she was the principal author of the popular Brighter Grammar series, co-authored with M. Macaulay and C.E. Eckersley. The books have served as a training manual on basic English grammar for generations of Nigerian students, and are quite popular across West Africa. She also had to her credit the New Practical English for Senior Secondary series which she co-authored with P.S. Tregidgo. The books were recommended reading by examination bodies.
Beyond her contributions to language teaching, Ogundipe also made modest contributions to Nigerian literature. Her novel, Up-country Girl: A personal journey and truthful portrayal of African culture, was well received by critics. She also authored short stories published in two anthologies. Ogundipe was the author of the short story, Nothing so sweet, which won first prize in a competition organised by the British Broadcasting Corporation, as well as Folktales and Fables, published by Penguin Books.
Born in Esa Oke in Esa-Oke in present-day Osun State on May 6, 1927, Ogundipe had her primary education in Esa-oke and Imesi-Ile. For her secondary school education, she attended the famous Queen’s College, Yaba, Lagos. For her tertiary education, she attended the University of London. She was also educated at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, where she obtained the Master of Arts honours degree in English Language. She would later go on to establish herself as one of Nigeria’s most notable language teachers.
To say the least, Ogundipe distinguished herself as a classroom teacher at Queen’s College, Ede, in present-day Osun State. She also served as Deputy Chief Federal Adviser on Education, and as National Secretary for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). She was, until her retirement, an acting director in the Federal Ministry of Education. Following her retirement from the public service, she was said to have co-founded a remedial educational institution, Top Tutors. In recognition of her contributions to national development, Ogundipe was, in 1979, bestowed with the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) award.
In a world dominated by men, Ogundipe certainly held her own and became one of Nigeria’s most notable authors and iconic figures, serving as a role model for generations of Nigerian women. In addition, she had a passion for children’s education, a passion all too evident in her publications. Without doubt, she will be fondly remembered by generations of Nigerians. Sadly, though, the clime whose intellectual growth Ogundipe contributed to with relentless energy is now increasingly characterised by vanishing intellectualism. Nowadays, a disturbing majority of Nigerian youths are decidedly anti-intellectual, given to mundane pleasures and purveying warped views anchored on perverse values. Many of the young women pride themselves in being sexual objects or ‘slay queens,’ scoffing at society’s time-honoured values. Yet the point cannot be doubted that the path charted by the likes of Phebean Ogundipe remains the avenue to Nigeria’s development.
No doubt, Phebean Ogundipe lived a productive life. We salute her contributions to Nigeria’s intellectual development. We commiserate with her family, the Esa-Oke community and the nation in general. May her soul rest in sweet repose.
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