Professor Michael Abiola Omolewa, a man of many parts at 80

April 2, 2021
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A Nigerian diplomat, scholar, education historian, and civil servant, Emeritus Professor of Adult Education at the University of Ibadan, Michael Abiola Omolewa, was born on Tuesday, April 1, 1941, in Ipoti-Ekiti, Ekiti State. His tracks of quintessential contributions to the development of the country speak volume of the scholar. From September 2003 to October 2005, he served as the 32nd president of the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). As the president, he led UNESCO to adopt the International Declaration on Human Genetic Data and the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. From January 2000 to August 2009, this enigma served as a permanent delegate and an ambassador of Nigeria to UNESCO.

He is a former deputy chair of the governing board of the Commonwealth of Learning in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and also a member of the Commonwealth Advisory Council on Teacher Mobility, Recruitment and Migrations in London. He is a man of many parts and means so many things to different people. The six categories include as a:  teacher/scholar, diplomat, humanist/pan-Africanist, evangelist/pastor, mentor and close relative. He was admired as a scholar and teacher by his senior and junior colleagues, his bosses, family and friends, mentees and students. One of his former students, Professor K.O. Ojokheta, for instance, recalled “he would not start his lecture without prayers; his content delivery was awe-inspiring, exhilarating, and ‘arresting; he would not come to the class with a single sheet of paper; everything was delivered off-hand. On any topic, he would cite numerous scholars off-hand in chronological order, their publications, the dates, and the view expressed; he would not end his class without prayers.”

As humanist, Omolewa is highly commended by many due to his unbiased disposition to all and the quest to add value to anybody that comes close to him. Former Minister of Education, Professor Tunde Adeniran, described him as “human-machine with a baffling zest, an academic juggernaut, a social exemplar with an unusual sense of humour, a courageous and perceptive diplomat with effervescent conviviality, a conscientious believer with apostolic fervour and an exemplification of therapeutic humanism!” Professor Noel Ihebuzor described him as a “humanist scholar in the full sense of the word, with human being at the centre of his research and practice.” He is an outstanding diplomat whose name is written in gold in UNESCO. His boss, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, said “Without any doubt, Omolewa was one of the most distinguished erudite diplomats ever produced by our beloved country, Nigeria.” Professor Peter A. Okebukola said “As a diplomat, Professor Omelewa is in class of his own – cultured, people-centred, courteous, and can soothe even the most frayed nerves in contentious negotiations. One needs to see him in action at UNESCO high-level meetings and will be thankful to God for giving Nigeria and, indeed, Africa, a man of ilk and calibre of Professor Omolewa.” Hajiya Hauwa Yusuf Funtua described Emeritus him as an accomplished and an enviable professor who epitomises patriotic and dedicated professional life without compromising family responsibility, especially child upbringing as attested to by his favourite daughter, Abigail.

As stated by his colleagues and students, his professional and spiritual lives are inseparable. Professor Is-shaq Olanrewaju Oloyede described him as deeply religious. All members of family affirmed that he is a Christian and a ferocious, passionate soul winner. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo called him an evangelist while his colleagues, friends and students called him a pastor. Pastor Adeboye described him as someone who has harnessed his God-given opportunities to advance His kingdom, in a way and manner that puts him above many of his contemporaries.

Omolewa’s mentees are full of praise for him. For instance, Professor Joel Babalola described him as an angel that intervenes significantly in his career by guiding him to take decision. Professor Gbolagade Adekanmi, one of his mentees, also stated “Uncle Mike has a long list of excellent attributes, but in this piece, I concentrate on his godly hue, given and compassionate heart, eloquence, and speed; administrative acumen; his historicity in discourse, his love for family, his passion for 1 Corinthians 4:7 principle; and his reliability and trustworthiness”. Professor Akpovire Oduaran described him as a father that took him as a son not student. “Michael Omolewa was used by God to lift me and my family out of oblivion. I am an Urhobo by ethnic grouping. He is Yoruba. I come from one of the smallest minority tribes in Nigeria. He comes from one of the three major ethnic grouping in Nigeria. The Almighty God attracted me to Daddy who took me in as a son,” Oduaran said.

  • Gbadegesin writes in from Ibadan.

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