Victor Omololu Olunloyo - Interview
1. Conversations With A Genius: A Day With Dr Omololu Olunloyo. Part 1.
Interviewed by Bayo Adeyinka.
The initial meeting was very brief as Mrs Xtiana Ojo and I saw him off to his vehicle after the Afenifere Oyo meeting last week. He told us he was just recovering from an illness and that he had been robbed. I was alarmed. Are we so godless that we now rob octogenarians? As he sat in his vehicle that afternoon, he extended an invitation for us to visit him the following Saturday at 10am.
So last Saturday, through the assistance of Mrs Ojo, I honoured the appointment. Coming into the very modest Oke-Ado living room of Dr Victor Omololu Olunloyo, I opened my mouth as I saw rows of books. There were books everywhere - on the shelves, table and even on the floor. We just barely sat down. Dr Olunloyo came in, walking slowly with the aid of a walking stick.
Dr Olunloyo was the Governor of Oyo State for just about three months in 1983. It was the military regime of Mohammadu Buhari that truncated his government. As we settled down to discuss, I would soon discover that his mind has not lost any of its fervency. I was actually in the presence of a genius and a living legend. The more Dr Olunloyo answered the questions we posed to him, the more I realized that if this nation fails to realize its potential, it will be the 8th wonder of the world. Nigeria does not lack the human resources to take it to greatness. So why are we still on this level?
How does one begin to describe him? Dr Olunloyo reeled out dates with ease. He recalled names and incidents without batting an eyelid. He read books to us without using glasses. He sang the Halleluiah Chorus to us. He showed us his undergraduate thesis and his Ph.D. thesis. He actually knew where he kept them among the thousands of books on the shelves. One of us had to ask if he had worked as a librarian before. At one point, he showed me a letter written in 1957 by the University of St Andrews in Scotland recommending the renewal of his grant. We went through his collection of original Shakespeare album and Dr Olunloyo effortlessly recited some portions from Shakespeare's works such as Hamlet, Richard II and many others. We saw his collection of Yoruba books and he actually read the first page of Igbo Eledumare to us. When I told him I had my first degree in Mechanical Engineering, he brought out an engineering textbook and our discussion shifted to strength of materials, beams and columns and Castigliano's theorems. Dr Olunloyo had a First Class in Mechanical Engineering.
He showed us his music collection - we saw the works of classical artists, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederick Handel, all the works of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Hubert Ogunde and so many others. He pointed at a particular collection and said the singer was Hitler's favourite composer. He took us on a tour of his garden and showed us some very unique trees. There was a particular 'agbalumo' tree whose seed was brought from the West Indies. He also showed us a hybrid orange tree and informed us the seed was developed at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. In his garden, he plucked a flower and demonstrated how a spaceship generates energy in space. He had asked me initially how a spacecraft is able to generate energy while in space for such a long time. I couldn't answer. I took his hand as he stepped on a concrete slab and dropped the flower which went into a spin as it descended. He explained how energy is generated through centrifugal force as the space craft spins.
Dr Olunloyo told me his family was the first to go to school in Ibadan in 1853. The first person was a woman called Yejide Olunloyo after whom Yejide Grammar School was named. He explained that that was when David and Anna Hinderer came as the first missionaries to Ibadan. I never knew St David's Cathedral, Kudeti was named after David Hinderer. Neither did I know that St Anne's Church, Molete was named after Anna Hinderer - until Dr Olunloyo told me.
I opened my mouth agape as he told me that in 1947, a total number of 2,002 students applied to Government College, Ibadan. One Ademola Idowu came first. Chief Lekan Are came second during the entry tests. Dr Olunloyo was tenth. The first ten were given scholarships. Among the top ten, the young Olunloyo was the only one who came from Standard 5. All others had passed through Standard 6. He told us Ademola Idowu is the senior brother of Laide Idowu who would later become Wole Soyinka's wife.
In his first year at Government College, Ibadan, he was 21st out of 23 students when the result was released. But subsequently, he was 1st until he graduated. Dr Olunloyo was an ace cricket bowler at Government College, Ibadan. He described himself as the terror of the team and reminisced about how they beat Kings College and Igbobi College home and away. Before then, Kings College had beaten them for 5 consecutive years. He mentioned Philip Asiodu as one of the outstanding Kings College cricket players of that period. He said one Dr Coker who was a member of the Kings College team would later become captain of the national team. Other names he mentioned as good cricketers are George Ogunlusi of St George's Hospital in Ibadan, Solomon Akenzua who would later become Oba Erediauwa. He also mentioned Chief Kola Balogun as a good cricketer who taught Bola Ige spoken English. Chief Lekan Are was centre forward for Government College, Ibadan and wore the jersey number 9 for the football team. Dr Olunloyo decided he would specialize in cricket and mathematics in his final year. He treated us to an incident when the mathematics teacher set 8 questions on calculus for the class. He answered the 8th question as the teacher was writing the last question.
Dr Olunloyo's father could play 5 instruments. Unfortunately, he died at 42. Dr Olunloyo's father built the first house at Oke-Ado in Ibadan. He only slept in that house for one night as he passed on the next day. His father was the first person to pass the London Matric exam in Ibadan. Dr Olunloyo told us that the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo taught his father Latin.
Dr Olunloyo did his HSC (Higher School Certificate) in 3 months. It was meant to be for 2 years. He came 1st in all of Ibadan province and got admission to study Mechanical Engineering at the oldest Scottish university, the University of St Andrews. The university was established in 1411. When he arrived at the University, he requested that they should allow him to start from 2nd year but the Senate declined. It had never been done before. He went to a professor's house on a rainy day and pleaded that they should give him a test within 7 days. The University agreed and gave him a test on Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. Each test was for 3 hours each. He got 84 in Physics, 88 in Chemistry and 98 in Mathematics. That was how he was allowed to skip year one at the University. So he started from year two.
Next: I will write about how he got 132% in a subject, how he was exempted from B.Sc. and M.Sc. and went straight to do Ph.D. in Mathematics, how he graduated with a First Class in Mechanical Engineering, his relationship with Aare Afe Babalola, Bola Ige, Segun Awolowo and all the people he taught when he was a lecturer.
Interviewed by Bayo Adeyinka.
One of the stories Dr Omololu Olunloyo shared with us during our visit sounded like fiction. But it was not an empty tale. While at Government College, Ibadan, he actually challenged the teachers to give him a full year's course which he finished and passed in three months. Yet, he decided to wait for his mates in the class to complete that year's course of work. When I asked him what he did during the period of waiting, he told me he taught as a pupil teacher in another school. At another period, he solved a mathematical problem given by the teacher through another method that was not taught by him. When the teacher called him up, he showed the teacher that his own method was simpler and faster than that of the teacher. He told us that Wole Soyinka was two years ahead of him at Government College, Ibadan.
While at the University of St Andrews, his class was given a particular mathematical problem which he tried to solve for days. He finally had to approach the white professor to tell him the problem had no solution. Truly, there was no solution to the problem at that time. He would later solve the problem as part of his Ph.D. thesis which he showed us. Everywhere he went, his brilliance shined forth like a million stars. He showed us a letter dated April 4, 1957 where Professor J M Jackson who was his advisor of studies at the University of St Andrews wrote a recommendation supporting his application for the renewal of his grant. He was described in that letter as "outstanding, able and hardworking. His ability in mathematics is exceptional and he has taken first place in all his mathematical classes." The letter was addressed to the Students Officer, Western Nigeria Office in London. Suffice it to mention that Dr Olunloyo was given two scholarships in mathematics and engineering by the Western Nigeria Development Corporation, the precursor of the present day Odua Investments Limited which was headed by the late Alfred Rewane. It is testimony to the hand of Providence in the life of Omololu Olunloyo that he would later become the head of the same Western Nigeria Development Corporation and award scholarships to several people, one of whom was the present day Governor of Oyo State, Isiaka
There were two incidents that happened to him in the University that attested to his unusual brilliance. The Mayor of the town where that Scottish University was located needed a tutor for his son who was deaf and had written the Dean of the Faculty for one. The Dean recommended the young Omololu Olunloyo. Armed with his recommendation letter, the young Olunloyo knocked on the Mayor's door and handed over to him the letter. The Mayor looked him over and thought there must have been a mistake. How can a black boy from Africa be recommended to teach his boy? He sent Olunloyo back and called the Dean. The Dean responded that Omololu Olunloyo was his best student and sending him was not a mistake. He coached the deaf son of the Mayor who later graduated from the University with a Second Class Lower Division.
Furthermore, during his final year as an undergraduate student at the Scottish University, an event he would never forget happened. The University had a system that allowed students to take on more questions than necessary in order to win more medals. In essence, if you were asked to answer just four questions in your final paper, you were at liberty to answer an additional three or four so you can win more medals. Consequently, the young Olunloyo broke records by getting 132% in Mathematics. The next person to him got 89% and the third person got 66%. He wasn't just all about books on campus. He was also the President of the Musical Society. He still has that music in him as we listened to him sing the Hallelujah chorus to us. Dr Olunloyo later graduated with a First Class in Mechanical Engineering from the University of St Andrews.
Due to his exceptional brilliance and his flair for Mathematics, he was exempted from B.Sc. and M.Sc. in Mathematics and went straight ahead to do his Ph.D. in Mathematics from the same University. He completed his Ph.D. in two years. He showed us his Ph.D. thesis and read out the foreword and acknowledgements confirming same.
On his return to Nigeria, he joined the University College, Ibadan on February 1 and by May 5 he was already promoted. At that time, the University College, Ibadan had no Faculty of Engineering so he taught Mathematics as a lecturer. The University College would later become the University of Ibadan in 1962. He would later transfer his services to the University of Ife for a few years and came back to Ibadan again. Dr Olunloyo taught logic and abstract algebra. Among those he taught were Ajibola Ogunshola of Punch fame, Pastor W F Kumuyi of the Deeper Life Bible Church, former Inspector General of Police Sunday Ehindero and Olu Layinka who would later marry Engineer Vincent Maduka, the first Director General of the NTA. Olu Layinka is the first female COREN registered engineer in Nigeria. He also taught the late Major General Omojokun who would later become a Director General of the NYSC. He mentioned one Tersil from Plateau who was wrongfully executed as part of the Dimka coup as his former student. He reflected that W F Kumuyi never got less than 90% in his courses while a certain Adepoju from Ogbomosho was exceptionally brilliant. It was a serious moment of deep reflection for me when he stated that four people that he taught now worked for the NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States.
I was eager to ask him a few questions I'd pondered on for a long time. How was his relationship with the late Bola Ige and the Awolowo family? I'd heard rumours that Bola Ige was his personal lawyer and I wanted him to either confirm or deny him same. When I asked him, he turned to me and smiled. "Yes, Bola Ige and Segun Awolowo were my personal lawyers," he said. I was shocked considering the level of bitterness in politics those days and even till now. He told us how he used to go to the Awolowos' house to eat. The more I spoke to him, the more I realized why the NPN had to look for a very brilliant and accomplished candidate to contest against the equally cerebral and accomplished Uncle Bola Ige. Why is it that political parties of yonder years seemed to throw up their best while latter day parties now throw up their worst?
At a point, he asked for my town of origin and when I mentioned Ode-Omu, he laughed and told me I was a Modakeke man. He knows Odeomu and Gbongan very well. He told me he went to school in Gbongan for four months. He attended St Paul's Anglican Primary School, Gbongan when his grandfather was the Vicar. It was from Gbongan that he came to University College, Ibadan. He met Aare Afe Babalola in Gbongan and he encouraged him to study law. He showed us some of Aare Afe Babalola's autographs on some of his books. He appointed the current Alaafin of Oyo when he was Commissioner for Local Government. He explained that there was a tussle for 4 years before the appointment. He shared with us his conflict with the late Lamidi Adedibu when he declared himself the Alaafin of Molete. Dr Olunloyo declared himself the Ooni of Molete and asked Adedibu to pay 'isakole', a form of tribute. Lamidi Adedibu brought two cows and N250 (Two hundred and fifty naira) to him. He showed us the road that led from his Oke-Ado residence straight to Adedibu's house at Molete.
He has experienced some tragedies and as he spoke about them, one could sense he was deeply affected by them. One was the 2005 United Kingdom bombing where he lost a son. His son was on the bombed train but he escaped only for him to take a bus that was the target of bombers again. We consoled him but that is one scar that will refuse to heal.
He is a reservoir of knowledge. At a point, he brought out Igbo Olodumare written by D O Fagunwa and told us that the first page of the book is a masterpiece of literature in that it had no full stop and was a full sentence on its own. To our amazement, we read the first page together and it was just a single sentence in spite of so many words describing several things. I'm not sure there is any other book like that in the world. Dr Olunloyo gave us his own opinion on the power situation in Nigeria and told us he advised the Federal Government not to situate the hydroelectric dam at Kainji. He said Kainji was not the appropriate location for it. He showed us some master plan for some Yoruba cities in his library. He mentioned that no one can sink a borehole in Ilesha in Osun State because of the topography of the land.
As he took us on a tour of the house, I wondered why the building could not be turned to a National Monument at best or a State Monument at the very least. His collection of books will make any lover of books green with envy. They can form part of the National Archives as he has some very rare collections. He told us that the publishers of the DO Fagunwa series had to borrow his personal copies so they could reproduce the books when they went out of print. He even brought out the very first bottle of champagne produced - according to him. It had never been opened and had a seal of recognition underneath.
I had so many questions to ask him. What about his memoirs? Has he written any? I wanted him to tell me about the campaign days of 1983. He had shown us a spot in the expansive Oke-Ado premises where he said former President Shehu Shagari stood to campaign. Does he have any regrets? We had spent about five hours with him and we just had to allow him rest. I hope I will have the opportunity to ask those questions. As we turned to leave, we asked Dr Olunloyo to bless us. As I removed my cap and bowed my head in prayer, I heard him pray in a very unusual way. That was the first time I would hear anyone quote geometry in their prayers. He described God as having no beginning and end like a straight line in geometry. He then blessed us and we all said "amen." After the prayers, one of us asked if it was only a straight line that had no beginning and end. He replied in the negative and drew a circle on the ground with his walking stick. A circle also has no beginning and end.
As he turns 83 on April 14, I pray that God will keep him strong and in better health for many more years.
JOC/EFR May 2019
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