By Tunde Ipinmisho
Ahead of his funeral later in the week in Egbe, his home town in Kogi State where it all started for him on 4th September 1939, President Muhammadu Buhari has led scores of friends, associates and colleagues of the late Professor Matthew Olufemi Kayode in paying tribute to the illustrious life of the erudite economist who dared to excel in all that he did and who bore a badge of goodness wherever he went.
If it was possible for the dead to take a peek into what happens after their departure, Kayode will no doubt rejoice at the way the nation has been celebrating him.
President Buhari took the first shot as soon as Kayode’s glorious departure was announced on August 10, 2020 with a tribute. In a condolence message signed on his behalf by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, he praised the deceased for his willingness to leave the ivory power to share knowledge, wisdom and experience with government.
As if they took a cue from the President, former colleagues, associates, mentees and community leaders have sent out endearing words about the rare virtues and the sacrifices made by the late Kayode in the course of a life that has for long been an example to many. They paid tribute to his erudition as an academic, dependability as a friend, commitment to community development and readiness to lend his widely acknowledged intellectual prowess to aid the process of national development.
Foremost economist and former Minister of Health, Professor Eyitayo Lambo in his tribute, went back memory lane and recalled with nostalgia his first meeting with Kayode in 1959 when the deceased was in Form Six and the Head Boy at the then Provincial Secondary School, Okene. Lambo,who was then a first year student of Government Teachers Training College, also in Okene described the deceased then as good looking, neatly dressed, very attractive, outgoing and always smiling.
Their paths were to cross again in 1965 at the University of Ibadan from where Kayode had graduated in the same year but stayed back to pursue his post graduate studies. Lambo on the other hand had just gained admission to the same university in October, the same year and they had been fortuitously assigned to the same hall of residence.
“Thereafter, he started relating with me as a brother and also willingly assumed the role of my academic mentor, adviser and personal tutorial master”, recalled Lambo. who also remembers Kayode as a dependable and trustworthy mentor. He said that when he and his young wife had to travel to the United State for further studies in 1974, Kayode served as an unfailing channel through which they were sending money to the parents in-law at Owo, Ondo State for the upkeep of their new twin babies who they had to leave behind so as to be able to concentrate on their studies.
According to Lambo, because of their limited financial resources, they defaulted in making some remittances but Kayode kept sending money promptly to Owo and when they returned and wanted to refund the money to him, he waved it off.
The former Minister revealed that Kayode was a major influence in his decision to take the offer of a cabinet position in the second term of President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003. And during his tenure as Minister of Health, he identified Kayode and another deceased friend, Professor Wilson Aiyepeku as members of his external think tank who he owes the success ascribed to him during the tenure.
Lambo, ordinarily a very restrained academic, spared no good words in eulogizing Kayode, with whom he was in a relationship for over 55 years, as “my encourager, motivator, burden-lifter, confident, problem solver, counselor and family supporter”.
For Professor and Dr (Mrs) Jones Olanrewaju Moody of the University of Ibadan, Kayode was a colossus and quintessential scholar, a man of integrity and honour, and an erudite economist of no mean repute who firmly believed in the institution of the family and was always concerned about the welfare of others. The Moodys, who saw Kayode as a man who was forthright, upright and outrightly frank in all his dealings with people, also praised him for his unparalleled love for and commitment to his wife. Kayode, they said, was endowed with an uncommon gift of critical thinking ability “which he brought to bear in every fact of life”
According to them, Kayode was a practical, not just theoretical economist, who believed that academic knowledge must be translational and must uplift society and solve its problems.
To a couple, Professor Abdul-Ganiyu Ajani and Professor Kassy Garba, Kayode, their late teacher was a highly distinguished and towering personality in the University of Ibadan, the Nigerian Economic Society (NES), the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). In their joint tribute, the Garbas said they knew Kayode first as students of Economics, junior colleagues and rose to became Professor of Economics, still learning from their former teacher until his demise.
Kayode, they said, made Economics more real to man and livelier than the abstract body of thought it was designed to be and often looked for different ways in which economic phenomena could have a human face. “He discussed with everybody with the same seriousness and respect, no matter their status in the profession”, they said of their teacher who they also described as a man one could count on when there were difficult issue to resolve.
The Garbas, who said students and junior colleagues had similar testimonies of Kayode’s excellent leadership qualities and mentorship, added that the deceased worked personally and institutionally to help the development of the careers of generations of Nigerian and African economists.
On his part Professor E. Olawale Ogunkola, the current Head of Department of Economics, University of Ibadan, where Kayode made his mark, said the deceased’s symbolic intellectualism fortified by pragmatic economics helped to lay the firm sub-structure of the Ibadan School of Economic Thought. He noted that although Kayode retired in 2004, he continued to mentor middle level and young teachers and researchers in the Department as the first ever Distinguished Service Fellow of the department.
Describing the late Kayode as an intellectual giant with consummate organizational acumen, Ogunkola said his former colleague ensured that his connections in the private and government circles remained useful to the department, adding that Kayode’s goodness and willingness to offer help and comfort to lesser mortals were indescribable.
Another of Kayode’s former students, Professor Folusho Megbolugbe, a retired Professor at John Hopkins University in the United Sates, said his former teacher handled his lectures thoroughly and often aroused a sense of awe and admiration among his students. Megbolugbe recalled that when he joined the Faculty of the Social Sciences in the university as a Lecturer in 1983, Kayode, then the Head of the institution’s Consultancy Services, by his friendliness and warmth, dealt with him as a peer and colleague.
Referring to Kayode as his mentor, role model and big brother, Megbolugbe described the deceased as a giant in his field, a loyal ally in his community of fellowship and a catalyst in the lives of many people.
As Kayode drew accolades from people, institutions and entities at home and abroad, he remained in close touch with his roots at Egbe, Kogi State. Indeed, he could easily be likened to the exceptional prophet who had honour in his home.
The Elegbe and paramount ruler of Egbe, Oba Ayodele Irukera, in his tribute said Kayode committed his life to the development of Egbe and devoted his time and talent to the uplift of the town as well as performed admirably as the Chairman of the Elegbe Special Advisory Council (ESAC), which he said was the life wire of the development of the town.
Irukera, who was a school mate to Kayode, said the deceased demonstrated uncommon academic brilliance early in life and was a marvel to all, by the ease with which he assimilated complex teachings.
Similarly, Professor Ayodele Jimoh, a Professor of Economics at the University of Ilorin and ESAC Secretary said Kayode represented the finest ethos, stood for hard work, honesty, thrift and prudence, effective use of resources, transparency, accountability just reward and sanction system, firmness and equity and worked to create safety nets for the weak and the less privileged.
According to him, the late Kayode, having attended merit-based and world class schools in Nigeria, the United Kingdom and the United States and emerged with top grades, applied his knowledge, intelligence, experience and wisdom in the service of the society.
Having assisted the Egbe Community Bank (later known as Egbe Microfinance Bank) to become technically solvent after it went into distress in 1993, Jimoh said Kayode became a foundation member of the ESAC from 1997 till death and was a significant contributor to the Council’s finances, donating generously and frequently to the funding of it’s development projects. Kayode, he noted was also the brain behind the Egbe Development Fund (EDF).
A former Secretary to the Kogi Sate Government and prominent daughter of Egbe , Chief (Mrs.) Justina Dolapo Abanida, in her tribute described the late Kayode as a truly beloved son of Egbe who, in spite of his busy schedule, never missed the yearly Egbe Day celebrations.
According to her, the deceased, made enormous financial and other contributions to the development to the town, and was quick to listen, quick to understand but slow to speak.
Born to the family of Pa Ezekiel Kayode Asala and Mama Marion Ola Kayode in Egbe, Kogi Sate, Kayode proceeded to the prestigious Kings College, Lagos after his initial education in Egbe and Okene, for his Higher School Certificate programme, as one of the first nine students from Northern Nigeria in that school. He completed the programme successfully and won the Economics prize in 1961 following which he went to the University of Ibadan on Northern Nigerian Government Scholarship to study Economics from 1962 – 1965.
He obtained a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree from the University of Ibadan in 1972 as the first doctoral graduate of the Department of Economics. He had taken up a teaching appointment in the department while running his PhD programme and subsequently rose through the ranks to become a professor and Head of Department.
Kayode was the pioneer Director of the University of Ibadan Consultancy Services and the pioneer Coordinating Director of the Institution’s Centre for Resource Control and Management (CEREMA) which houses all the university’s profit centres.
An effective university teacher, he pioneered the teaching of Management related courses in the Department and was a strong member of the Nigerian Economic Society (NSE) which he served at various times as Business Manager, Editor of its famous journal, the Nigerian Journal of Economics and Social Studies (1975 – 1981) and ultimately as its President in 1986.
The Late Kayode who served on several committees and boards across many organizations and governments at state, regional national and international levels, will be laid to rest in Egbe, his cherished homeland on Friday, October 16, 2020.
Ipinmisho is a former Editor of the Sunday Times