Professor Obaro Ikime, a celebrated historian, was born December 30, 1936 and passed on to glory on April 25, 2023. A published author of several seminal books, including Leadership in the 19th Century Africa, (1974), The Fall of Nigeria (1977), Groundwork of Nigerian History (1980) and Can Anything Good Come Out of History? (2018), he served as President of the Historical Society of Nigeria.
An unapologetic critic of military dictatorship and bad governance in general, Professor Ikime, was also a priest of the Anglican Church of Nigeria.
Texas, United States of America (USA)- based political activist and community leader, KUNLE ELEGBEDE, in this account, gives a glimpse into part of the odyssey of the departed statesman.
After a recent, befitting evening funeral program for Professor Obaro Ikime in Ibadan, Barrister Majiro Ahaneku, the Professor’s daughter, moved me to tears when she was crying and talking about Prof. She said, “What a great father and a friend he was,” and Mazino Ikime, her brother, had to come out to support his sister.
Yes, indeed, he was not only a father to Mazino, Majiro, and Minor, he was a father and a true friend to many of us who had the privilege of being taken in and adopted by uncle Obaro and aunty Hannah Ikime who mentored us.
I remember one time he gave me a note to someone who needed to help me do a favor. Prof wrote in the note, “Kunle is a friend of mine who needs..blah blah blah help.” I was a bloody student of Geology at the University of Ibadan for goodness’ sake, and he was a big-time Professor then. He could have written that Kunle is one of my students who needs help. Instead, he wrote, “Kunle is a friend of mine.”
That is Prof. for you, and that is what moved Majiro to tears, and I could relate to her emotions very well.
I could recall Prof sometimes coming to the boys quarters where I was staying to have a friend-to-friend conversation with me or me going to the main house to sit with him to discuss heart to heart stuff and we talked about God and the Bible a lot. One important conversation he heard with me was on him becoming the head of the department of history (HOD). He said, ” I usually will tell the secretaries they must never send any student away who comes looking to have a talk with me their HOD. If I hear that you turn any student away from seeing me, there will be trouble. Yes, that is who Prof. was. He was truly a friend to us and to all his students.
At the funeral program, the Ibadan School of History and the Faculty of Arts, led by Professor Chris Ogbogbo (one of Prof. Ikime’s students), coordinated the academics who had so many powerful testimonies about Prof Ikime. Powerful tributes befitting the erudite scholar of international repute that he was.
When our own dear Professor Olofin of the Economics department was giving his tribute about Prof. Ikime, at yet another funeral ceremony event, he said Prof Ikime went through so many trials and tribulations in Nigeria.
In yet another funeral ceremony, the Archbishop of ibadan, Revd Joseph Akinfenwa, said Nigeria has not paid the debt it owes Obaro Ikime and he put the debt and much more squarely at the feet of General Ibrahim Babangida who locked the Professor up and retired him at the prime young age of 54 years when he was still vibrant and contributing meaningfully to the growth of the education in Nigeria.
Another man who gave a tribute from the Anglican Church also said that if you want someone to tell you the truth, it was Prof Obaro Ikime. Ikime said it the way it is, ALWAYS. This was what the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida Administration did not like on the morning of the Gideon Okar Coup. Prof was the chairman of the University of Ibadan Chapel Committee at the time, and in his role as the chairman, he spoke the truth about the state of affairs of Nigeria (just as we have it today in Nigeria), and that was it. They just said he must be a part of the coup because the coup just happened that day on the morning that a confirmation ceremony was taking place at the University of Ibadan Chapel of Resurrection. So many people who came to the chapel that day heard Prof Ikime speak boldly about the state of the afairs of the nation and the need for God’s intervention to help the suffering masses. That was it. The coup failed, and they came to pick him up for daring to speak his mind about the state of affairs of the nation on the morning of the coup.
HE BECAME A PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE, because he said what was on the minds of the majority of Nigerians, but many were too afraid to say out loud under the military dictatorship of the time as he did.
Here is another side of that story you may never have heard anywhere.
On that fateful day when Prof was arrested, almost 15 SS (State Security) men came to the Oba Dam residence at the University of Ibadan, where Prof stayed. I had woken up in the boys’ quarters at 5 am, and being an SU (Scripture Union) guy, I started to have my morning prayers and worship to the Almighty God as I normally do daily. As I was singing and praising God loudly, I heard a bang at my door. So, I said to myself, ‘Oh my God, my voice must have attracted thieves, and now I am in trouble.’ So, instead of opening the door, I did what SUs were taught to do and that was binding and loosing prayers, directed at the devil behind the armed robbers that I believed were the ones banging on my door.
When I stopped my binding and loosing prayers, I said, “Who are you, and what do you want?” They said, “we are SS police. We are here to see Prof.” This was around 5am. So, I opened my door and I saw two men in plain clothes. They said, “we came for Prof. Ikime.” I said, “Prof is in the main house.” They said, “we have been knocking. There was no response.” They said, “Oya, come and take us to the front door.” I had no choice at all. So, I went with them. That was when I saw about 10 or 13 other SS men all around the house. Their ‘Oga’ told them to surround the building while I and the two men who came to my boys’ quarters room went to the front door. We knocked on the door harder, and Prof came out to open the door. Then the SS men took him away to their office in Ibadan while the rest of us close to Prof went about furiously busy contacting all Prof’s close friends to inform them of what just happened.
After several hours, they released Prof. I remember three of us (Prof. Ikime, Prof Fred Onyeoziri of the Political Science department, and I) gathered at the main residence to discuss what just happened. Fred Onyeoziri said, “You know they are still coming back. They don’t give up easily, you know.” Sure enough, he was right. They came back later to pick Prof. up again.
Apparently, after the Ibadan SS men questioned him and were satisfied that he knew nothing about the coup but was just speaking his mind in Church about the state of affairs of our nation, the Babangida people in Lagos said, “bring him down to Lagos.” That was when Prof was locked up with the Okar coup plotters for several months until he was released after every single man locked up in prison with him had been executed.
When Prof came out, he told us how prayerful the Okar soldiers became in prison. He said they were praying every morning and would sing songs of praise to God in prison. He said they would communicate with Christian Bible verses and were, indeed, very much prayerful until they were executed. Prof said these men appeared to be committed Christian believers who prayed fervently together, led by Okar every morning before they were eventually executed.
Here is what l want Nigeria to take away from this story. God allowed an eminent Prof of History to be locked up with Nigerian coup plotters. He had a front row seat to record for History the fate of those coup plotters. He had no prior knowledge of the coup and never knew any of the coup plotters until they locked him up in prison with them. All of them were killed, but only Prof. was released.
In my view, he was released for two reasons:
Firstly, Mrs. Ikime’s (fondly called aunt Hannah by us) violent prayers that sent chills down my spine every night as I heard her pray was a reason for the professor’s release. From that boys’ quarters I heard her praying and all the residents of the nearby Oba Dam homes of professors heard aunty Hannah petitioning God on behalf of her innocent husband every night. She kept on with shouts of “God release Obaro now..I plead the blood of Jesus on Obaro in that prison.. ” etc etc every night and day as she interceded for him. One night, I said to myself, if God doesn’t answer this woman’s prayer, I don’t know whose prayers God will answer again. I am talking about prayers that RENT your heart and sent fear and chills over the entire Oba dam residential area. Really agonizing prayers from deep down the bottom of her soul as described in the Bible. All the neighbors heard her loud voice, but she didn’t care. She wanted God to deliver her man and that deliverance God gave to her man eventually. Nigerian soldiers normally don’t care. They could easily have killed Prof. with the coup plotters, but God spared his life. In my view, this deliverance was brought about by the powerful daily intercession of a praying wife. I was there. I heard her every night and day.
Secondly, I also firmly believe that a first class rated Professor of History who was innocent and locked up with the coup plotters was a DIVINE moment for Nigeria. Prof recorded that part of history for Nigeria, which we would otherwise never have had access to. He captured the daily moments of the Okar coup plotters like no one else could. He was locked up with them just like embedded journalists do in war zones.
So, to those who have not heard or read Prof. Ikime’s account of his suffering because of the Okar coup, please Google it online as published by the Tribune Newspaper and read it. It’s our history painfully recorded for us through suffering in prison where Prof Ikime wore the same clothes and slept on the bare floor for 96 days. Prof Obaro Ikime was the man that God used to record that part of Nigeria’s history for our generation.
I just felt I needed to pour my heart out here to celebrate our dearly departed beloved Prof Obaro Ikime. Just like Archbishop Joseph Akinfenwa noted, innate righteousness flowed in the DNA of Obaro Ikime. These are men who were already righteous and living upright lives even before they decided to follow Jesus. The Archbishop noted that he lived the upright life and had the moral fiber that is missing in most men in public service and private life in our country today. Men like him are rare and irreplaceable. It’s our loss as a nation. May God rest his beautiful soul and reward him for his service to Nigeria and humanity.