The Oasis Reporters
January 5, 2019
When Professor Matthew M. Umukoro’s cell phone rang at noon in the first quarter of 2019, the displayed name on the screen was Prof. A. A. Aderinto, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic). University of Ibadan.
“Ah, DVC, it’s been quite a while. To what honour do I owe this call” ?
“Are you in the office right now” ?, Prof Aderinto asked. On getting a positive response, he told Umukoro that he was on his way to his office.
If he was surprised, Umukoro did not let it show, but Theatre Arts lecturers who were in his expansive office on the first floor of the Faculty, started speculating in their jocular manner, right away. It didn’t take up to five minutes before the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academic arrived. Unknown to the lecturers as they hurriedly filed away, they were blocking the way of a second visitor.
It was Prof. K. O. Adebowale, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Administration.
The lecturers quickly hurried away as the two DVCs settled down to two chairs facing Umukoro.
A brief suspense. And the DVC Academic, spoke up. “We are emissaries from the University Vice Chancellor, Professor Abel Idowu Olayinka. He is asking you, Prof. Umukoro, to deliver the 42nd University Lecture on October 17, 2019. The choice of topic is wholly and entirely yours. We need to take your response to him immediately, Prof. ” .
Umukoro’s mouth opened in surprise, and closed again before he found words and said, “but I have not delivered my inaugural lecture yet. It is still outstanding” .
At that, Prof. Umukoro knew that a long line of professors, some even longer than 20 years were yet to deliver their inaugural lectures. Many had left the system without doing so.
Being in his sixties, he was expecting his valedictory lecture because Nigerian lecturers regularly retire at 70 years of age.
“But you delivered an inaugural lecture at Igbinedion University during your sabbatical leave”, he was reminded. “The University Lecture is the main deal, Umukoro. What do we tell the Vice Chancellor? He needs an urgent answer. ”
“I accept”, he responded. Relieved, both visitors left.
Then the Lecture itself.
Umukoro made it a historical lecture. There was pin drop silence as his voice rose to speak. Many people took multiple copies, and just as the lecture ended, the applause was deafening. Within minutes, “black market” copies of the lecture were on sale, from those that took multiple copies. It was highly informative about the system the University of Ibadan is in. Umukoro defended students, spoke truth to power and charted the way forward .
But how did Umukoro put the highly informative lecture together ?
Most of the Lecturers in the Theater arts department wanted to know, from Drs Orisaremi to Awosanmi, Owoaje, Lasisi, Bimbo Benson etc. All of them wanted to know, so that they “can learn”.
Theater Arts department seems to have the midas touch, each time it came to delivering The University Lecture. That was the third time The University Lecture nod fell on the Theater Arts department in the Faculty of Arts. And the atmosphere has always been electric. The choice of lecturer for the occasion is often at the prerogative of the Vice Chancellor.
From the first lecture to the 42nd, three lectures have gone to the Department of Theater Arts. Professor Femi Osofisan (Theater Arts) delivered the first one, Professor Adelugba ( Theater Arts) who lectured on ‘Theater And Mankind’, the second, and finally, Professor Matthew Umukoro ( Theater Arts) whose topic was ‘Restoring The Ivory Unto The Fading Tower Through Theater And The Humanities’ .
Going through the lecture proper, analysts called the style of writing, “very sweet”. He operated it smoothly, managing to navigate without allowing anything to fall out of place. It was such a high standard, passionate lecture with strong takeaways that spoke truth to power. All the lecturers agreed that it was a good representation from the department and the “title was absolutely apt”.
Dr. Awosanmi described the writing of the lecture as a “major resort to resilience”. Professor Umukoro set to work on the lecture soon after he gave his word, early 2019. For months he kept at it, sometimes working throughout the night on his laptop. It never occurred to him to have a backup. Several months later, the unthinkable happened.
His home in a serene part of the University campus, was burgled. And the laptop was stolen. Safety in some of the staff houses is fast becoming a source of concern to lecturers, with the decaying wooden windows, some built almost 70 years ago. And with subvention to universities shrinking yearly, maintenance suffers grievously.
With less than two months to the date of the lecture, Professor Umukoro had to fall back on memory and “rewrite”. Not a cheery task at all.
Yet, he gave a terrific account of himself. Professor Umukoro has got a family that he loves dearly. His wife is also a Professor of Theater arts, at the University of Port Harcourt. She came to feel the atmosphere and grandeur of the occasion. She says the household is the central point in her husband’s life and they are lovers through and through, even before both of them came to the University of Ibadan from Kaduna.
They’ve been moving with their children, weaving their story together. Grandparents they are now, always giving glory to God.
Matthew Umukoro, a professor of Theatre Arts, published literary artist in the three genres of poetry, prose and drama. He teaches in the department of Theatre Arts of Nigeria’s premier university, the University of Ibadan in South West Nigeria. He was one time visiting professor at Igbinedion University, Okada, Nigeria’s foremost private university in the south-south state of Edo. His literary works include Dross Of Gold (a poetry volume), Nana Olomu (a historical play), Obi And Clara (a stage adaptation of Chinua Achebe’s prose classic, No Longer At Ease), The State Of The Nation (A collection of essays).
Professor Umukoro is married to Professor (Mrs) Julie Umukoro. They have three children, with some of their children, now having their own children.