Olugbenro Ajayi: The passage of a teacher, college administrator, an illustrious Nigerian

It was quite unusual in those days to find a young man of 36 at the helm of affairs of a higher institution.  It was even very rare that such a young man had already earned a doctorate overseas and had returned to Nigeria to serve the fatherland.  Engr (Dr) Olugbenro Adeyemi Ajayi was such a rare gem and a scholar who possessed a rich depth in his field.  My first contact with him and his big beards around 1978 at The Polytechnic Ibadan where he was Principal left me wondering why such a handsome man would wear big beards, but then the whole thing struck me as a front, a façade to conceal his young years and youth – a young man his age heading a Polytechnic where his students are old enough to be his elder brothers and even uncles in those days!

Engr. Dr Olugbenro Ajayi, BSc Lond; MSc Purdue; MSc EdD WMU; FNSE was born on 21st July 1936 to Rev Emmanuel Ajayi and Mrs Ebun Modupe Ajayi. He was nurtured in the Word of God and devotion to Christ was a major part of his upbringing. His father was the first Nigerian to earn a University of London degree as an external candidate by home studies, thus ‘Gbenro’s academic prowess, his love of scholarship and his achievements can be very well understood. His primary school years were spent in the household of Bishop S I Kale along with many other children who became illustrious Nigerians. “Gbenroattended the CMS Grammar School, Lagos and then the Nigerian College, Ibadan where he was a classmate and friend of the late Chief Bola Ige. He studied Electrical Engineering at Imperial College of Science and Technology, University of London. He went on to earn two Master of Science Degrees. The first in Electrical Engineering in Purdue University, Indiana USA and the second in Technical Education at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI USA, where he also earned a Doctorate in Institutional Management. He was a fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers.#

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‘Gbenrooperated at the cutting edge of developmental work in electrical engineering, and the management of multidisciplinary tertiary technological institutions both in Nigeria and internationally. He was Principal of the Technical College, Ibadan at the time of its transition from expatriate staffing to local staffing. He was able to forge closer links with industry, developing consultancy services that permitted the wider community to benefit from available expertise. A man of integrity and vision for technological growth of our nation and the development of local knowledge, skills and know-how, he developed and assisted in design and introduction of the first West African School Certificate Syllabus in Applied Electricity and Basic Electronics. As Chief Technical Education Officer for the then Western Region from 1968 to 1972, he was both advisers on the planning of technical education and industrial training programmes and standards for existing institutions, as well as the executive coordinator of six government,  owned institutions for technical education and industrial training.

He went on to head The Polytechnic Ibadan, the first Polytechnic in Nigeria in 1972, managing the development of much-needed manpower required by local industry such as engineering, accountancy, marketing, business and business administration. He had a founding role in the establishment and development of the Council of Heads of Technological Institutions (COHEADS) and the Commonwealth Association of Polytechnics of Africa (CAPA). He was given a diplomatic appointment in 1981, first as Assistant Director and then as Special Adviser, Industrial Promotion at The Commonwealth Secretariat, London. He had a responsibility as lead Project Manager for the design and implementation of technical assistance for specific investment projects and technical assistance programmes in several Commonwealth countries in Asia, Africa and the Pacific.

‘Gbenro travelled extensively around the world and participated in the conferences/activities of many international bodies, including UNIDO, UNESCO, CHOGM, UNCTAD/OAU, APENPLAN, The World Bank/IDBI. He also served on some of their Boards, planning meetings and Advisory panels.

A strong believer in continuous learning, he taught himself computing, thanks to his first daughter Oludee, who did Computer Studies for her first degree and got her Dad a computer. Gbenro then found himself as the Chairman of the Computerisation Committee at the Commonwealth Secretariat! Upon his retirement in 1997, Gbenro pursued his love of computing by enrolling in a computer course at Lewisham College, London. His lecturer was so impressed with him that he ended up handing over the teaching of the class to him.  Gbenro went on to teach computer courses in Westminster College and Lewisham College for a few years after that.  Continuous Learning and Teaching were lifelong endeavours for him, and he maintained his integrity, devotion to the Lord and simple to the core.

‘Gbenro married on 1st July 1967 to Rev (Dr) ‘Kemi Ajayi, a minister of the Gospel, called to Francophone nations.  He was always very supportive of her, cheering her on in all her endeavours.  As a couple, they were able to impact many couples through marriage counselling and for a time ‘Gbenro served on the Board of Trustees of Kensington Temple, London.  They have three gorgeous daughters, Oludamilare is in Finance; ‘Foluke, who is a Chief Operating Officer with the NHS, is married to Toks Oshin, a Chief Financial Officer for a church and charitable organisation, and ‘Gboyinwa, a Consultant in Emergency Medicine and a Sports Physician. They have a GrandsonAdemilolaAyooluwa.‘Gbenro was committed to his family and generous to all he encountered.

Dr Olugbenro Adeyemi Ajayi died in London on Monday, July 8, 2019.  He will be buried on Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in London.  Service of Songs will take place at St. Laurence Church, 37 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2TS.  Celebration of Life Service will take place at Kensington Temple, KensingtonPark Road, London W11 3BY on July 30, 2019, at 1:30 p.m.

• Babatunde Ajayi writes in from Richmond, Texas, USA

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