PROFESSOR Aliyu Babatunde Fafunwa, former Minister of Education died at 87, yet the mourning of his passing on was like that one who departed too early.

Of course, those who knew his commitment and passion for education would understand why many would have wanted to have him around a little longer.

His death on October 11 was befitting while on a mission for education. He died in Abuja where he was to receive a special award and deliver a lecture during the convocation of the National Open University of Nigeria,

Born on 23 September 1923 in Isale Eko, Lagos, he received his primary education at Ahmadiyya School, Lagos, 1931 to 1936, attended CMS Grammar School Lagos, 1937 to 1943, obtaining Senior Cambridge School certificate and exemption from London Matriculation.

He was at Bethune Cookman College, Florida, USA, 1947 to 1950, getting a first degree. There was no university in Nigeria, he left for further studies abroad just at the time University of Ibadan was about to start.

Fafunwa made his way to the United States for further studies through the assistance of Dr. Nwafor Orizu, who was second Senate President in the First Republic and briefly the acting Prime Minister when Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was killed, and handed over power to the military in 1966.

“If he had not given me the chance, either I would have never gone to the United States or at any rate may be later on but not at that time. I give him (Orizu) the credit,” he said in an interview, mostly out of gratitude to Dr. Orizu, and partly to illustrate the way Nigerians of his days lived and related to themselves.

Fafunwa later moved to New York University for his post-graduate degrees, completing an MA in English and Education and a Ph.D in Administration and Higher Education.

He was the Area Specialist, United Nations Secretariat, New York Division of Trusteeship and non-self governing Territory under the directorship of Dr. Ralph Bunche, the late African-American Nobel Laureate. Between June 1951 and June 1952, he worked as the Assistant Liaison Officer for Nigerian and Sierra-Leonean students in North American.

Fafunwa’s service to education started from teaching. He was both tutor and principal of Ahmadiyya Teacher Training College, Agege, Lagos, from January to December 1956.

From 1957, he switched to Esso West Africa, Lagos as a Public Relations Manager and was there till 1961.

He joined the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN, as a Senior Lecturer, College of Education, 1961 to 1962; Head of the College, 1962 to 1963; Associate Professor and Dean, Faculty of Education, UNN, 1964; Professor of Education and Dean, Faculty of Education, 1965; Director of the Institute of Education; Head, Department of Education and Acting Vice-Chancellor, UNN, 1966.

From UNN, at the heat of the Nigerian Civil War, he proceeded to the University of Ife, as Professor of Education and Head of Department of Education; Director of the Institute of Education and Dean, Faculty of Education, 1967-1975; acting Vice-Chancellor, University of Ife from 1967 to 1970; Member National Universities Commission, 1968 to 1972; Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Ife, 1970 to 1972.

He pioneered elementary science teaching in Nigeria. A one-time pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, University of Calabar, and Chairman, National Primary Education Commission, NPEC, he  retired from active teaching service in 1978. Thereafter, he started the first Tutorial College in Nigeria in 1982.

Fafunwa was appointed Minister of Education, 1990 to 1992 under the military administration of General Ibrahim Babangida. He was the architect of the 6-3-3-4 system, six years of primary education, six years of secondary broken into two parts of three years each and a four-year tertiary education culminating in a Bachelor’s Degree or Higher National Diploma.

He agreed that certain aspects of the system did not work well because of lack of manpower and huge importation of sophisticated machines which were left to rot away, instead of the easily-operated locally fabricated alternatives which should have supported the system. He blamed the apparent failure in some areas to lack of proper implementation.

As Minister of Education, he created some important parastatals like the Nigerian-French Village, Badagry, an inter-university centre for teaching and learning of French; Arabic Village in Borno, the National Institute for Nigerian Languages in Aba, the National Board for Educational Measurements, NBEM, Minna which later became the National Examinations Council, NEC, which broke WAEC’s monopoly in the conduct of secondary school certificate examination. He established the National Business and Technical Examination Board, NABTEB, which is located in Benin City .

When he came in as Minister of Education, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, lifted the proscription of ASUU, an action that improved government relations with the academic community.
The Longe Commission was set up to review higher education during his tenure.

He believed in mobilising funds for financing of sustainable quality education, and reduction of military spending, using the savings exclusively in funding and rehabilitating the education system. He advocated for well trained and well paid teachers because, according to him, they are the most important professionals in the country.

Fafunwa promoted the use of mother tongue for teaching in the early years of school for effective learning and including dissemination of technological knowledge. He believed in free education at primary and secondary school levels, while tertiary education should be sufficiently subsidised and scholarships provided for indigent students.

Before he died, Fafunwa was running the Focus Tutorial College for Advanced Level Certificates which prepared students for direct admission into the universities.

He married on 5 September 1953 to a Christian while he remained a Muslim. They had four children, two boys, two girls and several grand-children.

Professor Fafunwa will be missed for the authoritative voice that he remained for education and his commitment to introducing new ideas to improve the quality of education in Nigeria.

He deserved to be immortalised for his immense contributions to education. May he find peace in the great beyond.

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