August 19, 2017

Awodiya at 70: Toast to a bridge builder and humanist

Awodiya at 70: Toast to a bridge builder and humanist

By Oji Onoko

I used to wonder why Professor Muyiwa Peter Awodiya gave so much attention to me in-spite of his busy schedule but when I reached out to some former students while working on this material, I discovered to my surprise and admiration, that caring for his students-past and present is second nature to him. Their impression of the man range from the sentimental to outright hero worship!

According    to Benson Odaman (1985 set): “Awodiya would go the extra length of getting us involved in productions and ensured that we got duly paid to keep the survival flame aglow. Honestly, Prof Muyiwa was a Thespian with a difference. He deservedly earned a lot of respect from all of us. As a matter of fact, a lot of us are even closer to him now than we were while in school..

What of Okoh Aihe (1985)? “Awodiya would eventually become one of the most reliable lecturers in the Theatre Arts Department of the University of Benin; a friend, a brother and a father-figure to most of the young students who would later find themselves in the harsh environment of a new academic culture. He would oil this relationship at any cost and inconvenience. That is who he is. A lecturer, that sits closer than a brother.”

Hajia Hauwa Sodiq (1988 set) says: “Mr Awodiya was more than my teacher. He could relate to us at any level. He was always interested in our success and could deprive himself of his time and finance just to ensure we achieved

Cynthia Gregg (2003):is grateful to him “for all of those teachings that moulded me into the manager of men, material and resources that I am today. He challenged me to improve my planning and organising skills. I suspect there are thousands of people who feel the same. Most important, he has a powerful life-long impact on me personally.”

Suziette Ukey (2004) sees him as “a friend, a dad, a mentor and not a lecturer. He was my biggest fan as much as I am his for he celebrates good work and discipline. He taught me all I know about management especially about event management. Today, I use his great practical teaching to succeed in my industry.”

When he was asked why he bothers so much about his former students, the Professor of Theatre Arts said: “I have always been very confident about the products we put out to the community and to the world in general. I am very interested in monitoring the performances of the ex-students of our department in the outside world. And I have not been disappointed.”

For a man whose dreams like a budding plant denied of nitrogen almost withered before getting to full bloom, he lost his father soon after his secondary school and barely one year after he gained admission to the University of Ibadan with his mother picking the bills. She also passed on! Inconsolable but resolute, he fell back on stipends he got working part time with Radio Nigeria and NTA Lagos. Later he took a students’ loan from the Federal government which he recalled made “me survive those grueling times in the University of Ibadan.”

For his post-graduate studies in the United States, he secured a scholarship from his state government, the old Oyo state. Midway into the programme, however, his allowances were stopped by the embassy officials for his temerity to protest their questionable practice of delaying the release of funds to the students while putting the money in fixed deposits to mature for pecuniary purposes. Talk of a rebel with a cause. Left high and dry in a foreign land, he took to menial jobs to survive.  He washed plates in hotels, did security service job as a security guard at a toy factory, drove taxi for a taxi company and at a point withdrew completely from the university. After working for three months night and day he was able to save for school fees that he needed to pay to complete his studies.

Once done, he strutted to the Nigerian embassy in youthful bravado to taunt the officials and show off his treasured certificate. But a new Sheriff as it were had taken charge-Ambassador Kazuare -who was not only sympathetic to his cause but also   directed that all his withheld allowances be paid to him in cash.

He worked briefly at the University of Ibadan before he moved to the University of Benin where he has spent his entire working career as a scholar, researcher, Theatre manager and author moulding generations of students who are today his proud ambassadors

On his post retirement plans, Awodiya with eight books to his credit and 65 journal articles who clocked 70 on August 14 this year, 2017 waxed philosophical with a tinge of pragmatism: “My post-retirement plans are in the hand of the Lord. However, I have alternative plans to aid the youths of Nigeria to imbibe our culture. To pass to the young generations what we inherited from our parents so that our culture will not perish. The other plan is to aid our Arts Managers to be able to run our Arts Institutions which unfortunately have not been run professionally and profitably too. Benin City has now become my second home while Ilesa still remains my first city of abode.”

  • Onoko, former deputy editor, THISDAY newspapers writes from Abuja