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A date in the history of a man of history by Noel Ihebuzor

A Tribute for Professor Michael Omolewa on his 80th birthday!

The lives of great men and women are simple and complex at the same time. Simple, because the acts that distinguish such people are easy to point out – kindness, courage, originality, initiative, creativity, energy, commitment etc.
Yet such lives are also complex because what we often see as simple acts are nothing but the summation and result of a series of intentional choices and acts pursued with steadfastness and grit. So it is with the life of professor Michael Omolewa, a life marked by major achievements and distinctions, which when looked at from the present appears simple, but which when subjected to closer examination reveal intense complexities, diversity and richness.

Professor Omolewa is for me the classic example of a humanist scholar turned adult educator and who then went on to enrich his adopted field by bringing the lens of the historical method to bear on his analysis of adult education in Nigeria and beyond. His adoption of adult education as his primary area of research was not fortuitous but was apparently spurred on by a social and egalitarian impulse to use adult education as a tool to open the doors of opportunity, civic participation, engagement and enhanced personal actualisation to millions of Nigerians who had hitherto been excluded by the denial of rights to education. (Incidentally, the early beginnings of adult education in the UK owed its origins to similar noble egalitarian impulses.)
Once on board this adult education train, Mike then devoted his energy to making important contributions to its theory and practice by building on the solid foundations that had been laid by earlier workers such as professors Tomori and Majasan. In his research endeavours, an evidence based historiography was the hallmark of his scholarship, a scholarship that was made all the more endearing by the way it reconciled the need for relevance with the pursuit of depth and breadth in its many outputs.

But Mike Omolewa is not just the outstanding scholar. He is a man of many parts, a man armed and equipped with so many shades of socio-cultural and language registers that he can “code-switch” on a needs basis to converse and engage productively with artisans and architects, with engineers and motor mechanics as well as with agberos and princes in response to evolving situations. In achieving this coup in social engagement and relational excellence, Mike is helped by his self effacing humility and by a huge reservoir of emotional intelligence. He is also a man of great wit and irrepressible humor. In Mike’s company, there is never a dull moment. And moments with him are also enlivened by the spice and charm that the strategic infusion of healthy strains of mischief (remnants from his younger days, I suppose) brings to most encounters with him. I remember working with him in Ghana on the West Coast Literacy project in the early nineties and how he was able to inject the right level of humour at the right moments to keep spirits high and to thus ensure that our mission achieved its set objectives. Ditto when I worked with him on the Real Life Materials Literacy project in the nineties. The same infectious humor coupled with an unquenchable optimism and drive for results were critical elements of the leadership that Mike provided on that project.

Mike is also the consumate diplomat – witness the role he played as leader of the Nigerian delegation at UNESCO and from there to his unforgettable role as chair of UNESCO’s executive board, a role in which he excelled beyond compare.

As he celebrates his 80th birthday today, I wish him well. I wish him many more days of mirth, of health and wellness – and wellness in all its dimensions – religious, spiritual, social, intellectual, economic and physical.

May the humor that distinguishes you perdure and may you find joy in all you do. And may you continue to sparkle and may you stay forever young bathed in the radiance of our creator.

Noel Ihebuzor
(Onye Nkuzi) 01/04/2021


Development and policy analyst with a strong interest in the arts and inclusive social change. Dabbles occasionally into poetry and literary criticism!

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