PROFESSOR OKELLO OCULI: Worthy Teacher and True Mentor
By Amina Salihu
Real enduring strength lies in the ability to do small but essential things consistently and for a long time. For then, they become tremendous things in their impact.
Prof, with your vision of creating a mock summit of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in the 1970s/80s, you prepared me and many of my cohorts in the political science department of the Ahmadu Bello University for the world better than any textbook learning could have done. Before gender equity and social inclusion (GESI) was defined, you found a creative way to use research, drama and public speaking to push back on the shape of curriculum by bringing feminist pedagogy into a rigid and conservative space via the mock Summit. Your friends and co-travellers supported your mission to re-imagine the classroom. Professor A.D. Yahaya, our then Head of Department (HOD), was your hero-ally.
The significance of what you did can best be understood against the ecosystem then and sadly even now. When girls were told to only aspire for an assistant class captain position, you made us Presidents of African countries. At a time in her story when girls were told they could only be heard when spoken to and not seen, you made us media celebrities.
Hauwa Yusuf, now a professor of criminology and gender studies, was President of Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banda, with male students as ‘Her Excellency’s’ security attache. Funke
Adeleye (wearing a hat in the photo) was President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. I was the voice of the renowned Pan African News Agency (PANA), reporting the presidential proceeding to the continent and the world via land phone. If we had any public speaking confidence, to begin with, the Mock Summit horned it. That was in the 1980s.
Fast track to the late 1990s, the OAU is now the African Union (AU), you had retired from ABU, and some of us your students were now teachers in the university and mentors to a new generation of AU Summit simulators. Your work and your spirit echoed through us. I had the most learning fun, teaching a 300 level public policy class from a feminist pedagogy, where voice, ideas and participation were democratised. After all, what is a public policy class without awareness of the impact of decision making on communities? The students called me ‘gender’, and the class swoll every week beyond the number that registered for the course. Many came from other faculties to listen to the POLS 304 Public Policy debates. It reminded me of how students were drawn to the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) from Industrial Design, Law, Medicine, Sciences, and more faculties because of the OAU Summit.
Professors R. Ayo Dunmoye, Ohwona, and Unobe, HODs and mentors, were my hero-Allies, enabling me to bring feminist innovation to my classes.
Fast-forward to the 2000s, Prof, you founded Africa Vision 525 and showed us the university was not the only place we could or should learn to be leaders; it should start much earlier than that. Vision 525 works with secondary school girls to nurture their research, public speaking, and people skills as you did for us over 30 years earlier, without any funding or a fee. I recall my first encounter with girls from the Anglican Girls Grammar School, 10 – 20 of whom came into the hall at the Nigeria Electoral Institute, Abuja, smartly dressed for the occasion in school uniform, watching the adult proceedings with doe-like eyes, measuring everything, sizing up everyone. You would think they were feeling swallowed by the room until they took the stage and became giants speaking the words of African icons, some of whom they will never meet but whose ideals transformed them just the same.
Remembering, ABU and the continuing blessings of the AU mock summit club throws into relief the danger of an unfinished curriculum, where students go through school, but the school does not go through them because they do not learn the essentials of life; how to be innovative, strong, daring and to think on the balls of one’s feet. Prof, your work challenges us to think about gender equity and social inclusion and life learning wherever we get the chance to impart knowledge. It never ceases to amaze me why the African Union has not adopted the Mock Summit as a means to communicate its values and work through a successor generation of young women and men, despite your efforts.
Professor Okello Oculi, I salute you on this International Day for Women. Thank you, Teacher, Humanist, Ugandan, Nigerian and Friend of Women and Girls. A Poet and Pan Africanist first and always. May a thousand suns brighten your path and the many you have opened.
Amina Salihu is a Senior Program Officer with the MacArthur Foundation Nigeria office in Abuja.
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