Prodigies of Yoruba origin abound across the world. Some of these extraordinary individuals broke barriers and reached milestones that etched their names in stone.
Prof Ayodele Awojobi, an epitome of excellence in the field of Mechanical Engineering and a brilliant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Lagos is today still celebrated for his laudable achievements.
He is a man with many firsts.
He is the first African and Nigerian to be awarded the Doctor of Science (DSc) in Mechanical Engineering from the then Imperial College of Science and Technology, London (now Imperial College, London).
He was the first to attain a first class degree in Mechanical Engineering in a Nigerian institution then Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria (now Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria).
He is the youngest Professor in the Faculty of Engineering, University of Lagos and the first ever to be promoted from Associate Professor to full Professorship within a week.
He produced the first vehicle in Nigeria with two steering wheels, each at the front and rear known as Autonov 1.
He is a globally respected academic, inventor, author and activist.
The icon who was popularly referred to as “Dead Easy”, due to his simplified way of impacting knowledge to his listeners was considered a scholarly genius by the few people he had contact with him while he was alive.
Prof Awojobi who hailed from the defunct Western Region was born on March 12, 1937. He attended St Peter’s Primary School, Faaji and then proceeded to CMS Grammar School, Lagos for his secondary education. His academic brilliance was discovered during his secondary school days and he was regarded a straight-A student. He garnered eight distinctions in his secondary school final exam to demonstrate his outstanding brilliance. It is on record that in his final year in the secondary school, he played the role of Macbeth in one of the books of Williams Shakespeare. He memorized the entire book so well that he assisted other actors with their lines during rehearsals”.
After his Senior Certificate Examination, he gained admission into the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria (now Ahmadu Bello University [ABU]) and Imperial College of the University of London (now Imperial College London). He bagged his first degree in Mechanical Engineering – a BSc (Eng) London, with first class honours, at the then Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria. While in the school, he wrote his own calendar of achieving an impracticable feat by graduating in three years in 1962.
After his BSc degree, he lectured for a while at the University of Lagos and was awarded a Federal Government Scholarship for a post-graduate degree in the field of Mechanical Engineering at the Imperial College of the University of London (now Imperial College London).
The Federal Government awarded Awojobi another scholarship to study further at the post-graduate level in the field of Mechanical Engineering at the Imperial College of the University of London (now Imperial College London). He completed the course, successfully defending his thesis, and was awarded a PhD in Mechanical Engineering in 1966. His research paper, particularly in the field of vibration, was cited by international research fellows of Engineering in 2011, while other research papers are archived by such publishers as the Royal Society.
He forged ahead in his field and became the youngest professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Lagos.
As an icon of repute, the late Professor singlehandedly converted a Leyland Jeep named Autonov 1 from right hand to left hand and also designed a bi-directional Armoured vehicle which can be moved forward and backward without turning it round and codenamed it Autonov2 because of its ability to achieve its highest speeds at a moment’s notice, in the normal reverse direction. He highlighted the advantage this might offer to army vehicles, as an example that might need to make a fast retreat, in a cul-de-sac or ambush situation.
The inventions were home grown, home inspired and home delivered technology that required no transfer from anywhere but simply the work of the great prodigy.
Prof Awojobi was at one time, the chairman, Lagos State School’s Management Board, out of his concern for ways to better improve the problems inherent in secondary school education in Lagos State was what prompted his desire for his children should attend public schools.
His natural propensity to inform and educate people drove him to become, a quiz-master “Mastermind” on national television in the 70s. He authored several books for both the secondary and tertiary levels of education in Nigeria
Prof. Awojobi engaged with great educators of his, and earlier generations, such as the late nationalist and Yoruba leader, Obafemi Awolowo (who forwarded several of Awojobi’s educational books), the late activist, social crusader and educator, Tai Solarin, and the once Lagos State governor, Lateef Kayode Jakande, who achieved free education at all educational levels in Lagos State.
In the wake of the presidential election results that returned the incumbent, Shehu Shagari as President in the Second Nigerian Republic in 1979, Prof. Awojobi, made himself a mouthpiece for the people, speaking in the national newspapers and magazines, going as far as suing the Federal Government of Nigeria for what he strongly believed was a widespread election rigging. With all his court cases against the Nigerian government thrown out of court, he delved into the law books, promised himself that he would earn a degree in law to enable him better argue with the opposition at the federal courts. He used the universities as a bastion, going from campus to campus to make speeches at student-rallies, hoping to sensitise them on what he perceived was the ills of a corrupt government.
Indeed, heroes are models and sources of inspiration.
Prof. Awojobi authored several political books over the course of his ideological struggles against a perceived, corrupt federal government which were usually made available during his public rallies or symposiums.
Among the various books he authored were; Vibration of rigid bodies on semi-infinite elastic media – A. O. Awojobi, P. Grootenhuis 1965, Plane strain and axially symmetric problems of a linearly non-homogeneous elastic half-space – A. O. Awojobi, R. E. Gibson, 1973, Factors in the design of ultrasonic probes – W. M. R. Smith, A. O. Awojobi, 1979, Technical Drawing for Secondary Schools. A. O. Awojobi, 325 Worked Examples in Intermediate Mechanics. A. O. Awojobi, Notes and Worked Examples in Physics. A. O. Awojobi; Engineering Drawing. A. O. Awojobi (1976); Ayodele Awojobi (1980) Nigeria today. J. West Publications. ISBN 978-163-008-6; Ayodele Awojobi (1981) Nigeria in search of a political order. J. West Publications. ISBN 978-163-013-2; Where our oil money has gone by A. Awojobi, 1982; Nigeria in search of a social order (Nigerian Institute of International Affairs; Retrieved 20 June 2012), and many others.
Prof. Awojobi died on Sunday the 23rd of September 1984, at the age of 47.
DAWN Commission has chosen this day to pay tribute to you and more importantly to applaud and commend you for the laudable achievements you recorded in the field of Mechanical Engineering.
You are indeed an ICON!!!