Reproduced below is a keynote address by one of the Nigerians Mrs. Ogundipe mentored and inspired during her tenure as the Assistant Adviser on Secondary Education in the 70s which is often called the golden age of Nigerian Public Service compared to now.
The Celebrant, Mrs. Ogundipe,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
I like to begin by thanking God for giving me the grace to join all of you at this ceremony in praising and celebrating Mrs. Phebean Ogundipe who turned 90 years old today by the special grace of God.
Even though I have hit the mandatory age of three scores and ten ordained in the Holy Scriptures for Christians, I am still praying to God to bless me with longevity like youthful Phebean our celebrant and star of this occasion.
Praising is all I do according to a popular Gospel Music idol whose CDs are some of my favorites in my twilight years. I am talking of the legendary Smokie Norful and Kirk Franklin.
I am praising God for myself and for my friend of close to 50 years sitting right here on the high table. Speaking after the eloquent Pastor Femi Ogundipe of the Redeem Christian Church of God and his junior brother, Dr. Ogundipe, one of the best oncologists in Oklahoma who flew his own private jet to the beautiful City of Charlotte is a challenge that is clearly beyond my pay grade.
I must confess to being intimidated by their eloquence. I would make up for my inadequacy using my age and life experience as a Historian by training and certification as my greatest weapon and vantage point.
Close to 50 years ago I met Phebean when we both served at the Federal Ministry of Education during the Yakubu Gowon Era.
Late Wenike Briggs of Rivers State and Chief A.Y. Eke the first Nigerian Registrar of the University of Lagos followed each other as the Federal Commissioner for Education. Chief S. O Awokoya, the first Minister of Education under Chief Obafemi Awolowo as first Premier of Western Region was the Chief Federal Advisers on Education. He, Chief Awokoya was succeeded by late C.J.C Cookie. You could say that all of them were older contemporaries of Mrs. Ogundipe. All of them have since gone to rest but thank God Phebean is still here.
Like I hinted earlier, Mrs. Ogundipe was then the Assistant Adviser on Secondary Education while I was just a young Assistant Secretary/ Administrative Officer Grade1in the Ministry. I was serving under Alhaji Ahmed Joda now 87 who was the Permanent Secretary while late S.O. Soyode was his Deputy. Some of Phebean’s other colleagues as I recall, included the late Rex Akpofure the first Nigerian Principal of Kings College, late Chief Agiobu Kemmer, late Chief Mrs. Coker who was then Principal of Queens College, Lagos, Mr. Jerry Gana who served under Mrs. Ogundipe and late Dr. Ekpo Eyo who was the first Nigerian Director of the National Museum after the British colonial officers have returned home.
I can say without any fear of contradiction that Mrs. Ogundipe’s era was the golden era of the Nigerian Civil Service in those days. I recall that Ejueyitchie was Secretary to the Federal Government. Alhaji Sule Katagun was Chairman and Dr. Manuwa was Deputy Chairman of the Nigerian Civil Service Commission.
Tom Brokaw the famous NBC Anchor once wrote a best seller titled “The Greatest Generation” in America. If a similar book were to be written on the Greatest Generation in Nigeria, I can tell you that Phebean Ogundipe a prolific author and first class educationist would clearly make the cut with the Love of her life, her late husband who is treasured and remembered today in this ceremony along with her amazing soulmate and life partner, the star of this ceremony.
Her husband was a dashing young Ijebu man and Phebean was at the time an Esa Oke Ijesha dazzling beauty when they both fell in love and later got married in one of the most successful Nigerian marriages you have ever known.
If you don’t believe me, just look at the caliber of children the Union has produced. The children scattered all over the World have all come here with their kids to honor and celebrate their awesome and amazing mother and grandmother.
I look around as I entered the Hall and I could not find many of her thousands of admirers and colleagues in Nigeria including many of her old students. If this birthday ceremony were being held in Nigeria, there would be far more distinguished and more qualified colleagues to play the role that Destiny would appear to have conferred on me to play as somebody who has known Phebean for so long. I flew in from New York yesterday to specially honor our sister in the Lord.
I believe the last time we actually set eyes on each other was in 1975 to be precise. We later reconnected on the Facebook and the Internet when Phebean came across some of my articles. As an avid reader, she went the extra mile to locate my phone number and my E-mail address and to touch base with me because she is still mentally alert and sharp pretty much like she was at her prime.
I crave your indulgence to take you down memory lane as we all celebrate the Nigerian icon who in a way is a contemporary of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second who has become the longest reigning British monarch beating her grandmother Queen Victoria to second place in British History.
Queen Elizabeth and Phebean were born only a year apart in age but they both sure belong to the same generation of iconic women of virtue in the World. I can tell you that as a historian who has studied their profiles and has written volumes on both of them at some point in my life during my student days at the Royal Institute of Public Administration at Mabledon Place, London, next door the University of London at Gower Street.
Phebean Ogundipe is my mentor. She is among the few role models that God had used to show me the way in my life journey as a Prince and as an only child of my mother and a proud grandchild of Kabiyesi Afunbiowo Adesida the First, the greatest and longest-serving Deji of Akure who lived for 125 years and he reigned for 60 years from 1897 to 1957.
Yes, we all ought to give thanks to God for making us who we are. But the people that God had used to fulfil his purpose and Destiny in our lives arguably deserve as much credit as God the author and finisher of our Faith. God does not come down from his high throne above to play that role. What He simply does is use some individuals and some unique circumstances to push us to our destiny and to make us who we are.
I can tell you loud and clear that God in his infinite mercy has used Phebean Ogundipe to show me the way and to make me who I am today. Please give her a round of applause. I probably wouldn’t be here today but for her influence in my life.
There are probably hundreds of other Nigerians like me whose life has been touched by the celebrant. One of them is Professor Olubodun Fakinlede of the University of Lagos who is one of the candidates prima facie qualified to be considered as a candidate for the vacant position of the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology Akure.
The learned Professor called me a few days ago just by coincidence. In our brief telephone conversation I confided in him I would be going to attend the 90th Birthday Celebration of Mrs. Ogundipe in the City of Charlotte in North Carolina on the 6th of May.
I was surprised when the young man explained to me the role Mrs. Ogundipe and her colleague Jerry Gana had played in his life. The gentleman would have been here with us today if he had gotten the notice sooner. That is how much we all value and treasure Phebean, a priceless jewel of inestimable value who is here with us today but could be gone tomorrow because tomorrow is not guaranteed to any of us young or old. So when you are 50 and above in Nigeria where the average life span for men is 46 and 49 for women, you count yourself lucky if you are 90 and you begin to sing your “Nunc Dimitis” every day you wake up alive.
Great soldiers like the star of this occasion don’t die anymore; they just fade away like an old soldier who never dies.
I seize this opportunity to recognize all those children and her third son the baby of the family Kola who flew in from New Zealand with her two daughters to be with us. I recognize the grandchildren and great grandchildren who are all here to celebrate and honor the celebrant with their presence. They should all stand up to be recognized. Give them a round of applause
There is no way for me to end this tribute without going back to draw some inspiration from our Yoruba Culture that Mrs. Ogundipe has used her adult life to market and to promote to the best of her ability as a literary giant who had the uncommon sense to write so many books on Yoruba folklores around the tortoise otherwise called “Ijapa Tiroko Oko Ayanrinbo”
Many of those books are now being used as text books to teach the younger generation of Yoruba children and to preserve our Yoruba Cultures for generations yet unborn. Mrs. Ogundipe is still getting paid royalties on all of those books till tomorrow and those royalties will not stop going to all of her children and grandchildren long after her transition into glory.
Mrs. Ogundipe has fired my imagination as a young man to want to be a prolific writer like her from our days together at the Federal Ministry of Education as I hinted earlier.
Today I am a syndicated columnist with the Sahara Reporters Social Media Company of New York founded by the great Omoyele Sowore from Ijaw Apoi in Ondo State and the popular Chatafrik Website pioneered by another Nigerian icon named Martin Akindana from Idanre in Ondo State.
I am proud to say that 90 year old Mrs. Ogundipe is one of the great fans of my column. Because of the influence of Mrs. Ogundipe, I have authored two books and I am working on my third book. I am pleased to note in this speech that Phebean is launching at this occasion another best seller among her many books titled, “Up-Country Girl” – A personal journey and truthful portrayal of African culture.
There is no way to stop Phebean Ogundipe. She would keep working and writing till she breaths her last because she knows no other way to live and to function as a stereo typical Ijesha woman who never quits or give up.”Phebean Ajibola Ogundipe Omo Ijesha aponoda. Omo Eleni a te I ka Omo Eleni Ewele. Omo Ogedengbe Agbogungboro o ti popo l’oju Ogun. O kere lala sohun bi Sokotoropo, Eru o ba e o d’eru bar a re” as reminded by us by the great Adamo Musician of Ilesha, Nigeria, the one and only”Adedara a run ra l’Oja Oba.
Phebean Ogundipe remains one of a kind among her peers in Nigeria but more so in Yoruba Land. “Kato r’Erin o d’igbo, Ka to r’Efon o d’Odan, Ka to r’Eiye bi Okin, O di Orun Alakeji”
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would now end this speech with a Gospel Song CD specially selected to serenade Phebean Ogundipe for all of the lives she has touched in Nigeria including mine by making us who we are by pushing us our Destiny. The CD was originally composed by J.J. Hairston and his Youthful Praise Singers of the United States.
My dear Phebean, you are the best among our women folks in Nigeria. You have remained a beacon of hope that Nigeria can be great and prosperous, united and peaceful if God can bless Nigeria with more of your type.
If the road is beautiful, then worry about your destination, but if your destination is beautiful then don’t worry about the road. You have lived a beautiful and wonderful life. You don’t have to worry about nothing any more.
I now have the honor and the privilege to ask our DJ to play the J.J. Hairston CD while we all remain standing and singing along with the amazing music and song of Praise in honor of our sister in the Lord, the one and only Phebean Ajibola Ogundipe of Nigeria.
I thank you all.