Professor Ezekiel Olusola Ayoola, a former head of the Department of Mathematics, University of Ibadan, Oyo State, has explained why Aminu Othman Zubairu, a former lecturer of the university who died last week under circumstances suspected to be suicide, spent more than two decades on his PhD programme without completing it.
According to Ayoola, when the PhD work of Zubairu dragged on for many years, the postgraduate committee asked him questions. He said Zubairu exonerated his supervisor, putting the blame on himself for his dissatisfaction with the level of results he had obtained
He also described Zubairu as “a kind of perfectionist who possibly was eyeing some mathematics laureate at the doctoral level”.
Ayoola made the comments on Monday after Samuel Edet, an alumnus of the department, put up a Facebook post blaming the institution for Zubairu’s PhD travails.
“I knew Aminu Othman Zubairu, he was my algebraic topology lecturer. There is no question as to the depth of his understanding of his field. He was an astounding teacher, a good examiner, a good-hearted easy-going man, and one you can reliably have a conversation with,” Edet had written.
“I remember at some point during my undergraduate thesis, he was very supportive, always meeting during early hours of the day in his office to talk about possible areas of my thesis I could explore, despite not being my supervisor. I hope his children grow up with the understanding that their father was a genius. A genius with an unwavering principle, that could not be dwarfed by a shameful system, an inept institution and a culture of mediocrity.
“A genius who did not believe in the subjugating mantra of untoward ‘Patient, Humility and 'Dobale' in exchange for PHD." Let the University of Ibadan know that an institution that glorifies itself in mediocrity is a danger not just to itself but also to the society. Spending 22 years or any other insane number of years working towards a doctorate degree is not a marker of a sane intellectual community.”
In response, Ayoola wrote:
“I feel so sad reading this post by one of our former mathematics students describing our university as a shameful system, an inept institution with a culture of mediocrity. So, so sad. Never in all the 70 years that UI has been in existence even with Mathematics department being a foundation department of the university had someone described our institution that way. The statement is full of contradictions itself.
“An institution full of mediocre as alleged will not harbour academic staff whose recommendation would be accepted in support of admission of her former students outside the country. I know Samuel Edet must have been a beneficiary of such recommendations. It was so unfortunate that Mr. Zubairu died that way.
“He came to the department sometime in the year 1992 for a Master’s degree from Bayero University and did well in our programme in Ibadan. That qualified him to be appointed an Assistant Lecturer. We believe so much in merit and openness that he was appointed without any culture of DOBALE as Edet put it. He was subsequently recommended for ICTP diploma programme in Italy, which he completed in 1995 and came back to resume his job and his PhD studies. He was attached to one of the best African professors of Algebraic Topology, an Oxford-trained unbiased professor who would not hurt a fly, the professor that had produced many PhD holders who are themselves professors in many universities in Nigeria and abroad.
“However, the PhD work of Mr. Zubairu dragged on for many years, leading to the postgraduate committee asking questions at some point. Mr. Zubairu exonerated the supervisor, putting the blame on himself for not being satisfied with the level of results he had obtained. I was the Head of Department at that time. I am a Christian and a pastor, I will never lie against the dead. Of course, the supervisor could not be forcing the student to write up when the student himself was not ready. So he had to re-apply for admission at the PG school on many occasions, having failed to satisfy the maximum years to be on the programme on many occasions.
“Some of us intervened on many occasions without success. Zubairu was a kind of a perfectionist who possibly was eyeing some mathematics laureate at the doctoral level. There was nothing any one can do on that occasion. The university was even magnanimous by allowing him to stay on the programme for that long. There were many opportunities for doctoral studies abroad which he did not take advantage of. His case was strange.
“Then the issue of his family dispute cropped in. He eventually resigned his appointment in protest against the deduction of his salary as ordered by a competent court for his children and family care in May 2017. The department again intervened by persuading him to have a second thought. The legal department and the highest administration in the university intervened without success. So sad. He kept on living in the university apartment for almost two years after his resignation. The cause of the strange fire is still subject to university enquiry.”
Zubairu's body was discovered at his staff quarters located on Phillipson Road last Tuesday, with his body covered with thick smoke from a fire. He was rushed to 'Jaja', as the university's clinic is widely known, and subsequently transferred to the University College Hospital (UCH) in Ibadan, where he died the following morning.