Professor Matthews A. Ojo: Applauding A Graceful Exit From Bowen University, By Toyin Falọla
Professor Ojo’s tenure as the vice chancellor of Bowen University is a testimony to the fact that academics and scholars do not succeed in their ventures only when plowing through the dusty shelves of the past to understand where we are in history and what circumstances led us there. They also excel in administrative work as well…
Leo Tolstoy, the ubiquitous Russian writer, once said: “Man lives consciously for himself, but serves as an unconscious instrument for the achievement of historical, universally human goals”. To a great extent, Tolstoy was unquestionably right. After all, it is a factum of human life and existence that many human achievements typically start as the pursuit of self-fulfillment, until we are caught by either a vision or a goal that is higher than the smallness of our individual selves. Therefore, happy is the man or woman, whose life journey begins from himself and progresses to the universal goal of making history, impacting lives, and creating things that last. Such a person deserves applause and celebration for putting one stone on top of another in the noble and collective project of building our civilisation and history. It is, indeed, in the context of the foregoing that I am putting these words together to celebrate my famous friend, as well as colleague, scholar, and researcher, Professor Matthews Akintunde Ojo, on the completion of his tenure as the vice-chancellor of Bowen University, Iwo. Professor Ojo’s remarkable career trajectory has been critical to the attainment of valuable goals in the Nigerian social history, not to mention his solid contribution to our understanding of religious culture. It is, therefore, no exaggeration to underscore that he has bestowed on contemporary academia a far-reaching insight into the dynamic formation of what has today become a global culture.
Professor Ojo, one of the pioneers of Nigerian Charismatic Christianity, was also one of those scholars who started studying the global charismatic movement that we refer to as Pentecostalism or Neo-Pentecostalism before it became a thing, or the thing that it is at the moment. Long before the world turned its attention to the bewildering sensation that the Pentecostal/born-again movement would become, Professor Ojo was one of those intellectual photographers who was perspicacious enough to understand that what was already brewing within the Nigerian space, particularly in South-Western Nigeria, was the making of a candid shot that will capture the animation of the Nigerian social sphere in some years to come. The result of that insight was his book, The End-Time Army: Charismatic Movements In Modern Nigeria (2006). The book is a study of the post-Aladura charismatic movement, or, the rise of the modern Pentecostal church in Nigeria. The book is a revealing narrative of the birth of the effulgence of the Pentecostal movement, the dynamics of its creativity, and the formation of modern Nigerian culture.
With Professor Ojo’s ground-clearing academic labours, other scholars began to enter the field, thus triggering the profusion of a wave of scholarship that analyses and archives the history and practices of the neo-Pentecostal churches. Professor Ojo, while shining the torch on the undercurrents of events and places that were shaping the Pentecostal movement, also opened up a chapter on Nigerian social history that might have been ignored by scholars who were racing to arrogate the new religious wave to the influence of western culture and Americanisation: Nigerian universities and the campus culture of the 1970s with their famous “SU” (Scripture Union) formation. The university campuses of the era contributed immensely to the making of the Nigerian church culture as we know it today. Indeed, an active religious lifestyle was created by those undergraduates and their Inter-Varsity Christian Unions, while the ensuing military era exercised notions of power that they performed before the public, which coupled with the energetic cultural landscape in the 1970s – the time in Nigerian history when post-war Nigeria was so awash with petrodollars and all the socio-cultural and socio-economic changes it engendered. The bubbliness of that era created a feeling of spiritual emptiness in some young men and women who were interested in distinguishing themselves from the rest of the world, empowering themselves with a different ethic, and taking over the world for Christ. Their lofty ambition networked with different missiological initiatives elsewhere, and collectively they would birth what has today become a spiritual enterprise and a system of relations that is fundamental to the shaping of our social and political ecology. Professor Ojo’s study shows that the fact that within the bastion of the Nigerian intellectual environment arose a movement whose ideological foundations defies the reasoned empiricism that we associate with the academia that disproves the overly simplified binary of religion and reason as merely antithetical.
We cannot talk about the transnational and transcultural phenomenon that Nigerian Pentecostalism is today without paying referential obeisance to Professor Ojo’s extensive work in this field. Professor Ojo’s range of research contributions to the field of religious culture and history includes themes such as church growth, religious networks…
Today, Pentecostal Christian practice is one the most prominent cultural phenomenon in the world and its capital is the global South, namely, the continent of Africa. At present, more than 200 million Africans are estimated to practice charismatic Christianity and some projections anticipate that the world centre of Pentecostalism in the coming years will not just be Africa but Nigeria as well. We cannot talk about the transnational and transcultural phenomenon that Nigerian Pentecostalism is today without paying referential obeisance to Professor Ojo’s extensive work in this field. Professor Ojo’s range of research contributions to the field of religious culture and history includes themes such as church growth, religious networks, missionary enterprise in contemporary period, urbanity and religious culture, comparative religion, vatic unction and social functioning, fundamentalism, social and physical healing, religion and the media, interreligious conflicts and relations, the political economy of faith, religious history and historiography, theological and liturgical practices as a system of power relations, epistemologies, political spiritualities, pentecostal phenomenology, religious transformations, reverse missions and diasporisation of Nigerian Pentecostalism, religious capitalism and neoliberalism. He has written other books, including Memory, Memorials and In Memoriam: Reflections of Nigerian Baptist Understanding of their Identity and Legacy (2018), Of Saints and Sinners: Pentecostalism and the Paradox of Social Transformation in Modern Nigeria (Published Inaugural Lecture, 2010); Malachi: A Call to Renewed Commitment (1990), as well as scores of essays on wide-ranging topics on religious culture and history.
Professor Ojo’s tenure as the vice chancellor of Bowen University is a testimony to the fact that academics and scholars do not succeed in their ventures only when plowing through the dusty shelves of the past to understand where we are in history and what circumstances led us there. They also excel in administrative work as well, and his VC-ship demonstrates the versatility of the critical academic mind that can function with as much clarity in the boardroom as it does in the library. When Professor Ojo took over the reins of the young and budding university, he also inherited along with it the challenges of running a growing organisation. One person alone, of course, cannot change the world by him/herself but they can trigger the set of conditions that makes it possible to induce the change we want to see in the world. He approached the situation with the same methodical skillfulness that has characterised his work as an academic. He started by putting in missing blocks of infrastructures in the administrative layout using a leadership strategy premised on empowering the followership such that they are educated and emboldened to take initiatives at their individual levels.
As the vice-chancellor, he engaged in an infrastructural upgrade, aestheticised the university’s physical environment, and also instituted a culture of environmental management. His administration rehabilitated many physical structures in the school and upgraded facilities used by staff and students. Beyond his achievements in the areas of infrastructure and physical surroundings was his insistence on building an academic culture that develops personnel and also widens the opportunities for regenerative growth. Based on this, his administration added more courses to the existing menu to capture emerging opportunities in the cultural marketplace. These courses have been accredited by the NUC, including their Law Faculty. He also pursued opportunities for innovative research for sustainable development, such as starting the Centre for Biomedical and Drug Research, creating a Centre for Gender Studies from a study group, held national conferences, and was able to bring scholarly minds from different institutions for national conferences. He focused on students welfare and development, and the success of this was evident from the infrastructural development he embarked on to improve their collegiate experience. He also prioritised staff welfare and development, providing resources and opportunities for staff members who want to improve on their learning and those who wish to carry out research. Under his administrative watch, he made useful efforts to increase town-gown relations such as working with others to resolve the lingering crisis between the town of Iwo and Bowen University, thereby boosting cordial relations. The scope of his efforts has been total, spanning through the engineering of the spheres of physical, social, environmental, cultural, and most importantly the academic, to build them for optimal performance. It is no surprise that he plans to exit after such a distinguished career and there is no doubt he will be accompanied into his next abode by accolades and applause by those of us he has inspired with the illustriousness of his public service.
…it is not a good-bye salute but just “so long old soldier”, VC Ojo, as we wait for your continued effectiveness and sleepless nights to create more for our edification and commendation! Congratulations as well, as you deserve every last one!!
The great literary genius called William Shakespeare once underscored, inter alia: “Our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.” With Professor Ojo, I doubt his pre-occupation in his post-VC life would be to sit back and indulgently savour the delights of the world to which he has contributed to make it ever so magnificent! Ever the indefatigable academic and researcher, he has already embarked on various research projects, which include research into “Nigerian Protestantism and Christian Missions,” an international research programme coordinated from Calvin College, MI, USA. To the best of my knowledge, he also has an ongoing plan to conduct research into “The Role of the Print and Electronic Media in the Constitution of New Religious Publics in Yorubaland” that was funded by the British Academy, UK. Another one of his research will be law and religion in Nigeria, and research into “Religion and Sexuality within the African Context.” He has other forthcoming publications such as the “Definitions of Illness and Healing among Charismatics in Nigeria,” “The Development of Denominationalism Within Charismatic Movements in Nigeria,” and “Geopolitics, Mission, and the Case of Africa.”
Most certainly, Professor Ojo is ending one phase of his life as a top university administrator, but we know that he is not tired of doing all the life-long good he has been doing, which makes the rest of us to be better off for his unflagging strength and charisma. Therefore, it is not a good-bye salute but just “so long old soldier”, VC Ojo, as we wait for your continued effectiveness and sleepless nights to create more for our edification and commendation! Congratulations as well, as you deserve every last one!!
Toyin Falola is the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities and University Distinguished Teaching Professor, The University of Texas at Austin.