14 November, 2018

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Chief Michael Sunday Babatunde Adigun: Friend Of The Tamils

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

I write celebrating the life of a Nigerian Yoruba Chief, Michael Sunday Babatunde Adigun, Balogun Bobajiro of Ibadanland and Commander of the Order of the Niger whom the Tamil people are indebted to. I heard only last week of his demise on August 29, 2014.

I went to Nigeria in Oct. 1977, just turned 25 after my London M.Sc. The best offer I had in England was at GE at £250 a month but my classmate Felix Fidelis Udeagwu forced my attention on Nigeria. Felix was an Igbo who had fought and been injured in the Biafra secession but felt good that Nigerian General Yakubu Gowon was generous in victory. He accommodated Igbo aspirations by dividing the federated Western, Eastern and Northern States for the predominant Yorubas, Igbos and Hausas (out of 200+ tribes) into 12 states (now 37), increasing autonomy.

Although Biafra was starved into defeat by food embargo, Gowon embarked on 3Rs (rehabilitation, reconstruction, and reconciliation) on a policy of no victor, no vanquished. But he was deposed in a 1975 coup and was seen in British student canteen queues when I was there. But his dream for 3Rs in Nigeria lived on. Nigeria was doing what I wanted in Sri Lanka. We had much in common then as now. I could not resist Felix’s enticements when two brothers(one with AACS) were denied even physical science and had to be supported in England.

In Ibadan, I met Chief Adigun (b. October 19, 1932) at Church. A handsome man, he would switch from dark blue suits and Latin phrases at work to his flowing Yoruba gowns at home. He was brought up in the Anglican Church and its schools. We felt immediate camaraderie. He had four very intelligent children, son Abi and daughters Yemisi, Gbenro and Bunmi. As Yemisi told me then, “We love our father because he has no women except mother”. Mrs. Adigun kept up her Yoruba independence by running her boutique despite her husband’s standing.

Adigun

Adigun

After his BA External from London, Chief joined the civil service and was Permanent Secretary for Local Government and Information in 1977. Abi was in his OLs at Government College Ibadan. The best school in the state, corruption made it face difficulties despite the oil wealth. Chief asked me to tutor him which I did gratis. When Abi moved to the ALs I lacked the training for physics and chemistry, so he asked me to find good teachers for his school. I got my own maths teacher Sivasubramaniam, a chemistry teacher Sri also from St. John’s and a London MSc physicist Shan from Hardy. Their work ethic earned them a very high reputation.

Others in Jaffna who had heard of my appointments, began writing to me but I could do little as my mandate was confined to Government College. In the meantime I taught the Chief’s equally brilliant daughters Yemisi and Gbenro while little Bunmi would ask permission to touch my hair because it felt so different (like a White boy recently touched Obama’s).

In 1978 Chief was promoted to State Head of Service (above Permanent Secretaries) and Secretary to the Military Government. He ordered the Schools Board Chairman who was visiting many countries on recruitment drives to use me as I had proved my ability to supply excellent teachers without cost. From then to 1980 when I left for my doctoral studies I obtained 600 appointment letters. Then-new University of Jaffna was churning out graduates who could not find work because Sri Lanka seemed a dead-end to many talented Tamils at the time and many came to me. Nearly all these teachers are now in the West. Some stayed on because their children went unhindered into good Nigerian universities bypassing Lankan standardization. Focusing on teacher appointments, Chief also helped in some medical and engineering jobs including one as chief engineer.

Sivasubramaniam of the first threesome was the last to leave Nigeria around 2000 as his sons did engineering and medicine in Nigeria. His son Kiruba came to me for his PhD and got his two brothers to the US and then his parents. The ever grateful Mrs. Lakshmi Sivasubramaniam told my wife from her recent deathbed: “For dowry for your three daughters ask my sons. I have told them.” I will not ask but felt truly touched.

Through the Chief’s facilitation the Tamil community flourished in Oyo State. Our teachers were everywhere. There were also engineers at the Water Board and three successful companies – Samuel Sons (which came court-appointed to manage the construction firm of a chief who died intestate with 105 wives and 105 bungalows in a walled compound), and companies by engineers Panchalingam and Tharmaratnam who had come to work for the state and then formed their own companies.

Friends gave me names of their relatives for appointment. A Tamil Association grew and with it a community. But public service without charge had its downside and costs in time and several trips to the Schools Board. Some could not understand that one can give out jobs without charge. It really hurt when a close friend asked my teachers what my fees were. When several tens of teachers arrived one day and I organized a convoy of cars from volunteers to pick them up at Lagos, a couple of Jaffna teachers first wanted to know how much it would cost them. A gentleman of preretirement age had provided a picture on his application without his glasses but when he arrived he looked 80 because of his barrel glasses. The Schools Board Chairman who did not like my involvement claimed I was untruthful about his age and wanted to send him back. Chief fixed it. One teacher could not stand the loneliness of life at his remote school and took his life. A married woman who came alone got pregnant by a Ghanaian teacher. My favorite chemistry teacher who had become St. John’s Principal was annoyed that I had denuded the school of some of his best teachers. I pray that by the time he was murdered he would have understood that I could not from abroad tell teachers asking me for a job that their duty is to serve St. John’s. Some Sinhalese friends were upset but I accommodated every qualified request for an appointment. Those were troubled times for the two communities. One learns to carry on in public life despite these things, or one can do nothing.

Chief Adigun after retirement became a Federal Minister of National Planning in 1984 when Muhammadu Buhari came to power through a military coup-d’état. He was made Commander of the Order of the Niger, a Nigerian knighthood. It is ironic that Buhari is the President-Elect today and the Chief surely would have come back to public life if death had not intervened.

I had lost touch with the Adiguns who visited me in the US when I married in 1984. Our second daughter who is Regional Proposal Development and Grant Coordinator for Save the Children for the Middle East and Eurasia is to go to Nigeria in May and I had asked her to meet the Chief however difficult it may be. She then used her Nigerian contacts and gave me the sad news. The lesson to me: however busy with work, do not neglect friends. This is a regret I will carry to my grave. But his memory I will always cherish with gratitude for his unstinted support.

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Latest comments

  • 3
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    To Professor Hoole it’s all about him. If anybody thinks this is in the memory of the above mentioned, you either don’t know the person Prof. Hoole is or you’re just too naive.

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      Mr. Saul Boutme, you are so focused on yourself you that have missed the subtleties of Prof. Hoole’s article. At least Prof. Hoole has something to write about himself and has hundreds of people very grateful to him for that.

      I would rather see people like him leading the community than people like Saul Boutme who has appropriately named himself and is grouching that this article is not about himself.

      Saul Boutme, if you have done anything for the community, list it and we will all congratulate you and be thankful for people like you. In the meantime stop sniping at people like Prof. Hoole who do.

    • 3
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      Prof. Hoole:

      Take heart. Remember that haters merely remind you that you’re not alone, and that everybody in the world has to deal with haters. Many of these comments against you from these haters come from ordinary people online who have had to struggle with their own failures.

      Perhaps one of the most successful people, successful in her own realm, Marilyn Monroe, sums it best:

      “Success makes so many people hate you. I wish it wasn’t that way. It would be wonderful to enjoy success without seeing envy in the eyes of those around you.”

      Prof., continue to do what you do. You are doing well. Do not let small minds deter you. You are an inspiration to many of us, especially the next generation, who are silent because we do not wish to be victims of these haters and their vitriol.

    • 0
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      Dear Sauf Boutme, what you mentioned about Prof. Hoole was not the correct assessment. Prof. Hoole is, as I know, a gentleman, and genius. I have gone through his writings and used them for teaching materials to my teacher students. Pathetically, you could not read between lines and get what prof. trying to say.

      Better comprehension skill only will lead to understand his writing. Yes, yet another wonderful piece of writing

  • 4
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    Using anecdotes and narratives is an accepted teaching tool of the social scientist. This is first hand information given through an experiential story, which also can be verified. Prof. Hoole’s students both in his Engineering Ethics classes and Liberal Arts classes in the US have given him near perfect ratings for his teaching evaluations because of his teaching style which includes such first person narratives to bring his message home. This is also the story of a bunch of people whom Chief Adigun helped and a reminiscence of their days in Nigeria. It happened at a time when the Jaffna man would not move to Trinco or Batticaloa or Mannar long term- That he would bring himself to go to Nigeria in droves in those days, with its Malaria and crazy driving and the poorest of living conditions in the outpost-schools is in itself an anthropological study.

    To say Hoole is writing only about himself, shows a lack of balance and analysis if not open bias. Students love to hear the first person anecdotes of people like Prof. Mahalingam of Peradeniya and Prof. Hoole for they are a link to their past. They should write more such anecdotes.

    Thanks CT for publishing it.

  • 2
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    Hoole Hoole go to school. Keep your Ego to your self. CT is not for boasters, its a place for enlightened people to exchange ideas.
    If after being a professor you still have the need to have your ego massaged, please go to need some serious help.
    The more educated you are the more humble you should be. There is no need to go to extent disturbing the dead for your sake. That’s sick. Besides you have been a bloody racist from the start. [Edited out]

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      A place for enlightened people — so enlightened that the editor had to edit them out? Now that is ego!

    • 1
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      Dear Lasith,
      What you said is correct.

    • 0
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      Lasith,
      Prof. Hoole’s writings are about many things. I have gone through many such articles and work. He helped many people. Some people alleges he has ego, but he he is a humble and genuine person without any egoism.

      What you assessed is limited and need to go through his work

  • 3
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    This is to confirm that Chief M.S.Adigun was basically involved in helping many Tamils securing Teaching appointments in Nigeria in 79/80

    • 1
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      One can interpret this story any way one likes, but this is the personal story of two men, one then a 24 year old Sri Lankan Tamil engineer/lecturer and a more senior Nigerian civil servant, told for the first time after a lapse of 35 years.

      These two men developed a friendship through their Church and through Hoole’s tutoring of Chief Adigun’s children. An opportunity opened up to hire Sri Lankan teachers for service in Oyo State of Nigeria. What was a trickle initially turned into a flood, and several hundred teachers (of all ages) flocked to Nigeria, benefiting themselves and benefiting many Nigerian schools which previously did not have sufficient number of Maths and Science teachers.

      This happened in the aftermath of the 1977 riots in Sri Lanka, when things became difficult for new graduates. I was in Nigeria at the time, and was a member of the support cast: in many cases we went to the airport to pick these teachers up, then drove them to their schools in remote parts of the State, and became close friends with many. Even though I was not involved in their appointments, much of my life revolved around them, and it made my life in Nigeria enjoyable and rewarding. I know many of the teachers came to support their poor families back home to deal with dowry for sisters etc. Employment in Nigeria was a godsend to them. Importantly, they were received with open arms by their school communities, and the Nigerians were truly appreciative of the educational opportunities they brought to their children.

      Of course there was some resentment: more established Tamils in Ibadan complained that their own privileged status was being undermined by the arrival of these relatively poorly paid teachers. The Sinhalese community in Nigeria complained that only Tamils were being hired.

      But this was an arrangement that cut through red tape, avoided any fees or charges that one hears about when it comes to expatriate jobs. People received appointments and free airfares on the basis of just a resume submitted to Adigun via Hoole. Many of the teachers eventually migrated to the West and they and their children are leading successful lives – I will wager a bet that they are grateful to both Hoole and Adigun for this generosity.

      In conclusion, this is an interesting, previously not widely known, snapshot of the larger movement of Sri Lankan Tamils to the West, long before the avalanche in the late 1980s, a story that needed to be told for posterity. The hundreds of teachers who benefited from this kind act will look back to this period with some nostalgia and lots of thanks to Hoole and Adigun. It changed their lives.

  • 4
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    As a student of Prof. Hoole from his Peradeniya days when he was always willing to help us students and speak to us as our equal, I feel really sad when I see some negative comments about him here. What’s wrong with listing the good things he did to his community with the help of Adigun? Listening to him makes me want to be helpful to others.

  • 2
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    Very well said Tharma!

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    Thank you prof Hoole for the anecdote. Chief Adigun and Hoole were helping two communities to help each other – knowledge for cash. Both had more of one. It is mutual without one being obliged to the other but both gaining from each other. It is not easy to keep in touch with old friends from far away.
    One reader commented, “It happened at a time when the Jaffna man would not move to Trinco or Batticaloa or Mannar long term- That he would bring himself to go to Nigeria in droves in those days, with its Malaria and crazy driving and the poorest of living conditions in the outpost-schools is in itself an anthropological study.”

    Now, teachers from Jaffna find the strangest of excuse and resort to neopotism when assigned to Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Madhu areas to teach. Schools there have no Math, Science teachers when many schools in Jaffna have excess. I wonder whether they would go if these districts pay them Nigerian Salaries!

  • 0
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    Ladies and Gentlemen

    Fair enough. I have perhaps gone over board in my comments. Please accept my apologies.

    However there are two things I still would like to point out. First, Prof seems to have used is influence in helping Tamils exclusively. Its these kinds of things that draw dividing lines in our society.

    Particularly When we are out of the country we are all Sri Lankans. If he is actually that educated he should be able to look beyond petty differences like cast, creed, language or religion.

    Secondly there is no need to intertwine the essence of the story with his own personal high lights! That to me amounts to blowing the trumpet.

    We need results, not stories and big talk.
    In which aspect was he able to contribute to the betterment of Sri Lanka through his intellect?

    • 0
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      “In which aspect was he able to contribute to the betterment of Sri Lanka through his intellect?”

      Prof. Hoole taught at Peradeniya and Open University for more than 12 years, served on the IT and English Task Forces of the UGC, started IT network at Open University for better distance learning, has many successful Sri Lankan Ph. D’s, restarted request for Jaffna Engineering and found funding from India and Norway for its infrastructure and best of all taught Human Rights and Ethics to students under the Millenium Goals of the UN Education mandate. He also helped arrested students. At PEradeniya he upgraded the two computer courses to form a CompSci and Cop. Eng departments when more than two thirds applied to join them. It was sad to sit in Faculty Board Meetings and see the bitter opposition to stop him from many of his endeavors because of interpersonal and inter departmental rivalry.
      His summary cv is on the internet.
      Be familiar with a subject before criticizing.

      • 1
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        Thank you Peradeniya Graduate. You hit the nail on the head.

        But I would add something important in answer to Lasith.

        When a DSc Lond degree holder, the first IEEE Fellow from Sri Lanka, returns home from a most successful career at one of America’s elite schools to teach at home, that is contributing to the betterment of Sri Lanka through his intellect.

        He actually chaired the UGC Standing Committees for IT and English. I think he was also responsible for pushing through Jaffna’s IT Faculty at Vavuniya. He had a hand in setting up the Eastern University Medical Faculty. He authored with Prof. Senake the report on absorbing the Vipulananda School of Music into Eastern University and told me that he drafted the ordinance for the Legal Draftsman.

        He used discrepancies in funding for Jaffna to almost double funding and bring it in line with the other universities I recall from newspaper articles that Jaffna was getting approximately Rs. 44,000 per student per year for science and arts students and this was raised to Rs. 77,000 like at the other universities. It is important to note that Prof. Hoole’s integrity was such that the other 6 UGC members agreed. He could not have achieved this by shouting at his colleagues, he convinced them. Previous Tamil UGC members were shy to argue for Tamil interests when Tamils interest were ignored. Prof. Hoole has never been shy about saying what he thinks. This is what we want…

        Give it up Lasith. You are not at all convincing.

  • 2
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    Appah,

    You forgot to add your favorite story about Sivaji Ganeshan’s “Kavari Maan” which you often tell us after a good Sunday mea . There were then only occasional Hindi movies in Nigeria but no Tamil films. Besides they had also a VHS/Pal conflict with Nigerian TV sets. Then lo! One of your friends got a dual player from England and whoever acquired a movie was only too happy to lend it for all to see. Uncle Sivapalan, the named chair, Uncle Jayakumaran of “New York’s Seamless-bridge” fame featured in US nespapers who now owns his own civil engineering design company, Uncle Gangatharan working for HP who showed us kangaroos and a thousand penguins coming out of the sea in Australia, and you, then ran a mobile theatre for the Tamil Association you all formed. Every weekend you would borrow somebody’s TV and that England-bought dual mode video player and go to a different school in a village and show a movie in different houses where friends and their kids from other places would have already congregated with a lot of food. I always suspected that this was indeed a ruse for you bachelor boys to have nice Sri Lankan food. Jayakumaran Uncle’s car had all expenses looked after and was your transport. Sivaji’s Kavari Maan was shown over and over.

    Then on your return to Ibadan one uncle K.N. Subramaniam of Australia who because he was married and did not want to loaf about while living a bachelor life till his wife joined him, would stay home and have a nice fragrant meal ready for you all. You mentioned that he could even make puttu. I remember how each time we ate your buttery, fragrant potato curry and your Red Joloff rice, you would imitate Uncle Subramaniam to us. U. Subs, after feasting on his own awesome dinner with his bright red specialty Kulambu (gravy) – would stroke his happy belly with one hand and, twisting his huge mustache with the other, he would ask with his proud Maharajah smile: “How is my cooking, ah?”

    I could see from your stories they were very, very happy days for you and your then bachelor friends. If not for space I would share more like how a landlord without announcement came with his wife’s body and buried her in the teacher’s front yard according to custom!

    May God Bless Uncle Adigun for helping you all so much.

    Anbini

  • 1
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    Thank you Anbini. I feel only nostalgia for those happy days. The movie business for the Tamil Association reminds me of a trip we made in Dr. Sivagnanasambanthar Jayakumaran’s blue VW Beetle to screen Kavari Maan. Driving was lawless those days. On the way back, we had to stop in a traffic jam. Dr. J was driving. He suddenly said looking in his rear view mirror, “He is going to hit us, he is going to hit us …” (adikkapporaan, adikkapporaan). I do not know how he knew but a car coming behind at high speed slammed into our stopped car. The driver was an unlicensed 15 or 16 year old. Dr. J.’s car was a total wreck. I recall attending many Sri Lankan funerals of those who died on Nigerian roads. In this instance, thankfully not one of us was injured – I think because the Beetle has its engine at the back. Jayakumaran’s Nigerian boss was very understanding. He said words to the effect, “Forget the car. You are safe. I must get you a safer car.” He then got Dr. J. a big Peugeot. It is such pleasant Nigerians who are responsible for the nostalgia we feel for those days despite the difficulties of unsafe roads, and water and power cuts. Despite the difficulties, we had it good and had good Nigerian friends.

  • 1
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    I am very sad about the criticism of Hoole Sir. I knew the development history of Vavuniya Campus of University of Jaffna. Hoole Sir was UGC member and trying to help. He was supervising 2 staff members from Peradeniya — one PhD Dr. S. Krishnakumar and one for MS from PGIS. He was also trying to give the campus an IT degree programme.

    But we all could see there was no appreciation for Hoole Sir. Dr. Mohanadas our VC was complaining that Krishankumar Sir was too interested in his research. Never heard that charge anywhere. Although Krishnakumar Sir was on study leave Prof. Mohanadas wanted him to come back and teach while on leave. Krishnakumar Sir’s only mistake was to do postgraduate study at Peradeniya. Any way, he is now first Electrical PhD from Peradeniya. He left the Applied science faculty of the campus . Gone to Open University.

    Then the IT degree programme story. The UGC and Hoole Sir wanted to start it. But the campus had to give a proposal. Dean prof Kumaravadivel wanted to be VC. So no proposal to stop Hoole Sir. Or Hoole Sir would get credit. Hoole Sir then wrote proposal. The UGC Chairman forced prof Mohanadas to send it as Jaffna proposal. That is how the campus got an IT degree programme. Now prof Kumaravadivel is on the UGC. now what?

  • 1
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    This is the first time I thought of commenting after some comments by some individuals who are biased upon something for some reason towards Prof.Hoole . All those English Instructors in English Teaching Units of the Universities in Sri Lanka are very much grateful to Prof.Hoole for his contribution towards elevating their academic positions in the universities of Sri Lanka.I was one of them among the beneficiaries. I started my career as an Instructor in English in the University of Jaffna and gained a Lecturer position after my MA (Linguistics) from University of Kelaniya.All the staff members of the ELTU whether Tamils ,Sinhalese or Muslims in all the universities of Sri Lanka are indebted for the sincere efforts made by Prof.Hoole during his tenure of Chairmanship for the Standing committee to the English Units and departments . He was instrumental in activating the dissemination and propagation of English Language learning and teaching in the universities in Sri Lanka.Prof.Hoole made genuine attempts to elevate the standard of English and computer science knowledge among the undergraduates,not only the undergraduates but also the Academics of some discipline who could only deliver lectures only in “Suyabasha” either Tamil or Sinhala were inspired to learn English by Prof.Hoole ,Prof.Carlo Fonseka like eminent personalities at the UGC . They wanted to bring a reform to the dark age of the language policy .some of us are always willing to “dig our own grave” by ridiculing others without knowing the true story. At least we should follow the example of the current President of Sri Lanka who is definitely better than any other politicians to bring a reform to the nation.
    S.Srikathirgamanathan
    Canada

  • 0
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    Every coin has two sides. This is a story of a coin with two heads. On one side was Chief Sunday Adigun and the other side was Prof Hoole.
    Both opened the door for the future of 600 Sri Lankan families, whose children and siblings were deprived of TERTIARY EDUCATION in their home country because of the unfair standardisation laws for the University entrance. The racist overtones in this chain of comments is deplorable.
    Both also opened the door for science and math education to every corner of the then OYO state of Nigeria. Those schools and their children cannot forget the contribution of Chief Adigun, who grabbed the small opening in the church and gave science and math education. He will be remembered by generations of Yoruba people of the value of science and math education.
    I have met Chief Adigun, in the presence of Chief Egbedeyi, in the pre-budget meetings. Both were family people who believed and lived a one man-one wife life in polygamous society.

  • 0
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    Professor Ratnajeevan Hoole‘s (Jeevan) article about Chief Adigun (Chief) was a balanced one with the right caption for a deserving personality to be remembered. He has given full account of background behind in chronological sequence and how manoeuvred to achieve mutual benefit for both.
    In this process I was taken by Jeeevan to Chief’s residence and gave introduction and promoted to gain employment to my cousin Mr Shanmugaratnam known among his friend’s as “Sikkal”.
    I don’t want to write any more about the article of Jeevan rather than totally agreeing to comments made by Mr Murugesu Sivapalan (full of facts, analysis and conclusion a trade mark of a PHD).
    I had to mention about Jeevan how he has given introduction about us to his children in minute detail of what happened in that era of about more than a quarter century ago (early 1980’s). I can still remember when Jeevan left Nigeria still an eligible bachelor and had last meal in Ibadn at my house before making journey to Lagos in the so called safe car(Kavari Maan et.al) of Dr J with usual gang of four (Comments of Anbini et. al)

  • 0
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    I am very thankful to Prof. Hoole for his article about Chief Adigun. It brought back fond memories going back to the 80’s.
    I went to Oyo State, Nigeria in 1980 to teach A/L students at Ibadan Grammar School, which is the oldest Grammar school in Ibadan.
    Chief Adigun was one of the finest men I ever met in Nigeria. He is an outstanding person whom we can emulate the qualities of humility, love & care.
    Both Chief Adigun & Prof. Hoole worked hand in hand to help the 2 communities & I am always grateful for their contributions to these communities.
    I agree to the comments by Murugesu Sivapalan that hundreds of teachers who benefited from this kind of act will always look back to this period with some nostalgia & with sincere gratefulness to Chief Adiun & Prof. Hoole.
    May the soul of Chief Adigun rest in perfect peace

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