ADEKUNLE AJAJA: AN UNFORGETTABLE GENIUS AND EXTRAORDINARY PRODIGY
By, Seye Adetunmbi
Contemporarily, at every point in time, every community produces its own exceptionally brilliant scholar, genius, a rare and unique personality. Sometimes such prodigious fellow may either live long or die at a relatively young age as it applied in the case of Adekunle Ajaja. Certainly, Ajaja as he was popularly called was a rare breed academically in the history of his community and perhaps no known person yet, has broken his record in Ifaki and its environs. He was in a different class of his own.
Adekunle Ajaja was born in Ifaki-Ekiti around 1948 by an extremely humble and indigent parents. After attending Methodist Primary School, Ifaki under a free education programme, he could not even process admission into secondary school because his very poor parents could not afford to buy an admission form.
In 1962 through the grace of God and some philanthropic support, he joined the 6th set of Ifaki Grammar School. According to Pastor Segun Fayemi, he was given double promotion to 5th set in class II. While the 5th set was the last to spend 6 years in secondary school, the 5th set was the first to spend 5 years.
Ajaja came first in their first term examination. Also one of his classmates, Reverend Dr. Kayode Rufus Omotayo said that Ajaja did not make 1st position in the second and third terms in class II, but led their set thereafter in class III to the final class.
He benefited to some extent from the sponsorship of Ifaki Progressive Union and tremendous support of a notable Ifaki kinsman, Chief J. Ojo a.k.a. Abudu, the first African Principal of Wesley College, Ibadan who was his foremost mentor.
Six years was then the standard number of years scheduled for secondary school education, but Ajaja completed his in four years and passed out with distinction in 1965. In essence, he came in with 6th set and graduated with the 4th set. His set was noted to be extremely brilliant in the history of Ifaki Grammar School. His other mates include Prof Akute and Prof Fayemi.
He later attended briefly, Christ’s School, Ado-Ekiti (66/604 was his number in HSC) before gaining admission into university of Ibadan in 1966. He graduated in 1970 with B.Sc (Hons) second class upper in Physics and it was noted that his aggregates narrowly missed 1st class honours. He had wanted to study Nuclear Physics at postgraduate level, but for one reason or the other, it was not possible.
Nevertheless, as a result of his exemplary performance, he gained admission straight for his PhD programme in Cambridge University to Study Computer Science on scholarship. Unfortunately, poor Ajaja could not complete this phase of his academic pursuit because he was seriously indisposed and had to come back home from United Kingdom. Regrettably, he did not survive his ordeal and died in the early 1970s at UCH, Ibadan and was buried in Ibadan.
I was too young to get a sufficient grasp of his character and general disposition. However, my memory of the few and brief encounters with him in the late 1960s as a little boy although very faint still remains very indelible in my mind. He was one of the very few Ifaki young men in their under graduate days that were comfortable coming to our house. He visited our house by choice without any encumbrance. Of course, my father was his teacher and apparently was favourably disposed to him for obvious reasons, his exemplary brilliance. It was essentially or perhaps these few times that he visited our house whenever the university students were on vacation that I was privileged to share or benefit from his cheerful and friendly inclination to my inquisitiveness as a little boy under the age of 10 years.
I could manage to remember him as a fast talker with a unique voice. Also if my memories served me right, he was fond of saying, “you are a bogey” to me each time he playfully gave me some form of attention and I would repeat the same words back to him. Subsequently and as a matter of fact each time or whenever I saw him I called him bogey. Essentially, the first word that often came out of my mouth few times I saw him was “bogey” or you are a “bogey” with so much excitement and joy in me which I couldn’t hide. Apparently I liked to see him because he gave me attention coupled with what I was told about him that he was prodigious which obviously attracted me to him.
Mr Dayo Ojo, the first Senior Prefect of Ifaki Grammar School in his recall wrote:
Kunle Ajaja was in Form One in 1962 when we were in Form 6. When he was promoted to Form 2 at the end of the 2nd term, the Principal mandated me to put him through in Latin during the holiday. By 1963, I taught him Maths when he was in Form 3 and he again started leading his class.
I came back to IGS in 1966 January after my HSC in Christ’s School where Kunle went also for his HSC. By September of 1966, Kunle, Soga and myself matriculated together in University of Ibadan (UI). In other words he had narrowed the 5 year gap between me and him to 1.
Kunle gained admission into UI as a Federal Government scholar being one of the Top Ten in the entrance exam that year. After his preliminary year he became a University scholar. He was in Kuti Hall with me as well as in the same department. So my greatest fear was never to have any reason to repeat a session so that myself and Kunle would not have to be in the same class comparing notes!!! Fortunately that did not happen
He and Lateef Hussein, also in Kuti Hall were close academic rivals.
When he came out with a 2nd Class Upper division degree in Physis while Lateef came out with first class, Kunle couldn’t take it in.
That advised his going to Cambridge because he could not just adjust to staying in UI. When he came to Cambridge, he visited me in London where I was as a Commonwealth scholar in the University of London for my Masters programme in Computer Science. He was even in Cambridge, still hunted with his UI 2:1 degree result. Soga took him in, in UCH when he came back home. The rest is a sad ending of a brilliant Alumnus.
Ifaki Community, his schoolmates, and Ifaki elite at home and abroad indeed mourned him when he stopped the race abruptly which left his poor aged mother in sorrow. To say that I was pained by his transition would amount to an understatement. Life is cruel when brilliant people like brother Kunle Ajaja is wasted at their prime.
Egbon Segun Falua wrote:
Kunle Ajaja was ONE in a million.Not only was he exceptionally brilliant, he was always ready to give a helping hand to all that cross his path. He taught me and many of his classmates algebra and trigonometry which we found very difficult and abstract in those days. He would devote his time explaining and teaching his mates and juniors to the extent that he has no time to study on his own. He was nicknamed “wonderful” for his brilliance by late Chief D. O. Adetunmbi our then Senior Tutor. I was too close to Kunle not only as a classmate but also as a brother from the same Ilogbe quarter of Ifaki-Ekiti. I was a regular visitor to him in Kuti Hall, U. I. and through him I attended my first Havana nite. He was such a warm and likeable personality. I was on youth service in 1973/74 in the then Cross River State when I learnt of his return from U.K. and eventual demise. He was such a very rare gem. Goodnight wonderful Ajaja. Continue to rest in the bosom of Almighty God.
Igi to ba ti to ki pe ninu igbo. Adieu.
Also Dr Abiodun Oyebola (formerly Sofunke) wrote:
Kunle Ajaja was not just my classmate. We virtually lived together at home. His house was just some trekking distance from the Methodist Manse where we were, when our late father Rev. Sofunke was the Methodist Superintendent of Ifaki circuit. We became personally friendly that it was a case of lunch in our house followed by lunch in his house. I got being used to iyan-koko, as much as I got to be used to his mother. In spite of the poverty, I saw Kunle to have been a very pleasant person, very friendly, a person ready to help anybody, as if he was conscious of the favour of exceptional intelligence bequeathed on him. The idea of fully turning to Christ had not yet taken hold of us. Indeed we lost a gem.
My personal consolation today for the sudden death of such a bright star is that I have been able to do this script for posterity in the memory of “bogey” my very beloved “big friend”. For years his picture was in one of the photo albums in our family house. It pained me so much that I was not able to lay my hands on the photo to accompany this tribute.
Mr Abiodun Agbelese recalled an encounter with him thus: “…. I was at the University of Ibadan for the Coordination of WASC examination markers when Kunle Ajaja was seriously preparing for his final exams in 1970. He shared his most imminent ambition with me: Buoda, leyin exams mi ki mo ba bere use, ninu first salary mi, ma a yo poun kan (now 2 Naira). Ma a mu ko eyemi. Ma a si lo s’oja wipe o gbodo na kete re tin. He was certain his mother would find it not believable that one could spend a whole amount of one pound during a single market! Kunle did not start work after his UI finals. So he did not give his mother that one pound.But he came to this world and dropped a lesson for you and me.”
My joy knew no bounds when Sir Uduimo Justus Itsueli, President of Christ’s School Alumni Association on August 25, 2016 spoke so well about him after I mentioned his name during a trip together to Ekiti. They were class/course mates in University of Ibadan, with Dr Olu Agunloye, Babatunde Njoku and Huseini from Lagos State. He attested to his brilliance. Dr Itsueli was a year ahead of him in Cambridge and were both on scholarship. He felt bad that the system wasted such a gem because they were both federal government scholars in UK when their grant was not forthcoming which contributed to the coming back home of Ajaja.
Prof Samuel Ade Ojo wrote:
I knew Ajaja very faintly because our paths didn’t quite cross each other at either the Methodist Primary School where I finished my primary education in 1955 or at Ifaki Grammar School which took off in 1957, a year after I entered Egbeoba High School. But Ajaja’s fame as a prodigy while he was busy setting his academic records was equaled only by that of the great Ojo Ugbole of blessed memory. His was the talk of our town for decades! May the iconic soul of Kunle Ajaja, our iconic meteor and academic hero, rest in perfect peace.
The scholar Adekunke Ajaja was indeed a very brilliant student, unequaled genius in his lifetime and a great academic of all times with an unparalleled credentials in his domain. Hmmm, Ajaja was a bloom whose petals nibbed before they bloom, he died at the promise of fruit. Sorely missed.