University of Ibadan Longest-serving lecturer, Nigel, famous for wearing a white T-shirt, slippers everywhere — President, varsity staff club
University of Ibadan Longest-serving lecturer, Nigel, famous for wearing a white T-shirt, slippers everywhere. The President of the Senior Staff Club, University of Ibadan, Mr. Lanre Oladoyinbo, is a long-time friend and associate of the University of Ibadan Longest-serving, Mr. Henry Nigel, an expatriate who died last week aged 71. In this interview with WALE OYEWALE, Oladoyinbo speaks about the weird but simple life and times of the white lecturer who joined the varsity in 1976
How would you describe Mr. Henry Nigel?
Mr Henry Nigel is the last of the titans. I am reluctant to use the past tense for him because I believe he lives on. He was among the last set of expatriates to the University of Ibadan. He got to the university in 1976; that is about four decades ago and he happened to be the last man standing among the last batch of expatriates. Henry was a brilliant scholar and he was very dedicated to his job. He had no problem doing his teaching and being with his cold bottle of beer. He had no life other than teaching and being with his cold bottle of beer. He was synonymous with the brand of stout he drank; I am not trying to blackmail him. That was his trademark; anytime you saw him, he would be with his drink.
He lived the better part of his life at University of Ibadan as Longest-serving Who did not know him in that community? He was known to all. For your information, there is practically nobody in that (Classics) department today that he didn’t teach; nobody.
At what particular hour of the day is he usually at the club?
He would be at the Students’ Union Building as early as possible. He would drink and go for his lectures and come back. But in the latter part of his life, you would see Henry at the club as early as 4 pm.
Let’s talk about how he socialized, his friends, and the central issues that he discussed most often.
His friends were his students. With his colleagues, he hardly socialized. He preferred to be associated with his students. His students were his best friends; you can ask anybody.
What subject did he enjoy talking about most?
Henry was into humanities and sciences.
Was he married; did he have children?
He was married and had a daughter. His daughter and wife live in the United Kingdom. They came sometimes and left after.
Many people described him as a very simple person who would wear slippers to anywhere, including Bodija Market. Can you shed more light on that?
Henry only wore white T-shirts and blue jeans with a pair of slippers and he could trek from here to London (laughs). He sometimes went out of the university to have his drink; he could go to KS Motel and when the country was good, he would go to Green Spring Hotel. He was a very quiet, unassuming, easygoing person.
You said he loved his beer and he liked students flocking around him. How would you describe his relationship with women?
I don’t see Henry as a womanizer. I only knew one lady with him in the last 30 years.
They were always coming to the club together?
What was his favorite food?
Stout and stout. That was the only thing he took. I knew Henry for long; I never saw him eat. I am not saying that he didn’t eat food but I never saw him eat.
For how long ago have you known him?
Twenty-two years. My first time meeting him was outside the campus of the University of Ibadan. He was always walking with his slippers, clutching one book at any time. When I became a member of the club (Senior Staff Club, UI), I always saw him in one corner romancing his beer. It was 22 years ago that I first met him.
Can you remember a memorable event that has to do with him that you can hardly forget?
There are many memorable events. At the Annual General Meeting of the club, he was an advocate of a better condition of service for our staff. He would say our annual due was too small and that we should increase it so that we can pay the staff better remuneration.
Would you describe him as a socialist?
Henry was simply Henry. I have not seen two types of him. Have you ever known anyone for close to 22 years and you never saw them eating? Henry was just Henry; that’s it. At the club, we would miss him for who he was.
Will the club do anything to keep his memories?
Getting to the Staff Club you will see a big poster at the entrance of the club. It is at a vantage area with a bottle of the beer he liked and a condolence register opened for him. We are planning a lying-in-state for him if permitted at the club.
As his friend and members of the same club, what message would you say his life preached?
The public should emulate the simple life of Henry. He would not bother anyone. He was okay; just give him his white T-shirts, his pair of jeans with slippers, he was okay. He was in love with his work and he died a happy man doing what he loved best.
You did say earlier that he was the last of the expatriates that were sent to UI. A university is a global research center but we find nowadays that universities in Nigeria no longer attract a significant turnout of foreigners. Why is this so?
You are taking me to another angle. Anyway, Henry left Oxford after his first degree in Saint Andrews, London, and then went for his Master’s in Oxford. He chose Nigeria ahead of staying in Oxford in the United Kingdom. Then, in 1976, Naira was at par with Pounds Sterling. Naira was doing better than the dollar. So, why wouldn’t that attract you to come and explore? Now, if you give an expatriate N500,000, how much is that in pounds? Is that enough to take care of his family based in London? Mismanagement of our economy affected our marketability. Let’s move further and talk about insecurity. That is of recent, but before then, the economy really crashed our educational system. We couldn’t attract global participation in terms of students and staff. How many people would learn that ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Universities) is on strike for one year and send their children to study here? Even within the country, how many people want to send their children to public universities now? In private universities, four years is four years. But in public universities, four years can be 10 years.
What’s the way forward?
The government needs to declare a state of emergency in not only tertiary education but generally in public education, starting from primary school. Can you take your children to a public school? Like me, I went to public primary and secondary schools. I can’t take my child to my primary school not to talk about the secondary school. Though I went to an elite school, Lagelu Grammar School (Ibadan), I can’t take my child there. If not for money, I would prefer for my child to go to a private university. My son is at the University of Ibadan now; I don’t even know the level he is