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A don, unknown grammarian and the use of English – A rejoinder

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As I read Steve Ayorinde’s article A don, unknown grammarian and the use of English, published in the Liberal View column of the Businessday edition of Thursday 04 September 2014, I was very angry with Steve. By the way, this was my first contact with the infuriating news about the unknown grammarian, audacious yet innocuous Ibadan-based Kehinde Okeyemi as unfortunately, I missed reading The Guardian edition of August 26 where his apology to one Professor Keye Abiona was published. Naturally, I was hungry to know what really transpired which Steve graciously brought me up to speed with and more curiously, I longed to read Kehinde’s said apology. I immediately wanted to call for The Guardian of that day when, again thanks to Steve, I recollected he said it was not only published in print, it was also on the web.

I quickly went a-googling, and I read the unfortunate apology from brow-beaten, cowered, intimidated Kehinde. In order to fully absorb the plot and comprehend the whole episode, I first read the apology before continuing to read Steve’s piece. This informed my infuriation with Steve as I read on.

After reading the article, I got inquisitive to know who the complainant, Professor Keye Abiona is. When I was younger, I revered academics and held them in awe. Pictures of convocants in their resplendent academic gowns inspired me while I held in awe, academics in their colourful procession. By the time I was in the secondary school, I wanted to be a professor in any discipline I ventured into. This feeling was possibly accentuated by the fact that my late father, a veteran school headmaster, was an avid educationist who spared no efforts in birthing in us his children the love, drive and respect for educational pursuit. Under his roof whether you were his biological child or not, there was no other option. I still have tremendous respect and reverence for professors. Professorial attainment is no mean achievement.

Being a professor therefore, I was confident I was going to be overwhelmed by Prof. Abiona’s resume as a renowned academic while being greeted by his inexhaustible scholastic achievements as I set to browse the net. This failed to help me. In a bout of serial fury, I was angry with google, thinking it had become unreliable. Using google, I decided to do a comparative spot double-check on two of my lecturers. Their intimidating accomplishments were intact. Then I wanted to know who Kehinde Abiona is. With a tinge of pessimism, I browsed, and all I saw about him was as sparse and scanty as Prof’s.

I began wondering aloud what Kehinde had done wrong. He read Prof’s books and sent him an sms pointing out supposed errors in his books. The next he would receive was a call from men of the Eleyele Police Headquarters (SIB) in Ibadan, and a query from the Prof who was, in the words of Kehinde, “incandescent with gigantic rage” as he wondered what qualified Kehinde to question his English language proficiency. Kehinde and his “acolyte” ended up being detained in the cell by the duo of Mufutau Aselebe and Bayo, men of the SIB for a record 2 nights and 3 days. But for the negotiation skills of the detained duo, they would have bought their freedom for more than N10,000.

The action of the respected professor is to say the least, discreditable and reprehensible. As an academic, one would have thought that he would be humble enough to advance the frontiers of his professorial averment by gratefully acknowledging Kehinde’s criticism made in privacy, even if he perceived it as not-too-innocent, if found to be correct, or if not, assume his professorial authority by correcting trifling Kehinde, a poor English language tutor of negligible status in Agbowo. Said to be a renowned writer, playwright and lecturer, the respected professor after all is a stakeholder in the business of literary excellence and should be worried if naïve Kehinde happens to have the propensity to dispense toxic English language tutorials to innocent pupils.

I further wondered what Kehinde had done wrong to deserve a detention by the police. This saga tells the story once again of oppression, savagery and brutality, for paucity of adjectives. Except Kehinde was not telling us the whole truth in which case the police and Prof would have justification for his apprehension, if all he did was to send an sms to the professor correcting some errors in his literary work, what he has committed is at best, a civil wrong which has no element of criminality whatsoever. The nearest civil wrong he could possibly complain of is defamation which is not even actionable in the absence of publication. The professor, if he truly believed he had a cause of action, should have taken out writ against him in a civil suit and allow the court to decide. This is what civilised people do, rather than deploy the machinery of illegality to oppressing citizens they consider inconsequential. In my opinion, Professor Keye Abiona’s infelicitous action was a needless professorial intimidation of a harmless, innocent citizen, except he convinces Nigerians otherwise.

In prostrating endlessly and tendering that apology, was Kehinde in his own words, ‘coarsened’ and ‘dehumanised’ into doing that, or was he just timid and spineless or simply ignorant of his constitutional rights? From his apology that I read, he is at least well-educated, maybe not as much as the respected professor. As someone said, the trouble is, if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.

As I read the last two paragraphs of Steve’s article, I repented. And then I went back to read Steve’s brief profile at the commencement of the article……

Femi Adekunle