5th June, 2013
People go into the teaching profession for different reasons. For some, it is the lack of a better job; for some, it is a means to an end; yet for others, it is for the love of the profession. For the people that are in it because of the love, they throw themselves totally into it and always make something tangible out of it, even in terms of wealth.
A good example of the last category of teachers is Professor Francis Idachaba, a world renowned agricultural economist and teacher of teachers. He is an academic and is happy remaining an academic. So, the glitter in public office and the perquisites that they enjoy have never appealed to him. It is even because he wants to remain undistracted in his work as a teacher, researcher and consultant that he shunned administrative positions at the University of Ibadan where he lectured for 30 years.
A man of unimpeachable character, Prof. Idachaba is a good study in hardwork, integrity, perseverance, focus and commitment to ideals. He doesn’t believe in short-cuts to wealth and can shout to high heavens that his wealth is the result of his sweat. In fact, reading through his life story, one is bound to believe that hardwork and integrity pays. “My own experience shows that even as an academic, if one works extremely hard and shuns premature politics, God will surprise one with material rewards beyond one’s wildest dreams,” he says.
An Igala man born over 69 years ago in Idah, in present day Kogi State, Idachaba has been a role model for academics, especially those among them who think the only way to be comfortable in life is to leave the academic world and take public office and thereafter start dipping their fingers into the public till.
Born to Baba Idachaba Idoko, a potato farmer, and Aya Salome Idachaba, a smoked fish seller, in December 1943, Francis was made to know early in life that there is no substitute to hardwork from his mother who used to trek long distances to as far as Ibaji to sell smoked fish and come back same day. It was also from his mother that he learnt the virtue of focusing on one trade and not dabbling into other seemingly attractive enterprises. His mother only engaged in smoked fish selling until she was asked to stop by him.
It was only this trade that she did and made enough money to build a house and send Francis to both primary and secondary school. So from her, Francis learnt the attributes of industry, discipline, routine, focus and staying put in one trade.
“A cardinal lesson my mother repeatedly taught me was never to covet money, power and women because Godliness with contentment is great gain…for we brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out,” he reminisced.
From his father, who died when he was 18, he imbibed the spirit of humility, simplicity and fear of God which have all been part of him till today.
One of the first people to embrace Christianity in Idah through the Qua Iboe Church, Aya Salome Idachaba served the Lord till she died at 103 years in 2003. Having converted to Christianity, she got to know the importance of education and so decided to send her only son to school so that he would be able to read the bible and possibly come out to be a primary school teacher or evangelist. But God had bigger plans for Francis.
Till today, the erudite professor often ponders on what would have been his lot if his mother had not converted to christianity and therefore known the value of education. “I might have been a failed farmer eking out a living in sweet potatoes from the flood plains of the River Niger at Idah or a failed fisherman scavenging the waters of River Ofiayi-Ocheche and other tributaries of the Niger. Going by the record of most of my siblings and cousins who had no formal education, I might have passed on long ago. It is only God’s grace and the instrument of education that accounted for my present circumstances”, he disclosed.
After elementary education at Qua Iboe Mission Primary School in Idah, Francis gained admission into the Provincial Secondary School, Okene in 1956, where he passed out in 1961 with a Grade One in the WASC. This school, according to him, formally built his character, particularly with respect to hardwork, punctuality, honesty, respect for all and integrity. “This explains why I believe Provincial Secondary School, Okene Old Boys are not found in public service financial scandals and outright theft of public funds relative to other schools,” he asserted.
It was at the end of his fourth year in the school that he decided on studying Economics in the university, a decision that has turned out to be divine. During the long vacation of the year 1959, he had stayed with his cousin, Alhaji Aduku Idoko, in Idah when he asked him what he wanted to study in the university. Without hesitation, he replied “Law”, to which his cousin expressed a dislike for without advancing any reason and suggested he went for Economics instead. It was like his cousin was the angel God sent to him to inform him of what he should read. Without even bothering to query his cousin, Francis acquiesced in spite of having never done Economics as a subject in secondary school.
Thus, when he proceeded for HSC at Kings College, Lagos in 1962, he entered for Economics, Geography and History. And in his usual tradition of burning the midnight oil very well, he came out with distinction in all three subjects in 1963.
Armed with this, he got admitted into the University of Ibadan, his dream university, for Economics in 1964 using the Northern Nigeria Government Scholarship. Apart from this, he won the university scholarship at the end of his first year and came out with a Second Class Upper in 1967.
Even though he got a job at Lever Brothers immediately after graduation, his love for academics didn’t allow him stay too long. He only spent three months after which he left for his Master’s degree, also in Economics, at the University of Chicago, USA on Rockefeller Foundation Scholarship. This he finished in 1969 and immediately after, enrolled for his Ph.D, this time, in Agricultural Economics at the Michigan State University, East Lansing , USA. This he bagged in 1972 and immediately returned to Nigeria.
Since he had been given employment as Lecturer II since March 1972, seven months before the completion of his Ph.D programme, he joined the services of the University of Ibadan immediately on return and there started for him a career in academics, a career that has been richly fulfilling and rewarding for him in spite of the thinking out there that people in academics can never be wealthy.
Since it was a profession that he loved, Idachaba threw himself totally at his work. It was thus a befitting testimony to his hardwork and commitment that by 1974, he had been promoted to Lecturer 1, and a year later, to Senior Lecturer. By 1977, he was already a Reader (Associate Professor) and became a full professor in 1981 at the age of 38.
Dissatisfied with agricultural practices in Nigeria and desirous of making a change, he made up his mind that he was going to be communicating the results of his research to policy makers. So, as soon as he published a paper on the application of the theory of second-best to crop taxes and farm input subsidies in Nigeria in the Nigerian Journal of Economics and Social Studies, he forwarded copies of the paper to Alhaji M. Liman, then Assistant Director, Federal Department of Agriculture, explaining in simple language what the paper was all about. The Assistant Director acknowledged receipt and wrote that he looked forward to further communication from him.
This fired in him the enthusiasm to be reaching out to policy makers and thus in 1975, he wrote a proposal to the same Alhaji Liman, who had then become the Director of the Department. The proposal got approval from the federal government for funding that same year and this marked for him, the beginning of consultancy work which has stretched till today. On getting the fund, he went to work immediately and spent the money judiciously, expending it on only those things that were necessary to the research work. By July 1976, the work had been completed and a major report was submitted to the FDA. The success recorded by this work was the door-opener for him at the Ministry, as he went on to do very many other consultancy works for them and even the Federal Ministry of Economic Development.
Of all the research consultancies he did for the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, yet the biggest one was that of the Survey of Rural Infrastructure in Nigeria, which was another huge success. The survey commenced in 1978 and was finished in 1981, after which it was decided that the result of the research be presented to the world. Thus an international workshop was held at the Conference Centre, University of Ibadan in December 1981, where it was presented to a world audience.
With the successes recorded in these consultancy works, Idachaba had become a goldfish both in Nigeria and around the world, and the gold fish has no hiding place. There was great recognition both nationally and internationally, to the extent that he was constantly being invited to conferences and workshops and called upon to serve in one international body or the other. These include: Visiting Researcher at the International Food Policy Institute, Washington DC, USA; Senior Planning Consultant at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation; Consultant to the Sasakawa Global 2000 Carter Centre; Resident Fellow, Rockefeller Foundation Study and Conference Centre, Bellagio, Italy; Consultancy for the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada; Guest Lecturer, World Bank Annual Symposium; Consultant to Word Health Organization and Deputy Director General at the International Service for National Agricultural Research, The Hague, The Netherlands, where he served for eight years.
Among his numerous services to the nation, he was the Head, Federal Agricultural Co-coordinating Unit, FACU, a position he reluctantly took in 1984 and which he relinquished in 1986; Pioneer Vice-Chancellor of the University of Agriculture, Makurdi, where he served from 1988 to 1995, and the Vice-Chancellor, Kogi State University from 2005 to 2008. In all of these public offices it is to be noted that he never lobbied to be appointed, neither did he take it without somebody important piling pressure on him to take it. And throughout the tenure of General Ibrahim Babangida as Military President, he was one of the advisers to him as member of the Presidential Advisory Committee, PAC. As the adviser in charge of agriculture in the PAC, he it was that brought the idea for the establishment of Directorate for Roads and Rural Infrastructure, DFRRI; National Agricultural Land Development Authority, NALDA; the establishment of private universities as well as universities of Agriculture.
For a person that has achieved so much it is natural that honours and awards will come. Two stand out: the conferment with the D.Sc (Honoris Causa) by the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta in 2004 and the Nigerian National Order of Merit Award, the highest that Nigeria confers on its citizens for academic excellence and outstanding intellectual achievement, which was bestowed on him by President Goodluck Jonathan in December 2011.
In trying to give back to society, Idachaba is funding some Foundations. One of these is the Igala Education Foundation which was founded in 2001 and is to serve as the primary catalyst for the revival of education in Igalaland. Another is the F. S Idachaba Foundation for Research and Scholarship, IFRES, founded in 2003. The Foundation makes small grants to young researchers, mostly Ph.D holders below the age of 40 years, to engage in policy research that will transform Nigeria, and even Africa. IFRES recently launched a Smart Anti-Corruption Initiative in Nigeria which will develop a website that will become a source of reference on corruption cases in Nigeria.