Day The Heavens Fell At OAU

Day The Heavens Fell At OAU

They say if the heavens fall, everything on the surface of the earth will bear the brunt. In a comparatively minuscule scale, that is what happened to the 100-level students of Obafemi Awolowo University caught under the falling roof of their university’s amphitheatre last week. They were in the midst of a lecture when a rainstorm brought down the roofing of the building on their heads. Scores of students were injured in the ensuing scramble while two of their colleagues who were critically injured were hospitalised.

Anyone not familiar with how far things have degenerated in Nigerian universities and the many ‘creative’ ways in which university administrators have been trying to cope will naturally ask what business students had in the amphitheatre at that time of the morning, and where the falling roofing flew in from. Under normal circumstances, an amphitheatre is an open-air venue used for entertainment, performances, and sports. The term derives from the ancient Greek,                       ‘amphitheatron’, meaning ‘viewing from both sides’.



Isidore of Seville— the Hispano-Roman scholar and theologian who wrote numerous books, including a dictionary, an encyclopedia, a history of Goths, and a history of the world— in his work, Etymologies, elucidates: “The amphitheater is so called because it is composed of two theatres, for an amphitheater is round, whereas a theatre, having a semicircular shape, is half an amphitheatre.”

Ancient Roman amphitheatres were oval or circular in plan, with seating tiers that surrounded the central performance area, like a modern open-air stadium. In contrast, both ancient Greek and ancient Roman theatres were built in a semicircle, with tiered seating rising on one side of the performance area.

Typically, therefore, an amphitheatre is an open circular or oval building with a central space surrounded by tiers of seats for spectators. Whereas a theatre is designed with a semicircular seating gallery, an amphitheatre provides double the space because the sitting area virtually embraces or attempts to hug the stage.

That was the original concept of the world class Israeli architect who designed Africa’s most beautiful campus, Obafemi Awolowo University. His name was Arieh Sharon. He had trained at the Bauhaus in Germany in the 1920s before moving to Tel Aviv where he created numerous government buildings and landmark structures. He brought experience in designing for hot climates as well as intimate familiarity with Modernism to Nigeria as the emerging gale of independence on the continent gave the promise of Africa as a forward-moving entity.

Sharon designed the university in 1961. His OAU buildings varied in their dates of construction, but are made mainly from concrete, designed to accommodate the tropical climate and sun exposure, with ventilation provided through open hallways and stairways. The alluring visual twists and turns of his designs are even, till now, simply breath-taking.

The amphitheatre is the open air ‘twin’ of Oduduwa Hall, the university’s flamboyant ceremonials building. Constructed from 1972 to 1976, Oduduwa hall has a dramatic shallow-steps approach from the plaza and has a sitting capacity of 1400 which is often stretched to 2000, while the amphitheatre can house a larger audience of 3500 routinely extended to 5000.


No Need For Roofing

It would be difficult, if not impossible, for any Great Ife student of the 70s or early 80s to conceive of the amphitheatre with a roof! There are certain things that simply do not fit, like a leash around the head of a hen! An amphitheatre by definition is an open air affair. If it required a roof, that would have been conceived with the design and construction — and then, its name wouldn’t be ‘amphitheatre’. Everything about the facility had been well calculated at inception. For instance, its design allows the voice of anyone on stage to ‘carry’ across the womb of the space. Specific acoustic calculations must have been factored in.

But as the years rolled by and the then military government progressively reduced investment in education, university administrators, caught between a burgeoning population of students and inadequacy of facilities, chose the easiest way out — conversion of existing facilities to new uses. That accounted for why the venue for the General Studies (compulsory) course was moved from the existing auditoria to the Sports Centre because only that complex could hold the teeming population of students. A visiting foreigner would wonder what a stadium had to do with classroom activities!

That was the kind of milieu in which the amphitheatre was ‘desecrated’ with a roof! I still remember the Fela gigs we had at that venue in the 70s. The originator of Afrobeat, the great Abami Eda himself known for originality, confessed that the Great Ife amphitheatre was one of the most purpose-built venues he had ever performed in. For a man who had seen it all as far as theatres and such venues went, that assessment can’t be waived aside.

As far as I know, this is the second scary incident that has happened in the Oduduwa Amphitheatre in just over two decades. In 2021, three students were rushed to the University Health Centre following a stampede that occurred at the amphitheatre as a result of the large number of students taking the SER 001 (Use of English) mid-semester test. SER 001 was a compulsory course for all freshers.

Due to the large population and restiveness of the students, the time schedule stated for different batches of students was not adhered to. There was a massing up of batches and the situation resulted in a scramble as those entering the venue pressed against those attempting to leave, resulting in a stampede in which many students sustained injury.

The recent incident was more serious both in the number of casualties and extent of injury. The students were having an early morning lecture when the storm that tore the roof came calling. The Vice-Chancellor physically led rescue efforts and accompanied the victims to the hospital. He thereafter ordered that the amphitheatre be sealed off while an investigation was underway.



The consensus among the university’s alumni on social media is that the amphitheatre be restored to its original state, sans the alien roof. The university ought to think of other ways of coping with its burgeoning student population than roofing an ideally roofless building.

The installation of the fallen roof was an original sin against aesthetics and civil engineering. It was also an insult to unprofaned amphitheatres all over the world. My humble demand: Tear down whatever is left of that offending roofing and let good old Oduduwa Amphitheatre be!


Christopher Who?

Nigerians took to the microblogging platform to demand that British journalist Christopher Wilson apologise for his Nazi insult directed at Nigerians in the wake of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s visit to Nigeria.

Wilson had, last week, compared Nigerians to Nazis in a now-deleted post which reeked of hate for the Prince of Sussex and racism towards his wife, Megan. Comparing Nigeria to Nazi Germany for the love and hospitality shown to the couple also showed that Wilson is probably also mentally unstable. His drivel: “Desperate to show his wife they were still ‘royal’ in the eyes of the world, the Duke of Windsor took Wallis on a tour of Germany in 1937. Nigeria’s human rights record is not far short of Nazi Germany’s”.

The coward crawled back into his mother’s womb when Nigerians descended on him on the X platform. Check his photograph again. A cursory analysis of his face with its unmistakable scowl shows undiluted hate, the type common among the wannabe children of fellow commoners who, detesting the base steps from which they climbed the ladder of life, imagine that by inventing royal enemies, their own ‘aristocracy’ is assured. Imagine the temerity of this nameless plebeian!

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