As students resume tomorrow – hopefully! – for a new academic session at the Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly University of Ife), the authorities face the daunting task of a set-back of an academic calendar. While other institutions of higher learning are into the second semester and or rounding up the session; OAU is just about to begin! This is whopping; it is quite a mountain to climb. This misfortune has been a source of anguish and pains to a lot of stakeholders – students, parents, and alumni especially. Great Ife, as this citadel of learning is admirably addressed by all and sundry, has, in recent years, become a shadow of itself. And as they say, its glory days lay not in its present shenanigans nor anywhere in a future we can easily see but in its past. This is most unfortunate. As a parent and an alumnus, I am doubly whacked by Great Ife’s unfortunate turn of events.
OAU’s misfortune has been largely self-inflicted; this, in its numerous strikes and protests. We have had unending students’ protests over hikes in school fees; inadequate hostel and lecture facilities; poor power and water supply; clashes over dissolution of Students’ Union governments and or rustication of students union leaders; not to talk of strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the intransigence of government, which actually broke the backbone of school academic calendar nationwide. The recovery rate for the universities has not been easy, smooth, and even. At Ife, the pig-headedness of the past authorities over new school fees and the students’ protests against it helped to compound an already bad situation. As if that was not enough, another shenanigan by the authorities over the selection process of a new Vice Chancellor led to protests from unusual quarters, which practically tipped the academic calendar overboard. The senior staff and non-academic staff associations locked down the university and protested on a daily basis over the processes of appointing a new VC, which they said was opaque and, therefore, unacceptable, thereby making the university ungovernable both to the departing VC, Prof. Bamitale Omole, and the man smuggled in as his replacement, Prof. Ayobami Salami. Valuable months were lost to the show of might in this fight of the elephants. The grass, of course, bore the brunt. Students and parents are the proverbial grass.
What has become of our Great Ife? The truth of the matter is that standards have fallen everywhere and on all fronts; not only in academics but also in morals and sense of social responsibility and corporate identity. Ife of today is definitely not the Ife of old; the shenanigans of the past years where transparency and accountability reportedly were thrown to the dogs could not have been imagined when Ife was truly “Great Ife”. Autonomy, which was meant to safeguard the universities, has been turned into an albatross. A sad commentary is the OAU chapter of ASUU itself, which is now a caricature of the ASUU of Toye Olorode, Idowu Awopetu, Dipo Fashina, et al. The role played by the present ASUU – for want of another name – headed by one Dr. Caleb Aborisade, leaves a sour taste in the mouth. It took the intervention of non-academic staff members, who put their foot down and waged a relentless war, for the redemption of the pride and integrity of Great Ife to be accomplished while the lecturers who should have done that compromised or, at best, were reduced to bystanders and cheer-leaders. It was after the non-academic staff unions had killed the elephant that the egg-heads rushed in with their long knives to skin it! What a spectacle! Were it left to me, the professors would not have been called upon by the Visitor to OAU, President Muhammadu Buhari, to elect an acting VC for the institution; NASU and the Senior Staff association would have been given the mandate and honour! And that should have been an object lesson to the academic community everywhere.
Now that the OAU has an acting VC, hurray! His name is Prof. Anthony Adebolu Elujoba. The name is vintage Ife, so the man must be from Ile-Ife, the first to ascend the exalted post, even if by default. He has six months maximum to spend and his main task is to superintend the appointment of a substantive VC. His election by his peers speaks volumes; he polled 251 votes to his challenger, Prof. Adebayo Lamikanra’s five. So it can be said that he has the massive support of his peers; Ife is said to have a little above 300 Professors. Those who made the leadership change possible; I mean the senior and junior staff of the institution, were rapturous in welcoming Elujoba’s appointment. The newspapers and social media carried their photographs and statements as they were in victory and celebration mood. It was, for them, mission accomplished – but Elujoba must watch it for many important reasons. One: The mission of those who caused the crisis that brought him into office and many of those who voted for him was simply to undo what the previous administration did and not necessarily because they had any special love or liking for Elujoba. It was a question of “just any other person but Prof. Ayobami Salami”, the unfortunate man in the eyes of the gale. So, just as we have victims of circumstance, Elujoba is a beneficiary of circumstance who is reaping where he had not actually sown. Two: The administration before him floundered at the hurdle of the appointment of a substantive VC in an open, transparent, and honest manner. That task is still before the acting VC and until he makes a success of it, he cannot be said to have succeeded. Three: As a Yoruba man, Elujoba must be familiar with the proverb that says: “Enu ti aiye fi pe Adegun, na ni nwon fi n pe Adeogun”. If he was not familiar with the proverb, I loan it to him today free of charge, as they say. Literally, the proverb means the same people shouting “Hosanna” today will be the same who will shout “Crucify him” tomorrow if the tide turns. May the tide not turn for the worse for Elujoba!
Reading the acceptance/inaugural speech of the acting VC, he appears to me a combination of a preacher and a politician. His speech contains a lot of sermons as preachers are wont to do and also so many promises like the politicians would do. And I asked myself: In six months? His speech was appropriately titled “Re-positioning OAU on the track of progress and greatness”. He started by recognising what he called the unique challenges “of the time”; and hoped for united action “to re-position the university and move (it) forward to greater glory”. The word “re-position” occurred many times in his two-page address, which I interpret to mean an acute understanding of the need for paradigm shift from the shenanigans of the past. So also the words “glory”, “greater achievement”, “truth”, “faith”, “love”, and “unity” made repeated appearance. His pledged “to consciously protect the ideals and legacies bestowed upon us by our fore-runners”; he recognised that the circumstances and times (of his coming into office) demand “swift actions that will bring (the) dividends of institutional CHANGE (his emphasis) for progress”; promised CHANGE which will be “swift, drastic, and radical” to be fast-tracked “with all the available resources at our disposal, both human and material”; his administration will be inclusive and transparent, carrying everyone along; he will restore stable academic calendar; industrial peace and conducive environment that will enhance the university’s mission of teaching, learning, research, and social engineering services to the community; decree prompt release of students examination results; encourage and sustain self-uprightness and diligence at work; and restore OAU’s good image and public confidence. The plate is full already! He waxed philosophical as he described his administration as the “dawn of a new day (and) new beginning” which he would pilot with “vigour, in unity, TRUTH, FAITH (his emphasis), love, full of hopes and expectations”. Although he called for the support of everyone, he asked “pseudo-helpers, sycophants, schemers, divide-and rule (manipulators), evil perpetrators, human serpents” to repent and have a change of heart or steer clear. He ended with “Only with God, and your support, shall there be success”.
The tasks before the acting VC are, no doubt, daunting: to clear the proverbial Augean stable; chart a new course; move everyone in the right direction; recover lost ground; restore lost glory; and, above all, scale the hurdle that caused the stumbling of others. He, however, identified all the tools he would need for success: The first is self; the second are the people; and the third is God. A right mix will serve him and all of us well. I wish him well! And may the good Lord help him!
LAST WORD: Last Sunday was the 50th anniversary of the brutal murder of the then military governor of the Western Region, Col. Francis Adekunle Fajuyi, in the counter-coup of July 29, 1966. “The butchers of Ibadan”, as they are called, are well known. My worry here, today, is that the memory of Fajuyi; his sacrifices; the likely turn of events had he accepted the offer of saving his skin and allowing only the then military Head of State, JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi, to die alone at Ibadan, where he had come for a state visit, appear all lost to those who ought to know. Oftentimes, the Igbos are fond of reminding us of the cross-carpeting at the Western House of Assembly that denied Nnamdi Azikiwe the opportunity of becoming Premier of the West after having secured his native East; and of Obafemi Awolowo not following suit when Ojukwu declared the secession of the East, I have never heard them mention the heroics of Fajuyi. Also, compare the abject forgetfulness of our political leaders in the South-West with the North’s remembrance and honouring of one of its own leaders, Hassan Katsina, same last week. Even President Muhammadu Buhari was represented. Does that tell you something about why the South suffers?