Joy as UI VC, Olayinka, turns 60

OlayinkaIN life, many people go about in big selves. but when you scratch them, you find them empty.  Men of substance are not necessarily those dressed in gold, but men of simple lifestyles. interestingly, when you scratch them, you find that they are made of pure gold. Perhaps, these ironical lifestyles could be used to deconstruct the Vice Chancellor of University of Ibadan (UI), Prof. Abel Idowu Olayinka, who turns 60 today, with a lot of achievements in his kitty, yet without airs. Those who are familiar with Prof. Olayinka will attest to the fact that he is a gentleman with a simple lifestyle, disliking attracting attention to himself, still, he remains a man of substance with cerebral endowments which startle everyone.  However, given the mood on campus, the UI VC actually wanted today (that he turns 60) to simply pass like any other day, but his friends and associates including Dr. Gani Adeniran, Prof. Kayode Adebowale and Prof. Adebola Ekanola insisted that the 60th birthday must be celebrated in appreciation of God’s goodness towards the University’s King.

In an attempt to fully dissect him, there have been different hypotheses and postulations about Prof. Olayinka. While some people see him as an iconoclastic individual who combines academic brilliance with an uncommon humility, others perceive him as an irredeemable bibliomaniac who loathes lethargy. None of these perspectives is entirely wrong. Indeed, Prof. Olayinka could be described as a special breed who requires special attention and study before a sufficient conclusion could be drawn from a largely a taciturn and laconic subject! He is a man of few words with a non smiling , serious and sober visage.

Having known him for more than a decade, and having worked with him as his Media Assistant in the last two years, this writer, without doubt, is better equipped to pen a paean for him as he attains a sexagenarian status today. Clearly, the UI boss is indeed a purveyor of right values. There are so many useful lessons in his life which observers in general, and youth of this generation in particular will find irresistible. In addition, to his humility attribute which does not allow him to bluff, boast and brag about any achievement, “Able Abel”, as fondly called by some of his friends, is a pleasant personality who is not given to a sybaritic lifestyle. He simply detects materialism. Prof. Olayinka believes acquisition of material possessions does not necessarily guarantee satisfaction of psychic needs.

Hear his younger brother, Mr. Niran Olayinka: “When he returned to Nigeria in 1988 after his Ph.D at Birmingham, I was expecting him to tell me that his car would soon arrive Nigeria. He did not mention anything like that. The day he told me that he actually had the opportunity of joining an oil industry in Nigeria after his studies abroad, but decided to opt for teaching at UI, I felt bad. My thinking then was that this man knew our modest upbringing and should have opted for the oil industry so as to make money and uplift the family. With the benefit of hindsight now, I am extremely happy he is living his dream. Sometimes, we attach values to things that are extremely mundane. They may not necessarily add value to humanity” As observed by Mr. Niran, Prof. Olayinka has today achieved what money cannot buy: historical immortality as 12th UI VC.

Evidently his parsimony and frugality pays off. Prof. Olayinka has become an illustration of transparency and honesty in university administration. Since December 2015, when he took over the mantle of leadership in UI, he has demonstrated a full-scale transparency in the financial management of the university. He regularly publishes financial reports of the institutions. He lays every card on the table. This is probably the reason no one has been able to accuse him of stealing the university money. His wants are few. His taste is moderate and his appetite small. Indeed, one of the legacies he will be leaving behind is his flair for forthrightness. The university’s Bursar, Mr. Michael Alatise, does not see him differently. According to Mr. Alatise, “our VC is a transparent leader who does not want any scandal around him. Since he became the VC, he has never exerted undue pressure on the bursary department, neither has he engaged in any shady deal.

Naturally, Prof. Olayinka is a man of peace. He is never seen arguing  publicly with anybody. He does not shout, yet he communicates effectively even in silence. There was a day he wanted me to accompany him to an event. I missed an appointment with him on account of traffic jams. He was annoyed, yet he did not utter a word. When I saw him later in the day with somewhat cold response to my greeting, I knew something had gone wrong. It was when I explained myself to him through an e-mail that I knew the extent of his annoyance. I quickly learnt my lesson. Without doubt, he is a believer in silent leadership with loud results.

Working with Prof. Olayinka calls for serious hard work and perseverance for the principal is a highly principled workaholic. He reports in office as early as 7a.m and may not leave until 9p.m. But good enough, he rewards your efforts. Once he knows that you are also diligent, there is nothing you want that he will not give you. He is fair and just. He believes hard work does not kill. Despite various challenges he encounters, Prof. Olayinka has never  shown devastation in the face of the onerousness of his office. He does his job with all his vigour and unalloyed devotion. A great cultivator of acquaintanceship and companionship, the UI boss amiably mixes with colleagues and subordinates simply because he believes that nobody succeeds without synergy. To lubricate the machinery of social interactions, he daily sends birthday greetings to all and sundry without discrimination. He is very purposeful.

Interestingly, part of the fringe benefits of working with the UI VC is an enjoyment of his robust sense of humour . Without exaggeration, Prof. Olayinka’s sense of humour is legendary. You can’t be with him without finding yourself in stitches. Yet, he may not laugh as he wisely dictates the direction to take out of any quagmire. He has always had the right mix of ingredients of success: good brains,hard work, humility and persistency. Prof. Olayinka will never build on a flawed foundation. As a way of demonstrating his intelligence, his degree of certitude when he gives account of past events is amazing. He does not give accounts of past events without giving dates and number of people there when the event happened. This practice has brought him plaudits and popularity on campus in copious quantities. It is evident that the UI boss is a cerebral scholar of uncommon standing, very methodical, quite stoic and pleasantly placid.

But did he plan to become the VC when he joined the UI in 1988? I ask. His answer is instructive. Hear him, “It would have been day-dreaming to aim at becoming the Vice-Chancellor of my alma mata! When I returned here in April 1988 to pick up a job .My aspiration was to work very hard, remain focused and persevere without much distraction and earn my promotion to the grade of Professor. In all honesty, I am a very ambitious person because I firmly believe that low aim is a crime. I am always very passionate with whatever I choose to do and to me there are no half-measures.

  • Saanu is Media Assistant to the Vice-Chancellor, University of Ibadan.

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