ONE of the major lessons life has taught me is that human beings can be so complex, unpredictable and at times, vicious. One needs the grace of God to be able to survive and succeed in life. In my life, I have never killed a fowl, I can’t kill it, I will be shaking, let alone human being. Yet, in the run up to the 2015 vice chancellorship contest, someone alleged that I was after his life. I was too shocked and shattered by the allegation. That is human being for you.”
These were the words of the University of Ibadan (UI) vice chancellor, Professor Abel Idowu Olayinka, who turns 62 today, when this writer had an exclusive interview with him in his expansive office.
He spoke further on the nature of human beings. Hear him: “unlike machines that will give you straight forward answers when you press the right buttons, if you present the same body of facts to ten different people, you will get ten different reactions. This may be as a result of their background, ideologies and orientations. All I know is that you cannot predict human beings.”
There can be no argument about the fact that Professor Olayinka is a wonder to watch. He lives without pretending. He acts in a fashion of a gentleman, bearing the burden of leadership, with all its stress and distress stoically in his strides.
Like him or loathe him, he remains truthful. Perhaps, to underscore his preference for transparency and accountability, he is quick to declassify and disclose needed information, insisting that he has nothing to hide. That is his routine conduct. Interestingly, since he became the UI VC in 2015, nobody has ever accused him of malfeasance, including stealing the university money. He is honest to a fault. But, steadily, his tenure comes to an end this year in November.
However, as asserted by the American author, John Maxwell, “leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower. This assertion rings so loud in the life of Prof. Olayinka. He loves to assist and empower young people to grow, particularly young scholars. There have been various testimonies about his interest in using his power to lift people. This he does regularly without any intention to attract applause. When he was the Dean of the then Post Graduate School, now Post Graduate College, he assisted quite a number of people who would have otherwise been frustrated by the bottleneck in the system.”
Recently, a young scholar, Dr Ayodele John Alonge of the Department of Library, Archival and Information Studies of the University of Ibadan has this to say, “Professor Olayinka is very accommodating and compassionate. My first contact with him was in 2014 when I was to obtain study leave approval. Out of his busy schedules as DVC Academic then, he created time to listen to me and he recommended my Study leave for my CARTA sponsored Ph.D. in Kenya. Two years after, I had another opportunity to have a close interaction with Professor Olayinka at the CARTA’s vice chancellors’ meeting at the University of Nairobi, Kenya in July 2018.
“I observed that Professor Olayinka was accommodating, unpretentious in his relationship with people even subordinates like me. He created a friendly atmosphere for close discussion ranging from academic, politics and currents affairs. During our contact with Nairobi, he asked if I would like to move from being an academic Librarian to becoming a Lecturer, that he saw that I would be more suitable in that career path. I eagerly responded in the affirmative. On December 1 when I defended my Ph.D., I received a congratulatory message from him and that I should see him on my return to Nigeria to formalise my transfer. And he made it possible for me to move to the LARIS department as a Lecturer.”
Indeed, the way Professor Olayinka manages power, principle and pragmatism is not only amazing but breath-taking as he has no time for egoistic vanity. He molly-coddles everyone, showing respect to all and sundry. If management is doing things right and leadership is doing the right things, then Prof. Olayinka could be said to be doing everything right with his leadership position. He is witty. He can also pass for a humour-merchant extraordinaire. One of his long-standing friends, Dr Gani Adeniran could not have been wrong describing him as a man who brings out extra-ordinariness to showcase his professional prowess, Dr Adeniran who has been the VC›s friend since 1971 insisted that Prof. Olayinka sterling strides were remarkable in UI.
Again, one of the remarkable attributes of Professor Olayinka is his writing ability. He is a Geologist-turned prose stylist. Those who follow him on social media will attest to the fact that he writes with flair and felicity. At every convocation ceremony, the VC delivers beautiful speeches with accuracy, facts and fluency. The best way to write, according to scholars, is to read and write. This is his cutting edge. He reads widely. Perhaps this is one of the lessons this social media generation can learn from the life of Professor Olayinka. He is an incurable epistemophile, a bibliophile of uncommon standing. He once confessed that there were times he read for six hours non-stop.
Assessing him, his deputy on administration, Professor Kayode Adebowale, and deputy vice chancellor (DVC) Academic, Professor Adebowale Babatunde Ekanola; as well as the former Director of Distance Learning Centre, Profesor Oyesoji Aremu, were unanimous in their opinion that the VC has been giving the university quality leadership that has greatly lifted the institution. They praised Professor Olayinka for providing leadership with human face.
University is a universal city with a diversity of students and lecturers. Some call it a city with an organised chaos, thriving on intellectual dissent and disagreement. Leading such a critical city requires the legendary Wisdom of Solomon. However, Professor Olayinka’s strength in this case lies in his reticence. He rules largely by body language. Those of us working with him have had to learn his body language. He does not need to talk before you know his mindset. In other words, he is a man of few words.
He goes about in a self-effacing manner. Professor Olayinka moves around to personally inspect on-going projects on campus with a missionary zeal. Since 2016, his leadership has been organizing Research and Development Fair which is a way of bringing the gown and town together. Again, last year, the university organised a Small and Medium Enterprises Summit. It was quite innovative. His administration has also facilitated access to students’ transcript in a seamless manner.
But has there been a day of regrets since he became the VC? He replied, “There will always be frustration. Ordinarily, it is not good to always have everything moving on without hiccups, I applied for this job. I never expected that it would be a bed of roses. I am not a super-human being. Another person could have done it differently. My mother used to tell me that it is not good to have everything so smooth. So, I have learnt to take the rough with the rough.”
Born at Odo-Ijesa, Osun State, on February 16, 1958, Professor Olayinka attended St. Bartholomew’s Primary School, Odo-Ijesa from 1964 to 1969. He was admitted into the famous Ilesa Grammar School in January 1970 and completed his West Africa Secondary School Certificate in 1975, in division one. He entered the University of Ibadan in 1977/1978 to study geology and graduated with a Bachelor of Science (B.sc) degree (2nd Class Honours, Upper Division) in 1981, and he was the best graduating student in his class.
He proceeded to the United Kingdom for postgraduate studies in September 1983, first at Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, London. He earned an M.sc degree in Geophysics of the University subsequently received the Overseas Research Students’ Award from the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals of United Kingdom Universities (now Universities UK); he utilised this scholarship at the University of Birmingham for his Ph.D. research in Applied Geophysics which he completed in April, 1988.
As he marks his 62nd birthday today, one can only wish him more years of success and prosperity in the years ahead. Happy birthday sir, a boss and mentor like no other.
- Saanu is Media Assistant to the Vice Chancellor, University of Ibadan.