By Bolanle Bolawole
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Three years ago when Prof. Eyitope Ogunbodede was appointed vice-chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly the University of Ife) aka Great Ife, I announced that “another white man” had taken over at that great citadel of learning; the first being Prof. Anthony Elujoba, the acting VC who had been drafted by his peers to take over the mantle of leadership from the then substantive VC, Prof. Tale Omole. Omole’s twilight at OAU had been blighted by crisis over his alleged desire to have as successor one of his deputies, Prof. Ayobami Salami (now pioneer VC, Technical University, Ibadan, founded by then Oyo State Gov. Isiaka Abiola Ajimobi). The majority of OAU staff and students, however, rooted for Ogunbodede. The crisis was such that Omole and the university Council lost their grip on campus and meetings to appoint a new VC had to shift from Ife to Abuja. To douse tension, the authorities appointed an acting VC and a new selection procedure began.
Five years before, the appointment procedure had reportedly also been skewed against the same Ogunbodede. Those who claimed to know revealed how Ogunbodede was denied the office, although he had reportedly dusted all other contestants. Once beaten, they say, twice shy. To be beaten the second time by the same rain of impunity, wicked imposition and corrupt practices was not going to be allowed by Ife, noted for its age-long traditions of radicalism and democratic tendencies. Ogunbodede was eventually announced as VC and Ife went gaga with joy on Wednesday, June 7, 2017 when he was installed the 11th substantive VC of OAU at the Oduduwa Hall. The atmosphere was carnival-like.
The Ooni of Ife, Oba Eniitan Ogunwusi, was there and told the story of how Ooni Adesoji Aderemi and Olowo Olateru Olagbegi contested to have the university; premier of Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, however, prevailed on the Olowo to defer to the Ooni while Owo was compensated with a Technical College. The Ooni said it was historic that Ogunbodede, the first Owo son so to do, took over as VC, incidentally also from the very first Ife son – Elujoba – to occupy the exalted position, even if in acting capacity.
I knew Ogunbodede would be a different kettle of fish and that his tenure would leave an indelible mark on OAU. Not only did we hail from the same Owo, we also attended the same Owo High School under the tutelage of our Founder and Principal, the inimitable Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, one-time governor of old Ondo State and ex-NADECO leader in those bestial days of vile dictators Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha. Ogunbodede and I belong to the same social club, the Owo Krown Klub, and have been very close friends for decades. So, I can claim to know him like the palm of my hand as a workaholics, principled man and stickler for excellence, regardless whose ox is gored. He would listen; express sympathy but stick to his gun once he is certain it is the right thing to do. I knew Ife was up for a great turn-around with Ogunbodede in the saddle. And three years down the road, he has not disappointed!
As VC, Ogunbodede has worked tirelessly to clean Great Ife’s Augean stable. Fortunately, he has had a good Council to work with. Like Ogunbodede who is an Ife alumnus, the Council chairman, Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, was one of our lecturers at Ife in those days (I left Ife in 1982). We used to see him always in company with WS (Prof. Wole Soyinka). Ogunbodede’s mantra is: Once due process is adhered to with honour and integrity, everything else will fall in their rightful places and Great Ife will regain its lost glory and occupy its exalted position in the comity of Ivory Towers. Late last year I was amazed when an editor of editors (close to JAMB), who did not know of my relationship with Ogunbodede, spoke of him at a private dinner of three of us veteran journalists as “that VC who does not bend” Someone else told me “they know Oga even in Abuja” as a stickler for due process. That is great, but… I will soon come to that “but”
In less than three years, Ogunbodede has achieved a great deal at Ife. Only a few days ago as I took my boy to settle down for his own Great Ife journey in my own hall of residence (Adekunle Fajuyi, where I was Hall chairman in 1981/82), his elder sister who is rounding up her own course quipped that the Ife rot was such that “your friend can only do his best” She then added “He has tried sha; in fact, he has really tried” I was taken aback by the last leg of her comments because she had not been a great fan of my “friend” “He is too tough. Somebody should bend sometimes”, she would say. I am not sure Ogunbodede does not bend sometimes but the occasions when he stands ram-rod must by far outstrip those few ones where he “sometimes” bends. By and large, Ife has been the better for it.
Take, for instance, the worrisome and embarrassing incidents of sex-for-marks that, these days, have become rampant in our institutions of higher learning. Ogunbodede has a zero-level tolerance for this nonsense. Three such errant Ife lecturers have been unmasked, disgraced, and handed over to the police to face the full wrath of the law. There are no hesitations to do the needful. There are no so-called considerations for any nebulous esprit de corps or protection of the image of the university by sweeping such cases under the carpets. Ogunbodede insists that it is only when such cases are firmly treated in an open and transparent manner that the cankerworm can be stamped out and the university’s good image preserved.
His resolve to sanitize the halls of residence, controversial as they are, has also yielded good dividends. I must confess that I took him to task over his puritan disposition to squatting, telling him to his face that, he, too, squatted at Awolowo Hall during our days on campus as students. To this day, we still refer to our friend who “squatted” Ogunbodede as “Tope’s landlord”! But over the years as the population of students exploded without commensurate increase in hostel provisions, squatting degenerated so badly that it assumed dangerous and life-threatening dimensions before Ogunbodede stepped in to instil some sanity into it. The ultimate solution, however, remains the pouring of resources into the universities to upgrade existing facilities as well as provide new ones so that our universities can truly be the citadel of higher learning they are meant to be.
Talking of resources and facilities, the critical areas that have always been the sore points in students/authorities relationship are power and water supply. Many students’ crises, as they are called by the authorities or “Aluta” (which means ‘struggle’) as the students themselves call it, have revolved around erratic power and water supply. Ogunbodede, not an “Aluta” person in the sense of a fire-spitting ideologue, however desires to leave the legacy of a VC who led the struggle to get those two problems solved on a permanent basis. On Saturday, February 8th, a giant step in the direction of OAU having its own independent power source was taken when the Minister of State for Power, Prince Jeddy Agba, turned the sod on the OAU independent power project. Expected to produce 8.05 megawatts of electricity when concluded later this year (if funding does not truncate it), OAU will not only meets its own power needs, it will also supply its teaching hospital and adjoining towns and villages. Much of the N60/70 million spent monthly as “NEPA bill” will also be saved. Similar renovation and upgrading works are in progress at the university’s Opa Dam, whose dilapidated facilities and obsolete equipments need replacement.
Ogunbodede has more in the works: A department of Aeronautical engineering is in progress; an accompanying airstrip will be of benefit to both town and gown, as it were. A department of Communication Studies is also at an advanced stage; fittingly so for an institution that has produced an array of Nigeria’s best journalists. Let me now dwell on the “but” as earlier hinted; these are areas where, ironically, Ogunbodede’s ram-rod insistence on due process, good and commendable as this may be in saner climes, have been cashed-in to hold OAU to ransom. In 2018, I knew of a hostel project whose completion some people reportedly sat on because the VC reportedly would not play ball. I wouldn’t know if the ice has now been broken. Those who claim to know say there are other such projects either stalled or deliberately being made to run at snail’s speed the typical Nigerian way!
In October/November, an accreditation team visited OAU to accredit some courses, which included Law, Nursing, and Fine Arts. Months after, the result is yet to be released. Why the delay? I am crying out not because anyone has commissioned me to write this – blackmailers are always quick to allege ‘he has been bought’ – but because I am seriously affected. I have three wards whose career choices depend on that accreditation. Registration for another academic session has started already. It amazes me that even Law is involved. Ife had Prof. David Ijalaye, Nigeria’s first emeritus Law professor and close to one-third of all the SANs in Nigeria are said to be Ife products. They should stand up to be counted!
Last week as I was on OAU campus, accusations were rife that it was because Ogunbodede would not cut corners that Ife “lost” accreditation in the first place. He would not agree to do what others do – hire emergency faculty who would pose during accreditation visits. He would also not “shake body” I am sure you know what that means! Again, now that the delay in releasing the accreditation teams’ findings is getting worrisome, he would not “press buttons” to “facilitate” things. I am sure you also know how that is done. This is Nigeria, I know, but should OAU suffer or be blamed for doing the right thing, especially with a President that professes a zero-level tolerance for corruption? Let the findings of the accreditation teams to OAU be released without further delay. That is the entire purpose of this write-up. It must be stated, however, that, from my independent findings, doing the right things the right way has benefitted the concerned courses/departments which now have more than enough right equipments, good faculty, etc. Kudos to Ogunbodede and his team in that regard!
LAST WORDS: This is a candid advice to a friend: It is time to restore the Students’ Union Government of OAU that has been on suspension. Part of the duties of any university administration is to inculcate leadership abilities in their students; not proscribe them at the least provocation. I must confess I am a partisan here. Thank God Ogunbodede knows that. I was, and still I am, an “Aluta” person. That apart, without the ability to administer students and their hot-headedness, no university administration can lay claim to all-round success. I laughed when I heard that Ogunbodede has now been corrupted to Ogun-m’egba-de (he wields the cane or is it horse-whip)! There is nothing absolutely wrong with that but, please, make it a combination of carrot and stick. As the elders say, when you flog a child with one hand, you use the other to embrace him. This time-tested and time-honoured Yoruba principle of “m’oja, m’osa” (even keel) should apply to the entire University system and community. Need I say more!
The internal enemies of Amotekun have their arrowhead in a man who wants to be President to the detriment of his own people. All Yoruba must be careful of him; ditto the antics and deceit of the northern leaders, and threats of Miyetti Allah. For Gov. Rotimi Akeredolu, he will not be disappointed in Jesus name! The people of Ondo state are wise. A man who thinks he has Lagos State in his pocket cannot dictate and foist his own choice on Ondo state. I am not a member of any political party but our people at this point in time must be poised for self-determination. Amotekun will survive all onslaughts; however, “isokan Yoruba se koko” – Pastor Jube Olawale.
Miyetti Allah MUST NEVER BE ALLOWED to be part of AMOTEKUN. What for? Infra dig! Yoruba should close ranks and speak with one voice, most especially on matters of regional/economic development and security. I hope our pseudo-political leaders change tactics and put the people first in the course of governance and not pander to personal interests! They should serve and not betray the people by their open act of perfidy, as in the AMOTEKUN saga. – Yacoob Abiodun.
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