A comrade, Tony Iyare, asked why I had not yet commented on the show of shame, as many have described it, at my – and his – alma mater, the erstwhile University of Ife (established in 1962 but renamed the Obafemi Awolowo University in 1978 in honour of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who died on 9th May, 1987). I gave Tony a few reasons. My plate was full.
APC/Muhammadu Buhari’s Nigeria, more than at any other time in recent history, is a country where tragedy falls upon tragedy on a daily basis. And as our people would say, when a tree falls upon a tree, you first reach out for those on top before you can have the opportunity of getting to the bottom of the pot, as Yinka Aiyefele once crooned.
The news reporter in me understands the contemporaneousness of news – including commentaries – otherwise, they get stale and become useless or you wait for another opportunity for an appropriate peg to hang them on. With the rapidity at which newsworthy items break out on a daily basis here, catching pace with them requires an art, a piece of which I have learnt from another comrade, columnist and university professor, Ayo Olukotun: Ayo picks a topic, diverts to poke his fingers at other topics by firing what he calls short or quick takes here and there before returning to his main or original topic. In literary terms, there are themes and sub-themes; plots and subplots. But for its peculiar difficulties, the stream of consciousness technique should appeal to writers trying to string many topical issues together into one piece to cover many grounds in one fell swoop.
The Ife debacle, signalling the flight of reason and the rage of philistines and obscurantist nihilists, could easily have been predicted – if not proactively deflated, aborted and or arrested. Five years ago notice was served when, armed with dangerous weapons and chanting war songs, some of the OAU workers invaded the same campus with charms and drove away the then out-going vice-chancellor, Prof. Idowu Bamitale (Tale) Omole, and the then Governing Council led by Roland Ndoma-Egba, preventing their favoured candidate for the position of vice-chancellor, Prof. Ayobami Salami (a sitting Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Academic), from taking office – although it would have been a travesty had Salami done. Good cause for those who took up the gauntlet, as it were, but bad process all the same. No non-academic staff member becomes vice-chancellor; which is the exclusive preserve of the academic staff, from whose ranks someone is elected after a rigorous process to become first among equals. But polarised down the middle into ASUU and CONUA and mindlessly pursuing antagonistic and self-serving objectives, the acadas left the field wide open for the lizards of the non-acada elements to creep into the cracks thus created.
The flight of reason here is not only about the elements from outside but also, and more importantly, about the contamination, compromise and connivance of the OAU egg-heads within. As they say, if gold rusts, what will iron do? What started as cracks within the academic staff, rather than close-up, has widened into a gorge. What efforts have all those concerned made – the university administration inclusive – to heal the wounds and end the ASUU/CONUA conundrum, an ill-wind that has blown no reasonable and conscientious person connected with the university system any good? Who are those feeding fat from this needless schism? Yet, until both unions resolve their differences and close ranks, peace, properly so-called, will not return to Great Ife. Divided, they fall! Those threatening the peace of OAU have been emboldened by this divide – and must, surely, have insiders urging them on!
The excuse for the invasion has been given as the desire of some so-called misguided and misplaced indigenes to have a “Shon of the Shoil” as VC. That is a ruse! What did the people making such demands stand to gain if an Ife son or daughter became VC? How many of them can access such son-of-the-soil VC? How many jobs can the “indigenous” VC give and how many contracts can he award?
These days, virtually all such favours are dispensed from Abuja, including even the payment of salaries! So-called university autonomy has been viciously eroded and VCs are no longer better than glorified errand boys of the powers-that-be. An Ife son, 68-year-old Prof. Anthony Elujoba (Professor of Pharmacy), was the OAU acting vice-chancellor for 12 months before the present outgoing VC, Prof. Eyitope Ogunbodede’s appointment: What did Ife benefit from Elujoba? An Ife son, Prof. Joseph Adeola Fuwape (Professor of Wood Engineering), had his appointment ratified on 18 May, 2017 as the VC of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, succeeding Prof. Adebiyi Daramola whose tenure ended on Tuesday, 23 May, 2017. Akure is a distance of just 110.4 kilometres from Ife: what has Ife benefitted from Fuwape? As VC for five years, what has Owo, the home town of Ogunbodede, benefitted from Ogunbodede being the VC of OAU? Owo is just 170.9 kilometres away from Ife.
My own careful consideration of the unfolding drama at Ife is this: Five years ago, many interests within and outside OAU converged to prevent the shenanigans of bypassing Ogunbodede (Professor of Dentistry) for the OAU VC-ship in favour of Prof. Ayobami Salami; especially since the convergence of opinion was that the same Ogunbodede had once been so cheated. Affliction shall not rise a second time (Nahum 1: 9)! So, there was a crisis, led by the non-academic staff unions: the Governing Council, the then out-going VC, Prof. Bamitale Omole; and the favoured candidate, Prof. Ayobami Salami became the focus of the attack. The Governing Council had to relocate to Abuja to interview and appoint Salami as the in-coming VC but Omole, Salami and the Governing Council members could afterwards not return to the OAU campus. The non-academic staff union members, armed with charms and dangerous weapons, mounted sentry at the gates as well as laid siege to the Senate building; so, the latest siege on OAU was not the first! The difference, however, is that while the cause five years ago was deemed right; this time around it is considered opprobrium. Five years ago, OAU workers laid the siege; this time around, outsiders took charge.
To end the crisis in 2017, the FG cancelled the flawed VC selection process, sacked the Governing Council and appointed another headed by former OAU lecturer, Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi. The OAU Senate thereafter elected Prof. Elujoba as acting VC.
A new selection process then yielded “Man of the people”, Ogunbodede, as the 11th VC of OAU (appointed 8 May, 2017). I was on the ground when Ogunbodede took office at the Oduduwa Hall of the university on Wednesday, 7 June, 2017. How time flies! The atmosphere was electric – but I knew the honeymoon would not last forever! Interests were divergent; expectations, no less. Writing about the events, I had described Ogunbodede as a “white Black man” – honest, godly, focused, a due process person who will not bend the rules. I knew he would preside over an unusual administration.
There is no way such a person in high office will not step on toes. In no time, many of the “Ogunbodede for VC” foot soldiers within OAU discovered it would not be business as usual; and that “thank you” and a commitment to good governance was all the new VC was prepared to offer for their support. But na due process we go chop? Hence, the new VC’s name became corrupted into Ogunmegbade (he who wields the big stick!). Over time also, those outside the campus who had thought the new VC would look away as they encroached on OAU land discovered to their chagrin that Ogunbodede would not play ball! Bad investment, so to say!
I cannot claim to know the in-coming VC, Prof. Simeon Adebayo Bamire (Professor of Agricultural Economics; appointed on Thursday, 17 March, 2022) but if he is perceived as someone cast in the same mould as Ogunbodede, then, the frustration of the “business as usual” people inside and outside OAU will know no bounds. For Nigeria’s corrupt, wasteful, and inept ruling class, ethnicity or where you come from is not an issue; what is, is your class or ideological orientation.
If the in-coming VC will play ball, he might as well come from Kutuwenji for all they care. Ife or no Ife indigene is a ruse or convenient excuse. Some have argued that the thinking of those clamouring for an Ife indigene as VC is that he could be more amenable to the shenanigans of those within the OAU system that want business as usual and or may defer to those in town in their tango with the OAU Management over the alleged encroachment on university land. Whichever way one looks at it, the primacy of economic interests, as posited by the Marxists, is unmistakable here. Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soynka, has described the invasion of OAU as “crazy”; he is right.
The author of Kongi has also called for appropriate punitive measures against the invaders. Here, again, he is dead on point. The solution to this and other shenanigans is simple: Laws must be enforced and infractions punished, regardless whose ox is gored. Where this is not done, impunity grows wings and soon becomes untameable. In 1983, the NPN and its governorship candidate, Dr. Omololu Olunloyo, escaped with the impunity of Omo wa ni, e je o se! Despite that the election was adjudged to have been massively rigged against the UPN and Uncle Bola Ige! Akin Omoboriowo was not as lucky in Ondo state! For 13 gruelling months, those insisting that an Ibadan son must be VC of the University of Ibadan held up the succession process. Whereas they lost in the end – which is good for the system – no one got punished. At the Lagos State University (LASU); the succession process was also held up for months and we learnt that even where one of your parents is from a state, you can still be deemed not to have come from that state!
That a university is sited in a location brings enormous benefits – in physical development of infrastructure, employment opportunities for indigenes, especially of the lower cadres; easy access to higher education for those in the catchment area, and a boon in economic activities resulting in economic prosperity – which are more important than an indigene being the titular head of the institution. Are the indigene-for-VC proponents not aware that there is tenure which, for a Federal university, is one-term of five years, not renewable?
Are they also not aware that, in the manner of a new Pharaoh that knew not Joseph, a new non-indigene VC can reverse virtually everything an indigene VC might have done during a preceding tenure? Put on your thinking caps, folks, ki e sinmi rascality! It is positive that the Ooni of Ife has distanced himself from the embarrassing spectacle that took place at OAU; he has also sued for peace as well as assured everyone, the students and staff of the university especially, of their safety. Better late than never! Five years ago, the tenure of an out-going OAU VC ended in crisis; such an unsavoury affair must not be allowed to repeat itself as Ogunbodede winds down on a tenure that has been outstanding and spectacular in many respects.
Where is Ekima Oginni?
She attended Girls’ School, Osogbo. Our paths crossed in 1976/1978. Where are you, Ekima?