Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) past, present and future: The strategic edge – by Prof. Wale Omole

11 Comments » December 20th, 2007 posted by // Categories: Higher Education in Nigeria



 

 

Guardian Newspaper, Thursday, December 20, 2007
OAU past, present and future: The strategic edge

By Wale Omole
(Being Lecture Delivered at the Alumni Association Home Branch Annual Dinner, Ile-Ife, Dec. 13, 2007)

ALTHOUGH Nigerians have been exposed to university education since the 19th Century, it was not until 1948 that a university institution, the University College of Ibadan, was established in the country.

 

In April 1959, the Federal Government appointed a commission to conduct an investigation into Nigeria’s needs in the field of post-school certificate and higher education over the next 20 years, officially designated “The Commission on Post-School Certificate and Higher Education in Nigeria”. The commission was chaired by Sir Eric Ashby, Master of Clare College, Cambridge. In its report submitted in September 1960, the Ashby commission recommended the expansion of Nigeria’s university student population through the establishment of more universities in order to meet the country’s growing manpower needs.

 

The commission recommended the establishment of three new universities; one regional university each in the northern and eastern regions and one federal university in Lagos.

 

It was assumed that the University College Ibadan, in the Western Region, which was a federal institution, would be enough to serve the needs of that region. The commission stated it could not recommend federal assistance to more than one university in each region. In short, Nigeria should have four universities and the Western Region should be satisfied with the University College, Ibadan.

 

This was clearly unacceptable to the Western Regional Government. In fact, before the Ashby Commission had completed its work, the Western Regional Government had taken a decision to establish with Western Regional Funds, a regional university with national orientations. Several other factors were considered Akintoye 1973 in ‘Ten Years of University of Ife, 1962-1972’ recorded other factors like lack of broad general education and overspecialisation, lack of African studies being an integral part of university curriculum, relevance etc. The programme in the university should address regional, national and international problems. New programme needs and broad education were part of the initial strategic edge of the university, which has now taken the name, the University of Ife.

 

The first academic year of the University of Ife commenced officially on September 22, 1962. By October 2, lectures began, with initial student population of 244; academic staff of 64 and administrative and technical staff of 15. All starting in five faculties of Agriculture, Arts, Social Science, Law and Science. Having taken over the pharmacy department awarding diploma from the Nigerian College of Arts and Science, the university moved rapidly to produce the first set of B.Pharm degree holders in the country and indeed a large part of the continent, truly demonstrating strategic edge.

 

The Western Nigeria Government that founded the university believed in pragmatic Socialism as a vehicle to achieve an egalitarian society. A large number of the staff bought into that and within a short time, Ife students believed they have unfettered freedom of speech, ‘aluta’ against all oppressions, equal opportunities at all levels and the need for their voice to be heard on practically all national issues. The university could not be missed out in the national landscape.

 

The coup-de-tat of 1966 brought in Lt. Col. Adekunle Fajuyi as military Governor of Western State. At a special congregation on March 1, 1966, he said inter alia: “The Military Government is determined to set the University of Ife on its course and to assist it as much as its resources permit it to achieve its major objective of training and educating our youths.

 

“As a first step in this direction, I am determined to ensure that the university moves to its permanent home at Ife as soon as possible. Indeed, it is my hope that the new administration will see to it that most classes begin at the Ife site in October 1966.”

 

Lt. Col. Fajuyi had earlier same morning announced the appointment of Prof. H.A. Oluwasanmi as Vice-Chancellor to replace the pioneer Vice-Chancellor Prof. Oladele Ajose, who tendered his resignation.

 

Prof. Oluwasanmi was until that morning, Professor of Agricultural Economics at the University of Ibadan. He was a respected academic, a dynamic and committed individual, a man of passion and style who had been part of the beginning of the planning of the university and who was on the committee of three to carry out the reconnaissance survey of the Ife campus. With Col. Fajuyi in Agodi and Oluwasanmi on campus, the university settled to great business and movement to home campus started a year after.

 

Unfortunately, Col. Fajuyi was killed in another coup in 1966. But his spirit did not die. The first students’ hostel at the home campus was named after him. Faculties of Arts, Agriculture, Social Sciences and Science had moved by January 1968. The university was on the upward swing with its free expression culture, culture of arts and tradition in learning, excellence in sports at all national and regional major competitions, positive remarks and feedback by the employment market of diligence at work and an institution situated on a campus with the greatest landscape, exquisite architectural buildings.

 

The excellent research facilities provided by the tremendous assistance offered by the USAID, whereby over 12 American Professors were deployed to the faculty of Agriculture for a 10-year period, 1964-1974; the great advancement in research that produced new bean crop varieties like ‘Ife-brown’, ‘Ife-plum’ and ‘Irawo’ that were available and sold in supermarkets in Milwaukee and Madison cities of Wisconsin, USA; the development of a yam pounder by the Agricultural Engineering Department led by Prof. Ayo Makanjuola; the anti-sickling studies of Fagara and ‘Orin-ata’ of the Faculty of Pharmacy; the social, ideological, sports and excellence in whatever the university laid its hands upon gave the university the Sobriquet “Great Ife,” which became an indelible nickname. Friends warmly chanted it and competitors accepted in disbelief.

 

The nickname first emerged at a football match on the grounds of the University of Ibadan at the West African University, Games (WAUG). The name “Great Ife’ resonated everywhere, even at work places, social functions and organised competitions.

 

All the four other universities, as at that time (there were only five) also wanted greatness or being called the best. Some ingenious students composed a song for Great Ife, which has now been christened “Great Ife International Anthem” and is rendered anywhere in the world where “Ife greats” are gathered for any function or celebration. It goes thus:

 

 

Great Ife! Great Ife!!

Africa’s most beautiful campus

Strong and Vigilant Progressives

Aluta Against All Oppression

Forward ever, backward never

For learning and culture

Sport and Struggle.

 

Great Ife! Great!

I love you

There is only one Great Ife in the universe

Another Great Ife is a counterfeit

Great! Great! Great! Great! Great!

 

The university had its own bouts of challenges. The first major one was its take-over by the Federal Government. By Edict No 11 of 1975 (Transitional Provisions) a take-over of the university was effected by the Federal Military Government, which also established a provisional council as an interim governing body of the university, and which, subject to the general direction of the Head of the Federal Government, was to control the policies and finances of the university and manage its affairs.

 

Consequent upon this new development, Prof. Oluwasanmi, the Vice-Chancellor, who was appointed by the Military Governor and who had put all his sweat, his total toil, his heart, his body and soul into the development of the university was changed in circumstances less than appreciative.

 

This man with passion and vision had hauled every student that graduated with first class or second class upper division to mostly North American and selectively European universities to go and take a doctorate degree and come to build the university. His charge to the group at various times including my very humble but privileged self was: ‘go and get equipped, get better prepared, be qualified to come and take over this institution. It is your university; I am only here to develop you to build the place for ever.’

 

For me, this was an indelible statement because I was always running into trouble or trouble was running into me with the university authorities, while serving as the errand guy for the student body. Prof. Oluwasanmi physically took me to my then employer, the late Chief TSB Aribisala, the Permanent Secretary of Agriculture of the Western Region, to very politely request, but in his natural authoritative tone, that the university needed me and that he should kindly release me to him.

 

The man granted his wish and that the request be formalised. This was how I became a member of staff of Ife. This is about 40 years ago now but to me, it is like yesterday.

 

The new Head of State appointed a replacement, a renowned economist in the person of a former Dean of Social Sciences at the University of Ibadan, Prof. Ojetunji Aboyade. Aboyade proved his mettle and did his very best. Prof. Onwumechili succeeded Aboyade, while Prof. Wande Abimbola succeeded Onwumechili. This period could be called a watershed and the end of an era.

 

By May 1987, the Federal Military Government changed the name of the university to honour the highly revered sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. While it could not be controverted that students, staff and people in general admired and loved Chief Awolowo, the university community was depressed that the name of their university was lost. There were student protests, petitions etc, but the Federal Government had already spoken.

 

The serving Vice-Chancellor at the time, a distinguished Yoruba historian and scholar, Prof. Wande Abimbola, managed the situation, skillfully deploying all the traditional arsenals in his kitty and also tried very hard to woo blacks of African decent in the Diaspora to visit Ife and appreciate the beauty of nature. He spent the last two years of his tenure to adroitly placate the system for an episode that suddenly fell on his shoulders.

 

Prof. Niyi Osuntogun, an agricultural economist and former dean of the Faculty of Agriculture was appointed to succeed Abimbola in January 1990. An amiable gentleman had to continue to deal with identity problem in a transition that had started since 1987. It appeared everybody and everything needed re-branding. There was a general reaction from the community that what belonged to us, that is, the University of Ife, had been taken away, and there was need to be labelled with the old school. Students, staff and even friends of the university fell short of their high level of enthusiasm. The matrix that the situation produced is difficult to describe. By mid September 1991, Prof. Osuntogun decided to resign and move on with his life.

 

I got appointed Vice-Chancellor on November 30, 1991, the position of VC sounded good, but the job ahead was onerous. My friends were celebrating but I was not. I was very thankful to God as the first student to pilot the affairs of his own university, but the totality of the image of the university since the change of name was depressive to me.

 

Incidentally the same President/Head of State who changed the name of our university was the Officer who named me to head the place and do something. It was a monumental job. Request for congratulatory reception dates came in torrents from the national body of Ife Alumni Association and practically every chapter of the association; from my groups of friends, my former students, my department and faculty, where I had also served as the first alumnus dean. I turned all of the invitations down, using the same excuse that it was not time yet to celebrate and that all the planned parties should be converted to prayers for me.

 

It is important to acknowledge though, that I accepted only one. It was the cocktail organised for me at the Metropolitan Club, Victoria Island, Lagos, two months into the job and at the instance of Mr. Ayo Oni, former president of ICAN. The gathering was that of the people who had seen it all. It was interactive and productive.

 

I had earlier the previous October, before the appointment, circulated a document to the university community on the need for strategic repositioning of the institution. The die was now cast and I was to bell my own cat.

 

My first priority was computer education of the entire campus. The abandoned computer complex done to 22 per cent completion was to cost over N50 million, 16 years ago, to complete. It sounded like a big joke when I presented it to the Governing Council as my special dream project.

 

The bursar was immediately requested to inform me of the total amount of capital project allocation the university had received in the last four years. It was just about half of what was needed to embark on my pet project. Since the council did not want to appear uncooperative, I was asked to do a better justification of my dream and how I was going to source the fund.

 

In my humble account, the university needed a new language, computer, the international language of the future and Ife should take the lead in disseminating the language to its community and beyond. The council sympathised with me and approved in principle that I could go ahead with my dreams, as long as I did not request any university funding. I stood up to thank council, which responded with some kind of applause.

Today, I thank council again, a thousand times over, for giving me the opportunity. In less than two years after that approval, the biggest computer complex on the continent of Africa was commissioned with all fanfare. God was absolutely faithful. The project cost including computer infrastructure, furnishing, training, accessories and landscaping rose to N65 million. You Great Ife, and our great friends outside campus, you were all part of it; you participated in fund-raising, went into groups, donated total networking, state-of-the-art hardware, participated in supervision of every step of the project.

 

The then Computer Association of Nigeria (COAN), of which I was honoured with their fellowship did wonders. They traversed between Ife and Lagos on regular basis. We jointly decided that for us it should have the appellation “Good Will Computer Complex”, but since the culture of academia does not encourage fancy names, we were satisfied with The Computer Complex.

 

This lecture is my continued opportunity to thank all of you my friends all over the place, within and outside the country. You made the dream a reality for our university, you gave us a strategic advantage. Our staff, particularly in the departments of Computer Sciences, Electronics, the telephone section of the Division of Maintenance services as well as the Department of Civil Engineering, you deployed all your resources and used the then existing analogue telephony infrastructure to create a campus-wide area network. Within six months after the commissioning of the complex, the entire campus had established local area network; wide area network and even leap-frogged with the teaching hospital complex, some kilometers away.

 

You deployed the UHF-spread-spectrum in an analogue environment and stayed up all night in rotation uploading and downloading data from across the world to take Ife out of information divide and darkness. I remember with fondness, when way back in 1997, some academic colleague from FUTA led by Prof. Kolawole, their then VC, joined us in Ife to participate live, direct and real time, in an interactive session at a seminar going on at the University of Iowa, USA, thousand of kilometers away.

 

Another time, Ife participated in a conference in Trieste, Italy while we were on the 5th floor of our computer complex. On both occasions, an alumnus, Prof. Kunle Kehinde of the Electronics and Electrical Engineering Department, who later became DVC administration, sat with the 15KVA generator and a special Automatic Voltage Regulator (AVR) to ensure no blackout. My childhood friend, who later became the first DG of NITDA, Prof. Gabriel Olalere Ajayi, a very distinguished and committed radio communication scientist and computer guru, of blessed memory, stayed with the Router. Prof. Bayo Akinde, the head of Department of Computer Science, was in and out of out my office and the lodge, offering and giving support. Prof. Akinde is now a Bishop of the Anglican Communion of the Lagos Mainland Diocese.

 

During the eight-year tenure, I was privileged to, at different times, work with six deputy Vice Chancellors who were like family members and still remain so. My several deans and deans of students’ affairs and heads of units gave support like a fairy tale. In Ife in those days, our job was 24/7. In effect, and in truth, the first video conferencing, at least in Nigeria, took place in Ife in 1997.

 

To put the community on the same level, all members of staff were provided free training opportunities and were allowed time off work for that purpose.

 

I ran into troubled waters, however, when we insisted that all our students, regardless of their discipline, must register and pass two courses in computer before graduation. The rational explanation stressing the point that it was going to be difficult in the future for any graduate without computer literacy to be employable fell on deaf ears. The gates were barricaded; there were protests and bonfires all over. I was left with no other choice but to shut down the university. At the end of the impasse, reason prevailed and our students started additional computer training. I understand it is now compulsory in all our higher institutions.

 

The computer scheme gave Ife a great edge. We secured many research grants and secured outreach centres of international bodies on our campus, including Regional Information Networks for Africa (RINAF).

 

Having achieved the computer language strategy, there was still a lot more work to be done. Aside from general development and maintenance activities of campus infrastructure, including re-asphalting of campus roads and sodium street lighting, some for which university provided funding and some for which we raised funds, our second main dream project was the central analytical science laboratory facility.

There was the need to have one huge laboratory in the university for research by all scientists, biological, chemical, medical, physical as well for providing analytical work for industries nationwide on self-sustainable practice.

 

At the department level, the equipment for teaching and research were obsolete. Each department got such a sorry amount of money that could hardly maintain the dilapidating equipment, not to think of buying new ones. It was a struggle providing reagents for student laboratory work, which had now reduced in number and was offered in groups. Learning was poor, research was in serious problem. We collectively decided to adopt a new, cost-effective and technically sound approach in providing access for laboratory work.

 

The regular poor state of funding laboratory teaching was to continue, since it was impossible not to teach the classes, regardless of quality, but all equipment grants from government was to be consolidated for two years in the first place. Since we needed the approval of Senate, Council and the funding Agency, the NUC, we made the suggestion to the latter. The NUC enthusiastically agreed and even recommended it to other Chief Executives of federal institutions.

 

Our only condition was that if we consolidated our funds for two years, the NUC Executive Secretary, Prof. Munzali Jibril, will approach the Federal Government on our behalf to purchase foreign exchange at official rate and also, with our participation, make direct procurement of equipment through direct foreign exchange payment by the Federal Ministry of Finance. The University Tenders Board had nothing to lose because the equipment fund when shared by about 130 departments and units, the quantum was usually too small to qualify for tenders activity. But we still needed approval and we got it.

 

Prof. Jibril was a great gentlemen, very jovial, amiable and ever ready to support every institution. Whenever we invited him to inspect our facilities, he found time to come, even once on a weekend. He was Professor of English from Kano. He assisted Ife more than we knew. On behalf of the Alumni Association, once again I thank him.

 

This also was possible because his predecessor in office, Prof. Abdukadir Idris, had set up a committee to review the controversial World Bank loan draw down for books and equipment for Nigerian universities. I was privileged to chair the committee and our final report pointed out that it was better to consolidate our resources domestically and use in bulk, taking advantage of the dual exchange rate, rather than continue to draw down on the loan. That happened and the loan was cancelled, thanks to Prof. Abdukadir Idris.

 

Why all these? We needed to build a central analytical science laboratory with state-of-the-art equipment, comparable to any institution in the world. The new set of analytical equipment ordered started to be cleared at the ports and had to be sheltered temporarily but securely. We went to Council with an appeal for a laboratory building complex with sketch design and estimate. Gladly, council approved in principle, provided the funds and ordered implementation according to our process.

 

A laboratory complex was conceived. The Central Analytical Science Laboratory was to be provided with sophisticated technical equipment that will be useful to many science-based departments, but could not be purchased singularly for them. Such equipment include Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), Scanning Electronic Microscope (SEM), various grades of Gas Chromatographs etc.

 

The Laboratory was conceived and born as a centre of excellence and access to other universities and indeed the private sector.

 

One thing was still lacking: We needed to convince the private sector that most of the jobs they particularly need for their research and development, the raw materials, the need to test and conduct simulation and pilot studies, the fabrications needed, the testing ground needed, the quality control needed were all possible and available at Ife.

 

The idea and the dream of a Science and Technology Park was mature. With my team, we went round several organised private sector involved in assemblage, manufacturing, intermediating. In five weeks, six different companies agreed to partner with us at the Science and Technology Park. Their correspondence and endorsements were what we took to our various committees, the Congregation, the Senate and Council to secure approval. Finally the Science and Technology Park was established in Ife in 1998.

At that point the future of the Obafemi Awolowo University was restarted.

 

RECOMMENDATION FOR THE FUTURE

 

The future is now. The university should reactivate the Science and Technology Park. With the massive land allocated to it and such infrastructural facilities that connect the National Centre for Technology Management (NACETEM); the African Regional Centre for Space Science and Technology Education, Regional Training in Aerospace Surveys; The Centre for Energy Research and Development that parades a 9FN Tandem Accelerator, the only one in sub-Sahara Africa, a 14 MeV Neutron Generator and many other sophisticated equipment all linking with the Centre for Industrial Research and Development utilizing the Central Analytical Laboratory. The labour of our fathers will not be in vain if we work hard on this

 

Our country needs this existing Science and Technology Park. Academics from many institutions within and outside the country will be provided sabbatical opportunities. Production and development personnel for our industry will spend short and long period of time at the Park in residence. Our students will have most robust training hands and our graduates will create jobs rather than seek employment.

 

A Park where international scholars and industrial giants will interact on its walkways and the sport courts.

 

I must acknowledge the efforts of our immediate past Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Roger Makanjuola, a dogged worker, in setting up a committee to look into this issue and luckily, we also now have one of us, an alumnus Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Mike Faborode, an engineer, a man of history, the second alumnus Vice-Chancellor. I congratulate you and urge you to bring the Park back to live.

 

It is a duty for which members of the university community, friends of the university and the alumni association must put all hands on the plough right now and there must be no looking back. This is our strategic national advantage and we must seize it.

 

Thank you.

 

  • Prof. Omole was Vice Chancellor, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile Ife between 1991 and 1999. He delivered this paper at the Alumni Association yearly dinner in Ile Ife, Osun State recently.
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    11 Responses to “Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) past, present and future: The strategic edge – by Prof. Wale Omole”

    1. Ibironke says:

      This is good

      • Clement Taiwo Babatunde says:

        I’ll forever be thankful to that Great Institution (OAU) for being what i am today,i hope one day I’ll be able to go back there and contribute something back to that great Institution….

    2. ISAAC says:

      THIS IS EXECELLENT

    3. Dotun Oni says:

      Thanks for taking us down memory lane. I am encouraged by the appointment of Prof. Faborode, an alumnus and a man of great character, as the Vice Chancellor. Both Prof. Faborode and Prof. Ayo Makanjuola were my lecturers during my M.Sc. degree programme in Agric. Engineering, which I did under the supervision of Prof. Femi Ajibola (who later became a deputy vice chancellor) in the late 80’s. Keep up the good work.

    4. Anonymous says:

      While I was never a student of the University of Ife, I have always been a great admirer of all it represents. IT IS INDEED A GREAT INSTITUTION.

      Always A Fan

    5. I love this
      we are looking forward to seeing the best out of the best

    6. OLASUPO OJO says:

      I composed the Great Ife Anthem in 1992.

    7. OLASUPO OJO says:

      This is a beautiful piece that only a Great Ife like you can author. Great Ife breeds greatness in all that passes through it. I passed through Great Ife and I love every second i spent there as a law student. In appreciation, I, decided to leave something that will outlive me hence I, OLASUPO OJO, composed the GREAT IFE ANTHEM in 1992 my final year in the University. I am happy i did and i derive joy whenever i watch or hear it being rendered passionately with great pride at formal and informal occasions, conferences, meetings, matriculations, convocations, congresses, wedding receptions of ex-Ifes etc. Greatness has no other symbol than GREAT IFE! 

    8. Adewunmi Adelore says:

      Great write-up.
      I am glad to be alumni.
      The only dent on the prof tenure was the 10th July 1999 massacre of union leaders.
      Iwilade Africa and co.

    9. Great speech by Prof Wale Omole OFR. He is currently the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Governing Council of LAUTECH. Already doing great things in LAUTECH.

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