Professor Ukeje and OAU
There is always a personal dimension to most issues. Take the case of the nonsense that played out in Obafemi Awolowo University recently. Readers may wish to recall here that some misguided indigenes of Ife decided to take matters into their hands by invading the university in a most ungainly and disgraceful way.
As the show of shame evolved, there was an interesting and human side-light to the entire tragi-comedy. This was in the justified and thoughtful as well as touching reaction of Professor Charles Ogochuwkwu Ukeje. Wistfully, and in a rather poignant way, Ukeje was of the view that, if he had contested for the post of VC in OAU and got the appointment, more hell would have been let loose in the light of his primordial profile. But even then here is the real rub.
Ukeje hails from Isikwuato in Abia State. Yet all his life had been spent in Ile-Ife. And such is his familiarity with the place that he is in fact a denizen of places like: Enuwa, Akarabata and Iremo – all in Ife. He goes on to recount his experiences in the university. How he lost out as regards administrative positions like Head of Department and Dean.
However, such is the beauty of academia that he has been able to take refuge in his core competence. In the process and according to him, he has been able to enhance what he called his network and networth. This sounds poetic. But the experience itself and what it means for our nation is decidedly prosaic.
Incidentally, the experience of Ukeje is not an isolated phenomenon. Almost everywhere in the country, there is this elite-driven game of indigenes versus foreigners. Incidentally and recently, a positive rendition of this game was played out in the United States.
Such indeed, is the unending nature of primordial politics. At the bottom of the entire game however is that, it should be appreciated and realised that what is at play is clearly an elite game
In that country, the daughter of an OAU Professor was appointed as the Provost of the College of Health Sciences in Albany, New York. But here, we are still mired in the backward game of primordial dynamics. This was in fact why Professor Ukeje was of the view that, had he emerged as the VC designate, more hell would have been let loose.
This point is significant because the duly appointed VC designate is in fact from somewhere in the self-same Osun State. So, if someone from Osun State can be given this kind of treatment, one can imagine the fate that would have been visited on the Ukejes of this world -many of whom abound in this country.
On own part, on learning about the new appointment, I was elated and relieved. I was happy that the episode had not gone the way of other institutions where rancour, bitterness and even sheer rascality had attended similar exercises. But I was wrong. Shortly after the announcement was made, a group calling itself, lfe indigenes, threatened fire and brimstone against the authorities of the University . Their grouse is that the appointment should have gone to a son of the soil – an Ife indigene.
Several thoughts come to the mind here. Prime among these was that: how did we sink so low that a group will come together, and start to threaten with charms and all other forms of fetish objects that, it is indeed, the turn of their son to occupy the prime position in a university.
As I pondered over these shades of absurdity and idiocy, I had to pinch and remind myself about what a university is all about. By way of answer, it is among other things, a platform for learning, whose benefits will not only be for its immediate locale, but which will also be of use to the universe at large. Hence that word; university. The city in the universe, and if you like, the converse, the universe in the city. It is also a context in which the fondest ideals of man are to be found and refined. It is also a tower of light, which was supposed to be a beacon of light to its surroundings.
Read also: OAU VC: Aggrieved candidate kicks against Bamire’s selection process, Oyetola appeals for calm
These qualities may well explain the halo with which academia is surrounded. But trust some Nigerians. We are so steeped in our insularity and foolishness, that we possess the capacity to rob a hallowed institution like the university of its essence. The mind goes on to reflect that, what we are seeing is not an isolated phenomenon afterall. Very recently, we were inundated with a similar scandal and show of shame at the iconic, University of Ibadan. Some groups also emerged and with shameless glee started to demand that the Vice Chancellor should be an Ibadan son/daughter.
Again for me, this was quite something. This is because, UI as it is known, is one of our revered national institutions whose sanctity is such that, it is possible to dress it with a national garb. But even then, a bit of history, cannot but imbue me with a dose of realism. In the selfsame, UI, which by the way, and crucially had produced Nigerians of various ethnicities. The university had as its pioneer Vice Chancellor, Professor Kenneth Dike.
However, since the exit of Dike, several years ago, the ethnic colouration had changed such that, no other scholar from that part of the country had been able to steer the ship of that institution. Even then, it is useful to recall here that these sad stories are by no means confined to both UI and OAU. If we dared to go back in time, we will encounter the ugly reality that one of the defining hall-marks of our first republic were the contentions and counter contentions as regards the struggle for the position of Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos.
At that point in time, it was struggle between Professor Eni Njoku and Professor Saburi Biobaku. As the drama unfolded, a tragic dimension was introduced. One of the students felt so aggrieved by the issue that he attempted to snuff out the life of Biobaku. He, Biobaku survived the attack, but I do not think that his assailant survived it.
Following the attack, he was confined to an asylum where it is believed that he died. All these incidents concentrate the mind, and one begins to reflect on the basic utility and functions of the scholar. In the light of our penchant for magniloquence, many have been made to believe that, holding top administrative positions is something of an achievement in a university. As true as this may seem, this is not true.
In reality, a scholar derives his essence from what can be called his/her core competence. On this note, I am reminded of a number of things. Two professors were approached to apply for the post of Vice Chancellor – Professor Kayode Osuntokun and Professor V.O.S Olunloyo – a.k.a. VOSO. The former’s response was that, who is that human being who will be on the other side of the table, who will pose questions to him. Such indeed is the nature of core competence. As regards V.O.S.O, when faced with a similar request, he took those who were entreating him to his office, and with a wave of the hand showed them, all the plaques and other laurels, which he had won over the years as a professor of Systems Engineering.
So, there you have it, the position of Vice Chancellors, as exalted as it seems, is certainly not a substitute for intellectual cum academic gravitas. This is why in other parts of the world where the intellectual culture is more ingrained, we do not see this kind of nauseating display as witnessed in the current instance at Ile-Ife.
But even then, a close observer can clearly see that an endless process is at work. Initially, the struggle for this coveted position has always been between two major ethnic groups. Now, it has since shifted to the sub-national if you like the micro national platform. In Ife, those in the vanguard of this ignoble enterprise are rooting not for a Yoruba man as witnessed in the then Njoku–Biobaku saga; rather the struggle is now about micro-nationalism: an Ife indigene must hold the plum post is the rallying cry. Incidentally, how does this play out into the wider struggle for a Yoruba nation?
As far as I am concerned, what is going on now is a confirmation that the quest for a Yoruba nation is in reality another ephemeral exercise. If and when a Yoruba nation is birthed, other fissures and if possible, separatist dynamics will show up. This is when difference between and among the Lagos Yorubas and other say, upland Yorubas will show up.
Even then, and going lower in, say, Ogun State, there are also embedded seeds of diversity –Ijebu, Egba, Yewa, Awori. Moreover, among the Egbas alone, a closer look will show up a measure of heterogeneity. Thus, if the apostles of micro nationalism should have their way, this will not be the end of the charade. For waiting in the wings will be other gladiators who will also insist that their sons from say Modakeke, Ipetumodu or Edunabon should now be the vice chancellor. Such indeed, is the unending nature of primordial politics. At the bottom of the entire game however is that, it should be appreciated and realised that what is at play is clearly an elite game. Those characters, masquerades and their charm-carrying followers are being egged on by some members of the elite, hiding in the wings and stoking this particular fire. If these hidden characters and catalysts should say; enough is enough this current show of shame will cease.
Beyond much of the foregoing is the need to sensitise and educate the various members of the community that, the mere fact that a tertiary institution is sited in your locality does not confer its ownership on members of that locality. For what we really have on our hands is something of a national problem whereby there is this delusional misidentification about the ownership of universities.
For this writer, however, the cold comfort which can be derived from much of the foregoing is that a long time, ago, a writer, Chukwu Emeka Ike appeared to have spoken to much of what we are seeing now. In his book titled: “The Naked gods” – he focused on the conspiracies and intrigues in a Nigerian university. Little did this writer know that his artistic imagination will eventually morph into the current idiocy and miasma that are being played out as regards who occupies the position of Vice Chancellor in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile –Ife.
It is only fitting here that the last word on this issue should go to that authentic son of Nigeria: Wole Soyinka. In his response to this untoward development in Ile Ife, he was of the view that the proponents of this micro- nationalism are crazy. That, they should be dealt with ruthlessly. He further wondered about the kind of water that the micro-nationalists had been drinking.
All said and done, however, the comfort that can be drawn from much of the foregoing is that certainly, the Ukejes of this world will have the last laugh. The authentic academic is not defined by his administrative positions. Rather core competence is the name of the game.
Which is why, at a point in time, Niyi Osundare threw a jibe at a serving VC, who according to him, had no CV!