By Bolanle Bolawole
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I read my brother and friend’s treatise on the 52nd Convocation Ceremony of the University of Lagos – A Quick Return to UNILAG – and was enthralled. Professor Babafemi Badejo of Chrisland University, Abeokuta, is no stranger to readers of my columns in the Sunday Tribune and New Telegraph newspapers. A Great Akokite himself, Badejo went back memory lane and returned asking probing, yet germane, questions deserving of answers from the powers-that-be. Sweeping critical issues under the carpet; like the adoption of a fire brigade approach to issues deserving timely intervention, has become the hallmark of administrations in Nigeria. Will the tide ever turn? Read on:
“For two reasons, I returned to the University of Lagos (UNILAG) on January 20, 2022, in an official capacity after almost 29 years to participate in the 52nd Convocation of the great university.I left UNILAG as a Senior lecturer in the tumultuous year of 1993 on leave of absence to work at the United Nations as part of the peace-support operation in Somalia. I had thought I would be away for only six months but it turned out that I was away for 23 years and 10 months!
Of course, I am a proud Akokite, having obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science (1976) and another Bachelor in Law (1990). More importantly, however, UNILAG paid for my training for a Ph.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in the United States, thanks to the visionary leadership of Prof. Jacob Festus Ade Ajayi of blessed memory. I returned within four years and served for over a decade, more than the four years expected of me under the training agreement I signed.
The convocation ceremony was held at the popular J.F. Ade Ajayi Auditorium. When the auditorium was being built, General Yakubu Gowon, as the Head of State of Nigeria and Visitor to UNILAG, had arranged for Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia to be conferred with an honorary Doctorate degree during his 1972 State visit to Nigeria. The auditorium was named after the Emperor and the Library was named Yakubu Gowon Library. Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia a.k.a Ras Tafari and The Lion of Judah had led the Ethiopian resistance to the brief Italian colonization from 1935-1941 from his exile in England during the Second World War. His resistance only received British support after Italy joined the war on the side of the Axis Powers in the spirit of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”!
Haile Selassie mediated without success during the Nigerian Civil War. He had played a pivotal role in realizing the May 25, 1963 creation of the Organization of African Unity, the precursor of the African Union. In addition, a Jamaican religious and political movement had seen the coronation of Emperor Selassie in 1930 as the prophesized arrival of the Holy Messiah who would redeem the black people from slavery and return them to Zion where there would be utmost freedom in a Paradise on Earth. They called themselves Rastafarians from the Emperor’s coronation name. Bob Marley and others popularized the Rastafarians using reggae music calling for black people to redeem themselves from ‘mental slavery’.
But in his country, the Emperor’s rule was feudal and he impoverished his people. Starvation was rife. So, little wonder that the Ethiopian military overthrew the Emperor in September 1974. Murdered or dead from neglect on August 27, 1975, Selassie was buried under a toilet to avoid continued veneration by his supporters until his body was found in 1992 and was properly reburied. The initially much-loved Gowon reneged on his deadline of 1976 to relinquish power in Nigeria and thereby reinstate civilian rule. This led to the enigmatic Tai Solarin’s treatise that was titled: “The Beginning of an End”. Of course, like Wole Soyinka, Tai was incarcerated. But, alas, power is transient! Gowon was overthrown on July 29, 1975 while attending an OAU Summit in Kampala. The head of his trusted Brigade of Guards, Col. Joe N. Garba, as he then was, announced the coup. UNILAG’s management ‘repossessed’ the Library and the Main Auditorium; the latter was renamed J.F. Ade Ajayi auditorium in recognition of all Ajayi did to transform UNILAG beyond ‘Eko for Show’ as it was once derisively referred to.
My official return to UNILAG on January 20, 2022, was to represent Prof. Chinedum Peace Babalola, the Vice-Chancellor of Chrisland University, who was unavoidably absent. She had to receive a National Universities Commission (NUC) verification panel on the College of Law, signifying a major legacy in the growth of Chrisland University. My task, like that of 15 other visiting Vice-Chancellors, was to deliver a congratulatory message encapsulated in a scroll to Prof. Oluwatoyin T. Ogundipe, the UNILAG Vice-Chancellor. It was also an opportunity to reconnect with some of my friends, the principal one being Prof. Duro Oni, whose office I used to don the Chrisland academic gown, in beautiful purple colour as a variety to the many red and maroon colours of UNILAG.
The auditorium was full; the ceremony was presided over by Alhaji (Dr.) Abubakar Umar Garbai El-Kanemi, the Shehu of Bornu, in his capacity as the Chancellor of UNILAG. The Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Council, Prince Dr. Olanrewaju Adeyemi Tejuoso, (a Great Akokite), was there with the Registrar, Oladejo Azeez, Esq., who also as a Great Akokite constantly reminded us of our being at the best university in the Universe! Present also was Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, Ikubabayeye, the Alaafin of Oyo. His ancestors ruled over a vast Oyo Empire and decided the fate of many Yoruba, with the exception of the Ijebu who was never defeated in any war until the British Maxim guns subjugated them in 1892 at Magbon. The Alaafin, in spite of his enormous powers, was, under Yoruba democracy, put in check by the Oyo Mesi Council, the Kingmakers who were also the King-unmakers for tyrants, as they had the power to instruct a tyrannical Alaafin to commit suicide (by drinking from the poisoned calabash) and he had no choice but to comply. This time, Alafin Adeyemi was accompanied by only three of his many wives. I do not know the exact number of his wives but he is no match for his father who reputedly had 200 wives! He was at the ceremony in a dual capacity as the Chancellor, University of Maiduguri, and as a proud father who came to witness the conferment of a Master’s degree on Ms. Adedoja Adeyemi, one of his children.
Without the official task, I would, like Ikubabayeye, have been at Unilag to witness the admission of my resilient cousin, Dr. Titilope Olorunyomi, nee Koya, to a Ph.D. in Guidance and Counselling at age 51. Titilope, like her father, Otunba C.O. Koya, the patriarch of my maternal family, had obtained Bachelors and Masters from UNILAG. The title of her dissertation corroborates her passion: “Effects of Activity Schedule and Anticipation Training Therapies in Alleviating Psychosocial Premenstrual Syndrome among Female Secondary School Adolescents in Lagos State”. The study was based on the survey of a sample of 105 female adolescents. There were many other side shows with one being the conferment of a Ph.D. in Engineering on 70-year-old George Asuelinmen, a retiree. Almost all on the Chancellor’s first row stood up in recognition of Asuelinmen and had photographs with a role model that would, in saner climes, have been conferred a national honour. D. Joy Chinyere Umudu, Ph.D. in Pure Mathematics, obtained the Overall Best Ph.D. Thesis and many prizes.
I thought there were too many speeches that were really necessary. I paid particular attention to two: those of the Vice-Chancellor and the Visitor’s. Prof. Ogundipe, in what he described as his last Convocation address, detailed the achievements of UNILAG under his leadership. In a laconic manner, he acknowledged his victory, nay, victory for the rule of law, over his purported removal from office by the immediate past Pro-Chancellor and subsequent reinstatement. He asserted the fairness of President Muhammadu Buhari as the Visitor when he noted that PMB “ensured that the University of Lagos navigated a turbulent period untainted”. Buhari, who was represented by Dr. Chris Maiyaki, Deputy Executive Secretary of the NUC, equally noted the unnecessary challenge to the claim of UNILAG being the “University of First Choice and the Nation’s Pride” as a result of the turbulence of 2020 that unnecessarily delayed the conferment of degrees and subjected the university to ridicule.
However, I felt disappointed that PMB said nothing on the White Paper committees to address all findings from panels set up to look into what happened or is happening in many Federal Universities, including UNILAG, with a view to apportioning blame as necessary. The tardiness over the release of the outcome of the entire inquiry into UNILAG resulted in the claim by THISDAY Newspaper on September 13, 2021 that the former Pro-Chancellor had been vindicated and the Vice-Chancellor indicted. This claim was immediately and unequivocally denied by Mr. Ben Bem Goong, Director, Press and Public Relations of the Federal Ministry of Education, in a Press Statement issued on September 17, 2021. I am on the side of due process and appreciate the Federal Government’s intervention that confirmed the violation of due process and rightly restored Ogundipe as Vice-Chancellor. However, the Visitor needs to urgently release the findings of the panel of inquiry, vindicate Ogundipe or confirm the several allegations against his management of UNILAG’s affairs.
Returning to the speech of the Visitor, PMB lost me and many other listeners when he made Dr. Maiyaki boldly tell us that his administration has done well in the fight against corruption, improved security, and stimulated the economy. He should have told that to the Marines! We all know that Nigeria is worse off now than when Buhari came to power in 2015. There is general apathy in PMB’s fight against corruption. Corruption at all levels has graduated from being endemic to being a pandemic – sharing the same status with coronavirus. Impunity continues to reign supreme. Of course, “small kids” not politically relevant get punished for corruption but many high-level corruption issues have been swept under the carpet by the PMB Administration? A visitation on “Panama, Paradise, and Pandora papers” would be very instructive. Insecurity has spread beyond the Northeast; as Boko Haram’s physical control of territories is reduced in that part of the country, the insurgents have switched to setting up fiefdoms in the North-central. On peace and security, Nigeria is worse than Buhari found it. The vociferous separatist cries, herders/farmers clashes, the spate of kidnappings for ransoms, etc., all support my claim.
I am not saying Nigeria would have been better off if President Goodluck Jonathan had won the 2015 election. His trajectory with the rapacious stealing under him was not salutary. But PMB, in my assessment, has not performed any better when one considers many indices, including the unbridled rapacious stealing of the national patrimony as if there is no tomorrow; as well as the reduced level of human security. On the economy, Nigerians are unable to feel the impact of the “success” of Sai Baba in the marketplace in spite of the fake rice pyramids we are being shown”.
I dare to say that the above is an objective assessment of, and fair report card on, the Buhari administration!
- BOLAWOLE, ex-Editor, The PUNCH and chairman of its Editorial Board, writes “On The Lord’s Day” column in the Sunday Tribune and “Treasures” column in the New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesday.