In April of this year, I penned a piece, which became serially discussed, on the University of Ibadan, entitled Who will rescue our University of Ibadan? In the piece, I collated the views of several alumni and stakeholders of this premier university on the slide in its affairs. I do not have to remind us of the very rich pedigree of academic excellence that UI, as it is fondly called, wears or wore on its lapel. It is not just the oldest and the first university in Nigeria; it prides itself as the best. From its establishment in 1948, up till 1962 when it became a full-fledged independent university, a College of the University of London, UI never stopped scooping academic laurels.
Apart from being, since 1948, a major incubation center for knowledge and flagship of academic excellence, its ranking among universities in the world has been encouraging. For instance, the 2021-2022 Global University Rankings by the Center for World University Rankings (CWUR) where 19,788 institutions were ranked, placed UI as 1167, with a score of 69.3.
UI has also literally been embarrassing the Council of Legal Education for years now due to its yearly snatching of laurels in excellence. For instance, when it released the 2021 Bar Final Results in July this year, of the total of 5,770 students who sat for the exams and the 20 students who made first-class, Bukola Fatimat Alada, a graduate of the University of Ibadan, emerged the overall best graduating student. In 2020, three out of the total of five First Class candidates of the Nigerian Law School came from the university. In the 2019 August Bar Finals, UI produced the highest number of 26 First Class students.
However, in 2020, UI was embroiled in leadership crises which stained this white apparel significantly. From the sneaking of the virus of religious cleavages in the narratives of the university’s romance with the hijab crisis in its secondary school, to the obnoxious sneaking in of ethnic cleavage, to the extent that Ibadan people began to demand a UI VC “of our own,” UI went to the dogs and back. Before now, UI had operated with the philosophy of an airplane in its leadership choice. When you enter an airplane, you don’t ask whether the pilot is a Christian, Moslem, babalawo or South Africa’s Sangoma; whether he is Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba or whatever. You ask for the best pilot to pilot you to safety.
UI has had 18 VCs, acting and substantive, 13 of which were the latter. It ranged from VCs in the pre-colonial era like Prof. Kenneth Mellanby, 1947 – 1953; Prof. J. T. Saunders, 1953 – 1956; Prof. John H. Parry, 1956 – 1960 and in the post-colony, from Prof. Kenneth Onwuka Dike, 1960 – 1967; Prof. Thomas Adeoye Lambo, 1967 – 1971; Prof. H. Oritsejolomi-Thomas, 1972 – November 1975; Prof. Tekena N. Tamuno, December 1975 – November 1979; Prof. Samson O. Olayide, December 1979 – November 1983; Prof. L. Ayo Banjo, both as Acting and substantive, November 30 1983 – November 30 1984 and December 01 1984- November 30 1991, among others, up till the current Acting VC, Prof. Adebola Ekanola (Acting) and last Thursday when Professor Kayode Adebowale emerged as its 13th VC.
The road to Adebowale was odious, messy, repugnant and conspired to make a Lilliput of UI’s giant stature. It showed that the gown had morphed into the town and swallowed the rascality renowned with the streets. On the road to Adebowale, academics played dirty politics, manifesting treacherous traits of Judas Iscariot and becoming indistinguishable from the sneaky, dodgy and sly traits of the men in babariga and agbada.
Two cleavages or social classifications became the three-prong approach to the race for the office of the VC. One was the Isaac Adewole/Abel Idowu Olayinka cleavage, the duo being ex-VCs of the university; as well as the Christian/Muslim cleavage. The third was the Federal Government which was alleged to be backing two of the candidates.
The above cleavages manifested in the University Council’s screening of the VC candidates which held at its Council Chambers, There, presentations and questioning of the candidates by members of the Council took place. As the heat of the process escalated, there was huge fear that Abuja, represented by the Chairman of the Council, Chief John Odigie Oyegun, was against the eventual winner of the process, Adebowale. He was allegedly viciously marked down by the other two external panelists and Chairman Oyegun. An indicator of this was the question being raised in the university about how Adebowale, who came sixth when the Council members, which had huge government imprimatur, sat to screen the candidates but eventually came first when the Selection Board that comprised the university’s Senate, superintended over the process?
Last Thursday, however, discountenancing the Number One and Two choices of the school’s Council, the Senate Selection Board chose Professor Adebowale. Adebowale belongs to the Olayinka group. With his emergence, the Olayinka group has no doubt dealt a blow on the other group. It is on record that the new VC went through hell in the hands of the other divide who attempted to soil his name, as well as the name of the group behind him.
About two weeks ago, I was asked to moderate the university’s Town Hall event held at the Trenchard Hall. There, many of the VC candidates addressed the university community on their programme. Therein, I said that UI was renowned for possessing a regenerative spirit and ability to reconnect with the spirit of excellence of administrative icons of the past 7-plus decades of its existence. It is hoped that, with a substantive VC, stakeholders in the Ibadan project will rejoice and be proud once again about this academic heritage.
Unlike Nigeria where the myth is that the best have hardly gone to the driver’s seat, UI has produced administrators who can rank the best in Nigeria. Indeed, Nigeria has a lot to learn from UI. Nigeria’s leadership is said to be the Yoruba proverbial Igbo Odaju – the forest of the heartless but where difficult but regenerative decisions about society are made. Weaklings and effeminate persons hardly get there, except valiant and good people. We hope and pray that Adebowale is inside that Igbo Odaju and will reinvigorate the University of Ibadan.