My attention was drawn to Abimbola Adelakun’s back page column published in The Punch of Thursday, April 18, 2019, in which she criticised the University of Ibadan and vilified its Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Abel Olayinka, over the suspension of the President of the institution’s Students’ Union, Ojo Aderemi.
I read the article with shock and bewilderment because Adelakun, who is an alumna of this prestigious university, would have been given true facts of the matter if she had taken time to get the university’s side of the story. But she surreptitiously took a part of the VC’s response on social media to pass a rather unfair judgment on the institution, thereby painting the university in bad light.
Let me use this opportunity to correct some of her wrong positions. She wrote, “it is baffling that over the years, UI still cannot chart a progressive path in the modes of engagement between the students and the university administrators. The school authorities appear to me as still malevolent, unrelatable and rigid in the enforcement of outdated procedures as they were in the 1970s”, She further castigated the VC and other principal officers of the university, describing them as “big men who are resolutely wedded to hierarchies that do not give room for convivial dialogue and interaction” Honestly, this perception is totally wrong and in bad taste.
The mode of engagement between students and the university management has significantly changed as opposed to what Abimbola believed. In 1970, there was nothing called social media, at least in Nigeria. Today, students engage their VC more intimately on social media. How many students in the ‘70s could access the VC as they do today? Therefore, it is wrong to say that UI could not chart a progressive path. I shall return to this fact later.
Recall that the face-off between the management of the university and the students’ union began on May 9, 2017, when the newly elected president, Ojo, declared war right away as he was being sworn-in. Ojo erroneously believed the only way for him to become popular was to lead students to war against the management. Not a few people blamed the union for electing a 200-Level student who obviously lacked experience in leading and managing his colleagues.
By May 27, 2017, Ojo had called a congress without the permission of the Dean of Students’ Affairs, giving a two-day ultimatum to the management to constitute a Students’ Welfare Board. He wanted a fact-finding committee to be set up to look into the issue of the use of hot plates in the halls of residence. Again, he threatened that if the new identity card was not ready, there would be no examination.
All entreaties to him to take things easy failed. He believed the union was not under any authority. He organised some students who behaved like the mob depicted in the eponymous Julius Caesar, “who possesses everything but tact, character, discipline and structured thinking”.
On Monday, 29 May, 2017, despite the pleading and interventions by highly respected elders, Ojo Aderemi staged a protest, which disrupted the peace on the campus. He insisted that the VC should address the students outside the university. As the management of the university would not fold its hands and allow lives of the students to be threatened, the school was shut down.
Unfortunately, Adelakun, who is obviously sympathetic to the students’ position, did not see the need then to write to condemn the unruly behaviour of the students. Like a prosecutor bent on indictment, she was so temerarious enough to describe the VC as “malevolent, unrelatable and rigid”.
Clearly, Adelakun is an unlikely preacher of a true sermon here. It is on record that this UI VC is one of the most accessible, student-friendly vice-chancellors in Nigeria. Almost all the students in UI are his friends and followers on social media. They have unfettered access to him. They daily send messages to him on social media and he replies them. I once advised him to stop giving out his mobile number to the students. But he said he loved to hear directly from his students. If he sees any of his students celebrating birthday, Prof. Olayinka sends greetings, not minding his status. How else can a leader be more relational? This is the same ever-friendly VC who used his position and power to recall a student who was dismissed from the university by the Governing Council. Our VC is certainly not malevolent and “unrelatable.”
However, in a more shocking way, Adelakun wrote, “The management needs to understand that they are dealing with adults who cannot always be easily harnessed and turned into complacent robots. There is free speech and it allows for insults”. I must confess that I am not comfortable with this position.
Adelakun believed that there was nothing wrong if a 100-level student insulted the VC and described him as “a disgrace”. In her estimation, this is free speech and this kind of impudence has nothing to do with character. I totally disagree. It is not right for a student to be insulting his lecturers and university administrators on social media in the name of free speech. This is an aberration which must not be turned into celebration. To me, this kind of attitude is unAfrican, uncultural and uncouth. It must not be allowed to fester among the youth.
The University of Ibadan has produced close to 300,000 worthy alumni who are doing well all over the place. Our products are our pride and they also cherish their school. These alumni love UI passionately because they received the best form of education predicated on sound character. This is the culture we are seeking to protect. We must not allow modernity to erode our culture. Without exaggerating, the UI is an emporium of excellence. Some of us who are privileged to be working in UI are humbled each time we check history and see prominent people that have passed through Ibadan. The kind of responses I get all over the world each time I write about UI indicates that it is not advisable for anyone to attempt to criminalise the institution..
Adelakun also advocated that UI should be begging any aberrant student to change, saying, “Wielding the gavel over these perceived slights shows that the UI does not believe in the culture of debate and engagement.” Again, this is not true. Let me state here that the university is run on committee basis, which greatly curtail the vice-chancellor’s powers. In other words, the VC does not have absolute powers. Before a student is punished, such a student faces a panel comprising a lawyer, a representative of the alumni association and other respected people with different interests. Let us now assume a student is suspended. Such a student still has a right of appeal to the Governing Council. Can you now see that it is not just “wielding the gavel over perceived slights”?
On the issue of contentious ID cards, may I inform and enlighten Abimbola that after the crisis was resolved, the UI commenced issuance of 12,942 smart ID cards to all undergraduate students in session. Over 3,200 100-level undergraduates in the 2017/2018 academic year and 6,681 postgraduate students have also received theirs. Efforts are being made to complete the process as soon as possible.
The VC deserves our collective respect because he is a symbol of our collective academic integrity. Over the past 70 years that UI has been producing graduates, we have not turned out “zombies” because of the fact that they didn’t insult their VC. In UI, we place so much premium on character and it might be difficult for any student to carry Ibadan certificates without internalizing the character component of our teaching modules. We value character.
Saanu is the Media Assistant to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan