No matter what an organisation may have achieved based on merit, it is bound to lose it once it elevates primordial sentiments over merit and embrace unbridled subjective favouritism by promoting fault-lines as a convenient political strategy to emplace people into position of authority. Any close observation of the pathetic Nigerian situation will see that three pillars of retrogression namely ethnicity, religion and party politics come in handy as a tool employed to exploit the generality of the people and corner what belongs to the general for the benefit of the ethnic irredentists, religious bigots or the trading ‘politrickcian’. This is the story of Nigeria’s Premier University, the University of Ibadan in the past few weeks since the race for the appointment of the 13thindigenous Vice Chancellor started being midwife by the outgoing, Professor Idowu Olayinka. The cacophony surrounding the race to the number one UI seat has shown that the intellectual community has been consumed by the larger society as the community is failing to live above the rudimentary thinking of the communities and peoples that surround it. The UI VC race is revealing how the supposed ‘intellectual’ community that should set the standards of democracy, merit and moral standards and command society to the path of progress, is itself soaked in retrogressive ideals.
Apart from internal power-play of incumbency and altering of internal mechanisms, the outside business, political, and ethnic communities have shown serious interest in who becomes the next Vice Chancellor. The Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes (CCII) through a press conference by its President General, Adeyemi Soladoye complained of marginalisation of indigenes of the host city which he claims magnanimously leased the 2,550 acres on which the Federal University sits on for 999 years on with “Thank You”, handshake, One Guinea (£1.1s) and a bottle of Schnapp. The CCII listed four Ibadan indigenes in the VC race to include Professor Remi Raji-Oyelade who is also a member of the University’s Governing Council, Professor Kayode Adewale, the current Deputy Vice Chancellor (admin) who is said to be favoured by the outgoing Vice Chancellor, Professor Emiola Olapade-Olaopa who is the immediate past Provost of College of Medicine and former member of the Governing Council and Professor Kolapo Hamzat, the current Head of the Department of Physiotherapy as worthy candidates of Ibadan that must be supported by the University to emerge as Vice chancellor. Apparently oblivious of the process leading to the emergence of Vice Chancellor, the CCII even asked President Muhammadu Buhari to assist in this regard and their politicians have started mobilising resources like they normally do to sponsor meetings.
Apparently not seeing merit in the cry of marginalisation by the Ibadan social group, a release by the Oke-Ogun Initiative signed by Dr Lateef Adeleke accused Ibadan of claiming injustice in a Federal government institution designed to accommodate any qualified Nigerian considered fitting for the post by the University community. Oke Ogun initiative accused Ibadan of marginalising other zones from producing the Governor of the State. Adeleke stated that “the question is has an Oke-ogun man ever been Governor of Oyo State? Are Ibadan people ready to concede? Must they always take everything? Oke ogun is not an inferior stakeholder in the Oyo State project”. The group then canvassed support for an indigene of Iseyin, Professor Dele Layiwole, former Director, Institute of African Studies to become the next Vice Chancellor.
The two groups have a right to their struggle but should not use UI to settle their age-long rivalry. CCII should note that all groups in Nigeria are entitled to the position through internal political mobilisation and later external noting by the President. Ibadan has actually enjoyed benefit than any other groups in Nigeria. The name of the institution is “University of Ibadan”, a global brand which has been nurtured by the daily intellectual sweat of scholars of different ethnic groups working in the University and not through the contributions of Ibadan scholars alone. The UI brand has put Ibadan on the world map forever. The institution has contributed to the rich intellectual power house of the host community. In the area of economy, Ibadan benefits a lot and the state takes taxes from the institution. In the area of employment, I want to believe that the population of indigenes of Ibadan in the workforce of the institution will be higher than any other place not to talk of the crop of Ibadan indigenes currently standing as principal officers. The current Deputy Vice Chancellor (Admin) Professor Kayode Adebowale; Deputy Vice Chancellor (academic), and the University Bursar, Dr. M. Alatise are Ibadan sons. Major industrial Unions such as ASUU (Professor Ayo Akinwole) and SSANU (Wale Akinremi) also have Ibadan people as their current chairmen. UI Vcship is not by zoning or consideration of catchment area nor is it about dashing host community. I believe these eminent Professors of Ibadan extraction deserve to be the VC if preferred by the political equation of the university.
Internally, the VC race has been turned to war of religions, a resonation of the Nigerian megapolitics. Alas, rather than influencing the society with the science of downplaying religion as a divisive strategy which undermines society of getting good leadership and development, University of Ibadan ‘kingmakers’ and lecturers are queuing behind religion. My interaction with the university produces certain evidences to this fact. For instance, during the last governing council election, text messages were sent around the campus. It was the period of agitation for the use of Hijab by some parents at the Institutions’ International School (I.S.I). Of the circulated text messages obtained reads: “kindly consider what is currently happening in ISI as you choose who to vote for today. Thank you. Pass the message to other Christian colleagues”. I reliably gathered that the election to elect Congregation Representative to Senate was not different. Another message for that election reads “this has to do with the election of the next VC. The Muslims have collected form en masse. If we don’t collect the forms, we are jeopardising our chances of having a Christian as our next VC”. As it turned out, only two Muslims got elected out of 153 representatives to the Senate of the University indicating voting was done along religious lines. A release by a certain Concerned Islamic Rights Group alleged that the incumbent Vice Chancellor “manipulated and predetermined e-voting result in the university (and) clandestinely eliminated Muslims from the highest academic body where important decisions are taken”. Note also that like Ibadan marginalisation claim, no Muslim has become the VC of University of Ibadan.
The foregoing state of affairs in the nation’s premier university shows that enough centripetal and centrifugal forces are at play to tear the institution into shreds. I am no longer surprised that productivity of this intellectual community is low as obviously their energies are devoted more to fringe benefits associated to offices rather than conducting cutting edge researches. While the incumbent has a right to a preferred successor, such a person must emerge through free and fair process. Since UI prides itself as awarding certificates based on character and sound judgement, this is yet to be displayed in the management of their own affairs. The outgoing VC, Professor Idowu Olayinka stands to make history either as one in whose tenure religion, ethnic sentiments and sundry divisions are elevated above merit or one who silences the pillars of unnecessary tensions and divisions and provides a level playing platform for the emergence of a generally acceptable 13th Vice Chancellor. Whichever side of the history he chooses to stand, whoever emerges as the next UI Vice Chancellor will face arduous task of uniting a community already divided along religious line.
Obasa, a public affairs analyst contributes this piece from Ibadan