By Emmanuel Edukugho
Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile-Ife Mission statement says it all. To create a teaching and learning community for imparting appropriate skills, knowledge, behaviour and attitude; advance the frontiers of knowledge that are relevant to national and global development; engender a sense of selfless public service and promote the African culture and tradition. Almost similarly, but aptly stated, OAU Vision is – to be internationally renowned as one of the highest ranked universities in the world contributing a substantial proportion of innovation to the Nigerian economy.
As succinctly put by the Vice Chancellor, Professor Michael O. Faborode, himself an Alumnus of OAU, its motto, “For Learning and Culture,” is a reflect on of the unique nature of the institution, which has established a reputation for providing its students with liberal education that goes beyond the strict confines of specific academic disciplines and produces well-rounded graduates with distinct advantages to make their way in life.
Since its founding in 1962 as University of Ife by the then Government of Western Region, later its original name changed to Obafemi Awolowo University in memory of one of its foremost founding fathers who was also the pioneer chancellor after his death in 1987, it had eight vice chancellors before the coming of Professor Faborode in 2006.
The others were Professor Oladele Ajose (pioneer), followed by Professor Hezekian Oluwasanmi, Professors Oyetunji Aboyade, Cyril Agodi Onwumechili, Wande Abimbola, Caleb Adeniyi Osuntogun, Wale Omole and light skinned Roger Makanjuuola.
Describing his assumption of leadership at OAU as a “Divine Commission,” which required a ‘We’ focus, that is, all hands had to be on deck in line with the collective approach to leadership, Faborode acknowledged, in his mid term review, that a drift was pervading the university and they had to take some measures to stem the drift.
“Our values and virtues had virtually taken a tumble, threatening to supplant the traditional values of a university with anti-academic cultures hitherto unknown in the history of the university. We were in dire straits with some knotty challenges which required courage of leadership to untie.”
He said the leadership of OAU have demonstrated the required courage, “holding firm to our belief and focus on the tripartite functions of the university: quality teaching, productive research and mutually beneficial community engagement,” adding, “now we have something to show for it.”
He pointed to the sacred role of a university, as an avowed ivory tower, to rise above the common ills of society and show examples of a good conduct, guided by thought, reason and knowledge and the duty to lead society to advance noble causes.
“It is with this awareness that we can sustain the maxim of the founding fathers of this university that ‘education is the greatest weapon for lifting society out of ignorance, want and squalor, and hence for fighting poverty and underdevelopment.” It was noted that the university system in Nigeria is in dire need of a “new push, a new vision and a new assurance of its essence in national development.”
For OAU, the pathway to educational development has always been laced with difficulties, yet significant progress has been made by the institution, specifically under the leadership of Prof. Faborode.
In recent years, the academic sessions have been going on smoothly with on-line registration of all students through the OAU e-portal. There had been increase in the number of students being admitted, while also a notable increase in the university’s postgraduate intake.
So far, the academic calendar has been normalised and everything seems to be running smoothly. There has been reduction in drop-out rate as a result of the high quality of the students admitted and a significant level of peace enjoyed in the university.
Despite the fact that the university has been enjoying a significant level of peace in recent times, the warning strikes by staff unions sometimes affect academic activities, hence the effort to minmise these occurrences through constant engagement and dialogue.
According to Faborode, no university can make progress in an atmosphere of strife and conflict, since in the end, the whole system suffers unjustly with colossal losses.
“It is however, a matter of great delight to notice a new progressive paradigm of focusing on the welfare of members by the leadership of unions rather than perpetually engaging in frivolities, semantics and conflict.”
Some other inhibiting factors relate to Direct Teaching and Laboratory Cost Grant and Estimated Budget versus Actual Grants Released.
As regards the former, the university has been supplementing the expenditure in the teaching units with Departmental charges. The delay in the release of the Direct Teaching and Laboratory Cost grant expected to be a quarterly affected the impact it ought to have had on the teaching process.
As for the latter, the actual Appropriation released yearly has always fallen far below estimated budget, thus hindering the contribution the university would have made to national development.
“More than 75% of the grants released were always spent on wage bill, leaving an insignificant amount for utilities, capital expenditure and research. This has been a major constraint to the pursuit of serious research activities and capacity building in members of staff, and prosecution of worthy capital projects meant to grow the university.”
Students unionism has been extremely unwholesome in the last few years till June 2007. Known for fighting the cause of society which endeared the students union to most people in the country, everything went upside down as unionism became an instrument of violence, disruption of campus peace and instability.
There were people who pretended to be students’ leaders, but were more like pests wrecking havoc on the entire system. As a result, OAU lost much mileage, prestige and indeed lost its essence and glamour.
Now, there is relative peace and stability. The dream of normalising the academic calendar, which had seemed elusive, is now a reality. With this new dawn of constructive and progressive students’ unionism put in place by the students themselves, a credible, constructive, responsive and responsible students’ leadership has been enthroned.
Several abandoned projects, many as far back as the 1980s, still dot the landscape of the campus. But today, the entire campus now wears a new look with several on-going projects completed, including some lecture theatres.
Faborode made a plea to the Federal Government for special grants to complete all other remaining abandoned projects. “Given the right level of funding, there is no doubt that the university will be transformed to an object of envy and admiration of the entire country and indeed a world class institution, which is the ultimate goal.”
OAU’s academic linkages and partnerships continue to widen in scope even beyond Nigeria, based on the belief of the university that the foreign policy thrust of Nigeria deserves to be complemented by the international engagement of her universities.
There is urgent need for large – capacity lecture and laboratory facilities. During the 2007 Accreditation exercise, the NUC teams constantly pointed out the need of at least two 1,000 seater and two 500 seater classrooms to accommodate the large students population and improve their learning condition.
The development of Science and Technology infrastructure that will enable the institution become a technology hub for national development has been embarked on.
While the issue of abandoned projects is a major challenge facing the university, it is being tackled seriously with projects such as estate management building, agriculture engineering building the natural history museum, senate building, etc, now nearing completion to be commissioned at the next convocation in some weeks time.
Maintaining the university’s large estate of about 12,000 hectares constitutes another major challenge that demands special subvention from government, considering the need to preserve the beauty and the attractive architecture of the campus.