Speaks of plan to make the south wait for 20 year while the north grows
By Osa Amdi
It was just an opening remark as the Chairman of the 5th Idowu Sobowale International Conference. But Professor Abisogun Leigh, former Vice Chancellor of the Lagos State University (2001-2005) in that remarkable short speech delivered extempore, touched on the wonders of social and online media, dissected Nigeria’s problems and awoke the hibernating spirits of the Lagos State University. Enjoy him:
The Vice Chancellor, Lagos State University. The guest speaker of the day, the pioneering dean – that is the man we are celebrating today; All the other professors in this great Faculty, The School, Students, Visiting Professors. Its is a great pleasure for me to be among you to act as the chairman (of the 5th Idowu Sobowale Conference).
When I got the letter of invitation, I considered it as a binding duty to attend it. Despite the fact that our children – that is children of people in my own category – have told us to sit at home, saying, ‘don’t go anywhere’; That’s why Sobowale is not here today.
But LASU is my own thought; it is a place I know I can go; and I know that everyone here healthy.
So, I am very happy to be here, particularly to celebrate a man that I will be talking to you about shortly. You may not know many things that your former dean did, and it is an opportunity today to set record straight. Because like the Yoruba would say; the broom is losing membership. One-by-one, the strands are falling off. It is important that we capture it as it is, so that the young ones can know what the true story about Sobowale is.
The media frightens me now
The title of the 5th Conference excites me: “Media, Public Opinion and Governance”. I believe we are talking about good governance, not just any governance, in Africa.
The media is so broad now. I am not a professional in that line, but I have able people who can talk about it.
The media frightens me now, as an ordinary person. Apart from the broad publishing houses, we now have online media where many things are going on, both positive and negative. But I want to say that I will concentrate on the positive.
The social media is giving us opportunity, giving voice to people of the world, to Africans to air their views, their grievances, their praises, their idiosyncrasies about the government; and they can say it sometimes without detection. But I am happy that we have it. Let me give an example:
Dr. Jubril Aminu’s offensive memo
Way back, when I was commissioner for education in Lagos State, a document was sent to me by our respected Professor Chike Obi, the great mathematician of the University of Lagos fame. And the document was about a memo to establish JAMB (Joint Admission Matriculation Board). The author of that document was at that time, Dr. Jubril Aminu, who later became a very respectable professor and, without mincing words, a great scholar.
But what has that got to do with the media?
My senior friend at that time, Professor Chike Obi, said to me, Bode, you are the commissioner of education for Lagos State. Look at what this man has written.
The terrible part of that memo was a paragraph which I marked and marked and marked, because – to paraphrase the statement, it is saying that they will establish this new body to organize entrance to tertiary institutions, to universities; and he believed that some section of the country must be willing to make two decades of sacrifice for the other part to grow.
I believe that was why Chike Obi sent it to me. And in my naivety – I was so naïve at that time; I wasn’t a shewed politician that I later became – I just took the paper straight to my governor. And the governor of Lagos State then was the now-late Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Godwin Kanu.
I said, “Oga, look at what somebody is writing. If you are going to do it, why do you have to hold somebody back for two decades?”
If I had the opportunity of the social media at that time, that document would have gone so far! We would have put it there and more people would have been able to read it! To know that (someone is saying) ‘yes, we are going to create an agency, but part of the assumptions, or the things that must be sacrificed, was the interests and progress of another section of the country’. We are live-witnesses today. We know what we are talking about. We can see what is happening now. That is about media.
Public opinion; that’s where Professor Sobowale cut his tooth. He was a pioneer in that field. But as everything in Nigeria, it’s not possible to expand that, because I am sure it will take a lot of resources and determination. And it just fizzled out. He didn’t do it.
But in other countries of the world, policy making is driven mainly by evidence, and how do you get evidence? We have to rely on you journalists, those of you in the media profession, to gauge the opinions of members of society who cannot otherwise have opportunity to say anything to government.
And based on such evidence, we can tilt the intendments of bills or policies, but all with the overall view of good to society.
Products of Baptist Academy
I met Dr. Idowu Sobowale many years after we had both left Baptist Academy. Professor Sobowale, I am sure you are listening (online, via Zoom). I left Baptist Academy in 1959. He joined in 1960. So, he didn’t even meet me in that college. But because we had had that rapport (between) the seniors and juniors, we were always monitoring the progress of one another.
Baptist Academy was one of the five grade ‘A’ schools in the Colony of Lagos at that time. You had Baptist Academy, St. Gregory College, the Kings College, Methodists Boys High School, Methodist Boys & Methodist Girls joined together, and CMS Grammar School.
If you pick up a Forbes publication, you probably will find list of Nigerians – millionaires and billionaires – but it is very likely that you will never find a Baptist Academy graduate on that list. But if you are looking for a list where the main criteria are honor, simplicity humility, service and integrity, you will fill find many, many, many, Bapt-Acads!
And Professor Idowu Sobowale – my very, very good friend – is an exemplary individual that you can point to in such school. At that time, you were not trained to go and make money by hook or crook. You were trained to be a solid citizen; make your contribution so that your country can progress. And that’s what Professor Idowu Sobowale has done. I think he deserves a round of applause.
The moving spirits of LASU
I am not the lecturer, but I am sure they brought me here today for a purpose. And I will not allow this opportunity to slip by without nailing it on the head.
We are always talking about the founding fathers of the Lagos State University, LASU; Founding Fathers; Founding Fathers. Founding Fathers. Who exactly are the founding fathers of your LASU? Who founded LASU?
Anything must start from the level of ideation; somebody must have the conception in the brain. In your mind, you must conceive of something. Without that, you cannot make a physical accomplishment of that project. So, the man who had the concept in mind is the Baba, the Oga that just passed away recently – Aljhaji Lateef Jakande.
But there were two people who instigated that thing (idea); they pestered the man so much that he had to agree to continue the program, and one of them is Idowu Sobowale. The other person is the late Professor Femi Agbalajobi.
So, any time you are talking of the founding fathers of LASU, these people definitely must be captured; they are the moving spirits behind the conception, ideation, evolution, the planning of LASU. Myself and Idowu, we had been doing a race of baton changing. I was commissioner for education; he was in the industry; I left office; he became prominent in politics; he was in the ministry of education as a special adviser.
I want to salute you (Professor Idowu Sobowale). You have done so much without making noise. And that is what Baptist Academy people are known for: Do your bit in the back corner, and leave those who want to be claiming things to keep claiming things. We know who is who.
In founding LASU, Idowu Sobowale played a very, very significant role. We decided LASU was going to be a non-residential university. And Idowu was still pestering our governor, saying, ‘Sir, let’s find out; what are we going to do with many of these students who are not going to be in residence; what would they be doing?
Jakande conceded and sent a delegation led by him; I was on that committee to Cameroon, Yaoundé. The Yaoundé University is probably the best non-residential university in Africa. If you have the opportunity, go there and study it. Professor Idowu Sobowale led that delegation, and our report added positively to the implementation of LASU of our own time.
Celebrating living legends
Ladies and gentlemen, the Vice Chancellor sir; when an opportunity like this comes, we must seize it to give praise to whom praise is due; particularly when they are still alive. In academia, the tendency is to wait for people to pass away, and then we begin to say all sorts of things that they cannot hear. They don’t even know how much you miss them. If we are going to miss them, let’s miss them now; let’s tell them that we are missing them.
Professor Idowu Sobowale, we appreciate you. The role you played in Lagos State education is well on record. God almighty will grant you good health, peace of mind, and the little resources you need to manage this critical time of your life.
And for the organisers of this conference, I want to thank you. You have been doing it, you will continue to do more. We thank you so much.