Great Ife, Obafemi Awolowo University

By Patrick Omorodion, an alumnus

Everything the first Premier of Western Nigeria, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo founded or created had class and has endured.

Talk of Western Nigeria Telvevision, WNTV which later became NTA; the Liberty Stadium in Ibadan, renamed Obafemi Awolowo Stadium, or the famous Cocoa House in Ibadan.

However, the greatest legacy the late sage left for his people was in the area of education. The free education, the cardinal point of his party, the Action Congress in the First Republic, which was equally adopted by the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN in the Second Republic, remains outstanding.

It positioned his people as well as other Nigerians for leadership roles, not only in Nigeria but around the world.

To prepare products of the free education for managerial positions in all sectors of human endeavour, Chief Awolowo founded the famous University of Ife in Ile-Ife in 1961. The institution was later rechristened Obafemi Awolowo University to immortalise him.

On June 8, 2021, the citadel of learning which has as its motto, ‘For Learning and Culture’, and acclaimed the most beautiful campus on African soil because of its architectural masterpieces of infrastructure, turned 60 years.

But beyond its aesthetics, is the array of human resources, both as students and staff, it has churned out these past 60 years. The list is made of who is who in Nigeria in different disciplines, ranging from government and politics, business, academia, technology, royalty and society, arts and media as well as law.

Great Ife, as the students and the alumni know the institution, has produced men who have occupied and still occupying positions in government.

They include Babalola Borishade, former minister of Aviation, Kayode Fayemi, governor of Ekiti and retired Colonel Olagunsoye Oyinlola who was governor of two states, first as military administrator of Lagos and then as civilian governor of Osun state, incidentally the state of the university.

Segun Mimiko, former Ondo state governor and the incumbent, Rotimi Akeredolu, a SAN were at Ife. Another governor that was a product of Ife is Fidelis Oyakhilome, then police commissioner, who, as military administrator of Rivers State, was popular for his School-to-Land agriculture programme.

Delta-born military officer, retired Brigadier-General Dominic Oneya, another famous alumnus, was military administrator of two states, Kano and Benue where he made his marks. He equally veered into sports administration where he was a football referee and former Chairman of the Nigeria Football Association, NFA.

Among the popular alumni is Babafemi Ojudu, journalist and former Senator who supported NADECO in the fight against then maximum ruler, General Sani Abacha as well as Abike Dabiri, journalist and former member of the House of Representatives and presently an aide of President Muhammadu Buhari on Diaspora affairs.

Two ministers of information were also products of Ife. First is late Chief Alex Akinyele, aka Mr Moustache, a flamboyant politician and pioneer Public Relations Officer of the Nigerian Customs Services. He also headed the National Sports Commission at a time.

The other one is the current Information Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed who many Nigerians love to hate for defending actions of government which they see as not in the interest of the teeming massess.

There are notable Nigerians in other professions like the media and law who became human rights activists, championing the cause of ordinary Nigerians.

These include renowned lawyer, Femi Falana, Lanre Arogundade, Owei Lakemfa, Yinka Odumakin who passed away some weeks ago.

Falana, who was the Public Relations Officer of the Unife Students Union during his time in the school, became a human rights lawyer and activists the government feared like a plague.

Arogundade, currently Director, International Press Centre where he and his colleagues are championing the cause of journalists, was the secretary general of the student union from 1982-83.

He rose to become the President of the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, from 1984-85 and in 1995-99 was the secretary general of the Lagos chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ.

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Lakemfa was at a time a journalist with the Vanguard newspapers where he reported the labour beat.

He became a trade unionist, an author, a human rights activist who is also a frontline fighter against oppressive Nigerian governments.

He was the immediate past secretary general of the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity, OATUU.

Another strong activist that came out of Ife was late Odumakin who was the PRO of the Students Union from 1987-88.

He led the students protest against General Ibrahim Babangida’s Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, during the institution’s convocation ceremony in 1988, when Vice Admiral Patrick Koshoni, now late, had stood proxy for the visitor and military President, General Babangida. He was expelled by the school’s management.

Falana, who had earlier served the Students Union in the same capacity Odumakin was doing then but practising as a lawyer, said he had to challenge their expulsion in court and won and Odumakin and his colleagues were reinstated.

Odumakin was one of the strong members of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, who fought against the military regime of General Sani Abacha that annulled the 1993 presidential election.

On the business front, Ife alumni are also making serious waves. The major ones are oil magnate, Femi Otedola, who as a billionaire and philanthropist extra-ordinary. Among billionaires of Nigerian origin, Otedola stands out in this regard.

Also in the business category is renowned journalist and publisher of the popular Ovation International magazine, Dele Momodu.

He is a columnist with ThisDay newspapers who uses his popular column, Pedulum to advance national and international issues.

He veered into politics in 2011 as one of the presidential candidates, stressing that he contested the presidential election out of frustration of how Nigeria was being governed.

“I was tired of lamenting like Jeremiah. We like lamenting in Nigeria about the leaders being bad, so why don’t you bring yourself into it to see if you can make the difference.

“Unfortunately, maybe I was too naïve and I thought Nigeria was ready, and I would say I was influenced also by the emergence of Barack Obama,” he told a news medium.

Another media man and product of Ife who is making waves in the newspaper industry is Segun Adeniyi, a former editor of ThisDay newspaper and current Chairman of its Editorial Board.

Adeniyi was also former presidential spokesman for late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua.

The media list would not be complete without mentioning another great alumnus in the industry, Femi Adesina, who is presently Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity.

Before his current job, Mr Adesina was editor of the defunct National Concord and The Sun newspaper where he rose to become the Managing Director.

He also edited the Classique Magazine owned by late May Ellen Ezekiel, popularly known as MEE, briefly during the proscription of Concord by General Ibrahim Babangida’s military regime.

In music and arts, Great Ife is also represented by Dizzy K Falola, a UK-based singer who made waves in Nigeria in the 80s.

Yemi Shodimu, popular actor and director also went to Ife. The most popular in this category is none other than Bisade Ologunde popularly referred to as Lagbaja, a veteran afrobeat musician, singer-songwriter and percussionist.

Another Great Ife alumnus who has left his mark on Nigeria’s sands of time is Dr Akinwumi Adesina, who served in the Goodluck Jonathan regime as the Minister of Agriculture, the field he graduated from at the university with a First Class in Agricultural Economics, the first to be awarded that distinction.

A renowned Africa’s Development Economist, Dr Akinwumi is currently a two-term president of the Africa Development Bank, AfDB.

Before becoming the AfDB president, Dr. Adesina was in 2010 appointed by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as one of 17 global leaders to spearhead the Millennium Development Goals.

In the academia, the university through its students and staff are making waves, not only in Nigeria but globally too. Among its staff are a Nobel Laureate, six Nigerian National Merit Award winners.

These include Professor Wole Soyinka who was a professor of Comparative Literature in the school from 1975-1999; Idowu Bantale Omole, former Vice Chancellor of the school from 2011-2016; Akintunde Akinwale, Professor in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Former Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria Communications Commission, NCC, and Electrical Engineer, Ernest Ndukwe also passed through Ife. He is currently the Chairman of communication outfit, MTN Nigeria.

The current Vice Chancellor, Professor Eyitope Ogunbodede is a Health Sciences graduate of the school.

He too has made his mark in various areas, including once serving as a visiting professor in Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, as well as Honorary visiting professor of the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa.

According to Prof Ogunbodede, “the university (through its staff and students) has made significant advances in research resulting in national and global success stories.”

Ogunbodede stressed that the university “produced among its staff, a Nobel Laureate and six National Merit Award winners.”

He added that “the university pioneered kidney transplant in Nigeria in 2002 and the first Renal Transportation undertaken by a team of indigenous surgeons in any public institution in Nigeria.”

He listed so many feats achieved by the school. Among them are some of the firsts it recorded. Great Ife had the first Faculty of Pharmacy in West Africa as well as the first Department of Electrical Engineering with its Electronics component.

No wonder the department’s staff and students were able to develop the first Campus Radio in the 1980s before the deregulation of the sector to create room for so many university-owned radio stations today.

President Buhari, then as military Head of State and his radical second-in-command, the late Brigadier-General Tunde Idiagbon, were not comfortable with the Great Ife radio station, believing it could be used to subvert their government.

They thus first restricted its powers to transmit within the campus, but thereafter decided to ban it outright.

As the university marks its 60 years of existence and glorious contribution, the Vice Chancellor while enumerating other areas the university has excelled, both nationally and globally, told the institution’s alumni scattered around the country and the world at large that they “have been of great assistance in supporting various projects and programmes in the university”.

However, like an Oliver Twist, he pleaded that “more interventions will be required from the Federal Government”.

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