By Lekan Fatai
SERVING as Vice Chancellor of any public university in Nigeria is a challenge. It requires hard work. Not all professors can stake their lives for the job, because they consider the position as carrying the cross for the salvation and comfort of the many. Indeed, Vice Chancellorship of any Nigerian public university (including privately owned) is a problematic furrow to plough. A Vice Chancellor is not only expected to provide academic leadership, he or she is also required to provide municipal services on campus, including uninterrupted electricity, potable water, security among others. Failure to meet staff and students’ demands could lead to crisis and in extreme cases, to the termination of the Vice Chancellor
Indeed, being a Vice chancellor is not particularly different from walking a tight – rope. Any miscalculation can be dangerous! This scenario probably captures the experiences of Prof. Bamitale Omole who was appointed on 23 June, 2011 as the 10th VC of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife. His five-year tenure gloriously comes to an end on the 23 June, 2016.
But before he bows out of office, it is apposite to review some of the promises he made in March 2011 when he was seeking the mandate of the university. Omole, a Professor of International Relations/Political studies, with the benefit of hindsight, has not only fulfilled almost all the promises he made, but has also recorded some feats that will preserve his legacy at OAU. From academic to infrastructural development , from staff and students’ welfare to several other germane issues, Prof. Omole’s achievements are beyond the realm of imagination, rather on a scale almost beyond belief.
For instance, he promised to give the university a massive face lift by developing infrastructure. Consequently, Prof. Omole’s administration embarked on 30 major capital projects despite the dwindling subventions from the federal government. All the major projects have been completed, thus, turning the campus to a modern place of information, reformation, transformation and innovation. Among the striking projects are the construction of an international Olympic size swimming pool, the Moot Court , University Hall, a 12-stored Senate Building called Jubilee House as well as rehabilitation of several others.
As a result of his foresight and management skills, Prof. Omole, early in 2014 , led the “Great Ife” to win an eight million dollars ($ 8 million) grant from the World Bank to establish an African Centre of Excellence with specific focus on the OAU knowledge park. This grant has added considerable value to the university. Prof. Omole who believes that the possibilities of situating OAU as a 21st century world class African university, in terms of cutting edge research, paradigm shift in the sources of funding, renewal of human resources and capital formation, deepening of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are limitless, has certainly lived up to expectation.
It is on record that OAU is a leader in Nigeria in ICT. The institution boasts of 730 mbps which is regarded as the biggest bandwidth in any Nigerian university. Ife is arguably the only university in the country with Telepresence studios with Cloud Computing Environment in the entire Nigerian university system. The university, which was rated as being 4th among Nigerian universities in 2011 and 78 in Africa, was for four consecutive years (2011-2014) ranked the best and number one university in Nigeria.
All these laudable achievements and more are not unconnected with scintillating performances of Prof. Omole who handles everything about the university with exquisite discretion, just as he discharges his duties with courage. The university community is so much enchanted by his piquant wits, sharp and appetising intelligence with which he has been able to make a mincemeat of the uphill task . While his critics attempt to muddy the waters by sponsoring incessant protests and orchestrating conflicts, Prof. Omole carries on with an astonishingly high level of omniscience that tends to arrogate to him a magic wand to solve all problems, hence leaping from one form of progress to another. Surely, only brave men can be trailblazers.
Prof. Omole is very skillful in verbal artistry with his intellectual engagements being marked by a certain cosmopolitanism and eclecticism. He always conceptualizes his thought-process and builds them into achievable templates, cutting the stoic comportment of one at peace with his environment.
However, his wisdom notwithstanding, Prof. Omole’s critics are not without a measure of success over him! They broke his heart at a point. Hear Prof. Omole’s confession at a recent forum: “the most traumatic experience I have ever had as OAU VC was when some union members fabricated a lie against me, saying I had collected earned allowance from Abuja and kept it in my account. They even said I used their money to train my four children abroad, whereas I never collected a dime, neither do I have four children. My wife and I broke down in tears. It was so painful because these are the people whose welfare I do not trifle with, yet they were so pernicious to embarrass me with unfounded allegations”.
Prof. Omole’s idyllic sense of organizational intuition puts him far above his critics. He is a master of human psychology, constantly seeking unbeatens path to tread and unusual courses to chart just to ensure stability, peace and progress. He manages his mood stoically , minds his manner diplomatically, and masters his mouth wisely as he is non-self announcing. He believes results are far more important than rhetoric.
As Prof. Omole’s administration gradually comes to an end the university community owes him a duty to celebrate this achiever of uncommon feats. He has demystified university administration and contributed immensely to the development of his alma mater. He demystified the office of the VC without desecrating it. His strength has been tested and his performance has been proven. Nigeria should consider rewarding him with a fresh opportunity to serve. The reward of hard work is an opportunity to do more.
Although the major challenge before OAU now is the selection of Prof. Omole’s successor, this should be done transparently. The university community must pray to have a worthy successor who will consolidate on Omole’s achievements. This selection process must not end in fiasco.
•Fatai writes in from Ile-Ife via [email protected]