It is not everyday that you get the honour of picking the brains of four awesome professors at a sitting. So, when I encountered four University of Lagos (Unilag) professors last week, I was in awe, somehow, of the environment and the circumstance. Attaining the academic crest of a professor is the dream of any academician. It comes by sheer grind and grit. It does not come cheap; especially if you are plying your academic trade in Nigeria.
It was a multi-discipline ensemble. Professor Abigail Ogwezzy-Ndisika, a Chevening Scholar and Head of the Department of Mass Communication; Professor Obinna Chukwu, Director Academic Planning Unit; Professor Ademola Adeleke, Dean of Students’ Affairs Division and Professor Chimdi Maduagu, a polyglot and Nigerian Director, Confucius Institute, University of Lagos. Four eggheads, all of them renowned and redoubtable.
The meeting was to forge strategic partnership with a professional group of which I am a member but it threw up, for me, the challenges that engage managers of the Ivory Towers in the 21st Century. Decades back as a student of Unilag, we had our peculiar troubles. The university authorities had to deal with incipient social vices of those days. In the 80s and early 90s, cultism was already an issue but it was yet to transmute to the kind of deadly scourge it is today. Then, there was no Yahoo-Yahoo or its voodoo variant, Yahoo Plus (or Yahoo Plus-Plus).
In those days in Nigerian universities, issues of rape by students were few and far between. Converting Codeine, Tramadol and other chemical contrivances into hallucinogens were mere tales from distant lands. There was a certain untainted innocence among students. There was cultism, no doubt but never in this in-your-face manner as we have it today. Cultists hid their identities. It was not something to be proud of; it was an abhorrent existence. So, they move about stealthily; walk with crestfallen swag and confined themselves to secret nocturnal meetings and fetish vanities.
Not anymore. These days, cultists rule the roost. They are bold and bullish. They walk with a bounce. They are out of their leash; and they strut campuses with aristocratic hubris. Yet, they are evil; and their acts are wicked acts of fiendish souls. Evil beings who should be hiding on account of their illicit and distasteful lifestyle now strut campuses with boisterous bluster. Again, in those distant years, university students engaging in armed robbery and such like were fairly tales.
These days, the campus, every campus, is a mix of the good, the bad and the damn right crooked. Yet, in this murky milieu, there are still sparks of bright stars. There are still students whose passion is knowledge and whose desire is learning.
Just ponder this: In 2014, news broke of how a race-car wholly made by the University of Lagos students beat other similar cars in a global competition. Abraham Imohiosen, then a 500-level Computer Engineering student of the University of Lagos led a group of students to achieve the feat. Their automobile ingenuity has a forerunner in another Unilag Hall of Famer, the legendary Ayodele Awojobi.
Awojobi became a professor of engineering at the University of Lagos. He was the youngest professor at that time after chalking a First Class degree from the University of London and a PhD from Imperial College, London at the age of 28. Such engineering marvel and wonder.
He was a feisty man of deep knowledge and he, singlehanded, switched the driving wheel of a vehicle from one side to another when Nigeria changed her road driving code from left-hand to right-hand drive. He named it AUTONOV I.
And while the university community and indeed the nation wondered in animated awe of a genius, he pushed beyond limit to contrive AUTONOV II, a bi-directional automobile that can be moved forward and backward. Awojobi’s vehicle had two steering, four gears and three seats; a rare hybrid.
And who has forgotten the blazing story of Oyindamola Omotuyi who achieved a perfect GPA of 5.0/5.0 to be honoured 2016 Best Graduating Student. That feat earned her a fully funded Ph.D. program in Mechanical Engineering at University of Cinccinati by Education USA. The list of newsmakers is long in Nigerian universities.
Recently, it was the University of Nigeria, Nsukka which grabbed the headlines with its first-ever five-seater electric car. There are other sparks of ingenuity in other universities across the nation. Yet, in the midst of these landmarks, sundry social vices have crept insidiously into our academic communities. They are newfangled crimes or old crimes mutating into sophisticated vices by the whim of technology. How do universities deal with such crimes and the cauldron of fear they throw up? How do they restore student confidence in campus and campus activities?
University of Lagos which by virtue of its location, in the buzzing city of Lagos, is not immune to modern social vices. Flanked by a lagoon, a tributary of the Atlantic Ocean and densely populated communities of Fola Agoro, Bariga and Abule Ijesa, it is just a snap away from social discontent. Yet, it has managed to stay clean in this modern era. Unilag has continued to sieve the chaff from the wheat. Once a case of cultism is established against a student, it’s goodbye to such student. Such cleansing is required to build confidence among the student body most of whom these days are in their teens.
Professor Adeleke, the Dean of Students’ Affairs (the Prime Minister of the University, if you like) is the man upon whose shoulder all the 55,000 students including over 33,000 undergraduates of the university lean on. He gets all the intelligence on campus. He plays the role of teacher, father and uncle to students. He is a good man and he has been able to manage the pressure of 8,000 bed spaces for 33,000 students.
His job is pretty difficult. Managing the affairs of 55,000 students including attending to their plaintive cries for school fees; their pleas for accommodation, ceaseless requests for transport fares is not an easy game. Much more, it is his duty to build the confidence of the students. But he has engineered a redemptive grace in technology. He has created multiple social media platforms to engage the students. Aside Whatsapp platforms, Professor Adeleke tells me he also designed LagMobile, a short messaging service (SMS) platform through which the students can communicate with him. A student’s message is automatically delivered even when such student has no credit in his or her phone. Through such platforms, everybody watches over everybody.
Simply put, UniLag has deployed social media to fight social vices that are currently ravaging other institutions. Peace is the catalyst for progress. UniLag needs its peace just so it will continue its exemplary academic strides in deed and in truth.
Beleaguered universities should take a cue from the UniLag social media model for dealing with social vices and building confidence among the student body. Kudos to Professor Adeleke, the man whose phone never sleeps.