It is time to take Obafemi Awolowo University beyond government ownership into a limited by guarantee company, in trust for all its stakeholders, present and future. This is so that it can generate endowments and be professionally managed for future generations… Then Great Ife can assume its place amongst the best homes of intellectual growth of young minds in Africa, as well as the world. Now, that would be a befitting legacy from the Alumni.
I hold on to the feeling I had when Dr Titilayo from Obafemi Awolowo University called me on the phone late last year, 2021, to ask if I would be willing to give a lecture at the Faculty of Social Sciences in the university. It was a feeling of gratification, especially because it was a surprise and a blessing. It indicated a great start to the incoming year, 2022. I savoured the joy of that experience, like I used to enjoy a glass of aged, dark rum, especially a nine-year-old Havana Club, with its slow bluesy taste. I also still remember the invitation was the realisation of a dream I never dared expect. I had not been a good student and nothing in my time in Great Ife hinted at any possibility of ever being invited back, not the least to give a lecture. I left university after five years spent on a four-year course with a third class honours degree.
I was not a particularly serious student of the legal education available to me, especially because its annual system was ‘Almighty June’, the name given to our once-a-year examination. For a student like me who did not go for lectures, that system often meant waking up at year-end to copy the notes of others, which often meant playing the game of ‘who-is-willing-to-share?’ Well, the Social Science Faculty is just next door to the Law Faculty, and it seemed providential that they invited me to speak. That is aside from the fact that after Ife, I earned a Master’s in Economics, placing me clearly with some relevant expertise and academic grounding to that Faculty. By the time I did my Master’s, I was a better and more interested student, as an adult and business owner in the U.K. of 1999.
Yes, indeed, it was a great start to 2022. I thank the Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Obafemi Awolowo University, Professor Olomola, for the incredible warmth and welcome. My thanks also go to Professor Mimiko, who chaired the lecture ably with intellectual honesty and genuineness. I especially thank the organising committee, wonderfully represented by Dr Titilayo and Dr Kolawole.
My gratitude to Obafemi Awolowo University is beyond quantification. Great Ife had not been my first choice in writing the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB) examination back in the day. It had been my first choice the year before then, when I got selected for Political Science. However, my GCEs were incomplete that year. The next year, however, I chose the University of Jos (Unijos) as my first choice, in order to be as far away from home as a good law faculty would permit. Again, I got undone by my own clumsiness. I entered the wrong code next to my State of Origin. This meant that even though I qualified for the Law entry on the merit of my scores, JAMB decided that the mistake with the code was intentional and an attempt to manipulate the criteria, so that I would qualify under quota scores. As such, my matriculation into Unijos did not happen. Fortunately, after much deliberation, Great Ife gave me a late matriculation into Law, all down to my late mother’s determination, as well as the kindness of the late Emeritus Professor Ijalaye.
Well, even then, I did not appreciate the academic opportunity of the Ife of my teenage years. I did fully embrace the Right of Passage that it was into manhood. So, there I was, 34 years after experiencing first-hand maturation on my own criteria, I was giving a lecture titled, “Exploring Nigeria’s Diversity Challenges from Secession to Inclusion”, on the very campus where I lived through loss and renewal to become a man. It was a great event and my thanks to the Faculty of Social Science again for giving me a space to experience my intellectual home, Great Ife, anew.
The faculties are no longer what we proudly sang of in our Great Ife anthem. Social Sciences is doing its best but there is much more it needs and things are actually worse in other faculty buildings. Even the New Bukka was covered with used plastic bottles, paper and other debris when I visited it. I certainly will not be bringing my family anytime soon. But, I also realised that I had failed Great Ife. It was there for me in my youth, but I had done little or nothing to maintain the same space…
I have this dream of revisiting Great Ife with my sons and their children. I would then be able to share memories of formative events and shaping encounters of the dad and granddad they now know. As such, I took this visit with an earlier arrival, to ground myself back in Great Ife. I wanted to experience the campus again, so that I could rekindle the magic and see if my children, as well as grandchildren, would see what I see. So, I arrived two days ahead of my lecture to experience the 60-year-old university. Of course, this being Nigeria, travel guidance is shaped by the last bad experience in the news. In this case, those associated with the university. The travel warning was about the gruesome murder of a postgraduate student, off campus, at a hotel in town. Aside from warnings not to stay in hotels, there was the rabid warning of the dangers of being kidnapped on road travel. My travels were certainly nothing of the sort. I especially enjoyed the train ride from Lagos to Ibadan, luxuriating in a first class section that has three times more space than I would have on British Rail.
I got to Ife early on Sunday evening, with the lecture slated for Tuesday morning. I truly had time to roam the campus and rekindle memories. I chose the Alumni Guest House since I was told they had newer chalets. The accommodation was barely two stars, and the staff were generally unbothered with anything close to service. In due course, I went on reconnaissance to the Conference Centre for a meal and possibly a change of lodgings. But, the sight of a wide basin of water sitting in the visitors bathroom to serve users quickly educated me.
After a mostly restive night, I took off on a Monday morning walk around the staff quarters. Alas, it has not aged well, even though memories peeked out from its nooks and crannies. I walked round the outer circles, all the way from Road 8, to my first stop at Road 23, passing the Vice Chancellor’s Lodge, totally obscured by majestic trees, past the Wole Soyinka Museum, past Road 24, all the way to my home for most of my time in Great Ife, Road 7D, then upwards to the Staff School, seeing that Rascoe’s or Mama Rasaki was still thriving over 34 years after. I did not stop there because I had bad memories of her husband and his angst. Yes, Mama Rasaki was now an institution. In those days, she was a small kiosk that our beer guzzling antics helped to turn into a legend, as we did with most things. The decay was glaring even though; then the trees!
After six kilometres and some more, I reflected that I could just be romanticising the past. After all, no one could be against a man in his mid-fifties being nostalgic, even though I consciously try to avoid that indulgence. So, it seemed that the alternative would be to go to the students hostels and faculties. Thankfully, my son-in-law would be sending a driver who would be the best companion and a different pair of eyes through which to see the campus. I visited the student hostels and the faculties. Sadly, they are not spaces for students. The rot is not remotely excusable and the worst is Mozambique Hall. These days, a great majority of the students live off campus, not even in the staff quarters, which I was told now goes for rent.
The faculties are no longer what we proudly sang of in our Great Ife anthem. Social Sciences is doing its best but there is much more it needs and things are actually worse in other faculty buildings. Even the New Bukka was covered with used plastic bottles, paper and other debris when I visited it. I certainly will not be bringing my family anytime soon. But, I also realised that I had failed Great Ife. It was there for me in my youth, but I had done little or nothing to maintain the same space for those who came after me. In my view, it is far more important that we the alumni should actively engage in the renewal of Great Ife than seek people to blame. I asked myself what kind of education this young people could be having without decent toilets and lecture halls. In fact, the legend of the Nollywood film renovation of part of the campus was humbling, and deeply so.
The main buildings of the Faculty of Technology also stand out, with the new structures that are not out of place besides the older ones. The cohesive mini-campus is better off in terms of having an holistic vision. Under the stewardship of the Dean, Professor Aderonmu, this might be a vision and a pathway to a more entrepreneurial future. Seeing this mini-campus with the lens of future possibilities is irresistible.
There were a few things that stood out for the ways in which they countered the highly visible and prevailing decay. The stars of my visit were the trees of the university campus, even though a few have gone, especially in the staff quarters and around some key faculties. The powerful shade provided by the trees around the Faculty of Health Sciences seemed just a vague memory. These trees give not just fantastic canopy from the unrelenting sun but they also tell stories through their majestic presence, and not just from the inception of the campus but some with ancient frames from before our ancestors organised. Their expressions of beauty are evident, not just in their flowers and leaves but in their structure as well as their gnarled frames that are ageing. Someone had gone round to document these great trees, but their paper script, with the names of each tree, have mostly fallen off. What a powerful thing it would be if they were replaced with beautiful name plates that give some indication of how to date each tree. My favourites are the flame trees, and I kept imagining lining the entire Road 2 with their distinctive red foliage. The least we as alumni can do is to invest in landscaping architecture of the entire campus, bringing back the flora and fauna that made it such a beautiful campus. This is certainly something worthy of organising to achieve.
The main buildings of the Faculty of Technology also stand out, with the new structures that are not out of place besides the older ones. The cohesive mini-campus is better off in terms of having an holistic vision. Under the stewardship of the Dean, Professor Aderonmu, this might be a vision and a pathway to a more entrepreneurial future. Seeing this mini-campus with the lens of future possibilities is irresistible. Unlike other new buildings that seem to stick out from the older classic architecture, the mini-campus seems to be a holistic space with all its own amenities in place. The possibility of this being a centre for excellence is quite a prospect. For now it is a digital oasis with consultancy capacity for the nation.
On the other side of campus, close to the Faculty of Agriculture is the Faculty of Environmental Design and Management. Quite a space, where science meets art! My visit to the studio where students use recycled materials to create new and incredible art sculptures and presentations is just the most exquisite expression of the best in us. There, in front of the Faculty, is a massive rhinoceros made from discarded water tank plastics, so life-like and dominant, of all the things I saw on campus. I walked into the studio and, honestly, the work ongoing in that space brought tears to my eyes. From parts of cars turned into sculpted dogs, cats et al, to bicycle chains that have become busts of our great national heroes. Yes, applied arts indeed but also totally worthy of the time and use of space. The work of these students are worthy of the craft inheritance from Nok, Igbo-Ukwu, Ife, Bini to name a few of our ancestral endowments.
The promise and possibilities of Obafemi Awolowo University has met the limitation of the current management system of universities. As if to highlight this, a young lady, Miss Ajibola, fell into a badly kept soakaway at a private hostel built on university land. Heritage Ajibola rests in God’s love. The circumstances that led to her death are being investigated. But, this we know: The university leased land to others to provide accommodation that, ordinarily, was its exclusive responsibility. I do not think this choice resembles anything close to the best of what we can or should do in university education.
It is time to take Obafemi Awolowo University beyond government ownership into a limited by guarantee company, in trust for all its stakeholders, present and future. This is so that it can generate endowments and be professionally managed for future generations. In this case, the university can also develop the kind of dynamic relationship with its alumni, as well as students that will give it viability and options. Then Great Ife can assume its place amongst the best homes of intellectual growth of young minds in Africa, as well as the world. Now, that would be a befitting legacy from the Alumni.
Adewale Ajadi, a lawyer, creative consultant and leadership expert, is author of Omoluwabi 2.0: A Code of Transformation in 21st Century Nigeria.