By Sam Omatseye
As an undergraduate, I attended a symposium at the great Oduduwa Hall at the then University of Ife, and Wole Soyinka, not yet a Nobel laureate, spoke like a past master. Spry and combatant, he lamented how brick and mortar was becoming lord and master over trees and verdure. The lush green lure of lawns on Africa’s most beautiful campus crawled under concrete jungles.
Trees make groves sacred for human dwellings. We strut like nature’s tenants. The deities view our harmonies with envy. The Oduduwa event happened in the early 1980’s before the global rave over the environment and the ozone layer’s fall from grace. Soyinka waxed lyrical over what he saw as the descent of the “university idea.”
He noted that “in these days when some accuse me of obscurities and impenetrable densities,” his position on nature was clear. Decades later, if universities have learnt little about nature, they still need tutoring on nurture.
One area where the university idea appears stunted is the search for a vice chancellor. The battle for VC is always like a night cloud of lightning and thunder. Many years ago when the position was open at Ife, the story had it of a professor and contender who deposited ebo – pot of fetish for sacrifice or atonement – on a major intersection on Ife campus. It often is no different from the fight for governor or senator in the outer world. The campus mirrors the society it mocks. Teacher becomes tyro. The refuge absorbs refuse from the larger society. Town stains gown. A priest dramatises iniquity.
Everything we hate about our politics bares its ugly face. Due process upturned, voter’s lists disputed, candidates disqualified to pave way for men of favour, money upends merit, accusations of rigging overshadow outcomes, ideas fall to sentiment, tribesmen coalesce, bigots assemble, ideologies occluded, ideas cave in to violence, protests erupt on campus not over social injustice in the society, newspapers flare with querulous advertorials, a play of giants. Everyone finds it difficult to escape the epidemic, like the Eugene Ionesco play of the absurd, Rhinoceros, where nearly all in town end up being a rhino. In the end, Soyinka’s university idea falls again like humpty dumpty.
We saw this a few months ago at Unilag. A chill now descends on professors and workers in what we call Nigeria’s premier university, The University of Ibadan, where these bad qualities are on display. They have made headlines not about cure for Covid-19, or contests about the best vaccines, but about infighting. But the worst of it is that it is not the university’s fight alone. It is also the contest of interlopers, both official and non-official. Just as non-state actors are trying to rejig the country, from Igboho to Kanu, the VC battle to the death involves designs from a force as “neutral” as the minister of education, the man with a double name.
Adamu Adamu is being accused of damning the process and imposing his own. According to reports, he is defiling arithmetic, and so he is dissolving the process. Twice he has stopped the process because the voter’s list will not give outsiders power over insiders. The outsiders are those who want to get the number of collaborators within the council to vote for their favorite son. It is just like party politics. The party leader will monitor the voters’ list to doctor it. When he gets the number he wants, it becomes official and legal. Like the US cliffhanger Senate, he is allegedly waiting for a Kamala Harris clincher.
They are also accusing a former health minister who is working with another Osun son-of-the-soil in Oyo State to ensure that the candidate they want emerges. The stumbling block seems the present governing council whose tenure ends on May 9. The idea is, according to the accusation, for the positions of two men of council to be filled for the minister and his people to secure supporters within the body of professors and administrators. The arithmetic as of today does not favour the minister, according to sources.
He is waiting to get the men or women to tilt it. One of them represents the university community and the other represents the office of the VC. They need to be filled before the next vote.
It is also alleged that there is Muslim agenda to foist a Muslim as the favoured candiate. When did the university become this base? What is the difference is the man wears a crucifix or looks at the crescent in the sky? I recall commenting on the process to get the VC at Uniben and how Governor Obaseki muscled his influence for a candidate who did not hail from Edo State to fail. He wanted his son of the soil in a federal university. I understand that members of the Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes are also at war with the minister for trying to foreclose the chances of their son. That they are from Ibadan should not foreclose their chance at VC, but it does not entitle them. Unlike the Uniben case, they deserve fairness.
On the UI affair, the federal house is in disarray. Five of the council members are from the ministry and they want due process. They want a council with counsel. The minister wants a council that counts for him. The minister is locking horns with his ministry. Minister Adamu is also in conflict with the pro chancellor and chairman of council, Joshua Waklek. Once he leaves his post in May, it may be open sesame for the minister.
All we want at UI is sanity in the selection process. Many do not understand why so many professors want to be VC and die doing it. I recall a friend saying the other day what a certain VC told him when he landed his job as VC. He said, for the first time in his life, he did not have money problems. So, the fight is not about how to propagate Soyinka’s university idea, which is about creating a shelter of excellence for thought and a laboratory of intellects for the larger society.
The professors are not examples for their students. “Jack was sent to school to learn to be a fool,” goes the saying. “You can polish a stone as much as you want, but it cannot become cheese,” to paraphrase another.
During the French revolution, Robespierre’s men thought Christianity had failed. They replaced its symbols with what they called, “Temples of Reason.” Their Cult of Reason yielded deaths, destruction, anarchy and Edmund Burke’s prediction of the rise of a dictator like Napoleon.
Is the university idea facing the guillotine?
The minister should preside over due process, and let the right person win.
In temperate climates, autumns are when flowers fade and trees become bald. Governor Ortom is not like the weather that sounds like him. A few days ago, bandits attacked him and he survived, thanks to his security aides. It was a sad day for Nigeria that a sitting governor might have had his heart in his mouth because of some renegades. A report said he ran for about a mile. Our country is in great peril. We do not have answer while criminals are asking all the questions. He said MACBAN held a meeting a few days earlier on him. His chief press secretary, Terver Akase, echoed the account that Governor Ortom was a major topic of their discussion. So what has the DSS done to level with the facts in this matter? If the unexpected happened to Ortom, what will we be saying today. This is not the first encounter of a governor with bandits. Ondo State Governor had one last year. There is a clear breakdown. Let us hope, we don’t go down. The fall downhill stares us in the face and it frightens us.