Chief Akin Ogunpola was the Commissioner of Education in Ogun State when he midwife and nurse the then Ogun State University, now Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye. He went down the memory lane on the reason for the establishment of the University, and the decadence eating deep into the University system in the country in this interview with Tayo Adelaja.
REASON FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF OSU:
I was appointed as Commissioner of Education on 1st October, 1979 and as at that time a lot of qualified Ogun State Indigenes were not getting admission into the available Federal Universities in the nation due to the space available which does not match the increase in the number of admission seekers.
Hence, in order to cater for the future of our children, we decided to establish a State University.
My lot as the Commissioner of Education is to midwife and nurse the University. It was a challenge to my team and we took the challenge passionately because we saw the success as delivering on our promise to the people during the electioneering campaign. Our party-UPN was passionate about the people as can be seen in most of the projects embarked upon in those days, not only in Ogun, but in Oyo, Old Bendel, Old Ondo and Lagos State where we won the state elections.
I recommended the then Vice Chancellor, Prof Olubi Sodipo(Late), the Registrar- Mr Shotoyinbo and Prof Akin Mabogunje, the Chairman of the Council. I want to note that these people were chosen because of their antecedent which has nothing to do with their political inclination. As a matter of fact, they were not in our party and they were purely academician who were contented been one.
Prof Olubi Sodipo was a goal-getter and we were in University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) together before I became a Commissioner. Shotoyinbo was an astute and experienced administrator in the tertiary institution. Prof Akin Mabogunje was a Lecturer in Geography Department, and we are in the same faculty, as at that time he was a man of great experience, hard-working, brilliant and a senior colleague in the system. I approached them before recommending their names.
A lot of my junior and senior colleagues in University of Ibadan and Ife was approached by me about the dream of making OSU a great University like that of Ibadan and Ife, possibly better than them and to rank among the best University in the world, they accepted. Prof Afolabi Soyode who was two years my junior in University of Ibadan became the first Dean of Social and Management Sciences, Prof Bankole, an indigene of YEWA who later became the VC are those that accepted and worked vigorously to make OSU what it was, then.
We acquired the land where the main campus is now and relocated a secondary school in Ago-Iwoye so as to create a mini-campus with administrative offices to kick-start OSU.
Our decision to make OSU a multi-campus system, though expensive was as a result of our party programme.
It is an integrated system aimed at spreading development across the state with the main campus situated in Ago-Iwoye. The College of Agric was sited in YEWA because they are noted for Agriculture.
In order to honor Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the College of Medicine was located in Ikenne, while I used my influence to locate the College of Engineering at Ibogun because of the external economies of scale, that is, the nearness to Sango and Otta which is highly industrialized location in the state.
I anticipated that there will be a multiplier effect of locating such campus at Ibogun.
The first set of students resumed in 1982 that is the 1981/1982 session. Unfortunately, the coup led by Buhari in 1984 aborted the lofty dreams we had for OSU.
Diya Oladapo who was the military governor cancelled all the on-going projects and the multi campus-system; I was detained along with other politicians immediately after the coup.
Why I was detained?
The military thought that I embezzled money. My only concern while in detention was that OSU should not be scrapped, that would have devastated me. Luckily, Diya cancelled the multi-campus and the on-going projects, and left OSU.
I was glad and I settled down in my detention with contentment, ready to stay as long as it pleases them. Sincerely, I don’t mind my detention anymore since OSU was spared.
The military thought that I embezzled the =N=14million spent on developing education across the state. Of truth, the governor, Olabisi Onabanjo gave me a free hand to run my ministry without any interference. Painstakingly, the military went through our records and visited all the schools to verify our claims and books.
The bulk of the money went into buying textbooks, writing materials and training of teachers. We provide textbooks and writing materials for our students in primary and secondary schools. We improved upon the training of the teachers because they are the bedrock of the free education programme.
I was still in detention when I learnt that the military government commended our administration, particularly me and the Ministry of Education on the pages of newspaper. My people in Abeokuta rolled out drums and celebrated.
I want to point out that for every corrupt politician; you have more than ten corrupt businessmen, and much more corrupt civil servants.
Opinion on the recent shake-up in OSU:
They deserved to be laid off, both the academics and non-academics. There is an urgent need to cleanse the system. Nobody will be glad at the turn of events in that University as at the time those rascals were been asked to go.
When I left detention, I had the option of going back to University of Ife, but I opted for OSU. I went back as a lecturer under one of my student who was the HOD of the department.
I did not mind, but subject myself to his authority while he was the HOD.
I need to commend Prof Yinusa Oyeneye (the VC at that time) for the bold step of moving the student to the Main Campus and the development of that place within a short period. Almost all the building on the Main Campus was constructed during his tenure. What are they doing now, years after he left?
The multi-campus system was returned by Osoba and its development was done by the host communities.
The Ibogun Campus, it is sad to say that despite the fact that Obasanjo who is from there and my first cousin contributed nothing to the place. I met him on several occasions and implored him to assist with the development of the campus, he promised to do something, but he did nothing. Chief Femi Adewunmi was the Chairman of the development project of that campus and virtually all the buildings on the campus was their effort.
It is sad, that the community can boast of the caliber of President Segun Obasanjo and can not benefit from his status and influence. I am three and a half years older than him, I was born on Sept 11, 1932 and he was born in 1936.
The decadence in OSU, though not peculiar to the institution alone can be traced to Prof Afolabi Soyode’s tenure as VC of the institution. He recruited a lot of mediocre, while staffing was not done according to needs and space. It will surprise you that I prayed that he became the VC before his appointment, because he is a brilliant scholar and he was in South Africa, but he failed to institute an internal control of the system.
He did not control recruitment, admission and even the appointment into administrative post was done without due process. In UI where he came from, is that the way they taught him.
Was there no control in the system? Handouts were sold anyhow, and this are recycled handouts. Some Lecturers are intellectually lazy; they sold the same handout for more than 7 years because they did not develop themselves. Lecturer in OSU that was trained in the system and know the standard we set had the temerity and effrontery to give students examination questions. Femi Senjobi, though I learnt he is late now is a culprit. Dapo George in Economics department is another terrible and wicked lecturer. A final year student got 38 in George’s course, and it is only his course that this student has such mark.
When I went though the result, I asked to see the student. The student has good attendance in class and did well in continuous assessment. He refused to upgrade the student to 40; I used my power as the HOD to give the student 40.
Students’ results were not compiled and they resulted into bribing their ways in other to get what they should have been given ordinarily. It is sad! The chronicles of the events are many and numerous.
Can you imagine that Economics, Business Admin, Political Science, Accounts and others are not accredited in OSU? Do they need equipment to get accredited? Oh, I am sad about the situation in OSU because that is not the OSU of our dream.
THE WAY OUT:
I was implored to stay back in OSU when I quitted in 1991. I quitted for three major reasons then. Firstly, the underfunding of the University by the government is affecting the system. The attitude of Lecturers to work is appalling and finally, student’s apathy as well as lukewarm attitude to education. Students are no longer interested in academics, but they opted for shortcuts. Then, I thought it is worse, the situation after that time is more terrible. The educational sector in Nigeria from primary to tertiary needs a complete overhaul.
Candidly, the government needs to increase the funding of her University. Lecturers need to be trained, so that there can be quality lecturers within the system. In our time, a lecture with a first degree will be send abroad for second degree, is that so now? Foreign scholarships will enhance the performance of lecturers.
The VC should be chosen on merit, instead of election which turned some desperate Prof into cultist and fetish people. It will also remove the issue of loyalty to a particular party that brought you into power.
University should not be an appendage of NUC; they should have autonomy and academic freedom. The power of NUC over University is becoming too much.
Admission should be well scrutinized.
Though there is concession admission, it should not be more than ten percent of the total admission. I was a member of the Students’ Screening Committee while in OSU. My Committee had the mandate to screen students’ results after they were admitted. There was a particular case of a girl that was advised to withdraw in her final year for presenting fake WAEC certificate. We were thorough and we don’t compromise, but our decision is mostly with human face too. Today, a lot of students present fake WAEC result and still graduated, it is that bad!
Cultism should be eradicated from the system. Cultists are not pins; they should be identified and flushed out.
The educational system should be over-hauled from the primary to secondary and University. In a situation where you have a large class, it becomes a big problem managing such classes and teachers will be ineffective.
As a teacher or Lecturer, you should teach because of the love and passion for the profession and not for the gain. Teachers should not engage in other activities, it is a distraction.
The ASUU too should be responsible and stop the incessant strike. How can ASUU call a strike when the students have few days to their examinations? I was the National Secretary of ASUU in 1977, when Prof Agbede was National Chairman. The form that made ASUU to become a Trade Union, I signed it as the National Secretary. The strike embarked upon is becoming too frequent; closure of University almost all the time is not good for the system. They should think of the welfare of their students too. It is not strike alone that can resolve the crisis in the system.
AS A POLITICIAN, WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE FOR THE POLITICIANS
I want to implore the politicians not to see the people as been docile. They should learn from the past experience, particularly the 1965-67 experience that led to the civil war in our country. Let them go back and read the history if they can’t get people who witnessed it to give them first hand information. Our politicians need to be more alive to their responsibilities.
The amount of money available now is awesome, yet the level of development does not justify the amount of wealth in the nation. Whatever they do or fail to do will be in history and their children will be the one to benefit from it, either positively or otherwise. If you asked me my choice of President, I will go for Buhari despite the fact that he kicked us out in 1984. He is a disciplined and forthright person. We need a leader with such attribute.
First Published in Nigerian Compass 2011