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At 60, OAU on steady March to top of world’s higher education chart

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Ogunbodede

Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) is celebrating 60 years. The Vice-Chancellor of the institution, Professor Eyitope O. Ogunbodede, spoke on the institution’s success stories among other issues in a chat with the media. GBENGA SALAU was there.

Keys to succeeding as Vice Chancellor
THERE are things you must take into cognisance as a Vice-Chancellor. First, you must be able to listen to people; whether you think what they are saying is right or wrong, whether necessary or unnecessary. You still have to listen to them, because you will learn from whatever they are saying.

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The second thing you must have as a Vice-Chancellor is a patience. You must not act by the virtue of the power that is given, so you have to be patient. You must know that people think and do things differently.

The other thing you must introduce into your management style is the ability to recognise the values of other people. Also, you must not be covetous, because there are quite a number of things that you can do and if you believe that you will do them and there will not be repercussion, it can be the end of whatever one has been able to attain in life.

The management style is for you to use your experience before you became a vice-chancellor. Before I became vice-chancellor, I had been head of the department for many years. I had been dean, provost of medical school and member of the council. In your management style, you must look at what you have gone through and use that to make a decision and not just what you see on the spur of the moment.

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We have tried in my administration to avoid quite a number of things that could constitute a clog in the wheel of progress. And how have we been able to do this? By selecting the best people to occupy positions. As a Vice-Chancellor, you can select your friends, but in my own style of administration, I believe that whoever is best for any particular post is the person that should occupy it, and if it requires going to plead with them to take those positions, I will do it.

For example, we have made a lot of progress in the area of utilising the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) in OAU, because when I came in, I had to set up a TETFund office. I also had to look for the best experienced among our academic staff to head that office. Very knowledgeable and bright people are always in demand. And they are not going to come to you and ask that you put them somewhere. You have to go to them. Look at the deputy vice-chancellors we have now, they are God sent.

If you have the right people in the right places, you can relax. But when you have the wrong people in the wrong places; that is always a problem. We should learn to put the right people in the right places.

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OAU at 60 and the future
What we should expect in the next 60 years is Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) which is ranked at the very top of higher education in the world, not just in Nigeria. Yes, we are a first-generation university. We are doing well in Nigeria and comparatively doing well in Africa. But I want to see OAU that will become the Harvard of the world, the Oxford of the world and it is possible and doable.

Also, I want to see OAU that will identify some key areas, where we have comparative advantage and go into those areas and ensure that we lead the entire world in those areas. I want to see OAU that will not be dependent on foreign grants, but on grants and support from within Nigeria.

Memorable day at the OAU as a person
The day I was pronounced vice-chancellor was a memorable moment in my life. This was on May 8, 2017, and the entire campus was agog, with people dancing and jubilating. I have never seen anything like that in my life. To me, it is a memory that will never fade away, because we were actually getting off a crisis situation and when people are sad and do not know what the future holds, suddenly you are pronounced vice-chancellor and the whole place is agog. It is something I will forever be grateful for.

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Frustrating moment
The frustration is from the fact that there are things you know you can do, but the process that is in place and the bureaucracy in the Nigerian system will not allow you to do them. It is highly frustrating. You know you have a term of five years, you know you can do something in 24 hours and finding it difficult to do it in 24 months, it is rather frustrating.

VC appointment controversy in Nigeria
There will always be a crisis if you fail to follow some guidelines in the appointment of a vice-chancellor. The first thing in appointing a vice-chancellor is to be dispassionate about it. Once you focus on the person you want to appoint and ensure that whatever it takes, that person gets there, the others are no fools. They will work against the person. When you say someone is an academic, he believes he knows what is right and wrong. And immediately you start to do what is wrong, he would protest. The issue is not the office, the issue is cheating, and nobody wants to be cheated.

What happened in OAU has nothing to do with the office. People were not really interested. I was a professor at Harvard, and there is nothing you want to give me as vice-chancellor that is up to what I can get over there. But once you see something infringing on your right or personality, you want to show as an academic that it will not happen. If 21 of you are contesting to be vice-chancellor, you know that it is only one person that will emerge. But the moment you start to disqualify qualified people before they get to the process of being interviewed at all, you know that the process has gone beyond the normal.

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So, you find some people who believed that they have that power and they can put anybody there. It does not work that way in the academic. Whoever is going to appoint a vice-chancellor has to be told that there are certain things that must never be done.

One, you must keep to the letter of the advert. You cannot advertise for professors with 10 years of experience and you are now disqualifying them because they do not have international publications when you did not put that in the advert. So, do not introduce extraneous guidelines midway into the selection process. And you believe that those concerned would keep quiet and not do anything.

Secondly, do not give the impression that you already have a candidate that you are working for. Once you give that impression, all the other candidates will gang up against that candidate, so you will not get it through.

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The other point is that the chairman of the council must be experienced enough to understand the process. If you are dependent on the people within the university to advise you on what to do and what not to do, you are going to get the wrong advice, because they also have their candidates. Thus, you must know the rules and regulations, and not wait for people to advise you.

Also, the person appointing a vice-chancellor must be respected and responsible. For instance, if you bring someone like our current chairman of the council, why would I not respect him, looking at his trajectory, what he has done? But if you bring a professor with six-year experience as the chairman of the council, and because of that, he wants to decide what to do and what not to do, what do you expect? So, when picking someone as chairman of the council, the government needs to look at the background of such a person.

But the appointment of VC in other climes is not controversial…

There is always a problem in selecting a vice-chancellor everywhere. The difference is that when you take up the position of vice-chancellor in other climes, you are going to work to ensure that the university survives. The situation in Nigeria is different, as everybody is spending the so-called oil money. So, you sit in your office, and at the end of the month, your workers’ salaries are paid.

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In universities or other climes, your workers’ salaries and everything is dependent on what you are able to do. So, if you are not qualified and competent, it shows almost immediately. And that is why you can put anybody in any position in Nigeria, whether he is competent or not because the money comes from Abuja and not from that person. In fact, you can leave the office vacant, and it will run on its own. In all those places, if they invite you to become vice-chancellor and you are not up to the task, you will not like to take it up because you know the possibilities and what can happen within a few months. So, those are the issues. But anywhere in the world, there are always challenges. At the end of the day, however, whoever emerges will still be acceptable, as the incompetent people will never aspire to the position.

OAU Achievement
In recent years, the University has achieved rapid growth and development, particularly in the areas of academic programmes, research, staff training, infrastructural development and staff/student welfare.
Academic Development

The University has been able to sustain the two colleges: College of Health Sciences and the Postgraduate College. It has also expanded the number of programmes and students’ enrollment in the 13 faculties: Administration, Agriculture, Arts, Education, Environmental Design and Management, Basic Medical Sciences, Clinical Sciences, Dentistry, Law, Pharmacy, Science, Social Sciences and Technology.

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All the 93 academic programmes in the university are currently accredited by the National Universities Commission (NUC), making OAU one of the few Universities with 100 per cent accreditation of its programmes. In recent years, five newly developed undergraduate programmes have successfully passed the stages of Resource Verification and Accreditation by NUC. These are BSc. Entrepreneurial Studies (2017), B.Ed Adult & Lifelong Learning (2017), B.Ed Educational Management (2017), Bachelor of Science in Surveying and Geoinformatics (2019), Bachelor of Science in Business Management (2020) and Bachelor of Library and Information Science (2020).

The Postgraduate programmes are Master of Science (MSc) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programmes in Computer Engineering, Intelligent System Engineering, Software Engineering, Information System and Computer Science.

The following short-term courses were also developed under the World-bank assisted Centre of Excellence in Software Engineering (ACE) project: Cyber Security; Cloud Computing; Database Management; Data Warehouse; Web Technology; Design and fabrication of Machine Components; Robotics; Mechatronic; Machine Vision; Automobile maintenance; Software application in Drug Prescription and Inventory management; and Research Uptake and Management.

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Seven new programmes are being introduced and are awaiting Resource Verification by the NUC: Bachelor of Technology in Aeronautical Engineering, Bachelor of Science in Mass Communication, Bachelor of Science in Broadcast Journalism, Bachelor of Science in Film Production, Bachelor of Science in Information Science and Media Studies, and Bachelor of Science in Human Nutrition and Dietetics.

The university runs a Centre for Distance Learning (CDL) and all the programmes in the Centre are currently accredited by NUC. The CDL Obafemi Awolowo University is a leading Centre among the eleven Centres accredited for the delivery of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) in Nigeria. The CDL currently runs four Undergraduate programmes, with a total enrolment of 1027 students and five Postgraduate programmes with a total enrolment of 207 students. Therefore, the University CDL currently has an overall total of 1234 students.

The university has greatly improved its service delivery in teaching, research and community service. This is evidenced in our performance in the annual Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, which is usually widely reported in Nigerian newspapers and electronic and social media. This has helped to boost the institution’s reputation nationally and internationally. The University intends not to just maintain our current ranking, but to also improve on the performance.

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The University has made significant advances in research, resulting in national and global success stories. The university has produced, among its staff, a Nobel Laureate and six Nigerian National Merit Award Winners. Nigeria’s only Nobel prize-winner (in literature) and the first African laureate, Wole Soyinka, was Professor of Comparative Literature at OAU and is currently Emeritus Professor of Dramatic Arts at OAU.

The university pioneered kidney transplant in Nigeria in 2002, the first Renal Transplantation to be undertaken by a team of indigenous surgeons in any public institution in Nigeria. The research contributions of global significance in medical research include; identification of the potential anti-sickling properties of Fagara zanthoxyloides; mechanisms of chloroquine-induced pruritus and the role of thiamin deficiency (induced by anaphe venata entomophagy) in the causation of “Ijesha shakes,” otherwise known as a seasonal ataxic syndrome. The first separation of Siamese twins in sub-Saharan Africa was carried out at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital. This is a feat that has been successfully repeated on different occasions. Also, successful cochlear implantation has been performed repeatedly in the otorhinolaryngology unit.

The medical research facilities are embodied in the sprawling Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospitals’ Complex, comprising the Ife State Hospital, the Wesley Guild Hospital Ilesha, and Comprehensive Health Centers, as well as the Multidisciplinary laboratories at the main University Campus. Departmental laboratories are also well-equipped for cutting-edge research.

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