Ethnic invasion of Obafemi Awolowo University
Public vituperations that greeted the barbaric display on Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) the other day are very much in order as a check on the excesses of persons bent on desecrating the revered institution and attempting to ridicule it on grounds of ethnicity. As an ivory tower and think tank, the university should be protected against selfish and myopic interferences that can only diminish its status among its peers worldwide.
Obafemi Awolowo University is one of the few prestigious universities in the country. The other day, it was crudely invaded by persons who claimed to be indigenes of Ile Ife, brandishing fetish objects and charms ostensibly to express their displeasure over the selection of a non-indigene of the host community, as the Vice-Chancellor of the university. As effusively expressed by many sentient Nigerians, the incident amounts to the destruction of the country’s image, as a decent member of the international community.
The university had on March 17, concluded the selection process leading to the appointment of a new vice-chancellor. The process led to the choice of Professor Adebayo Bamire by the university’s Governing Council as the 12th Vice-Chancellor of the institution. Prof. Bamire, who hails from Odo-Otin Local Government Area of Osun State, topped 15 other professors in the selection contest. The selection has been contested by one of the contestants on grounds of flawed process.
The invasion that followed has been condemned by well-meaning Nigerians who understand the essentiality of a university as being beyond primordialism. Prof. Wole Soyinka, the Nobel laureate, was miffed by the development and simply stated that “The Ife people should say those people don’t belong to us, we don’t know where they came from. And they should be dealt with ruthlessly. Why should there be an Ife VC anywhere? I just don’t understand what they put in the water these days. It is crazy.”
Also, Rotimi Akeredolu, the Governor of Ondo State roundly condemned the incident. He noted that: “The latest news on the invasion of the campus by some Ife indigenes and traditionalists, allegedly, to protest the failure by the authorities to appoint “an Ife indigene”, showcases the extent to which the system has sunk, almost irretrievably…This is, perhaps, symptomatic of the pervasive rot in the academia. This thoughtless, reckless, and misguided step forebodes untoward occurrences in the future.” He described as lamentable a situation whereby “totally extraneous elements to the university environment invade the serene ambience to offer support, presumably solicited and sponsored by those who may have lost out in the selection process.”
He further noted that the university was the pride of the South West region of the country with its founding vision to free a race from colonialism and its enduring aftermath. The state of university education is a measurement of the level of development in society that matters most and therefore in the view of the governor a “citadel of learning turned to a theatre for the most absurd display of inanities cannot contribute meaningfully to the advancement of any country”. He also, wondered about the “intensity of campaign for an office which serious scholars declined to take in the past for the fear of distraction”, which is a statement on the rot in the system and the quality of research output.
It is good that the formal organisation of the traditionalists in Osun State where the university is situated has condemned the invasion of the university campus. The Traditional Religion Worshippers Association, the State of Osun (TRAWSO), the umbrella body for all adherents of traditional religion, expressed its displeasure and disassociated itself from the March 21st infamy. In the organisation’s words, “As respected members of the traditional institution, we were not involved in the running of the affairs of OAU and we were not involved in the processes that led to the appointment of the new Vice-Chancellor for the university, hence, we have no justifiable reason to protest the appointment of the VC of the institution, a federal university for that matter.”
This latest show of notoriety in the ivory towers is certainly condemnable. It is a shame that the gown has become the worst expression in the town. A situation where the universities would be converted into ethnic enclaves; where the principal officers must come from the host communities, is to be abhorred because universities by their evolution, philosophy, essence, and character, are universal to solve societal problems. The university is a temple where the best in learning and character governs and not a place for primordialism and ethnicity. It is rather unfortunate that our ivory towers have been turned into citadels of ethnicity where merit and integrity take the backstage, the very same ills that afflict the larger society.
It is important to recall that in the past, personalities like Profs. Eni Njoku, B. Kwaku Adadevoh, Kenneth Dike, Ishaya Audu, Oladipo Akinkugbe, Adamu Baikie, and Cyril Agodi Onwumechili among others headed federal institutions situated in locations far from their ethnic enclaves; and they led well.
The Obafemi Awolowo University incident with its barbaric manifestation is a metaphor for everything that is wrong with our institutions. Virtually all federal institutions where federal character ought to rule along with the criterion of merit have become ethnic cocoons governed by ethnic lords pursuing self-interested agenda. The University of Benin, the University of Port Harcourt and Ahmadu Bello University among other federal institutions, have become ethnic enclaves for the reproduction of narrow scholarship. These were institutions, once upon a time, where foreign scholars scrambled for sabbatical positions.
While the proliferation of state universities seems to worsen the ethnicisation of tertiary institutions of learning, the private ones seem to vitiate this trend. But the solution to the growing nepotism in federal institutions lies with the visitor and the university governing councils. These organs in the management of tertiary institutions should ensure diversity in the appointment of academic staff into the federal institutions with a focus on merit. Academics from elsewhere in the world that are qualified and desirous to work in the Nigerian environment should be encouraged to apply for management positions in the country’s universities if these must truly become universal. This is the sure way to go.
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