Fagbohun: Beacon of light in public service
I was once a fly on the wall on the sixth-floor of the Lagos State University’s (LASU) Senate Building – the Vice Chancellor’s wing of the sprawling edifice. It was sometime in October 2020; the twilight of Prof. Olanrewaju Adigun Fagbohun’s tenure as VC. Two men and a lady, all support staff to the Vice-Chancellor, were rubbing minds on how best to appreciate their boss on his coming birthday but careful not to embarrass him in the process! Their dilemma caught my attention.
The staffers had apparently worked long enough in the VC’s office to know his preference. He seems like a persona that wants nothing elaborate – a simplicity that matches his stature. Though a frontline achiever in the 38-year-old institution, he is shy of accolades right on the job. The staffers were circumspect that Prof. Fagbohun could shut down their surprise package should he get wind of it at incubation. Though it was supposed to be his birthday, it seems this oga wouldn’t care less.
Mid-way, my host came in and I was condemned to mind my business. That way, I missed the full list of how it ended among the three musketeers. But on my way home that afternoon, I couldn’t stop ruminating on the character portrait laid before me unsolicited. He seems an unusual character that is as loved as he is revered by his associates. He is a well-focused leader and a sharp contrast in flamboyance that the university system and its administrators have become lately. In the light of these, it is not a mystery that Prof. Fagbohun’s legacy stands 2021-LASU out of that dark past.
Indeed, LASU has a chequered history that the institution and its alumni will not be proud of. As a one-semester student of philosophy in the 2001/2002 session, the Ojo campus was a dreaded den for students and officials alike. Though cultism and violent disturbances of the 90s had thawed in the new millennium, the hangover hung in the air. No one dares stay on campus till nightfall. There were color combinations and footwear a student cannot adorn on campus without the harassment of cult guys that would as well confiscate them. There were walkways and shelter corridors to avoid, if you are not a member of a certain gang and not looking for trouble. It was a setting where anything could happen and they did more often. Many students that managed to conclude programmes far behind schedule either had difficulties collating results or had no certificates to show for their longsuffering. Except for the LASU law students that consistently blazed the trail at Law School, there was nothing much of pride about the State’s foremost tertiary institution for years. Those were images that kept conjuring in my head about LASU until my recent visit.
For good, a lot has changed in the last five years. Thanks to Prof. Fagbohun and his dedicated team. Not only has a good measure of sanity returned to the once fearsome Ojo campus, but the backlog of about 70,500 pending certificates was also cleared. In 2020, LASU was one of the very few government-owned tertiary institutions that ran uninterrupted sessions while the disgusting ASUU/FG tango held other learning citadels by the scruff of the neck and Nigerian academics languished in agony. LASU students and officials are the beneficiaries of a rare period of grace, especially made worthwhile by excellent administration, goodwill, and commitment to a system that works for all with ICT infrastructure and feasibility to the world. The administration firmly punished deviants and corrupt practices, as well as rewarded noble deeds in scholarship. Under Prof. Fagbohun’s watch, the institution’s Internally-Generated Revenue (IGR) increased from about N809 million to over N2 billion. In sum, the LASU that had been standing on its head was wheeled right-side-up and things started looking up. Today, the university is among the top three universities in Nigeria and in the first 1000 globally, according to Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2021.
But the carriage of the team leader caught my fancy the most. He is a model in selfless service and a quiet achiever with an ideal commitment to the institution than the self. That is indeed a beacon of light in our dysfunctional system that is given to vanity, charlatans, and megalomaniacs. Suffice to say that besides those power-grubbers that wanted power just for the sake of it, the cheering crowds of opportunists are part of the problem. It is for such reasons that our society readily flaunts congratulatory messages at appointees and officeholders, and is careless about how they prove their mettle at the task or what posterity says of them at the finish line.
Our vanity stinks to the high heavens! For instance, a former governor of Imo State once celebrated his birthday and got 27 cakes – one per local government area. His counterpart in Osun State also lined up a weeklong activity just to commemorate his birthday. I’m aware of a former Minister from Oyo State, who married another wife upon assumption of office and earned an odd reputation of staging naming-ceremony almost every month! The other day, a private citizen buried his mum with over 300 cows and millions of naira worth of donations thrown in the face of the general public and for the fun of it. They are all self-service. Sadly, even many academics are not better in the drive for self-aggrandizement. It was to my dismay to learn that many researchers could no longer be trusted with grants to conduct research towards finding solutions to existential plague-like COVID-19. It is such insanity, in diverse shades and sizes that is the order of our so-called public service. Is anyone still wondering why our country is floating rudderless in the middle of nowhere?
Nevertheless, it is most refreshing that the likes of Prof. Fagbohun stand out to be counted as the beacon of hope in this dizzying climate. He has shown that one does not have to be in a political space to be a change agent. In all spheres of life, even in less glamorous places, there is more to do for men and women of Spartan discipline and principles, to turn the tide towards a better society. Prof. Fagbohun is not perfect, but his noble deeds have brought LASU closer to perfection.
However, it is a shame that the same world-acclaimed institution has since been engulfed in a succession crisis since Prof. Fagbohun left office. Perhaps the former VC either did not groom worthy successors to seamlessly continue where he stopped or the succession template is so archaic that it always has to press the reboot button every five-year. If it is the latter, then it is time for a system overhaul. The truth is that LASU is on its way to the Promised Land. It is my prayer that the Visitor to the institution, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, and other interested parties will not engage its reverse gear back to Egypt. Ire o!
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