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The Unilorin ‘better by far’ basket and one bad apple

By Tunde Olusunle
29 November 2021   |   2:49 am
Those who studied History for the Cambridge University-moderated Higher School Certificate Examination (HSC), in the School of Basic Studies (SBS), of the Kwara State College of Technology

University of Ilorin (UNILORIN)

Those who studied History for the Cambridge University-moderated Higher School Certificate Examination (HSC), in the School of Basic Studies (SBS), of the Kwara State College of Technology (KWARATECH), Ilorin, in the mid-1970s, tell of an admonition one of their lecturers usually gave them in class.

While exhorting them to sit up and earn good grades in their various subjects to qualify for admission into “A” list universities like those in Ibadan, Ife and Lagos, he would tell them that failure to make the cut for these institutions will consign them to settling for the much younger, still unravelling University of Ilorin (Unilorin)! It was a joke at the time, but it spoke to public perception of the new university, which sits in today’s grandeur in the savannah sun of Nigeria’s north-central zone.

The University of Ilorin (Unilorin) for short, was a new seed that was just sprouting, in the mid-1970s. It was created by the military regime of Murtala Ramat Mohammed in August 1975, barely one month after the ouster of the General Yakubu Gowon government. Mohammed did so in consonance with one of the recommendations of the “Third National Development Plan,” with the aim of providing more opportunities for Nigerians aspiring to acquire a university education and to train and produce high-level human resources to drive Nigeria’s evolving post-civil war economy. This led to the establishment of about half a dozen new federal universities including those in Sokoto, Calabar, Jos and Maiduguri, to drive this vision. Three others, namely Ilorin, Kano and Port Harcourt, were “University Colleges,” affiliated to the older University of Ibadan, (UI); Ahmadu Bello University (ABU, Zaria) and the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), respectively.

Unilorin took off from modest, rented facilities, first in GRA, Ilorin and shortly after in Sabo-Oke. Subsequently, a section of the erstwhile Government Technical College, (GTC), which metamorphosed into the temporary site of Kwaratech, sandwiched between the Agbo-Oba and Adewole districts of Ilorin, was ceded to the new creation. Of course, the physical location of the new institution didn’t have enticingly laid out intra-campus roads, nor architecturally mind-blowing faculty buildings which could dislocate your cap if you craned your neck too much while appreciating their beauty. It didn’t as yet, have eye-catching halls of residence, wowing lecture theatres and the expansive cafeterias of older institutions like UI, or the University of Ife (Unife), or the University of Lagos (Unilag). The Unilorin “mini-campus” from where teaching and learning began in 1976, was indeed derisively nicknamed a “glorified secondary school,” even by students of the Kwara State Polytechnic!

A sustained regime of top-of-the-line leadership, in a milieu where demonstrated quality, proven integrity, visible creativity, boundless capacity and genuine altruism, informed the choice of the headship of the institution, ensuring that Unilorin steadily became not only a competitor with older universities but a much better one in many instances. The Takena Tamunos, the Olu Akinkugbes, the Akin Adesolas, the Afolabi Toyes, the Adeoye Adeniyis, world-class professors and intellectuals, who served as pioneering Principals and Vice-Chancellors of the institution, built a rock-solid foundation, atop which their successors laid the concrete blocks of consolidation and consummation.

Those early academics and administrators, deployed the manual of global best practices of scholarship, erudition and the truest essence of the *university as universitas,* upon which their successors built. Toye regularly admonished, that Unilorin was committed to growing the “total man,” who passed through the university, and who the university passed through. Mundane ethnicity, bigoted religionism and ruinous sectarianism played no roles whatsoever in determining placements and appointments into Nigeria’s educational institutions, in that erstwhile Nigeria, which now seems such a distant and nostalgic past.

Vice-Chancellors like the JO Oyinloyes, the Oba Abdulraheems, the Shamshudeen Amalis, and so on, engraved their own visions and perspectives on the evolving institution during their tenures. Unilorin announced its coming of age in 2007, a little over 30 years after the establishment of the academe, when its own alumnus, a wholly, totally Made-in-Unilorin product, all the way from the bachelor’s degree to the doctorate, Ishaq Oloyede, was appointed Vice-Chancellor in 2007. It is a credit to Oloyede’s quality that he was recently reappointed Registrar of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, (JAMB). Notably, Oloyede has instituted a regime of probity and accountability to the organisation, which now remits returns to the federal till in sumptuous sums. The motto of Unilorin, by the way, is *probitas doctrina.*

As we speak, alumni of Unilorin, Yemi Akinwumi and Abdulrasheed Na’Allah, are driving development at the universities of Lokoja and Abuja, respectively. This is just as Dapo Asaju recently completed his term in the same capacity at the Ajayi Crowther University in Oyo State, and Olujimi Iretiola Olukoya equally rounded up his stint as Registrar of the University of Ibadan a few years ago. There was global outrage and lachrymose early 2019, when a celebrated Canadian-Nigerian intellectual was one of the unfortunate victims of an air crash within Ethiopian territory, en route Nairobi, Kenya. Pius Adesanmi, the victim, was an alumnus of the University of Ilorin. Christopher Olugbenga Ayeni, professor and Co-Chair of the Department of Communications, East Connecticut State University, is a proud product of Unilorin.

Joe Okei-Odumakin, the irrepressible woman activist and wife of the departed Publicity Secretary of the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, *Afenifere,* Yinka Odumakin, who was recently delivered of twin babies, months after the exit of her husband, is a grounded heiress of the Unilorin heritage. Serving Senator representing Oyo North, Fatai Buhari and immediate past Governor of Kwara State, Abdulfatah Ahmed, both successful politicians, are Unilorin-bred. So are the immediate past Permanent Secretary, General Services Office, Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (PSO-OSGF), Olusegun Adekunle and freshly retired Major General Kayode Ogundele, former Director, Policy, Plans and Research, Defence Space Administration Agency.

Top diplomats like Ambassador Agev Apollos Dem; Babatunde Irukera, Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), Babs Omotowa, immediate past Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Project, (NLNG) and Sunnie Ododo, professor and Chief Executive of National Theatre, are equally proud scions of Unilorin. These are random samples of the stuff that Unilorin is made.

Over the years, Unilorin has become a measure of quality assurance vis-a-vis teaching, research and learning, for its peers, constantly besting local indices and contesting with international brands. Out of about 200 universities owned by the federal government, various state governments and private individuals and institutions operating in Nigeria today, Unilorin presently ranks Number Six, for the year 2021. From an initial student intake of 200 students in October 1976, the student population has transcended the 50,000 mark, including postgraduate students. The town planning marvel, the enthralling aesthetics, the wholesome beauty of the permanent site of the university, is a tourist’s delight, any day.

This new university town, so to speak, sits on a bewildering 15,000 hectares of land, straddling three local government areas of Kwara State. It is in fact reputed to be the largest land area of any university in Nigeria.

The University of Abuja (with a land area of 11,000 hectares) and the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (with 10,000 hectares), post second and third positions respectively. From the original three faculties of arts, science and education in 1976, the university today boasts a total of 15 faculties, offering over a century of courses, as different from institutes and similar affiliates in the institution.

For nearly ten years now, the University of Ilorin has become the most sought after institution by applicants desiring placement in the university system in Nigeria. While 76,466 candidates applied to study in Unilorin for the 2021 academic year as preferred by JAMB, Unilag is the second most coveted university by candidates with 59,190 applicants.

The University of Benin (Uniben), comes third with 49,763 candidates. The impeccable standards of teaching and learning in Unilorin and the stability of the academic calendar in the institution, are key factors responsible for this development. Substantially too, Unilorin has been able to subsume the menace of cultism which once denominated tertiary institutions across the country, permeating even the secondary school pedestal of the knowledge pyramid at some point in our evolution. Unrecognised societies and fraternities which go with all manner of appellations and nomenclatures remain outlawed in the university.

Products of the university stand shoulder high amongst their peers from elsewhere, nationally and internationally. They have traversed and survived the blazing furnace and the smouldering forge of an institution, which beats golden potentials, into glittering produce. Graduates of Unilorin therefore, are those who have acquitted themselves in “character and in learning,” as an old manual says. They are typically those the Yoruba will describe as *omoluabi,* well-groomed, appropriately mannered, humble, industrious and imbued with integrity. The Unilorin of today as well is one institution that ensures that the stipulated duration of various courses and programmes are duly adhered to, without fail, much unlike several other institutions. A five-year programme in Unilorin lasts for five years and nothing more. For these reasons and many more, the University of Ilorin prides itself as the *Better By Far* citadel.

Need we belabour ourselves any further about a long listing of eminent, dignified, successful and respectable alumni of Unilorin who have continued to hold their own and break new grounds in various fields and endeavours? First, it is instructive that the university, from unassailable records in the institution, has contributed over 130,000 thoroughly groomed graduates, with bachelors’, masters,’ and doctorate degrees, to the Nigerian, nay global pool of educated people, over the years. Should countries like Gambia, Liberia, Chad or Niger have this quantum quality of human resource base, they will take the world by storm.

These Unilorin graduates include medical doctors, pharmacists, psychiatrists, neurologists, urologists, anatomists, pathologists, haematologists and biochemists. Laboratory technologists, nurses, microbiologists, biologists, zoologists, botanists, health systems economists and psychologists, have also been trained with the highest standards, in Unilorin.

Literary intellectuals, creative writers, language scholars, journalists, linguists, historians, performing artists and academics in the religions, have been birthed by the University of Ilorin. Attorneys, economists, business administrators, political scientists, international relations practitioners, sociologists, geographers, geologists, agricultural scientists, agricultural economists and so on, have come through the grilling mills of Unilorin. Mechanical, civil, electrical and agricultural engineers, computer scientists, and engineers, library scientists, sporting professionals and administrators, as well as educationists, have been gifted to Nigeria and the world at large, through the grooming rooms of Unilorin. This is not forgetting graduates in certificate and diploma courses.

These ladies and gentlemen have continued to excel in their chosen vocations at home and in the diaspora as educationists, bureaucrats, politicians, international civil servants, administrators, businessmen, entrepreneurs, military officers, intelligence personnel, paramilitary operatives, journalists, attorneys, doctors, bankers, administrators, diplomats, farmers, public relations and advertising practitioners, information technology doyens, movie and film production, activism, the list is inexhaustible.

It is against the backdrop of an institution committed to the finest ideals of scholarship and good breeding, that news of the broad daylight assault of a female lecturer in the University of Ilorin, Thursday, November 11, 2021, by a male student, was received with awe, angst and consternation. The said student, Salaudeen Waliu Aanuoluwa, in the final year of his microbiology programme, went to the office of the lecturer, Dr Rahmat Zakariyah, to discuss his nonparticipation in the Students’ Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES), a prerequisite for graduation. The SIWES has actually been around for a long time and was popularly called “industrial attachment.” It entails the absorption of students for a three month period by organisations where they could get practical experience, relevant to their course of study.

Salaudeen Waliu, known by the alias ‘Walz’ by his classmates, from his own account, missed the participation in the crucial SIWES programme. By his own admission, he got on the wrong side of the law while holidaying in Lagos and was detained for two months, while the SIWES window lasted. His visit to Zakariyah’s office was to request a waiver on this crucial component of his overall grading. The altercation between lecturer and student got so animated, that Salaudeen took the laws into his hands. He assaulted the lady who was vulnerable in the absence of her colleagues in the faculty block, to come to her rescue. Zakariyah managed to escape from her office and ran into the open. Salaudeen continued to pummel the poor lady, who had almost slipped into a coma before help came in the form of university security personnel, who rescued Zakariyah and gave Salaudeen a hot chase until they closed down on him. He was arrested and detained in the university’s security facility, before being handed over to the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), Kwara State Command.

The Student Disciplinary Committee (SDC), of the university, met on Monday, November 15, 2021, and expelled Salaudeen Waliu. Kunle Akogun, Director of Corporate Affairs of the institution who signed a statement to this effect, noted that the Disciplinary Committee found him culpable for misconduct. He was directed to submit all university property in his custody, including his identity card, to the Dean of Student Affairs, and to stay away from the university. Salaudeen, according to Akogun’s statement, has a window of 48 days to appeal if he wasn’t satisfied with the university’s decision. Salaudeen’s journey of four years in Unilorin, came to a terminus that Monday, November 15, 2021. Should he have comported himself properly despite missing the all-important SIWES component of his graduation requirements, he most probably would have stayed one more year in the university, his degree certificate in his pouch.

As someone who once broke down the door of the room of a fellow male student next door to mine, to rescue a female student in danger of violation, when I heard loud yelling and cries back in the days, I find Salaudeen’s behaviour utterly atrocious, loudly reprehensible, totally insane, even roundly sacrilegious. I was raised to reject, renounce and repudiate oppression, inequity and injustice in any form, by the way. Yes, I put the whole weight of my body against the flush door of that *F-19* room those days in the age-old mini campus and charged into the place. It was a risky gamble, what if the malevolent character was armed with a weapon? I took the risk, all the same, plastered a few slaps on the face of that assailant, taking full advantage of his bewilderment, to further confound him. I took the girl by the hand and led her to the safety of the girls’ hostel. I also lodged a formal report at the “porters’ office, consistent with extant regulations.

Googling the internet, the first photograph of Salaudeen Waliu Aanuoluwa I saw, was that of a young man with a red-coloured bandana wrapped around his head, with a hoodie superimposed on the red headgear. Within our sociocultural context in these parts, such dressing throws up sundry connotations. One of these is that of a bad boy, toughie image. If that was excused, the murderous pummeling of a lecturer, who is an older person, a lady, a wife, a mother for that matter, is totally untenable. It is the perfect example of how not to be an heir to the cherished ethos and legacies of the University of Ilorin.

Police handling of Salaudeen’s case must involve drug tests and painstaking psychiatric and psychological interrogations. Salaudeen is not the first student in the 46-year history of the University of Ilorin, to have had issues with his instructors, for some reason or the other. Unfortunately, he has by his own actions, engraved his name in the *Hall of Infamy* of the highly regarded citadel, in just one fleeting moment, one flash of insanity. His example is instructive to characters who share the same DNA as him.
Olusunle, PhD, is a member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE).