University of Africa: Return of the Ozidi spirit – Part 2
Expectedly it will be full tide for Toru-Orua on Saturday. Consider the other stars in the galaxy of eminent personalities on parade. The Guest Lecturer of the day is Professor Turner T. Isoun, a former Minister of Science and Technology whose curriculum vitae is festooned with diadems and laurels of research breakthroughs and daring, innovative visions. He is an awardee of the titles of the Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR) and Fellow of the Academy of Science (FAS). His Niger Delta Wetlands Centre in Yenagoa was trail-blazer in private-sector investment in the science of environmental justice and remediation. Odi in Bayelsa State is his place of nativity. When the community was razed and incinerated in November 1999 by irate soldiers on the orders of President Olusegun Obasanjo, it was feared that the place would never recover enough to produce great achievers again. But like the phoenix, Odi has been resurgent in the past two decades and Professor Isoun bears witness.
During his four-year ministerial mission he flagellated slumbering Nigeria to a daring space odyssey by launching her first satellites into orbit. With this stubborn hope, Nigeria has remained moored to that space civilisation, providing us with those wondrous gadgets of extra-terrestrial communication that induce humans to imagine themselves angels in perpetual flight. The Nigerian stations in orbit have are used for gathering data on mapping of population and surveillance of weather and climactic conditions. The satellites were designed and assembled in the United Kingdom, manoeuvred mathematically by Nigerian scientists and launched in China. On that glorious day, the image of Nigerian scientists and ordinary folks got ballooned with gusto and confidence in the irreversible march to modernity and technological self-reliance.
In the folklore of Nigeria’s space programme, Professor T.T. Isoun’s name is etched in our memory like that of Russia’s Yuri Gagarin, the first human being to voyage to space on April 12, 1961.Fifty-seven years later, we will gather at Toru-Orua to listen to highlights of Nigeria’s induction or matriculation as a member of the world’s comity of space nations. Professor Isoun has codified his experiments and experience in a new book with an enigmatic tile: Why Run Before Learning to Walk? It is all the more gratifying that Isoun’s lecture has the quizzing title of: “The University of Africa: In Pursuit of an Innovative and Sustainable University Responding to the Challenges of a State and a Nation.” We are set to fasten our seat belts as the event promises to be an epic narrative on science and technology for Nigeria’s self-reliant development.
Why the University of Africa? many often ask, some with inquisitorial curiosity and animosity. The mission of the university is “to be a model Public-Private higher institution producing outstanding quality graduates and renowned faculty members; and building partnerships with people, government and industry.’ The University’s motto has a classical ring conveyed in the Latinate phrase of “Cognitio, Diligentia, Servitium,” meaning “Knowledge, Dignity and Service.” The English dramatist, William Shakespeare, has admonished that ambition should be made of sterner stuff. So how is the infant university going to execute this brave experiment in public-private sector investment in higher education? There auspicious signs of a good start. Governor Dickson’s regime has set up an Education Trust Fund to which all public servants in the state subscribe mandatorily every month. The governor pays the fattest “tithes” if you permit a made-in-Nigeria Pentecostal pecuniary imagery. The board of this educational central bank is headed by Professor Isoun for trust and prudential integrity. With him in the console we can rest assured that the university’s shuttle is bound for a safe voyage.
The structure of the university administration is fortified to handle this risk-laden venture in tertiary education; it reflects the global outlook in the name. The Acting Vice-Chancellor, Professor Valentine Aletor, honed his academic and managerial skills at the Federal University of Technology, Akure and served as the pioneer chief executive of the Elizade private university in Ondo State. His stellar efforts there earned him this job even without his formal application for it. His exertions in office will be lightened by two deputy vice-chancellors with cognate experience. Professor Christian Jacobs, “white” South African, is Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic). The Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Administration, is Prof. Iwekumo Agbozu, a Bayelsan “son of the soil,” as the saying goes.
The Registrar, Mr. Francis Owusu-Mensah is from Ghana. Dr Rose Okiy from Edo State by “conjugal connection” is the University Librarian while Mr. Yerindideke Konyefa, the bursar, is also from Bayelsa. Among the Deans is Dr. Ghalib Fahad from Egypt superintends affairs of the School of Foundation Studies; the other deans are Professors Demola Jolayemi (Arts and Education), Samuel Agele (Agriculture), H. E. Oaikhenan (Social and Management Sciences), Olatunji Oyelana (Basic and Applied Sciences) and Prince Efere (Student Affairs). The crew of professionals includes Messrs Benaiah Oye (Director, University Advancement and Linkages), Tare Lakemfa (Director, Legal Services), and Theo Theodorou from Cyprus (Consultant to Bayelsa State Government on Education).
With this array of integrity-seeking scholars and experts, there is a bright future for the University of Africa. In the folk opinion of non-natives, Toru-Orua, the host community used to be despised as a sleepy, fishing settlement long bypassed by modernity. Henceforth, Toru-Orua will no more be in slumber as it is set to cradle the melting pot of diverse traditions of research, creativity, and inventions. Tidal waves of students, scholars, creators, captains of investment, cultures, and avatars of myriad dreams and ideologies will flow from all corners of the globe to find anchor and safe havens in Toru-Orua.
In the fictional universe of The Ozidi Saga there are descriptions of ancient urbanity, with broad, tree-lined boulevards like those found in the capital of Ado (Edo), a land of plenty and power stretching from the eastern Niger Delta to Lagos, Benin Republic and Ghana. Posterity will remember Dickson’s “restoration regime” for re-inventing the vanished splendour of Toru-Orua to the eternal glory of God, the ultimate architect and engineer of unfading greatness.
Prof. Darah is of the Department of English, University of Africa, Toru-Orua, Bayelsa State, Nigeria.