When some men and women of varying ages, dressed in white regalia and walking barefoot, alighted from the two buses that conveyed them to the main entrance of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State on Monday, their appearance and audacious style must have given the discerning a slight inkling of a possible drama at the institution that day.
A busy arena for the most part of each day, the commercial motorcyclists, students and drivers waiting in the queue for their turn and others at the scene could possibly think they were actors about to shoot a movie.
However, as a group of youths accompanying the traditionalists – as they turned out to be – believed to be adherents of Osun deity moved to the security post and ordered the security men on duty to vacate their post, it became clear to everyone around the area that the visitors had come to add a fresh layer of theatrics to the lingering disagreements over the appointment of vice-chancellor for the over 60-year-old institution.
It was later learnt that the visitors were Ile-Ife indigenes who were out to protest the new appointment.
A group of youths led by one Bimbola Afolabi had threatened to protest for six months after a non-native of the community, Prof Adebayo Bamire, an indigene of Oyan in Odo Otin Local Government Area of Osun State was appointed the 12th vice-chancellor of the university.
They believed Bamire’s appointment dashed their hopes of seeing an Ife indigene become the vice-chancellor for the first time since the university was established in 1961.
From the gate, the protesters walked in procession to the campus, where they, in a typical traditional fashion, summoned the Osun River deity to intervene and ‘take the battle to the doorstep of enemies of Ife that had prevented the community from producing the vice-chancellor for the university.’
A handful of staffers who had managed to enter the campus before the protesters arrived and took over the security post, watched from a distance as the protesters chanted praises to Osun and offered prayers turn by turn. In the same breath, they cursed the enemies of the town.
The spectacle continued for hours until they retreated to their shell later in the day, only to reappear on Tuesday, this time round with two masqueraders bearing sacrifice of solid pap sprinkled with red oil in an earthen pot.
Like they did on Monday, the protesters took over the security post at the main gate, while the masqueraders offered prayers, calling on the ancestors to fight for the community. The two masqueraders, walking with some youths after the display at the gate, moved to the campus where one of them placed a sacrifice at the entrance to the VC’s car park at the Senate Building.
On both days that the protesters invaded the campus, all activities were put on hold while many staff members were prevented from gaining entrance to the campus. Some had to return home after waiting endlessly. Those who managed to enter before the protesters arrived stayed indoors and only peeped through the windows, silently hoping the invasion would not last for too long.
Even though the Traditional Religion Worshippers Association in Osun State has dissociated itself from the protest, describing the protesters as impostors and that none of its members was involved, the invasion seem to have left a sad impression seared permanently in the minds of many people who described it as embarrassing and unnecessary.
Among many others who condemned the drama, Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, speaking at a lecture titled, ‘The Politics of Black Intellection and Creativity, at the University of Pennsylvania, the United States’ on Tuesday, described the invasion as “crazy”.
Soyinka, who is a former lecturer at OAU, said, “An Ife person wrote me and said, look at these people disgracing us. I told him to go there and disgrace them. You are an Ife person. You should be in the front line.
“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.”
Similarly, an alumnus of the university and incumbent governor of Ondo State, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, said the grounds for the protest showed the extent to which the educational system has sunk, almost irretrievably.
Akeredolu, a senior advocate of Nigeria, said, “This is, perhaps, symptomatic of the pervasive rot in the academia. This thoughtless, reckless and misguided step forebodes untoward occurrences in the future.
“To assert that we are disappointed is an understatement. All those responsible for this disgrace should be ashamed of themselves, and this is assuming they possess any sense of shame. This act should elicit the most strident condemnation from all good people. I condemn it without equivocation.”
Apart from the invasion, however, Ife indigenes, under the aegis of Ife Progressive Forum, claimed that two indigenes of the town, Prof Rufus Adedoyin and Prof O. Makinde, got the highest scores during the interview and that one of them should have been appointed the VC if the process was transparent.
The group’s President, Dr Gbolagade Famoriyo, alleged that Makinde had the highest rating among applicants from outside OAU and that another indigene, Adedoyin got the best rating within the university.
He stressed that indigenes were usually denied the opportunity to attain higher posts within the system, while those that had managed to reach good positions were unceremoniously relieved.
While calling for an investigation into the selection process, Famoriyo said, “We are not saying it must be an Ife indigene at all cost, but all we are saying is that merit should be the basis for Vice Chancellor’s selection and that human prejudice should not come into play.
The disturbing trend of tribal politicking in varsities
Many people have described the protests over the VC’s appointment as barbaric, largely because universities are citadels of learning whose headship should be strictly merit-based and not reduced to one guided by ethnic or tribal considerations.
Sadly, however, the OAU scenario is not the first time indigenes of a university’s host community would be laying claim to the coveted position of a VC. Rather, the practice is becoming a trend that may fester if not nipped in the bud timeously.
While that of the OAU is still raging, a replica of the same problem seems to be brewing at the University of Ilorin, Kwara State.
The Ilorin Emirate Descendant Progressive Union alleged that there were plans by some enemies of the emirates to attack the personality of the outgoing VC, Prof AbdulGaniyu Ambali, to limit the chances of another Ilorin indigene becoming the vice-chancellor.
IEDPU in a statement on Friday by its National President, Alhaji Abdulhamid Adi, titled ‘Return of the Fifth Columnist,’ partly read, “In 1997, Prof Shuaib Oba AbdulRaheem was appointed the VC and was welcomed to the office by a 21-feet python sat majestically on his seat just as he was about to commence his administration. The snake, preserved for posterity, is still in a laboratory in the university.
“They were hostile against Professor Oba all through his tenure and at a national assignment and tormented professor Is-haq Oloyede because of his perceived link with the Ilorin community and their paranoia for Islam. Were they on sabbatical when Prof Ambali was the VC?
“The reason for all these attacks is crystal clear; bring down the outgoing VC from Ilorin and another Ilorin VC will not emerge.”
While that is equally disturbing, the same drama played out when a new vice-chancellor was to be appointed at the prestigious University of Ibadan, Nigeria’s premier university located in Oyo State.
The Ibadan natives, under the aegis of Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes, alleged that the indigenes of the city had been serially marginalised in the selection of substantive vice-chancellor for the institution, established about 74 years ago.
The CCII President, Adeyemi Soladoye, told journalists in August 2020 that in the university’s 72-year history, it was unfortunate that no Ibadan indigene had been made the VC despite having qualified persons who could occupy the position.
Eventually, an Ibadan indigene, Prof Kayode Adebowale, emerged as the VC of the institution, ahead of 17 other candidates, including three other Ibadan indigenes, who contested the position.
Before the Ibadan episode, the University of Benin also witnessed a similar drama in 2009, perhaps not as brazen as those of OAU and UI. The Edo Leadership Forum had written to the then President, Umaru Yar ‘Adua, to express their concern over what they termed the deliberate attempt to frustrate the emergence of a qualified Benin indigene as the VC of the institution.
In a related development, a similar drama ensued in 2021 when a new vice-chancellor was to be appointed at the University of Jos, Plateau State. Some persons believed that it was unacceptable for a non-indigene of the state to be appointed as the VC, while some argued that merit and competence should take precedence over ethnic or tribal considerations. Eventually, Prof Ishaya Tanko from Kebbi State was named the new VC.
One thing central to the institutions where this ugly trend has so far manifested is that they are federal institutions, and two of them, UI and OAU, have been ranked repeatedly as part of the foremost universities in Nigeria. Many however said it was incomprehensible that host communities would attempt to assume ownership of federal institutions in their domains.
Perhaps, this explains why a similar episode at the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma in Edo State didn’t gain similar traction, being a state university. Some Esan youths had held a protest to demand the appointment of an Esan indigene as the vice-chancellor of the institution.
Some commentators and academics who spoke to Saturday PUNCH stressed that this trend in federal universities should not be allowed to continue. They noted that merit, and not tribal or ethnic sentiment, should always be the determinant of who heads educational institutions.
Meanwhile, many unresolved issues, especially over parcels of land around Parakin Area, Ile-Ife, had ensured gradual deterioration in the relationship between the town and the institution. The appointment of a new VC against the expectation of many indigenes only escalated the mistrust that has featured prominently in their relationship in the recent past.
How land is widening mistrust between OAU and its host community
Perhaps, the first sign of a frosty relationship between the current university management, led by the outgoing VC, Prof Eyitope Ogunbodede, and Ife community surfaced in April 2019 when the university alleged that some people in Ife poisoned a dam supplying water to the university.
The management petitioned the Osun State Commissioner of Police that some indigenous land grabbers gained access to its dam through Parakin area and “criminally poisoned” the dam, after they overpowered the security man posted to the area.
The petition, titled ‘Complaint of Criminal Pollution of Opa Dam, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife’, said the ‘murderous members of Ife community’ polluted the water, leading to the death of several fishes and other aquatic animals.
It noted that the individuals, armed with guns, axes and cutlasses, gained access into the dam through a portion of University land at Parakin area, Ile-Ife, where there had been several reports of land encroachment by some Ife indigenes.
“It is important to also mention that this is the first time in the entire history of the university that this murderous conduct will happen,” the petition added.
Miffed by the allegations against the community, Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, described the claim as spurious and unfounded.
Speaking through his spokesperson, Moses Olafare, the Ooni said the allegation by the university was absurd, noting that such had never been recorded since the university had been in the community.
He added, “Come to think of it, let us assume it is true. Where is the university situated? The majority of the students and staff of the university are indigenes of the community and you expect indigenes of the community would want to kill their own people.
“We, as a palace, are very furious to read in the newspapers and online that our people poisoned water in the university. It is very absurd.”
That disagreement soon degenerated into open confrontation.
The VC told journalists that those involved in the act insisted that the expanse of land given to the university by the community was too large and that the management should be ready to forgo the portion around Parakin layout.
He stated, “Precisely in 1961, when this university was founded by the government of the then Western Region of Nigeria, the then Ooni of Ife, Oba Adesoji Aderemi, who doubled as the Governor of the Western Region, with the support of the Ile-Ife community, donated the land on which the Obafemi Awolowo University is now situated. The university occupies a land area of 11,961 hectares.
“What we initially thought to be a rumour has now turned to reality as we discovered later that some people have not only encroached on the land but have been brazenly selling it to individuals, who have now started erecting some structures on it.”
But Banwo Ogundipe, who spoke on behalf of the Ile-Ife community, while reacting, accused the OAU management of engaging in blackmail when the university was indeed the one encroaching on the community’s land.
Ogundipe said, “We have not encroached on the university’s land. We have been on this since 2013. The land in contention has never belonged to the university.
“The last time we met, they brought a gazette of 1961, which we also have. And we were able to prove to them that the land in contention is outside the one given to the OAU by the government. In paragraph 7 of the gazette, there is a map showing the physical boundary.
“We asked the school for the map, but it could not produce it. What they brought was a 1987 map produced by the university. But we produced a 1961 survey map that backed the gazette. If OAU feels that we have encroached on its land, let it go to court.”
Not too long after, the disagreement over the land nearly became violent when the convoy of the outgoing VC and some principal officers of the university ran into a barricade mounted by some hoodlums in December 2021 while on their way to disputed land in company with some journalists.
Meanwhile, there are insinuations that the vehemence of the community to have an indigene as the next VC stemmed from the belief that a native of the town would be disposed to assisting it to reclaim the portion of land in dispute. The proponents of this view believe that the university has not presented compelling evidence to show it was given that particular area.
This claim was however contrary to the reasons advanced by Mr Seun Agbogunleri, who addressed newsmen in March before the selection process for the new VC commenced.
The spokesperson for Ifeland Elders and Youth Movement, Bimbo Afolabi, who spoke during a media parley held at Oba Okunade Sijuwade Hall, Enuwa, Ile-Ife, stated that the community deserved to have a competent indigene as vice-chancellor after 61 years of being in the town.
He insisted that Ifeland had qualified and competent professors who had been ignored in the past. He appealed that one of them should be given the opportunity to head the institution.
He said, “There is no Ife Indigene among the past 11 substantive vice-chancellors of the school. Prof Anthony Elujoba, the only professor from Ifeland, acted as vice-chancellor only to stabilise the campus when it was in turmoil.
“We wish to appeal to decision-makers and influencers, especially President Muhammadu Buhari, the governing council, the Senate and other stakeholders on our long-awaited supplications to consider a qualified professor of Ife extraction to occupy the exalted post of the vice-chancellor, Obafemi Awolowo University.
“This call is due to not only the yearning of the elders in Ifeland, but also as a product of numerous discussions and agitations at every gathering of Ife Youth both at home and in the diaspora.”
Also reacting to claims that the community wanted to produce VC to be able to get the land in dispute, another prominent youth leader involved in the struggle, Bimbo Afolabi, explained that no VC could single-handedly cede university land to anyone without following due process. He blamed the insinuation on those who wanted to discredit the movement.
Protests over non-consideration of two Ife aspirants
According to records obtained by our correspondent, two indigenes of Ile-Ife were among 20 applicants for the post of the VC and both were shortlisted among the last 16 that attended the interview session.
Further checks revealed that one of the two applicants from Ife is Prof Rufus Adedoyin of the Department of Medical Rehabilitation, Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences, College of Health Sciences in OAU. The second applicant, Prof O. Makinde, works in a university in South Africa.
Adedoyin was said to be a top contender, going by his credentials and the fact that he works in the university and has good knowledge of intricacies connected with the contest for such a post.
However, tension began to rise when the results of the interview were released and Adedoyin was ranked ninth among the 16 aspirants. The tension perhaps necessitated the unusually strict security checks at the venue where the announcement was made.
Also, some people believed to be pushing for Adedoyin’s appointment had stormed the venue where the Chairman of Council, Owelle Oscar Udoji, unveiled the new VC, on Thursday, March 17, but were prevented from gaining entrance.
Led by Afolabi, the visibly angry youths marched to the school’s main gate and shut it, leading to gridlock. They used the opportunity to address those held on the premises.
Afolabi, who also declared that the protest would continue until the concerned authorities revisit the issues surrounding the appointment, said some people involved in the selection process were biased against the Ife community.
Afolabi, while speaking with our correspondent after the day’s protest, said youths, commercial motorcyclists, mini-bus drivers and members of the tricycle operators union also participated in the protest.
He added, “After we left campus gate, we went to Ooni’s palace where we made our grievances known to some stakeholders. We didn’t meet Baba Ooni, but we met some relevant stakeholders whose names I wouldn’t mention.
The issue came to a head when on Monday and Tuesday traditionalists dressed in their regalia stormed the campus to protest.
How applicants fared during interview – Source
A top management staff reliably told our correspondent that there was no bias against any of the aspirants.
He however added that Bamire’s emergence was not unconnected with his deep knowledge of university administration, having served as deputy vice-chancellor for two terms.
Bamire, who scored 423 marks, representing 84.6 per cent, got six points for each of the two terms he served as the DVC.
It was also learnt that the aspirant that came second in the interview, Prof. R. Kalilu from the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso, Oyo State, had also served as deputy vice-chancellor and was awarded marks for that post previously held.
From the available record, Kalilu got 386, representing 77.2 per cent, while Adedoyin, one of the candidates backed by the Ife community, was ranked 9th having scored 362, representing 72.4 per cent.
Adedoyin rejects result, may sue
The result of the exercise has since been rejected by Adedoyin, who alleged manipulation and bias. He also called on the visitor to the university, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) and the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, to investigate and review the exercise.
Adedoyin, in a petition addressed to the Secretary/Chairman of Governing Council, copied the President, the minister and the Chancellor of the university, further alleged that the criteria were manipulated to favour Bamire through standards that were not in use for such exercise previously.
He said in terms of excellent credentials, academic visibility, grant attraction, human capital development – doctoral and other supervisions, national and community services and social responsibilities to the university community, he was qualified.
The petition partly read, “That in spite of intimidation during the interview session in which issues and matters extraneous to vice-chancellor’s responsibilities were maliciously put to me, I believe I was able to rise up to the occasion excellently.
“I hereby call for an investigation and review of the entire appointment process by the appropriate and independent authorities other than the compromised selection committee as presently constituted. This also serves as a pre-action notice to approach a court of competent jurisdiction should appropriate administrative remedies and justice be denied.”
Our candidates ranked best, denied opportunity – IPF
Famoriyo, who spoke on behalf of Ife Progressive Forum, claimed that the two Ife indigenes came first and second respectively but were not chosen.
He argued that the decision of the selection committee to award double marks to those who had served as dean, head of department and deputy vice-chancellor was a complete negation of standard assessment and evaluation processes.
Famoriyo queried why the procedure used for the selection of VC in the 2017 exercise was not adopted for the last exercise, as he called for a thorough investigation.
He said, “From the (result) table, Prof Adedoyin had the highest rating among internal aspirants while Prof Makinde had the highest among applicants from outside. Both are from Ife but both were denied. If academic excellence is not a consideration for appointing a chief academic officer, what is?”
Meanwhile, a statement by the university’s Public Relations Officer, Abiodun Olarewaju, in response to the alleged manipulation, dismissed allegations of bias in the process. “The university hereby affirms that due processes were followed and merit was the basis for the appointment of the new vice-chancellor,” it added.
Protest over appointment sad – Mimiko
Speaking on the recent developments, a former Vice-Chancellor of the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko, Ondo State, Prof Olufemi Mimiko, said protests on the grounds that an indigene of the host community was discriminated against were unspeakable.
Mimiko, who is of the Department of Political Science in OAU, in a statement, said, “It’s really sad that we are seeing this happen in our universities. You could protest if you have reasons to believe the process that produced the preferred candidate was not fair – and certainly, not all of these processes instituted in many of our universities today would meet the rigorous canons of fairness.
“But protest on the grounds that a ‘son-of-the-soil’ was passed by, is simply unspeakable! Mind you, these shenanigans did not start in Ile-Ife. Even here in OAU, this is not the first of its kind we are witnessing. A variant of these types of acts provided the backdrop against which the incumbent VC himself was appointed.
“About six years ago, some of the staff unions here provided the foot soldiers to push back on the appointment of a VC, who could thereby not resume until the entire process that produced him was cancelled by the Federal Government.”
Mimiko warned that it was dangerous to pretend not to know that such descent epitomises the precipitous decline of universities. He stressed that only people of high integrity and the requisite exposure to the university system were appointed as chairmen and members of governing councils.
He contended that university councils should not be seen as platforms for political patronage, where people are compensated for whatever political debt owed them.
Ethnicism in VC appointment dangerous – Dons
A professor of Anthropology and Development Studies, University of Ibadan, Aderemi Ajala, said the appointment of vice-chancellors should not be based on ethnicity. He noted that the protest was uncalled for as it suggests lack of knowledge of what a university is.
He said, “I know a couple of universities in the United States and Canada whose presidents are foreigners. Also, a university in South Africa was once headed by a Nigerian. Even in Botswana, Nigerians once headed their universities in the early days.
“That tells you a university should be a place where anyone can rise and become a vice-chancellor, irrespective of where he comes from. But that does not suggest that certain biases should be allowed in the appointment of VCs. The Ife indigene being supported by the protesters might have been unjustifiably treated in the process.
“However, I do not expect Ife people to use the concept of being an indigene to fight their case. They are supposed to base it on unfairness, as alleged, and not about being an indigene. If this trend continues, it portends grave danger for the university system.”
Similarly, an Associate Professor in the Department of English, Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Wasiu Oyedokun-Alli, pointed out that the first Nigerian vice-chancellor of the oldest University in Nigeria, University of Ibadan, Prof Kenneth Dike, hailed from the eastern part of the country.
Oyedokun-Alli, who is also a lawyer, said it was immaterial at that time where an aspirant to the position of the VC came from. He described the protest by Ife indigenes over the appointment as an aberration that should not be allowed within the university system.
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