By Olarinde Obasa
University of Ibadan, the Premier University has again emerged as the best in the country and in the top 20 in Africa.
Indices of global University ranking could be contested but it no doubt reveals gaps in our investment in education and why our country is what it is today. From inception, it was the dream of the founders of the University of Ibadan to rank among the best in the world while meeting immediate societal needs. While UIs mission is to expand the frontiers of knowledge through provision of excellent conditions for learning and research, this mission is being hampered by gross underfunding and carelessness of the federal Government. Much of what UI is today are fruits of colonial implants of excellence of internationalisation of curricula, sourcing of world class intellectuals and sound foundation of research and innovation. In UIs first decade of founding, laboratories were functional as colonial masters ensured steady funding of most researches and training. The post-colonial agenda to decolonise coupled with political agitation in Nigeria laid the foundation of an incipient decline to the once commonwealth giant. Its current ranking is only earned by the hardworking intellectuals who have refused to allow visionless leadership to reduce their research outputs through self-sponsored researches despite the poverty wages being paid to them.
However, its slow revival cannot be divorced from the successful leadership of 12 indigenous Vice Chancellors who have been privileged to head this Nigerias top rated institution. Professor Idowu Olayinka, its 12th Vice Chancellor will bow out this year after five years in the saddle. While his 289 agenda for accelerated development through consolidation and innovation could not be attained in its entirely, the incoming 13th VC is expected to sustain and evolve newer models of improving teaching, research and community service. Already no fewer than seven eminent scholars and administrators are interested in succeeding Olayinka. They include incumbent Deputy Vice Chancellor (Administration), Professor Kayode Adebowale, Immediate Past Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Professor Adeyinka Abideen Aderinto, Provost of College of Medicine, Professor Oluwabunmi Olopade-Olaopa, Former Dean Faculty of Arts, Professor Remi Raji, Prof. George Olusegun Ademowo of the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutic, Faculty of Basic Medical Science and the immediate past Chief Medical Director (CMD), University College Hospital (UCH), Prof. Temitope Alonge.Will UI be consumed by mundane considerations which continue to tear the society they are part of apart? Observers think that the 13th Vice Chancellor of the Premier University must be selected based on merit and not on sentiment. Doing otherwise has grievous implications for the development of the only University that has consistently put the name of Nigeria on global map, even if the position is not as expected.
Merit should characterise who the next VC of the Premier University should be. He or She should be worthy, excellent, quality, standard, and deserving of the position because of what the occupier embodies and will offer and not because of mundane considerations such as indigeneship or tribal sentiments, incumbency preference, or religion. It will be disastrous if UI community reproduces the trio evil which continue to divide Nigeria in getting round pegs in round holes. In Nigeria, the quota system has elevated mediocrity to the highest level. It is an inclusive policy which allocates unmerited favour to undeserving persons. It is a policy (quota system) which encourages irresponsible leadership of State Governors to pride themselves as governing educationally less developed states and yet wish to share the reward those who have invested more in education. That is an injustice!
The history of leadership of UI has shown how the search for merit elevated standards and made the Premier University competed with ivy leagues of this planet. Indeed, postcolonial appointment of Vice chancellors saw the emergence of Kenneth Onwuka Dike (1960-1967), Adeoye Lambo (1967-1971), Oritsejolomi-Thomas (1972-1975), and Tekena Tamuno (1975-79). These were eminent people whose positioning in their fields meant a lot. Post civil war era however introduced a new dimension with mutual suspicion, sense of ownership and differentiated entitlements to who becomes the Vice Chancellor. Merit has a place for people of vision. No one hires misfits to manage his business empires for but stooges are emplaced to fester the ego in Nigerias macro-political space. Many UI Professors have been appointed to head other institutions based on merit and many of them returned to UI with distinctions. Nigerians have also been appointed to head many Institutions abroad including South Africa. They were appointed because of their track records of excellence not because they were either indigenes of where the University was located, or because they are Christians or Muslims. University of Ibadan is a federal University where every qualified faculty has a right to apply, mobilise for votes and get elected as VC on MERIT. Professor Adelani Ogunrinade of blessed memory was appointed the Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa. He was appointed because he was the best. I imagine South Africans would also have applied. Little wonder Wits as it is popularly called continues to rank well in Africa and the world. Professor Ogunrinade would later hold similar position in the West Indies before becoming the Vice Chancellor of the University of Lesotho. Professor Donald Ekong, a Nigerian, also served as the first Vice Chancellor of the University of the Gambia. I am sure that there are many more Nigerians who continue to hold top positions in Universities across the world because of their quality and not on any mundane considerations.
The Senate and Governing Council of UI must play a role in this respect and ensure that the candidate that emerges is not elected on parochial considerations. The 13th VC should be a VC of distinction and administrator, who has social network to assist the institution from its precarious condition. UI needs a VC that will activate the Senate to stand up and maintain its stand based on Act establishing UI. UI needs a VC that can bring about responsive and responsible governance and drive research and development. Appointing a quota system Vice Chancellor will destroy achievements of the past. As a Premier University, the task before the outgoing Vice Chancellor, Professor Idowu Olayinka and the Governing Council is to midwife an election process that is free, fair, open and transparent for the best candidate to emerge based on merit and not primordial sentiments.
Obasa, a public affairs analyst writes from Ibadan