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As OAU Prepares For Its 60th Anniversary (I)

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By Bola Bolawole

My alma mater, the Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly the University of Ife) aka “Great Ife” will be 60 years old in a couple of months and all drums will be rolled out by both the university authorities and the alumni to celebrate the Diamond jubilee. No effort will be spared as every hand will be on the deck and no stone will be left unturned. Committees and subcommittees have been set up and work has begun in earnest. Soon, very soon, it will be loud at Great Ife and this will reverberate not only across the country but also all over the world, for there is no continent that the products of the university are not to be found.

Speaking with me in his office on Monday on preparations for the landmark event, the university’s Public Relations Officer, Biodun Olanrewaju, corrected the impression that the university was founded in 1962. The University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) was actually founded in 1961, “months after the country’s independence in October 1960”. The erroneous impression of a 1962 birth date emanated from the fact that “students came into residence” or that academic activities began in 1962. In preparation for the Diamond jubilee, OAU’s 2021 calendar tells its own story right from the horse’s mouth. The calendar is a collector’s item.

Its first page carries the photographs of the old Provisional Council members of the university side-by-side the immediate past Governing Council. The first thing that strikes the eyes is the difference between the dress codes of the two different eras – the past and the present!

The first Provisional Council members were Dr. Sanya Onabamiro, Chief FRA Williams, Chief Deborah Jibowu, Prof. Oladele Ajose, Sir Samuel Manuwa, Sir A. Y. Eke, Mr. O.M. Abiola, Mr. J. A. Adegbite, Mr. M.A. Ajasin, Mr. J.O. Akpovi, Chief Anthony Enahoro, and Mr. J. Samuel. Each of these personalities had a rich history behind them. The immediate past Governing Council that meritoriously completed its term in January 2021 and which, last week, gave way to a new Council, had Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi as chairman.

The “historical facts” on the first page of the calendar reads thus: Obafemi Awolowo University was established in 1961 as the University of Ife but (was) renamed on 12th May, 1987 in honour of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the first premier of the Western Region of Nigeria. It is a top-rated university in Africa with the Mission to nurture a teaching and learning community; advance the frontiers of knowledge; engender a sense of selfless public service; and add value to African culture. The Motto is ‘For Learning and Culture’”.

I learnt that the original idea or concept of the founding fathers was to teach all subjects in the Yoruba language. Anyone with information on that should kindly refresh our memory. Awolowo, or the founding fathers more specifically, were said to have shopped around the world for the best proto-type for the then University of Ife. Little wonder, then, that the university is touted as the best university campus in Africa. Its aesthetics is – or, better still, was – simply enthralling and breath-taking. Sadly, the university has since fallen on hard times and is today a shadow of its former self as facilities and infrastructure have been allowed to decay and fall into bad shape. A couple of months ago, I went into Fajuyi Hall, whose Hall chairman I was in 1981/82, to help my son move out his belongings and I wept. Everywhere and every facility was decrepit. More on the sorry state – and sorry sight – that Great Ife has become next week, God willing!

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Sorry for the digression but I guess it is worth it! The second page of the OAU 2021 calendar continued the historical excursion with photographs from the archives: His Imperial Majesty Ooni Adesoji Aderemi (the Ooni of Ife); Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola (Premier, Western Region, 1959 – 1966); Lt. Col. Francis Adekunle Fajuyi (Governor, Western Region, January – July, 1966); Chief Obafemi Awolowo (Chancellor, 1967 – 1975); His Highness Erejuwa II (Chancellor, 1975 – 1982); and Chief Simeon Olasebikan Adebo (Chancellor, 1982 – 1983).

Since then, the Chancellors of OAU have been northern Emirs – four in succession. This speaks to the take-over of that institution by the Federal Government, in further concretization of the vexed policy of “unitarism” that has made a mockery of federalism and imperilled our democracy. His Highness Alhaji Umaru Sanda Ndayako (Chancellor, 1984 -1997); His Highness Alhaji Muhammadu Kabir Usman (Chancellor, 2001 – 2008); His Highness Alhaji Abdulmumin Kabir, Emir of Katsina (2008- 2015); and His Highness Alhaji Y. Abubakar, Etsu-Nupe (Chancellor, 2015 till date).

The University of Ife was conceptualized during the premiership of Awo but its actualization came during the troubled premiership of Akintola. The “Historical facts” on this page says: The Provisional Council of the university was formally inaugurated under the chairmanship of Chief Rotimi Williams on 8th June, 1961. The first academic year of the university commenced officially on 22nd September, 1962 when the first group of students came into residence at the university’s temporary campus at Ibadan. Lectures began on 2nd October”.

The third page of the calendar has the photographs of vice-chancellors, beginning with Prof. Oladele Ajose (1962 – 1966); Prof. Hezekiah A. Oluwasanmi (1966 -1975); Prof. Ojetunji Aboyade (1975 – 1978); Prof. Cyril A. Onwumechili (1979 – 1982); Prof.Wande Abimbola (1982 – 1989); Prof. Caleb O. Osuntogun (1990- 1991); Prof. Wale Omole (1991- 1999); Prof. Roger O. A. Makanjuola (1999 – 2006); Prof. Michael O.Faborode (2006 -2011); Prof. Bamitale I. Omole (2011 – 2016); to the incumbent, Prof. Eyitope O.Ogunbodede (2017 till date). I got admitted into the university in the year Aboyade left (1978), as a result of the “Ali must Go” students’ crisis of that year.

The “Historical Facts” states: “Initial student number was 244. The academic staff were 64 and the senior administrative and technical staff, about 15. There are presently 32,000 students and over 4000 members of staff. The university, which started with five Faculties, now has two Colleges, 13 Faculties, 92 Departments, 19 Centres/Institutes and several Units”

The fourth page of the calendar has the photograph of the first administrative building of the university, which is now the Faculty of Agriculture, while the “Historical Facts” listed the names of the chairmen of its Governing Council from inception to date as follows: Chief FRA Williams (1961- 1963); Mr. B. Somade (1963 – 1965); Mr. Justice Adeyinka Morghan (1965 -19660);Chief T. T. Solaru (1966 – 1975); Justice C.O. Madarikan (1975 – 1976); Dr. Ibrahim D. Ahmad (1976 – 1979); Chief Bayo Kuku (1980); Chief M.T. Mbu (1982 – 1983); Prof. J. M. Falaiye (1984 – 1985); Mr. Arthur C. I. Mbanefo (1986 – 1990); Major-General (Dr.) A. Rimi (retired) (1990- 1993); Dr. A. I. Atta (1993 – 1996); Justice A. N. Aniagolu (1997 -1999); Alhaji Shettima Liberty (2000 – 2005); Prof. S. J. S. Cookey (2005 – 2007); Chief Abiola Morakinyo (2009); Dr. Olu Alabi (2009 – 2012); Prof. Rowland Ndoma-Egba (2013 – 2016); and Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi (2017 – 2021). The new Governing Council chairman is Chief Oscar Udoji.

The fourth page of the calendar has the photograph of the dedication of the Hezekiah Oluwasanmi Library in December 1980 with Prof. Oluwasanmi throwing banters with Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, when Soyinka’s “wig” was still all black and not as white as the “wool” it has become today. Yeah! Those were days when men were men, when academics stood tall and when professors truly answered the name! Pardon my effrontery, if any!

The “Historical facts” have this to say: In February 1966, Lt. Col. Francis Adekunle Fajuyi, the then Visitor to the university and first Military Governor of the Western Region, appointed Prof. Hezekiah Oluwasanmi as the new vice-chancellor and Chief T. T. Solaru as pro-chancellor and gave them money and marching orders to relocate to the permanent campus by October 1966. Fajuyi was killed in the military mutiny of July 1966 at Ibadan and did not witness the movement to the permanent site at Ife. Fajuyi Hall, the first male residential hall for undergraduate students, was (so) named to honour his contributions”.

I was privileged to be chairman of Fajuyi Hall in my final year at Ife, 1981/82, and one of the activities my executive embarked upon was conceptualizing and celebrating the “Adekunle Fajuyi Day”. Awo Hall was fittingly named after Chief Obafemi Awolowo for his contributions to the university. For obvious reasons, a hall named after S. L. Akintola (who, like Fajuyi, did not witness the movement of the university to its permanent site) was late in coming; nevertheless, it came. It had to, for history is a stubborn goat! Give it its due or else…

The last page of the calendar has the photographs of Adekunle Fajuyi Hall (first male students’ hall of residence); Moremi Hall (first female students’ hall of residence) and the first graduating students of the university. Oh, if only we can identify those pioneer students! How many of them are still living and how many, if any, will witness and or grace the Diamond jubilee? I leave that task for the university authorities and the Diamond jubilee committees!

Published in the “Treasures” column on the back page of the New Telegraph newspaper of Wednesday, 14 April, 2021.

Bola Bolawole
[email protected] 0807 552 5533

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