Blackmail by indigenes over OAU VC is disgusting – TrendyNewsReporters
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Blackmail by indigenes over OAU VC is disgusting

REPUTED for its rich cultural heritage and intellectual pursuits, Ile-Ife, the cradle of the Yoruba ethnic nationality, has been assaulted. Uncouth and irresponsible, a mob, claiming to be “Ife natives” with “traditionalists” and masquerades in tow, invaded the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, and unleashed violence to protest the appointment of a new vice-chancellor. Those who violated the law while participating in that disgraceful and disgusting spectacle must be identified, arrested and prosecuted.

Resorting to lawlessness, brutish atavism to canvass appointment to a position of the highest intellectual citadel tarnishes the ancient city and its indigenes, and the institution to which the mob was laying claim. They embarrassed the entire Yoruba nationality and belittled the sacrifices of all those who laid the foundation, or laboured to build and sustain that prestigious university as administrators, teachers, students, or workers.

The crisis started on March 17, 2022, after the OAU Governing Council announced Adebayo Bamire as the 12th Vice-Chancellor of the institution. Bamire, who hails from Odo-Otin Local Government Area, Osun State, defeated 15 other professors in the selection contest.

Following that announcement, reports said a group, claiming to be “Ife indigenes,” apparently disappointed that one of the contestants, an Ife indigene, was not chosen, invaded the school. OAU’s Public Relations Officer, Abiodun Olanrewaju, said the group blocked the main gate, preventing ingress and egress.

The report, corroborated by the students union, said the protesters returned the following day, this time becoming violent. They beat up workers and vandalised a building. Emboldened by the curious absence of security agents, the hoodlums took the madness to another level on March 21, attacking students and staff. “They blocked the two major gates as early as 6am, coming into the campus with charms and other fetish items. They assembled at the Motion Ground beside the university secretariat, dressed in all-white spiritual traditional attire, chanting incantations while performing rituals,” Olanrewaju stated. What a show of shame!

It is worrisome that Ife elite, traditional institutions and stakeholders in the OAU project – staff, alumni, ex-dons and wider South-West elite – were slow to condemn, and intervene to halt the rascality. Osun State Governor, Gboyega Oyetola, was remiss in his duty when in his first reaction after ignoring the insolence for days, he simply warned the protesters to be peaceful. His responsibility was to order the police to move to secure the institution, break up any lawless act and arrest offenders. The Osun State Commissioner of Police, Olawale Olokode, was also tardy. Peaceful protest is indeed an inalienable fundamental right; violence against other Nigerians and intimidation, and wilful disruption of commercial and social activities are criminal activities.

Thankfully, they have found their voices. The Ooni of Ife, Adeyeye Ogunwusi, has dissociated the ancient city; so have adherents of traditional religion. More should follow. A Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, who had been lecturer, head of department, professor, and like hundreds of students, dons, workers and visitors around the world, who take pride in their lifelong membership of the ‘Great Ife’ global community, was aghast. “I am still in shock,” he told an interviewer.

To be clear, supporting a candidate for VC is a legitimate aspiration; so also is protesting the selection process if any party feels it was not fair. But these must be according to the law. There are avenues for venting disagreement; petitions, peaceful protests and litigation inclusive. Descending to barbarism is however condemnable.

Moreover, a university is not just an institution of higher learning for teaching and research; it is a global community of scholars and thinkers; “a universe in a community.” A former British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, described it as “a place of light, liberty and learning.” And ideally, the VC is primus inter pares, an embodiment of scholarship with a vision of the future; other academics should naturally recognise his intellectual capacity. His appointment cannot be based on being an indigene. It is irrational to reduce a university that has produced world-renowned scholars and individuals in different fields of human endeavour to an ethnic fiefdom. Nigerians have been appointed VCs and their equivalents in African and American universities on merit.

Such imperious sense of entitlement, which unfortunately has taken root in Nigeria, runs counter to the vision of OAU’s founding fathers. Obafemi Awolowo, the first premier of the defunct Western Region whose government conceived it, Ladoke Akintola, his successor under whom the project was actualised, did not site it in their respective hometowns of Ikenne and Ogbomoso. Adesoji Aderemi, who, as the education-loving Ooni, influenced the setting up of the institution in Ile-Ife, never canvassed such entitlement.

Besides, OAU is a federal university; every Nigerian should feel at home there. Any indigene desiring to be VC should meet the requirements, compete and follow the laid-down processes. It is not a birthright.

Unfortunately, the contest for the vice-chancellorship position in Nigeria is ruled by ethnic, religious and regional bigotry. At the University of Ilorin, it has been a sticking point. In 2009, the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, was plunged into crisis over the appointment of a substantive VC due to ethnoreligious sentiments. Around the same year, interest groups using threats insisted that the next VC of the University of Benin must be a Benin indigene.

In 2010, some students and staff of the University of Port Harcourt disrupted academic activities, alleging that the criteria for the selection of a new VC did not favour the candidate from Ikwerre, where it is located. In 2020, at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria’s premier university, a group insisted the next VC must be an Ibadan indigene. The proponents of indigenous VC in OAU citing these cases ignore the debilitating effects such decisions have had on the schools, notably, divisions and the deprivation of the system of quality leadership and management.

The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, confirmed at a National Assembly hearing in 2019 that he had been under pressure by indigenes of host communities insisting on producing the VCs of federal universities.

Aside from ethnicity, religious and political affiliations have become strong factors in state governors’ appointment of VCs of state universities. This has impeded productivity, celebrated mediocrity and retarded development. The world’s best universities opt for merit.

There has to be a change. University autonomy should be made a reality so that the academic community will choose its own VCs, not the government. The rot should be rolled back. The police should arrest and prosecute those guilty of crimes in Ile Ife. Aggrieved persons should seek redress via due process and litigation. The OAU authorities should do the right thing and not be cowed. The academic unions, students, alumni and associated groups should dissociate from the disreputable mob.

As Soyinka recommended, “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.” We agree.


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