By Bolanle Bolawole
firstname.lastname@example.org 0705 263 1058
Last week I published Prof. Omotoye Olorode somewhat of a rejoinder to two of my columns (“As OAU prepares for its 60th Anniversary – 1” published in my “Treasures” column on the back page of the New Telegraph newspaper of Wednesday, April 14, 2021), which he said he read online (reubenabatic.com.ng), and “That piece may return to Great Ife” (published in my “On the Lord’s day” column in the Sunday Tribune newspaper on Sunday, October 10, 2021). Prof. Olorode then wrote “Deepening neglect of public-funded education in Nigeria: OAU students’ protest as a metaphor”, which he published online (naijatimes.ng of October 14, 2021). Whereas Prof. Olorode did not send his own piece to me, I got to read it through third parties and ran it fully in my “On the Lord’s day” column of Sunday, October 17, 2021. I decided to respond to it because he made so many egregious statements that I feel should not be allowed to go unchallenged in the public interest. Readers having read the two columns cited by Prof. Olorode and having also read Prof. Olorode’s “Deepening neglect…”, would be better placed to judge between him and me.
To begin with, Prof. Olorode tried to sell the impression that, in “As OAU prepares for its 60th Anniversary (1)”, I trivialised the sorry and pathetic case of facilities at Fajuyi Hall, one of Great Ife’s halls of residence whose Hall Chairman I was in my final year, 1981/82. Quipped Prof. Olorode: “For Mr. Bolawole in April 2021 (April 14 to be exact), articulating ‘the sorry sight’ was a digression. But for me and most university workers, especially ASUU members, across Nigeria, since about the time that Bolawole’s generation of radical, patriotic groups and alliances of progressive students entered the universities in Nigeria, the advancement of the decay in our alma mater, and the entire university system in Nigeria, had been the centrepiece of the crisis…”
I published “As OAU prepares for its 60th anniversary” in two instalments; the part two was on Wednesday, April 21, 2021. In it, I said: “OAU surely has fallen on hard times. The hitherto alluring edifice is in decay. A comprehensive face-lift must be given to it before the forthcoming anniversary if it (the university) is not to advertise its shame and disgrace. My Part One and Part Two years in 1978 and 1979 I spent at Fajuyi Hall annexe; today, the place is not fit for human habitation. In March 2020, I froze when I saw the appalling condition of the hostel accommodation my daughter was supposed to live in at the Alumni Hall. Mercifully, COVID-19 broke and everyone had to return home. My children had to go off-campus.
“But it was like leaping from frying pan into fire! If I have my way, no single child will live off-campus where, in most cases, impressionistic boys and girls are made to cohabit face-to-face without supervision or control. On visits to off campus hostels, I saw half-nude girls loitering around and teenage boys smoking Indian hemp in the open in broad daylight! We are breeding monsters! The tell-tale sign of breakdown in morals, in discipline, in law and order that we complain of today is just the apparition; we should wait until the real masquerade enters the fray!
“It is not only the hostels that need a face-lift. Everywhere is congested: More hostels have to be built. The lecture halls, no less! Everywhere, facilities meant for a few are crammed full with hordes. How will standards not fall? How will values not dip? How will discipline not fail? How will the so-called “leaders of tomorrow” not become the undertakers of tomorrow? Teachers teach under harsh conditions. Students learn under conditions not conducive to learning. In our days, we envied those who had gone before us when we heard stories of how they lived like kings and queens. The Olusegun Obasanjo military junta ended that, drawing the ire of students and triggering the Ali Must Go students’ protests of 1978. But, even those days were a golden era compared with what operates today!
“Going forward from Obasanjo, education has not been well funded. It appears there is a deliberate policy to run down or completely abandon public schools so that private schools owned in the main by the oppressor class can take over and skin the people alive. Children of the rich and powerful no longer attend public schools. On the rare occasions that they still school here and not overseas, they attend the best of private schools…”
Now, did Prof. Olorode read that? Is this the mindset or language of someone engaged in hagiography, which the retired but obviously not tired professor accused me of? How did his explanation of the Nigerian rot differ from mine? Now, I heard it on good authority that my piece in question touched the raw nerves of some at Ife, and that I was accused of de-marketing the school. But, thank God, my reputation travelled far ahead of me and spoke eloquently for me even when I was not there. I have no reason whatsoever to de-market my alma mater. I have made so many positive comments about her but truth must be told and who the cap fits, let them wear it! Now, “But I digress”, which Prof. Olorode made an issue of, is a “licence” employed by writers to weave together themes and sub-themes before returning to the main theme without losing focus or balance. It does not at all mean that any of the sub-themes or sub-plots is not as important or is treated with levity. I often use this literary technique as a varied form of the stream of consciousness technique made popular by William James (Principles of Psychology, 1890) and James Joyce’s (Ulysses, 1922), among others.
Another accusation of Prof. Olorode was: “The rather hagiographic bent of Mr. Bolawole’s intervention as it relates to the incumbent VC, given the circumstance of the tragedy on ground, is worrisome. Basically, my worry has to do with what I consider to be the inappropriateness of apprehending the ambience of the tragedy on ground (the death of the young lady) as an occasion to highlight the achievements of the incumbent Vice-Chancellor. The VC may actually have been a star; and in that regard, I haven’t seen any comment accusing or denigrating Professor Eyitope Ogunbodede. But that is beside the point!” My goodness! Was I unsympathetic and cavalier in the way I treated the Omowumi Aisha Adesina tragedy? I started “That peace may return to Great Ife” by describing Omowumi’s passage as “very sad, very unfortunate and very untimely”. I reported that the students alleged that her death was “as a result of the nonchalance and negligence of the institution’s Health Centre” Interrogating the press statement issued by the university, I asked that if Omowumi truly exhibited signs and symptoms of severe infection “why was she not immediately admitted and placed under observation by the Health Centre?” I counselled the OAU management to ‘take another hard look at its Health Centre’ and also asked for a probe. Finally, I prayed for the “sweet repose” of Omowumi’s soul and for God to grant her parents, family, and friends “the strength to bear the irreparable loss” I also prayed for Great Ife that “affliction” will “never again rear its ugly head” Going through Prof.Olorode’s lengthy piece, he did not show as much empathy as I did for Omowumi. It would appear he only cashed in, on the tragic incident to “advance the struggle”, as we say. My starting and ending were sober, solemn, sympathetic and well-measured.
But was Prof. Olorode even saying that in a piece of 1800 words, I should have devoted every word to the tragic incident of Omowumi’s death? In Prof. Olorode’s own over 2,500 words, Omowumi was a mere footnote – “a metaphor”! She was just a peg on which he hung his Marxist polemics. In one breath Prof. Olorode said the occasion was not appropriate for me “to highlight the achievements of the incumbent VC”; yet, in another, he admitted that “the VC may actually have been a star; and in that regard, I haven’t seen any comment accusing or denigrating Professor Eyitope Ogunbodede. But that is beside the point!” But why is it “beside the point” to admit that what is good is good? As our people will say, “T’omo eni ba dara k’a wi” But our people were also quick to add: “Bi t’egan ko!” When, for whatever reason, we get personal, to give honour to whom honour is due becomes an uphill task. Ogunbodede has a few more months until the end of his five-year tenure. I have often reminded him he must bend over backwards to end well. The sordid events that served as the closing glee of his immediate predecessor as substantive VC must not be allowed to rear its ugly head again. Reminding him of the good work he has laboured hard so far to do, and the self-sacrifice and punishing discipline he has exacted on himself is a way of encouraging and telling him: You cannot now fail! Leaving behind virile student unionism is a legacy he must bequeath. The taunts and jeers of some of his colleague-VCs who loathe students’ unionism, and, like I said in “That peace may return to Great Ife”, the toes he has stepped upon, makes it imperative that, like a phoenix, he must pick the bits and pieces of his laudable experiment with the Students Union Government and make a success of it.
In my “LAST WORD” in the same “As OAU prepares for its 60th Anniversary (11), I reported the OAU PRO, Biodun Olarewaju, as disclosing that the university authorities had lifted the ban placed on students’ unionism and that elections would soon be held into the students’ Central Executive Council (CEC). I also disclosed that I once gave the VC, Prof. Tope Ogunbodede, knocks for allowing the ban to drag for too long, insisting that “OAU’s 60th anniversary will ring hollow without the participation of the Students’ Union Government” The announcement was made on July 6, 2021. My terse response to the PRO was: Good development! Better late than never!” Did Prof. Olorode read that?
I think an incongruous and embarrassing situation of celebrating the 60th anniversary of Great Ife without a Student Union Government in place, and not what Prof. Olorode “heard” – that the students union was unbanned “as honour to the late Yinka Odumakin, an alumnus who was a patriotic student leader” – led to the lifting of the proscription order. So, what if Yinka had not died? Yes, Yinka deserved the honour done to him by Great Ife not just because he was a patriotic students’ leader who suffered harassment and victimization from the powers-that-be but also because, as an alumnus, he contributed to the growth of the university. The statement issued by the university at Yinka’s funeral testified to that. TO BE CONTINUED./SHARE THIS