OAU at 60: Many firsts, still counting
By Bolanle Bolawole
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Great Ife! Great Ife!
Africa’s most beautiful campus!
Conscious, vigilant, progressive!
Aluta against all oppression!
Forward ever, backward never!
For learning and culture, sports and struggle!
Great Ife! I love you!
There’s only one Great Ife in the universe!
Another Great Ife is a counterfeit
Great! Great! Great! Great! Great!
On Saturday, December 4, 2021, all roads lead to the Marriott Hotel, 122 Joel Ogunnaike Street, GRA, Ikeja, Lagos where the authorities of the Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly the University of Ife), Ile-Ife will be conferring “Distinguished Great Ife Alumni Award” on 60 distinguished alumni of the institution. According to the vice-chancellor, Prof. Eyitope Ogunbodede, the conferment is part of the activities marking the 60th anniversary of the university. Yours sincerely is one of the awardees. A letter personally signed by the vice-chancellor said “ This well-deserved award of excellence for 60 very passionate, supportive and dedicated Great Ife ambassadors who have contributed over the past 60 years is to further show the university Management’s appreciation” The conferment of award event, he added, “also coincides with the formal launch of the Great Ife Advancement Foundation aimed at further garnering support for the overall development of the university” To God be the glory! This award means one’s contributions in one’s little corner can still be recognised and also that one does not need to be a money bag or have to pay hefty sums before he can be summoned to the podium of honour and recognition. All hope, then, is not lost!
Beginning with an inter-denominational church service on Sunday, June 6th followed by a world press conference on Tuesday, June 8th; Novelty football match on Wednesday, June 9th; and Jumat service on Friday, June 11th, all Institutes, Colleges, Faculties, the Alumni association home and away, friends and well-wishers of the university have staged one activity, programme or another to celebrate the Great Ife Diamond anniversary. The awards of December 4thwill be followed by the university’s 45th convocation ceremony to cap the anniversary celebrations. The instrument establishing the University of Ife (as it then was) was passed into law by the Western Nigeria regional government on 8th June, 1961. Classes commenced in October 1962 at the premises of the now defunct Nigerian College of Science and Technology, Ibadan. The university moved to its permanent site at Ife in 1967 and was renamed the Obafemi Awolowo University on 12th May, 1987 in honour of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo (1909 – 1987), first premier of Western Region and one of the founding fathers of the university.
According to Prof. Ogunbodede, “the visionary Founders of Obafemi Awolowo University set out to establish a university that would be unique in a number of ways. They dreamt of a university of ‘the highest standard and of world-wide repute in the Western Region’ of Nigeria. Fired by the nationalist spirit of the age and the fervour deriving from newly-won political independence, they conceived of a university that would not be a mere colonial ivory-tower but rather a true African university both in form and in substance. The university would not merely ape older African universities; it would rather seek to rectify their perceived limitations and deficiencies.
“The university was anchored on the concept of “Three As”: Academics, Aesthetics and Agriculture. Thus, the university started the first Faculty of Pharmacy in West Africa, the first Department of Chemical Engineering, the first Technology Production and Development Unit and the first campus Intranet/Internet facility in the country. The arts and the sciences were given adequate space to co-mingle with ease, so that a graduate of the sciences could feel at home in the world of the liberal arts, and in the same manner, the arts graduates could pick their way through our increasingly scientific and technological world. The idea was to make the products of the institution emerge as well-rounded educated people with a capacity for adapting to change. One of the best in the world at that time, the late Israeli architect, Arieh Sharon, trained at the Bauhaus School of Architecture in Germany and leader of the master-plan of the young state of Israel, was commissioned at inception to design the university, producing the most beautiful university campus in Africa till date.
“The guiding philosophy of the university set by its founders emphasised the Omoluabi (moral integrity) principle which entails hard work, integrity, public spiritedness, and an honour code. OAU, also referred to as “Great Ife”, has in its 60 years of existence lived up to this expectation. Also, a core value of OAU is the defence of the rights of individuals and groups in the society. The motto of the university is “For Learning and Culture”. Education is seen as the dominant tool for the development of society. The mission of the university is to nurture a teaching and learning community; advance frontiers of knowledge; engender a sense of selfless public service; promote cultural adaptability and add value to African culture. The university strives to ensure that our graduates meet not only the employment requirements of the nation and the world at large but also the challenges of principles higher than mere self-interest and self-fulfilment in a rapidly changing technological world”.
And there is no denying the fact that Great Ife has lived up to the billing and has met the expectations of its founding fathers. Its array of achievements as listed by the vice-chancellor and the reputation of Ife in many fields – from academics to political activism –bear testimony. The university, which started with 244 students, 64 academic members of staff and 15 Senior Administrative and Technical staff in five Faculties, now has over 25,000 students and more than 4000 members of staff. It boasts of two Colleges (College of Health Sciences and the Postgraduate College) and 13 Faculties: Administration, Agriculture, Arts, Education, Environmental Design and Management, Basic Medical Sciences, Clinical Sciences, Dentistry, Law, Pharmacy, Science, Social Sciences and Technology. All the 94 academic programmes in the university are currently accredited by the National Universities Commission, making OAU one of the few universities with 100% accreditation of its programmes. In recent years, five newly-developed Undergraduate programmes have successfully passed the stages of Resource Verification and Accreditation by the National Universities Commission. These are: BSc. Entrepreneurial Studies (2017), B. Ed Adult & Lifelong Learning (2017), B. Ed Educational Management (2017), Bachelor of Science in Surveying and Geo-informatics (2019), Bachelor of Science in Business Management (2020) and the Bachelor of Library and Information Science (2020).
OAU is also the leading institution in Engineering, hosting the African Centre of Excellence in Software Engineering Project. Some of the recent, innovative Postgraduate programmes developed at the Masters (M. Sc) and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph. D) levels include:(i) Computer Engineering (ii) Intelligent System Engineering (iii)Software Engineering (iv) Information System and (v) Computer Science. The following short-term courses were also developed: Cyber Security; Cloud Computing; Database Management; DataWarehouse; Web Technology; Design and fabrication of Machine Components; Robotics; Mechatronic; Machine Vision; Automobile maintenance; Software application in Drug Prescription and Inventory management; and Research Uptake and Management. Seven programmes are awaiting Resource Verification by the NUC: Bachelor of Technology in Aeronautical Engineering; Bachelor of Science in Mass Communication; Bachelor of Science in Broadcast Journalism; Bachelor of Science in Film Production; Bachelor of Science in Information Science and Media Studies; and Bachelor of Science in Human Nutrition and Dietetics. The list is endless!
Lest we forget, OAU has produced, among its staff, a Nobel Laureate and six Nigerian National Merit Award Winners. Nigeria’s only Nobel prize-winner (in literature) and the first African laureate, Wole Soyinka, was Professor of Comparative Literature at OAU and currently its Emeritus Professor of Dramatic Arts. The university pioneered kidney transplant in Nigeria in 2002, the first Renal Transplantation to be undertaken by a team of indigenous surgeons in any public institution in Nigeria. Space constraints will not let us enumerate all the contributions of OAU to scientific, medical and technological discoveries and inventions as a whole. Suffice it to say, however, that the university, in its relatively short span, has contributed its own quota to the expansion of the frontiers of knowledge. A high percentage of senior lawyers and judges, top-flight journalists, bankers, and captains of industry all passed through the university. Despite the many firsts that it has chalked up, OAU is not resting on its oars but is reaching out to break new frontiers and set new records.
According to Ogunbodede, the university is breaking new grounds in the following areas: Construction of an airstrip, located on university land along the Ibadan-Ilesa Expressway axis, capable of serving as a training ground for the newly-established Aeronautic Engineering programme and also supporting national, regional movement of goods and services. The Aeronautic Engineering programme is based in a new Department with a building that is near completion; the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) 8.03MW power project for the supply of electricity to the university is on-going and almost completed. This will enable OAU to generate its own electricity. The university processed and obtained from the Transmission Corporation of Nigeria the Marketing License as an Electricity distributor, the first Nigerian university to enjoy the privilege. The aim is to reduce the economic burden of high tariffs and ensure regular electricity supply to enhance its various academic activities.
The university presently pays over 80 million Naira per month for electricity and additionally, over two million Naira per month on Diesel to power generators; the rehabilitation and upgrading of Opa dam, which provides for the university’s water needs, is progressing satisfactorily. This was supported by a contract awarded by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources in 2019; the university has embarked on a Staff Housing Scheme as part of its efforts to address the welfare of Staff. The project is proposed for a land area of 123.407 Hectares (305 Acres) which has already been acquired; construction of Hostels under Phase 3 of the Students’ Village Project is progressing, so also are the Aeronautical Engineering Department, Environmental Design and Management (EDM) Building, Electronic and Electrical Engineering Building, International Student Exchange Centre, Medical Library Building, a first-ever Student Affairs Building, Institute of Education Building, Department of Nursing Building, ETF Hostel Building, ETF 500-seater capacity lecture theatre, 250-Seater Lecture Theatre, construction of the 10-storey Central Bank of Nigeria Building “Jubilee House”, among others.
There is no success without constraints. Every giant stride has its own challenges. At OAU, the major constraint is the paucity of funds. According to Ogunbodede “funding has been a major challenge to the university as government subvention has been grossly inadequate for the running of the university…The sporadic and insufficient financial allocations to the university by the Federal Government has affected service delivery and capability in teaching, research and community social responsibility. There has been a persistent shortfall in personnel costs. The declining government subvention and the pressures of expansion, coupled with the unwillingness of students to pay commensurate tuition fees, worsened by the ageing infrastructure, have necessitated the need to explore alternative funding sources”
This, then, is one of the reasons for the event of Saturday, December 4, 2021 – the formal launch of the Great Ife Advancement Foundation – if, as Ogunbodede stated, the legacy of Great Ife is to be sustained! And sustained, it will!