UNILAG Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Olatokunbo Babatunde Sofoluwe
By Uchechukwu Nnaike and Funmi Ogundare
Gloom enveloped the academic community Saturday following the sudden death of the University of Lagos Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Olatokunbo Babatunde Sofoluwe.
Sofoluwe, 62, slumped and died around 1.00 am at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba, Lagos.
THISDAY gathered that before he slumped, he personally called the university’s health centre and asked the doctor on duty to come over to examine him. The doctor was said to have gone straight to his lodge but when he did not find him in the lodge, he went to office to the find him slumped.
The late professor of Computer Science died shortly after he was brought to the hospital. Unconfirmed reports revealed that he might have died from a cardiac arrest.
The VC’s lodge wore a sombre look, as mourners who came to condole with the family gathered in groups discussing their last encounters with him and how he was looking forward to the university’s 50th anniversary celebration, which was scheduled to kick-off later this month.
All attempts to reach the late Sofoluwe’s immediate family members proved abortive as reporters were restricted access to them.
Tributes started pouring in immediately the news of his death filtered out, with president of the Senate, Senator David Mark and former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, among others, expressing grief at his death.
Some of his contemporaries and other members of the university community, who expressed shock at his death, also described him as a humble, hard working and peace-loving man.
Mark, in a statement by his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Kola Ologbon-diyan, condoled with the family and university management, saying that Sofoluwe died in active service to his fatherland.
He said Sofoluwe, during his tenure, had placed UNILAG on a glorious pedestal making it the toast of its contemporaries.
"We have lost a gem. The late Professor Sofoluwe was a hardworking scholar, whose services in the development of the education sector cannot be overlooked.
“His vision for the university must not be swept under the carpet; his vision to build outstanding excellence in the quality of staff and students and position the institution among the 100 best universities globally must be pursued until the goal is attained,” Mark said.
Sofoluwe, he said, was an erudite scholar who will be remembered for his brilliance and selfless services to the nation’s academic growth.
Mark urged the family of the deceased and the people and government of Ogun State, where the late Sofoluwe hailed from, to take solace in the legacy that he left behind.
Tinubu also described Sofoluwe’s death as a monumental loss to both his family and the academic community in Nigeria.
In a statement by his media office, the former governor said he was saddened by the report of Sofoluwe’s death.
“The timing and circumstance of his death sadden me deeply and I can only pray that God grants his family the strength to bear this painful loss. He died in active service, a testimony to his dedication to work and his undying desire to ensure academic excellence,” he added.
He said the late vice chancellor was a man of great character and a great mind, the kind Nigeria needs in abundance to achieve rapid development.
He urged the university to immortalise his name and to preserve all that he did and stood for.
“Here was a man totally dedicated to his research and teaching work. One who collaborated with others with a similar passion to build the University of Lagos and preserve her reputation.
“We must honour him. But above all, build on his legacy and hold him up as a role model,” Tinubu said.
He seized the incident to urge the federal government to increase funding for medical research and training, but more importantly, to ensure that hospitals are well equipped to tackle and provide excellent emergency treatment for Nigerians.
Lagos State governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola also expressed shock at the news of the death of Sofoluwe.
Fashola, in two separate condolence letters to the widow, Dr. Olufunmilayo Sofoluwe, and the registrar of the university, Mr. Oluwarotimi Shodimu, said he could not but recall the warm reception he was accorded at the university when he was invited to deliver the School of Post Graduate Studies Annual lecture in January.
“Whilst it is our prayer that God grants the departed’s soul sweet repose, we also pray that his successor will take up the gauntlet and carry on from where Professor Sofoluwe has so eloquently left off, so that his great plans and ambitions for his alma mater will not die with him,” the governor stated.
Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, in a statement said Sofoluwe’s death was an untimely loss and recalled the warm reception he received on May 3 when the late vice-chancellor was the host for the Nigerian National Merit Award lecture.
“His passing casts a pall on my recollection of the exhilarating reception at a university of which I was a pioneer lecturer, and which still imparts a glow of nostalgic pleasure whenever I have cause to re-visit.
“On the personal level, but especially at a time when sister institutions of UNILAG are under siege in many parts of the nation, it is a loss that touches one and all, a loss that the nation can ill afford,” Soyinka noted.
The vice-chancellor of Lagos State University, Prof. John Oladapo Obafunwa, said Sofoluwe’s death came as a shock, not only to the university community, but also to those outside the academia.
According to him, Sofoluwe was well loved by staff and students and would be missed by all, especially the Committee of vice-Chancellors.
Former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, Prof. Peter Okebukola, said Sofoluwe was a silent achiever who kept the flag of academic excellence of UNILAG flying.
“He was not a VC who carried the air of office around him. He gave impressive academic and administrative leadership to the university. His sudden death is a wake-up call that we should pay greater attention to our health,” he added.
The Dean of Students’ Affairs, UNILAG, Prof. Olukayode Amund, said the VC’s death was a rude shock to the university because the manner in which Sofoluwe died has never occurred in the history of Nigerian universities.
Amund, who described the late VC as a humble person, said no burial arrangements have been made yet.
Chairman of the university’s chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Dr. Oghenekaro Ogbinaka, described the late VC as a friendly, amiable, peace-loving and approachable man, who used to attend the union’s conferences because of his concern for staff welfare.
He said Sofoluwe was last seen in a meeting the day before his death and there was no sign that he was ill.
National President of the institution’s Alumni Association, Prof. Layide Abass, stated that Sofoluwe’s death was a shock and a tragedy that happened at a most inappropriate time because of the planned 50th anniversary celebration of UNILAG.
“We had been together for years and his office was just a few doors away from mine. Our hearts go out to his family members, his wife Funmi, in particular. We pray that God will console her enough,” he said.
He recalled that the former Dean of Students’ Affairs, Prof. Dele Longe, was with him by his deathbed at the hospital and that his driver (Longe) had called to inform him about the VC’s death.
Abass said his death has left a big vacuum in the institution and would destabilise UNILAG’s academic calendar for a while.
According to him, the demands of his office might have weighed him down.
The late VC only last week Thursday played host to Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, who delivered the National Merit Award lecture at the university.
Sofoluwe also addressed a press conference on Tuesday to usher in the university's golden jubilee celebration.
Though the talk of who will succeed him has not commenced, the general thinking is that one of Sofoluwe's deputies would likely replace him in an acting capacity in the interim.
The Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Management Services, Prof. Rahman Ade Bello, or the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Academic and Research, Prof. Babajide Alo, are said to be in pole position in this regard. However, Bello is the more senior of the two.
The late Sofoluwe, the third UNILAG alumnus to head the university, was born on April 15, 1950 and graduated with a Second Class Upper Division Honours in Special Mathematics in June 1973 from the university.
During his undergraduate years, he bagged the prestigious German Scholarship award for Academic Brilliance. He was a pioneer member of the National Youth Service Corps scheme where he served in the old South Eastern State.
After his youth service, he won a Commonwealth Scholarship to study at Edinburgh University, Scotland, where he earned his Master’s degree in 1975 and a doctorate in 1981.
He started his teaching career as a graduate assistant at the University of Lagos in 1976 and rose through the ranks to become a professor in October 1996.
Before his appointment as UNILAG vice-chancellor, Sofoluwe was a two-time Acting Head of the Department of Computer Science, Dean of the Faculty of Science, a member of the Governing Council of the university and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Management Services.