The immediate past Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, Professor Julius Okojie recently returned to the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, which he left on August 31, 2001 at the end of his tenure as vice-chancellor. The ‘home-coming’, as it was termed, was eventful and emotional as many recounted the experiences of the better part of two decades ago. Uchechukwu Nnaike reports
The immediate past Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Professor Julius Okojie, added more feathers to his cap of ‘firsts’ and ‘seconds’ when he returned to the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogun State on August 3, 2016.
The date was significant in more ways than one. It was exactly 10 years before (August 3, 2006) that he took over from Professor Peter Okebukola as executive secretary of the NUC. Having handed over to the Deputy Executive Secretary I, Professor ChieduMafiana two days earlier, Okojie was received by the FUNAAB community at an elaborate ceremony, going down in the history of the university as the date a former vice-chancellor returned there for the first time.
As various speakers would later note in the course of the ‘welcome reception’, Okojie, the first Vice-Chancellor of the Bells University, Ota, was the first inaugural lecturer; the first chair of the ceremonies committee and the second vice-chancellor of FUNAAB. On NUC’s side, he was the first visiting professor at the commission and the second to complete his two-term of 10 years.
As he alighted from the vehicle, accompanied by his wife, Oluremi and four officers of the NUC, to be received by all principal officers at the university’s main gate, Okojie remarked: “The eagle has landed.” He later explained that, like the eagle, he had shed his old wings and his strength had been renewed by the experiences of the last 15 years to further add value to the institution.
Speaking at a special senate meeting held in Okojie’shonour, the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council, Senator AdeseyeOgunlewe congratulated him on the successful completion of his tenure at the NUC. He described Okojie as a pride to FUNAAB and the country.
“We need your wealth of experience to make this university number one in ranking. On behalf of the council, deans and directors, I welcome you back home and by the grace of God, it will be a pleasure for you and as you move on in your career, the Lord will bless you.”
The Vice-Chancellor, Professor OlusolaOyewole, expressed delight that the former executive secretary represented the university well and did not let it down, describing him as a true ambassador of FUNAAB, who recorded indelible achievements in the university and NUC. He said Okojie is a humble man, who is generous to a fault, a man who says it as it is and holds no grudges against anyone. The senate then approved that a foundation be established in his honour.
From the special senate meeting and the special congress of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), where a motion was moved to admit Okojie back into the fold; to the commissioning of the Directorate of University Farms (DUFARMS)’s Annual Food Expo, handing over of Okojie’s new office; and reception at the Ceremonial Building, which included drama and dance presentations; speaker after speaker had stories to tell.
They acknowledged Okojie’s forthrightness, courage, integrity, humility, passion, kindness, philanthropy, forgiving nature and openness, as well as commitment to staff and students’ welfare. They also described him as a strong believer in the unity of the family, a mentor, generous giver and peace-broker, who had a peaceful tenure as vice-chancellor, which was instrumental to the overall success of the university.
Both the vice-chancellor and the Chairman of the local chapter of ASUU, Dr. Adebayo Oni recalled that Okojie not only facilitated the movement of the university from its temporary site at Isale-Igbein in the city centre to the main campus, but also took FUNAAB to the enviable position of the then best university in Nigeria; created a beautiful environment at the main campus through the planting of palm-trees; spearheaded the planting of a 250-hectare cashew plantation; and maintained high academic standards as well as initiated the first Open Thesis Defence in the university.
Okojie commissioned this year’s annual Food Expo of DUFARMS, where the institution’s products were on display for sale. He commended the university and the Director of DUFARMS, Mr. Michael Jaiyeola, for carrying on FUNAAB’s mandate of contributing to the eradication of hunger, stressing that universities of agriculture have become even more relevant to the economic growth of the country with the dwindling price of crude oil.
The products on display included live turkeys, different breeds of chicken, fish, cassava flour (fufu and garri), honey, pineapples, palm fruits, palm oil, palm wine and bread. Others were pumpkin leaves, among other vegetables, cashew nuts, brooms, bananas, plantain, egg plant, cucumber, sugar cane and yams.
The former vice-chancellor also visited the university’s Zoological Park and Garden, where he advised the Director, Dr. Moses Oyatogun to consider approaching corporate organisations to adopt the animals.
At the International Scholars’ and Resource Centre (IS&RC), where Okojie’s new office is located, he was received by his former student, now Dean, College of Environmental Resources Management (COLERM), Professor Clement Adeofun; his Deputy, Dr. Abdul Shotuyo; Head of the Department of Forestry and Wildlife Management, Professor Femi Adekunle (another former student) and other heads of departments in the college. The vice-chancellor also presented him a copy of the University Calendar (2015-2018). Okojie thanked the vice-chancellor for the befitting office and promised to do his best to make the system grow.
In his responses at the various activities marking the reception, Okojie said he was glad to be back and that he was humbled by all that were said about him. According to him, everywhere he went, he remained himself and would always be himself, applying the principles of the fear of God and love for his neighbour.
He said his prayer had always been for him to end his career without any stumbling block and God answered that prayer, even as he had the privilege of serving four Nigerian presidents and many ministers of education as executive secretary of the NUC. He thanked the governing council for the warm reception accorded him saying, he only came to add his wisdom to what was already on ground to develop the university and would not interfere in its activities.
The former ES tasked the council and the senate to maintain the traditions that make universities unique and appealed to members to ensure that peace and unity reign in the university. “We all have the potential to get to where ever we want to be. We must let people know that we are educated. The appointment of a vice-chancellor should be without rancour because we have a process. We must always be on the side of truth.”
Okojie also commended every member of the university community saying that he was amazed at the level of its development. He tasked them to do their best to protect the integrity of the system and to learn to love and live with each other because FUNAAB is a family.
To round off the day’s event, Okojie, who holds the traditional title of Aare Agbe of Egbaland, paid a courtesy visit to the Alake of Egbaland, Oba AdedotunGbadebo. He recalled his experiences from when he joined the then UNAAB family about 26 years ago and went on to midwife the establishment of about 50 private universities, out of the present 61 both as Chairman, NUC’s Standing Committee on Private Universities (SCOPU) and executive secretary.
While stressing that universities have a critical role to play in the development of societies and should be at the forefront of proffering solutions to the problems of their communities, Okojie informed the monarch that he had recommended that the first fruits of the university’s farms be presented to him every year for his blessings so that the land may prosper.
Responding, Oba Gbadebo thanked the university management and Okojie for the visit, saying that the latter’s success could be attributed to his simplicity and truthfulness. He recalled how, during his tenure as vice-chancellor, Okojie promised not to leave any project abandoned and he achieved it. He prayed that he would not regret his decision to come back to FUNAAB, that his children would always make him proud and that his future successes would exceed the past.
The NUC staff on Okojie’s entourage were the Director, Quality Assurance, Dr. BiodunSaliu; his Open and Distance Education counterpart, Dr. OlamideAdesina; Deputy Director, Information, Mrs. AdebukolaOlatunji; and Principal Protocol Officer, Mr. AkinlabiAkinola.