OAU: A Test for Yemi Ogunbiyi’s Humility, Respect-for-all Model

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Whoever chose Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi to head the Governing Council of troubled Obafemi Awolowo University knows him quiet well. The cap fits perfectly, only that for now it appears to be a thorny one for which he has to draw heavily on his sweet personality built on humility and respect for all, and his vast experience and skills “Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, is in deep crisis. Right now the University has no Governing Council…….” Wumi Raji, an Associate Professor in the Department of Dramatic Arts, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, had shouted in June, 2016 in an article to a newspaper. The Ogunbiyi model is not a learned habit; it is not a public relations gimmick; it is his nature. So it flows like a reflex action. A story is told of how years ago, as Managing Director of Daily Times, he noticed that one of the staff members in his office did not accord as much respect to relatively poor visitors as she did affluent visitors. He called the individual and advised her on the need to treat all people with warmth and respect – without discrimination. It is said that months later when life became tough for the individual after she left Daily Times, she run into one of the people she had once received shabbily. The man was so helpful to her that she became ashamed of herself. She immediately adopted the Ogunbiyi model and never stopped preaching it. With the gift of making people feel easily at home and comfortable, Ogunbiyi is warm and friendly even to strangers. Along with his disarming humility, go very strong interpersonal and conflict resolution skills. And widely-travelled, seen-all-done-all man, including advisory support for some past governments, he is a deep reservoir of solutions for a large variety of problems of governments, firms and individuals. And he is so popular that, like Coca Cola, when you mention his name in many circles, there is no need to add any qualifiers. The name is a stand-alone brand. All that have deposited a huge account balance of goodwill, which many people, including the big and the mighty draw on to solve problems or to build bridges. On a visit to him one evening, I wondered how he coped with his many beneficiaries, who kept his two mobile phones busy for several minutes, indeed over an hour. Insinuations that he lives in the shadows of Professor Wole Soyinka are rubbished by the popularity of the Yemi Ogunbiyi brand; and the high and mighty who quietly rush to him to have image threats and problems solved. The fact that Soyinka’s massive global brand has not eclipsed the Ogunbiyi brand, built on humility, knowledge and service, is in itself a testimony of its strength, and the character of the man. A former university teacher who taught at the Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, in the United States, and the former University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Yemi Ogunbiyi holds a Ph.D in Dramatic Literature from the New York University in the United States. He received his secondary education from the Ibadan Boys High School and later went to University of Ibadan where he studied English Literature. He proceeded to the New York University for his Masters. A foundation member of The Guardian Newspapers, Ogunbiyi went on to head the Daily Times Group of newspapers as Managing Director. As a journalist, he executed high-profile interviews with Shimon Perez, Thomas Sankara, Kenneth Kaunda, Kamuzu Banda and Rajiv Ghandi, among others. Today, he is Chairman of Tanus Books (Nigeria) Limited, a publishing company that specialises in the publication of school textbooks. His Sixty Years of Winning with Nigeria: The History of Nigerian Breweries Plc (1946-2006), was published in 2007. His other works include Drama and Theatre in Nigeria: A Critical Source Book, which was published in 1981 and due to be reissued in 2011; and two volumes of Perspectives on Nigerian Literature: 1700 to the Present, which are edited critical selections from the Guardian Literary Series. Tanus Books is one of the leading publishing companies in the country.

The company has published over 450 titles, spread across core and entrepreneurial subjects in the Nigerian school curriculum: including history, computer studies, civic education, catering craft, woodwork, store-keeping, garment-making, plumbing and pipe-fitting, painting and decoration, French and Nigerian indigenous languages. He told THISDAY recently how he got into publishing, after life in Daily Times. “I decided to start an advertising agency,” he recalled. “But in between that, I was able to start a corporate publishing outfit meant for corporate books. Then gradually, I found myself getting more interested. Some years ago, Donald Duke became the Governor of Cross River State and asked me to print some school textbooks for the state. I had never done school books before then. I was only printing corporate books. I said no. But he persuaded me. And there would surely be a payback time, he said jokingly. “I took up the challenge. It was a huge contract and I couldn’t find a press that could do that for me. I then found a press in India and they did the printing for me. When the books came back and I saw them, I thought they looked very nice so I suggested that Duke should sell the books to other state government since the books were all based in the federal government curriculum. He said he didn’t think anyone would buy those books from him. I persuaded him by telling him that I would market the books for him for other states and that we would share the profit. He said, ‘Well, good luck to you. I don’t think you are going to make any headway’. That year, we sold about half a million text books to other states by merely selling those books that belonged to Cross River State.” “State governments will ask for these books and if we don’t have them that will be too bad so we make them. I think today we have between 45 and 50 entrepreneurial subjects in our stable. I have decided to keep producing textbooks only although there is a lot of pressure on us to do more than just that. For now we are stuck with school textbooks.”

Chairman of the Governing Council
Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the appointment of Dr. Ogunbiyi as the Chairman of the Governing Council of Obafemi Awolowo University. The council of the university was sacked recently following some crisis. Education minister, Malam Adamu Adamu announced the appointment in a statement. He said the new governing council would serve for a term of four years, in the first instance, with effect from December 28, 2016. Other members of the OAU council are Prof Felix U. Madubuike, Mr. Inowei Akono, Mr. Adekunle Sanni and Muhammad Bello Kaoje. Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) is a federal government-owned and operated Nigerian university. Founded in 1961, (classes commencing in October 1962) it is one of the leading universities in the country. The university, with a beautiful campus and high academic standards, has produced many great names over the years. But it has always had ‘strong’ unions of lecturers and even students. Obviously Ogunbiyi will need his Midas touch and all his expertise in OAU, where he was once a teacher. In June, Raji wrote, “Right now the University has no Governing Council, no Vice Chancellor – substantive or acting – and, at least, no active Deputy Vice-Chancellor. Only the registrar still retains his position but he, too, dare not come near his office. This is because members of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU) have laid siege on the University administrative building. “They have been doing so since June 7, the day after the Governing Council, following a meeting held at a secret location in Abuja, announced Professor Ayobami Salami as Vice-Chancellor elect for the University. “On Thursday June 23, and in an apparent attempt at averting tragic confrontations, the registrar announced the closure of the University, asking students to immediately vacate their halls of residence. He never indicated any date when they could return to resume their studies. “The crisis has its roots in the process of appointment of a new Vice-Chancellor for the University…… “ ….(Then) the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu came on air to announce the dissolution of the Governing Council of the University, along with that of the University of Port Harcourt. The Minister also ordered the suspension of the process of appointment of a substantive Vice Chancellor for the University until after the case in court must have been decided. “The announcement was greeted with wild jubilation on campus. SSANU and NASU members who had spent several days at the barricade felt vindicated and they went round the campus dancing in jubilation. ASUU members who, just a few hours before the announcement, had forced their chairman to retract a statement which he claimed to have issued on their behalf also rejoiced. “The next thing was to wait for the next announcement from government, which was expected to provide direction on how the leadership of the University would be reconstituted.” The university didn’t wait for long. In July President Muhammadu Buhari directed the Senate of the university to immediately recommend a qualified person for appointment, as an acting Vice Chancellor for the university. In a letter addressed to the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, the President directed the Senate not to consider any of the candidates who had earlier contested for the position. The letter further stated that the Senate of the university should take immediate steps to implement the directive of the President and report back to the Federal Ministry of Education. According to staff and students, the federal government’s decision was a step towards the redemption and integrity of the institution, which for weeks had been hit by crisis after the exit of the immediate past Vice Chancellor, Prof Bamitale Omole. OAU is a great university, so naturally all eyes are on Ogunbiyi’s Council. His Midas touch too is on trial.