Ishaq Oloyede: On His Persona, Passion and Principles

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Prof. Ishaq Oloyede

Prof. Ishaq Olanrewaju Oloyede, Registrar and Chief Executive of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), remains a role model and an exemplary public servant with a track record of untainted integrity. As a former vice chancellor of the University of Ilorin in Kwara State, Oloyede demonstrated his exceptional grasp of leadership and administration of public institutions. Within few months of heading JAMB, the erudite scholar has made the public institution more efficient, proactive, responsive and profitable – and even more so, accountable.

Funke Olaode explores his personae, passion and principles

Unpretentious and gregarious; vivacious and gracious, the Registrar and Chief Executive of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, makes success seem easy and hard work look like a child’s play. An engaging, enthralling and erudite scholar and administrator, the Egba-born don has always excelled, lived above obscurity and inanity. His leadership style and drive at JAMB is one-of-a-kind, sanitizing a once ridicule-ridden public transforming into an enviable establishment – even successfully raking in unprecedented revenues for the examination board.

That Oloyede is well educated and well connected will be an understatement, yet he exudes simplicity with high sense of core value and respect for the Yoruba culture. His response. “Being a top echelon in the society to me is not a big deal.

You are what you are at JAMB office. But at home in Yoruba’s culture you are what you are in the family. You cannot jump or overtake others. You can only take your position in the family. But when I see my aunties, it is a must to show respect. They will even lambast you that ‘who are you and what are you and what have you added to yourself that you just see them and walk away?’

“In a traditional Yoruba setting, whatever you are or whatever position you hold in the society – even if you are a king – when it comes to family matters you only take your position in the family,” Oloyede says about being gracious and gentlemanly.
Expressing a deep philosophy in the capacity of the self, Oloyede talked about his saying, as he says: “I don’t know if I am simple. Remember you cannot be anything but what you are. I don’t see a person adding anything to him or herself other than who he or she is. So I am simply and I have no option than to be myself.”

Continuing, the professor explains: “There is no air about anybody except somebody who is deceiving him or herself. Every human being is precious. I do not think one person is of the value of the double of another person unless that person is deceiving him or herself. So there is nothing special about anybody beyond the contributions that such a person can make to humanity.

“It is not bragging about who you are. It is about doing what you are supposed to do for the benefit of humanity. I am an Egba man and I appreciate their (Egba) culture and value – and the fact that you cannot become wealthy overnight. People would ask you who is your father or mother and where is the money coming from. It doesn’t matter the position you hold in the society, they can send you on an errand. So that kind of culture actually shaped me. So whatever you are you have to understand the society and your contribution to it is what matters.”

For the JAMB boss, success is his middle name.

“I don’t think it is a demand too much for any reasonable public officer to serve his or her nation. What is happening is that a number of public officers do not reflect their education in what they do. They get into public office and behave as if they have never been to any school. I do not believe that one needs to over-tax oneself in order to do what is right in this nation.
“It is because many people have betrayed this nation – many people have betrayed the cause. Many people have betrayed the training they had because when you see certain things, you ask yourself: are these people educated because the money expended on them must have been a waste in their education?” he asks.

Hard-working and honest, Oloyede adds to the impetus of the current government’s anti-corruption crusade. He gets the imprimatur from critics and supporters. He is not infallible but his class acts have always been plausible.

“When you talk about JAMB, I believe it was unfortunate that JAMB was not what it was. The plan for JAMB was good, conception and idea are unbeatable. But along the line, those who are not buying into the vision took control of the system and turned everything upside down. My job is about restoration of JAMB to what JAMB ought to be. I would say that at the early stage of JAMB, I had the opportunity of participating. I shared the vision and spoke with the Chairman, Prof. Akinkugbe, who was the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin at a time.

“Prof. Akinkugbe was also the foundation chairman of JAMB then. So I have access to people like him. I know their vision. I knew why JAMB was established and could not do otherwise other than to restore the original concept of JAMB,” he explains.
Oloyede believes that the government should be more circumspect, particularly when it comes to educational institutions. He would want the government to be more selective and it is not about people bribing their ways to the public office. Then, he adds: “Of course, if you bribe your way into an office you are not likely to respect the office and at the end of the day you are likely to destroy the system.”

He philosophized that it was a good thing that something went wrong along the line in JAMB and noted that “whatever we can do to restore the original intention of the founders would be good and the nation is also appreciative”.

An erudite scholar, Oloyede works with the mindset of a shrewd businessman and an incorrupt civil servant. To public acclaim, he helped JAMB to raise its revenue from a mere N23 million to N8 billion in just eight months after assuming office. But how was the professor of Islamic Studies been able to pull that through? Was it by increasing the fees JAMB charges?

Oloyede answers: “We have never increased the charges of JAMB. There is no increase in money being generated. But it is about decrease in money being expended. If you go to other places like the United Kingdom, they have a body that is similar to JAMB called the United Kingdom Central Admission System. The UK government does not contribute one penny to the running of that body. They do not pay their salaries. They don’t do anything and still expect them (the body) to spend on tertiary institution’s education.

“But in Nigeria we are pampered because the government pays the salaries of JAMB workers – that was a mistake in the first place. Of course, when you have resources beyond your needs, the tendency to or possibility of embarking on jamborees is there. I think that is where we got it wrong. I believe that JAMB has the resources on behalf of people of this nation to pay the salaries of its staff, maintain its facilities and still improve the lot of tertiary institutions in Nigeria.”

He also shared his thought on the billions of naira JAMB realized and returned to the federal government.
“It isn’t the best though where you have billions of naira and you return it back to the government. It is not the best. But that is the legal framework we have to work with. A better stage can be to go to similar institutions around the world where they fund themselves and extend it (the money) to tertiary institutions directly by identifying their needs and supporting them. PTDF and TETFund are government para-agencies that have protected sources while in JAMB you have to go and market. You have services to render,” Oloyede says.

But what does he think about the government’s plan to reduce JAMB’s fees?
“It is a good thing because not that JAMB was over-charging before but with the latest development, JAMB has been able to demonstrate to the government that we do not need as much as we generate to run the institution and the right thing for the government to do is to reduce it so that the benefit of our sweat can be passed to ordinary Nigerians.

“It is a welcome development and also shows that we have a responsible government because if the government is interested in stealing all it needs is to be negotiating to put a stooge there who will steal the resources and they will share the money. It is not because we are generating more but we are not wasting more and I believe we can do better, “he explains.

A native of Abeokuta, Ogun State, 64-year-old Oloyede was born and raised in Lagos under the watchful eyes of his maternal grandmother and extended family members having lost his mother he was just four.

Going to the university to study Islamic Studies up to doctoral level wasn’t a misstep as his childhood dream was to be a good Muslim.
“My dream as a child was to be the best Muslim I could be because I could see my parents. I could see members of my families being renowned Muslim scholars. As children growing up in those days, we weren’t dreaming of becoming anything other than to be able to be useful to the community. Maybe after admission to the university then we could start dreaming of a career path,” he points out.

An academic par excellence, it is little wonder when he says: “If I am given the opportunity to come to this world 20 times I would still love to be a teacher. I tell my children that I don’t see any trade that is as profitable as teaching at any level. You have the opportunity of developing your brain and when it comes to personal development the opportunities are there. I have four children and I encourage all my children to be teachers – three of them are teachers.”

When he is not engaged in his official duties, Oloyede pounds the treadmill to keep in shape. That obviously accounts for his athletic look.

Exuding a deep sense of gratitude, the JAMB boss says: “Leadership should translate to sacrifice and service. The society has made significant contribution to my life. I enjoyed federal government scholarship. My parents only paid my year one and I became a federal government scholar. What I am doing now is like paying back. It was from the taxpayer’s money I was given education so there is nothing special in what I am doing now.

“If I am a citizen of the UK today I would have been in debt because I would have taken loan and still be paying back. Those of us who have knowledge of public education should note that nothing is too much to render for this country,” he added.