The Favour Yahaya Bello Did Us

Wale Babalakin

Dear Dr. Wale Babalakin,

Have you read the news lately, I mean beyond updates about Coronavirus, if you have, then you would have seen an event made in Kogi State that should have caught your attention: Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello has sacked and replaced the Vice Chancellor of the Kogi State University and the Rector of the Kogi State Polytechnic.

It seems really true that if we live long and travel far in life we shall come across the fish with hunchback and here we are: We have traveled far and lived enough to witness not only the era in which Yahaya Bello as Governor will posses the power to sack and replace a Vice Chancellor and a Rector but also the day he will have the audacity and authority to use such power.

This grave and mighty historic act, executed at such a moment in our lives, gives us a golden opportunity to review our understanding of and relationship with our citadel of learning.

Dear Dr Babalakin, allow me to remind distracted readers that today’s missive is addressed to you not because you are lawyer, businessman or philanthropist but as the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman University of Lagos Governing Council. That is the university currently rated as the 1st in Nigeria and 8th in Africa.

Ordinarily, one will assume that as Pro-Chancellor, a man of your professional status and academic exposure will be striving to take that university to the level of being rated as 1st in Africa. It is after all, your university, yours, not because you are Pro-Chancellor but because you were a student of that university.

Alas Dr, the battles you have at hand seem to be way below that of striving for greatness as you seem to be embroiled in mundane battles of who owns the space. A quick google search using the words ‘Babalakin UNILAG’ will tell you more than what we can discuss in a short epistle. It is enough here to note that results of such search includes items like “abrupt suspension of convocation”, “lecturers demand removal of Babalakin” to “Students declare Babalakin unwanted on Campus.”

There is no other way to put it Dr: So far, so bad.

You need to review your approach in chairing university affairs and to do so effectively, it will be useful to review what a university is, what it ought to be and what we should not allow it to be in our lives.

Whilst this discussion might have seemed theoretical and perhaps even abstract till not long ago, the recent sackings done in Kogi State give us a chance more to understand why some of us have maintained for years that we don’t want universities led by Vice Chancellors that can be controlled and sacked by a politician.

Regardless of how democratic one is or how spiteful one might have become towards the university, I think common sense should explain to everyone that if we take the requirements of being eligible to become a Vice Chancellor and compare such requirements to what it takes to be eligible to run for the office of Governor, we should rationally not allow a Vice Chancellor to be answerable to a Governor. That is, however, what we are doing at the moment.

Our society is littered with instances of such misplaced priorities and now that we have nowhere to rush to, we can calmly ponder on such flaws and jaundiced choices perhaps while washing our hands and practising social distancing.

Luckily for us, with Dr. Babalakin as Pro-Chancellor of a top university, we have a chance to see how a world class university is managed. Yes, we can, because unlike others, Babalakin has the experience of and exposure to world class education and universities. He knows very well that world-class universities are known for cutting edge research led by a respected faculty that at all time express bold and independent thoughts whilst teaching bright motivated students who work, play and learn in a competitive but safe and stimulating environment.

A university that is known for uncertainties like cancelling the date of convocation for any other thing outside natural disasters like earthquakes or pandemics like CONVID-19 is not acting like a world class university.

The activities and ultimately the legacy of a Pro-Chancellor should be that of attracting funds, facilitating partnerships, building and promoting the ethos of the University.

What does a Pro-Chancellor do if lecturers and other university executives are proving difficult? Does the Pro-Chancellor fight back and show them who is in charge or turns the other cheek?

I have news for you: The great Pro-Chancellor turns the other cheek.

In a citadel that wants to produce great ideas and great minds, a Pro-Chancellor does not exert power, the Pro-Chancellor exerts influence.

The great Pro-Chancellor is calm and reconciling, always building and binding, not out of weakness but because his or her vision is on the legacy of tomorrow not the battle of today.

*Prof. Kila is Centre Director at CIAPS Lagos.