Soremekun: Life of a Legend

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Prof. Kayode Soremekun, Vice Chancellor, Federal University Oye Ekiti (FUOYE) and former Chairman, Editorial Board, BusinessDay, turns 67 on May 21. His life depicts both challenges and triumph. writes Biodun Fanoro

Greatness, no doubt, is the dream of every man. Some achieved greatness while some acquired it. Some people do attain greatness by reason of birth while by virtue of exceptional contributions to human development. The latter has, of course, helped transform the history of mankind at different times and in different nations.

Professor Kayode Soremekun, the Vice Chancellor, Federal University, Oye Ekiti (FUOYE), belongs to the class of leaders that achieved greatness by reason of sheer exceptional contribution to free speech as a media leader; capacity building as a teacher of note and public management as an astute university administrator.

Without debate, Soremekun was not born into greatness. Yet, by industry and providence, he secured himself a place in the modern history of university administration in Nigeria. He was not born with silver’s spoon. Yet, with God and tenacity of hope, he has been able to break limits in both academic and media professions.

Born on May 21, 1953, Soremekun will 67 next Thursday. From his birth to date, his life portrays both challenges and success. His father was a primary head master. That perhaps placed him on a good standing to excel academically. But in 1957, just before he turned four, death plucked his mother, making his dream of greatness glimmer.

Despite this grim reality of being a semi orphan, his father was visionary enough to see hope of future greatness in his son. Prophetically, he christened him Olukayode, even before death struck and took his mother away in the winter of 1957. Literarily, Olukayode means the Lord has visited the family of Soremekun with bounties and joy.

It was in this environment of daunting challenges that Soremekun lived to achieve greatness. Born in Lagos, but hailed from Abeokuta, Soremekun continued his childhood education, turning these challenges to a driving force that energised him in 1967 to gain admission to the country’s probably best secondary school, the prestigious, King’s College, Lagos, which he attended on a scholarship.

Having completed his secondary education in 1971, Soremekun gained admission to the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in 1972 to study. After a year in the university, he was designated a National Award Scholar. By 1976, at the age of 23, he bagged Bachelor’s Degree in English/History
Armed with the first degree, Soremekun did not stop to aspire to be great. To put action to this, the young man, who probably must have met one or two young lecturers in his Ife alma mater and made them models, wasted no time in returning to Ife in 1978 for his M.Sc. Degree in International Relations which he completed in one year.

After his Master’s Degree, Soremekun went into journalism full time. His first port of call was Times International, where he served as Staff Writer. His talent distinguished him and was transferred to the Editorial Board of The Daily Times. Amid the sickening politics of the Second Republic and its consequence on the newspaper, he left for his alma mater in 1982 to undertake his doctoral research programme while serving as an Assistant Lecturer.

Clearly, God was at work here. For this significant change of career from journalism to academic was largely facilitated by his long-term mentor, Professor Ralph Onwuka who supervised his Master’s dissertation and Ph.D thesis. He completed his doctoral programme at a record time with focus on “Nigerian Petroleum Policy and External Relations.”

Soremekun, a highly cerebral scholar, capped his doctoral feat with a post-doctoral studies at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, Netherlands and the School of Public Affairs, University of Maryland, College Park in the United States. Respectively, at these institutions, Soremekun studied International Law and the United States Foreign Policy Process.

In the course of his career, Soremekun is a meritorious winner of several international awards, Fellowships and recognition, among which were: Consultant, Heinrich Boll Foundation, East and South Africa; Rockefeller Residency Fellowship at Bellagio, Italy, Senior Fulbright Research Fellowship, Consultant and Resource Person to the Swedish based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, (IDEA) Consultant and Resource Person to the Commonwealth.

Soremekun, an erudite scholar, has proven that he is a skilfully trained and a thoroughbred social scientist. He has successfully maintained dual ‘citizen’ of two professions, having successfully provided the necessary nexus between academics and the media, coming and going out of the Fourth Estate of the Realm at different occasions and performing different roles, initially on a full time basis, and later, on part-time basis. Indeed, much of the immediate foregoing explains why Soremekun is often described as a public-spirited intellectual, who occupies the critical interface between academic on one hand and journalism on the other.

Part of his media exploits include Visiting Editorial Board Member of The AM News, a pro-democracy, quasi-guerrilla newspaper; Visiting Editorial Board Member of The Guardian, The Compass Newspapers. Daily Times, The Champion and BusinessDay where he served as Chair of the Editorial Board before he was invited to serve as the Vice Chancellor, Federal University, Oye Ekiti.

Soremekun lectured for over 20 years at his Ife alma mater, where he was Dean of the Faculty of Administration and Head Department of International Relations. He later moved to the University of Lagos, where he was appointed Head, Department of Political Science. Subsequently, he joined the Covenant University, Ota. At Covenant University, he served as the Dean, College of Development Studies and Head, Department of Political Science and International Relations.

He later joined the Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution Unit of the School of Arts and Social Sciences, National Open University of Nigeria in 2014. In February 2016, the Federal Government appointed him the Vice-Chancellor, Federal University Oye Ekiti (FUOYE). To many, all these laurels might have proclaimed Soremekun as being great. But events have shown that the above is simply a precursor, it is a vehicle that just ferried the scholar to his glittering, imperishable and lasting greatness. Hereunder are his uncommon achievements at FUOYE, which has redefined the history of university education, particularly in Nigeria.

To properly appreciate the depth of achievements this scholar has recorded in four years at FUOYE, it is pertinent and instructive to lay out the underlining perspective that the institution is barely eight years old. Precisely, it was established in 2011 alongside eight others under the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, GCFR. The nine institutions took off at the same time.

At first, it is very tempting to start from what many may consider the least or the abstract but for which he earned himself a gold medal. He has been able to successfully manage the generally powerful Governing Council and the not -too-powerful university management to perform those wonders in all sectors of the university. This is a significant achievement if the war-like situations in some universities are anything to go by.

Still on the abstract, Soremekun broke the record in award of Honorary degrees, when during the last two convocations and award of degrees ceremony in the university, he moved away from the tradition where Honorary doctoral degrees are awarded to money-bags, politicians, public officers with questionable wealth, bankers or oil magnates. Rather, he recognised Imam Said Abubakar who in 2018 saved the life of 262 Christians who were being chased by insurgents who wanted to kill them.

It was reported that the cleric could not even fund his trip to receive the award not to talk of having money to dole to the university. Other eminent people who were given awards solely on merit for distinguishing themselves in their fields include Felix Ajakaiye, Bishop, Catholic Diocese of Ekiti who was one of the few clerics at the vanguard of June 12 struggle in 1993, Dr Efunjoke Coker, first indigenous Principal of Queen’s College, Lagos and the legendary British-born educationist, Guy Garguilo, who gave his life to Nigeria’s educational sector.

Besides, Soremekun has in his four years in the university expanded the academic structure of the university, increasing the departments from mere 22 in 2016 to 63, now fully accredited departments and the faculties from 4 to 9. He has the rare record of working assiduously to make FUOYE the only institution among the 9 universities that has faculties of Law and Pharmacy positively verified and running full degree programme in the various departments. Under him, FUOYE has the sole record of being the only one from the 2011 Class of 9 that has begun post-graduate programmes at both the Master and Doctoral levels and has graduated some of them. Today, there are five faculties running 29 post-graduate programme in the university. He also has the record of increasing students’ population from 1,012 when he assumed office to 21, 433 as at the current 2019/2020 academic Session.

He equally made an admirable stride on expansion of academic programmes with the introduction of Distance Learning programmes. The university is now running pre-degree courses in virtually all the programmes offered at the degree level. It also runs a programme tagged Top Up to upgrade HND graduates to a full degree status.

When he assumed office, the university did not have its own portal or ICT. It was using that of Obafemi Awolowo University. The story has changed. FUOYE now has its own independent portal, website and ICT. He achieved the same feat in the area of power as the university was solely and formerly using generator as its source of power. But today, he has connected the two campuses of the university to the national grid.

In the area of facilities and infrastructure, Soremekun has literally turned the campuses to permanent construction sites with building of houses and roads going on day and night. The main campus at Oye Ekiti, which operated from Phase One with less than 6 buildings, now operates from three phases with over 30 buildings.

Nothing lends credence to the massive infrastructural revolution under Soremekun than the array of 47 different projects the Minister of Education Malam Adamu Adamu represented by a director from the Ministry, Mr Abdullahi Saliu Jubril, commissioned in February this year as part of programmes to mark the fourth anniversary of the VC.

Indeed, Soremekun has demonstrated that he is a scholar, who knows the engine-room of academic cum intellectual brain-storming when he pioneered FUOYE’s Annual Inaugural Lecture and revived the Public Lecture series, leading to FUOYE holding the seat for International Studies on Herders’/Farmers’ Conflicts involving Nigeria, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Togo. With this initiative, among others, he has successfully put the university on the global map through linkages and synergies he established with some international research institutes and universities. One of them is the African Peace-Building Network of the Social Science Council of New York.

In the areas of winning laurels, honours and awards, FUOYE Engineering students came first in a recent national academic competition involving faculties of engineering of all Nigerian universities in 2018. It recorded similar feat in another national competition hosted by the University of Ibadan for students in Psychology departments in 2019. Just recently, one of the students in History and International Relations won an all expenses paid International Fellowship tenable in Germany.

Under Soremekun, FUOYE has been recognised and celebrated at the national level. Currently, the university is ranked 14 and 19 the best university in Nigeria by two different organisations, making it the only from the Class of Nine to be so ranked and has beaten many older universities. Apart from organisations, government too has acknowledged this meteoric transformation and has consequently commended the university’s leadership. The acknowledgement and commendation came from no other person than the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu while inaugurating 47 projects. Unequivocally, the minister declared FUOYE as primus inter pares.

Likewise, the Governing Council of the university has recognised strategic leadership Soremekun has been providing at FUOYE. In a letter by its Chairman, Prof. Tunde Samuel in February, the Council commended Soremekun for breaking the limits. The letter read in part: “The University Governing Council at its 18th statutory meeting held on December 19, 2019, acknowledged and appreciated your meritorious service towards the development of the University as the Vice Chancellor and Chairman of the University management.

The Council particularly noted the unprecedented development in the University’s infrastructural projects.
“On this note, the council observed with delight the exponential growth in facilities, a situation which has greatly enhanced the profile of our fast growing university. Similarly, the Council noted with immense pleasure, the huge increase in the population of students since you assumed office in February 2016. This positive linkage, which you have effected between education and massification, is praiseworthy. This is because you have been able to assure a vibrant future for our teeming young population…”

With this recognition, it is certainly not an exaggeration to conclude that Olukayode, whose mother’s sudden death threw his future into uncertainty in 1957, has certainly conquered uncertainty and achieved greatness by God’s matchless grace and hard work. At 67, I strongly believe, he will always look back and glorify in his journey of life.
––Fanoro, Senior Media Aide to the VC, writes from Oye Ekiti.