By Ayodeji Olu Peters
But for the possibility of some gullible members of the public being misled by his mischievous antics, there would have been no need to respond to a recent statement by General Tajudeen Olanrewaju (rtd) titled ‘No to imposition of LASU VC’. The statement is riddled with so much illogic and brazen falsehood that if he had been more reflective, General Olanrewaju would have refrained from appending his signature to such a document. His undisguised aim is to portray one of the aspirants for the vacant position of Vice Chancellor of the Lagos State University (LASU), Professor Ibiyemi Bello, as unqualified for the position. Yet, he offers no iota of proof to disprove her academic credentials, administrative and managerial competence or her ethical integrity. Rather, Olanrewaju alleges without supporting facts that there is an attempt to impose Professor Bello as the next VC of LASU “over better qualified indigenes of Lagos State”.
Going by Olanrewaju’s absurd reasoning and flawed logic, Professor Ibiyemi Bello is not qualified for the position because her husband, Mr. Tunji Bello, is a long serving public servant in Lagos State and currently the Commissioner for the Environment and Water Resources. In what way does this have to do with his wife’s suitability and eligibility for the office of VC of LASU if she meets the stipulated criteria? Is her husband’s political career a valid reason to jeopardize her own career progression in her chosen sphere of endeavour? By the way, unlike Olanrewaju, who served as Minister of Communications under discredited military administrations and with no worthy legacy or imprint of achievements to show for it, Tunji Bello has, in this political dispensation, served under elected administrations and his record of performance in his assigned spheres of responsibility is to well known to detain us here. Indeed, Tunji Bello was at the forefront of the barricades on the streets of Lagos during the protracted pro-democracy struggles against the oppressive military dictatorships that General Olanrewaju was part and parcel of.
Olanrewaju claims that Tunji Bello is from Kogi State. Again, what has that got to do with his wife’s legitimate aspiration to become Vice Chancellor of LASU? But the interesting thing is that this claim by the General is patently false. I am aware, for instance, that Tunji Bello was awarded Lagos State Scholarship for his university education. His father was elected into the Lagos City Council twice under the Action Group (AG) in the First Republic. Tunji Bello’s family house is at Ita Akano on Lagos Island, specifically No. 32, Ajishomo Street, off Nnamdi Azikwe, Lagos Island, known as Bello’s compound. It is very close to Lagos Central Mosque. Although she is from Ondo State, his wife, Professor Bello’s mother is an indigene of Lagos State from Olowogbowo in Lagos Island. Again, but for Olanrewaju’s petty and reactionary distractions, what do all of these have to do with qualification and suitability for the Vice Chancellorship of LASU?
There are clearly stipulated criteria for qualification to apply for the position of VC at LASU and other Nigerian universities. These criteria meet international standards in our globalized world in which universities seek to meet global criteria of excellence. Any aspirant who did not meet LASU’s criteria in their advertisement for applications to fill the vacant position of VC at the institution would not even be short-listed for participation in the selection process in the first place. Nowhere do the criteria demand that applicants for the position or their spouses must be indigenes of Lagos State. Incidentally, the first female Vice Chancellor of LASU, who served with distinction, the late Professor Jadesola Akande, was not from Lagos state. It is noteworthy that Professor Bello was Deputy Vice Chancellor to Professor Lateef Hussien as VC and later served Acting VC of LASU.
General Olanrewaju claims that this is the third time in ten years that Professor Bello will be contesting for the position. Again, is this a crime? Is there any limit to the number of times an eligible aspirant can compete for the position once they meet the requisite advertised criteria? This kind of pedestrian, even illiterate, reasoning is a disgrace to a person who rose to the rank of General in the Nigerian military. He claims that Professor Fatiu Akesode contested for the Vice Chancellorship of Ogun State University several years ago and was rejected and asked to go back home to Lagos State. Olanrewaju cites no evidence to back this assertion. If Professor Akesode was unsuccessful in his alleged bid to be appointed VC of the then OSU, the reasons cannot be as crude and simplistic as Olanrewaju put it. In any case, is such clannishness, if true, an example for any university that seeks global excellence and reckoning to follow?
The eminent academics and university administrators from Lagos State cited by General Olanrewaju as being qualified for the position must be embarrassed that they are being portrayed as incapable of competing purely on merit. This is most unfair. After all, the eligibility to apply for the VC position is not even limited to academics at LASU. Pretending to be fighting the cause of indigenes even when he cannot point to a single thing he achieved for Lagos State during his years in public office under the military, General Olanrewaju writes, “Surely, this is not the vision of Alhaji Lateef Jakande who built the institution more than thirty five years ago to give the indigenes a quality education and at once give the indigenous professionals a place in the sun”.
Olanrewaju is grossly mistaken. Alhaji Jakande was not so narrow- minded and restrictive in his vision and reasoning. That is why he created Lagos State University (LASU) and not Lagos State Indigenes University. Lagos indigenes number among distinguished academics that can compete with the beast anywhere in the world. They do not need Olanrewaju’s misbegotten and self-serving advocacy, which only diminishes and detracts from their undoubted competence and distinguished attainments. LASU is a fast growing university of continuously increasing global stature that attracts quality teaching and non-teaching staff as well as students from across Nigeria and even beyond. It is too late in the day to confine LASU to a backwater, clannish institution as the Olanrewajus of this world desire.
• Ayodeji Peters is a Lagos based Public affairs analyst.