Tunde Olusunle visits his alma mater to say ‘thank you’

True, I was admitted into the university for a three-year programme because I possessed a higher school certificate, (HSC). I would go on, however, to spend five years in the university. Yes we had those we christened “professional students” in our time, students who were virtual permanent fixtures, moving from one faculty to another, one course to another. Their stints in the university for three, four or five- year programme, subsisted eternally, besting the established calendars of medical students who understandably, logged longer years than most other academic programmes. I wasn’t exactly a bumbling student accumulating “carryovers” or having to repeat courses or whole academic sessions on account of truancy or incapacity of any kind. Not at all. The point is that two years after obtaining my bachelors degree from my alma mater, I was back in the same university for further studies.

This was ironic. The collective grouse of our generation with our university was that we were grilled and hammered into shape unsparingly, in a blistering furnace, in the academic sense, oftentimes beyond our course outlines and syllabuses. Has anyone wondered why some of Nigeria’s most respected journalists never read mass communications? Ayo Akinkuotu, (Tell magazine); Eniola Bello, (THISDAY); Hakeem Bello, (longserving media adviser to former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola); Tunde Rahman, (media adviser to Bola Tinubu, Nigeria’s President); Seun Okinbaloye, (Channels Television); Babajide Otitoju, (TVC), all products of Unilorin, typify this truism. Conversely, the institution espoused a very conservative, frugal, maybe stingy reward system.

Aspiring to transcend the ratings and reputation of its “midwife” at inception, the University of Ibadan, our school could for instance decide not to award first class degrees to deserving students in a particular academic session! I recall my interaction with the iconic poet and scholar, Niyi Osundare who was external examiner for my masters degree thesis in 1989, on the sidelines of his visit to my alma mater. “You guys work really hard here,” he commented. “Just look at the quality of work turned in by you and Bayo Afolabi, (now at the Obafemi Awolowo University, (OAU)). Elsewhere, a little more perspiration qualifies your work for doctoral assessment.”

And so the Deoxyribonucleic acid, (abbreviated as DNA) of the University of Ilorin, (Unilorin), has been resident in my bloodstream since my first engagement with the institution in 1982. My initial preference was the OAU when it bore its original name, “University of Ife.” I didn’t, however, miss or lose anything when I ended up in Unilorin. We received rigorous, requisite broad-based academic instruction from a galaxy of global scholars. They brought their multifaceted vistas from across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas to bear on our learning experience. They taught us to think beyond the infrastructural modesty of our fledgling university which was established just a few years before we joined the institution. They tutored us to be open-minded and think positive. These, they drummed in our ears, will open windows and doors of infinite possibilities.

Beyond the quality of grounding Unilorin availed me, some of my closest of friendships till date were cultivated in that inimitable institution. I should put on record that my beloved wife of three decades now, Funmi and I met in this same school. Now dispersed across the world like flowers in the wind, friends from this very same school continue to look out for each other variously. I could be guest of Gbenga Ayeni now a professor, in Connecticut, or be received in Berlin by Yemi Akinwumi, distinguished professor and Vice Chancellor of the Federal University Lokoja, (FUL). Whenever I need a breather away from Abuja, Tivlumun Nyitse, associate professor, lays the red carpet for me in Makurdi. I could also avail myself some pampering with exotic riverine cuisines by jetting to Port Harcourt as guest of Blessing Wikina. Unilorin therefore is eternally on my mind. For emphasis, the collective alias we invested on our beloved old school is the “Better By Far” university!

I had it on my mental itinerary on my recent visit to the Kwara State capital to breeze through the permanent and ever-evolving campus of Unilorin. Touring and taking in the evolution of the institution has always interested me. Days earlier, I tracked down Kunle Akogun the Director of Corporate Affairs of the university in Abuja, when he attended the annual conference of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, (NIPR). I handed over to him some of my books for onward conveyance to the Vice Chancellor, Wahab Olasupo Egbewole, Professor and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, (SAN).

Once Akogun, a very experienced media practitioner himself, sniffed my presence in Ilorin within days of our encounter in Abuja, however, visiting Unilorin became more compelling. Akogun insisted on my personal handover of the consignment of books to the VC. Availing my alma mater some of my intellectual property is giving a little back to one of the grooming mills I traversed. Versatile as it is, the internet may never quite capture the entire gamut of resources available in all academic disciplines. Modern day students of the institution may never know about the contributions of their precursors on the same brown earth of the institution, decades before.

The main gate of the institution was undergoing some remodelling perhaps in consonance with contemporary trends, as my brother Segun Sobogun piloted me in. The University of Ilorin is no longer a suckling by the way. It has aged, matured and is striding gingerly towards its golden jubilee in a few years. It can therefore do with some appropriate makeover to celebrate its coming to be. To the left as you drive into the voluptuous landmass of the institution is the university zoo. It was a delight savouring the refreshing greenery on both sides of the road, before encountering beautifully interspersed physical development flanking the driveway. Signage at various intersections point you to sundry segments and sections of the voluminous community. Various institutes, a man-made lake, a sports ground, lecture halls and auditoriums adorn both sides of the main road into the university.

As we drove through the intra-campus road network, I glimpsed, albeit fleetingly the names of faculties, facilities and departments. Akogun will later fill me in that Unilorin today spots 15 full-fledged faculties. This is twice the number it was in our time. And they were physically split between the former temporary site of the institution in downtown Ilorin and the fledgling, permanent site those good old days. On a whistle stop at the Department of English in the Arts Faculty, I had to introduce myself to Taofiq Alabi, professor and head of department. We knew one another by reputation but never met. Tells you something about the wholesale transmogrification of the institution and the faculty these past 40 years. Alabi and I then “intruded” into the office of Sola Babatunde, also a seasoned professor and fellow poet while he was teaching a postgraduate class. The happy embrace between Babatunde and I denominated the fact of his being the sole link, probably, between the past and the present.

It was an ecstatic moment before I was formally received in the institution’s library. I was recognised by Joseph Akama who was an administrative officer in the faculty of arts, in our generation. He called out my name in full even as we had a long handshake. It’s been four decades back. Time truly is a speedster. Akama is all grey today like many of us. He remains fit, agile and boisterous and now works with the university library. Dr (Mrs) Aminat Titilayo Abdulsalam welcomed us on behalf of the school authorities. The VC was in Abuja attending the annual conference of his primary professional constituency, the Nigerian Bar Association, (NBA), while the substantive Librarian, Dr Kamal Tunde Omopupa was also out of state. Abdulsalam expressed the appreciation of the school authorities for the resource materials I donated. She assured that they will be deployed in relevant sections of the university library for ease of access by readers and researchers and expressed the hope that other alumni of the institution will emulate our modest precedence.

Beyond its increasingly moulting visage, Unilorin continues to break global bounds in teaching, learning, research and the holistic gamut of scholarship. Recently, two undergraduate students of the Department of Accountancy, Wisdom Gabriel Odusanya and Rasheed Lawal secured full-time employment at HSBC in the United Kingdom, (UK) and the Bank of America, respectively. This was on account of their sterling performances in the course of their two-month internships in the two reputable financial institutions. Their internships were facilitated by their outstanding outings in a contest organised by the “Chartered Financial Analysts, (CFA) Institute Research Challenge.” Odusanya a 400 level student of accounting and Lawal of the 300 level class in the same department, will be free to resume duties with their new employers immediately after graduation.

The university also recently won the premiere edition of the “African Youth Trade Debate,” organised by the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, (AfCFTA). The growth of the University of Ilorin has been exponential to say the least. The student population,  encompassing questers for first degrees, postgraduate qualifications, diplomas and certificates conservatively is about 50,000. It is assumed that about 10 per cent of this figure would be academic and non-academic staff. On account of the institution’s irrepressible and unwavering commitment to excellence and its relatively stable academic calendar, it remains in the top rungs of the most sought-after universities in Nigeria, out of the present number of about 260.

Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and writer is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE)

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