Wednesday, December 11, 2019 / 10.07PM / By Olufemi Awoyemi / Header Image Credit: OOU
Being the Speech delivered by Mr. Olufemi Awoyemi, Founder of Proshare
at the Inaugural Annual Lecture Series of the Olabisi Onabanjo University
Alumni Association, held on Tuesday, December 10, 2019 at The Radisson Blu,
Ikeja, Lagos State, Nigeria.
"Everybody in a village had a role to play in bringing up a child - and cherishing it - and in return that child would in due course feel responsible for everybody in that village. That is what makes life in society possible. ...... That was the traditional African way and there was no substitute for it. None."
- Alexander McCall Smith, The Full Cupboard of Life.
The allure of speaking with the alumni must have caught up with me so much that I was considering delivering the speech ex tempore, without guiding notes; not because I took the audience for granted but because the issues I would be addressing is drawn from personal insight - an experiential account.
The invitation call by Mr. Makinde Ademola Stephen, our National President; came on a day when I was deeply reflecting about the new strategic direction of our business and the need to develop a network database for project execution. I had stepped aside, or so I thought, from the day-to-day running of the knowledge company we run and had enough time for chat and soon enough our conversation veered into how the Alumni could be of great use to members and the topic virtually wrote itself.
The next challenge was discovering how to deliver a short, precise and value-laden contribution using the village as a metaphor.
It was clear to me what the speech would cover until Friday, December 06, 2019 when I went into an uncommon shock over a national incident, the consequence of which I knew would define and impact generations to come; if left unaddressed. All the thoughts and witty remarks disappeared and in its place was a void. The topic sounded hallow, more like a fictional tale I could no longer recollect.
I was in that instance filled with self-doubt, self-censorship erased clear thoughts and fear became manifest in the choice of words I penned. Pastor Felix Agbesanwa thought pestering me for the submission of my paper was a good idea till the 'holy spirit' spoke to him to let me be.
I struggled to find words that could encapsulate the dichotomy as well as the linkages between the sovereign as a village, the rule of law and the state of education in Nigeria.
Where do I find such words with meaning at a time like this?
Ah! Igboro ti daru...
Maybe I should write a letter to my children who may be reading this someday, to know what it felt like and how I responded, I concluded. They, along with my wife, have had to sacrifice the most for the man I am today. This much I owed them.
Thoughts of resignation and fear soon gave way to discipline, the training forged during my early years in the University, where after my first 'baptism of fire' as an adult; I learnt to stand up for myself, to speak my truth in humility and to carve a space for myself through intellectual rigour.
If ever I was in doubt, I was immediately reminded of the inner strength inculcated in most of us through responsibility and taking ownership; of knowing that the investments and sacrifices made on our behalf to get an education was not just for ourselves but for the society - from grandparents, uncles, aunts, in-laws, cousins, nieces, neighbours, clergies, teachers, associates and our children.
The circle is not complete for me especially if I fail to recognize those otherwise called fringe agents; as I recall the mechanic that always helped my father out when there was no cash, the shop owner who gave me and my siblings provisions when we did not have enough, and from friends who did all they could to stand by me and helped me to make sense of my life from the certain future of strife, hopelessness and uncertainty that beckoned - books, clothes, cash, lessons and a listening ear provided the succour.
The village came through for me indeed and I must now be there for them.
The elevated position we all see now is but a mirage, if it is not paid back to chart a path for others to follow.
It was in this same spirit that I wrote a paper I was privileged to present at the Christopher Kolade Annual lecture organized by the Convention on Business Integrity (CBi) on June 29, 2019 titled Igboro Ti Daru .
It was an Ode to my late father and to friends and ex-alumni members that have passed on; a salute to the courage of men and women who came before us and made the impossible look effortless; it was me looking back to the past to find inspiration for the journey yet ahead.
Sadly, I have not seen much change since then, but I have changed.
I have found my voice and I intend to use it.
This platform affords me such an opportunity and I thank the organisers for inviting me.
My task today will therefore be to make the case that building a better society and rescuing the university system is a collective responsibility; not a mutually exclusive endeavour; and it is one task for which a University Alumni is uniquely positioned to deliver on.
This is our reason for being.
In one of the many knowledge sharing sessions I have had the privilege of participating in, the 'Town Meets Gown' 2-day engagement jointly organised by the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) and the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) in April 2019 and the New Ogun State Education Standard Conference organized by Modupe Mujota, former Commissioner of Education under Governor Ibikunle Amosun's administration in May 2017 provided me with insights into the realities and challenges we face as a nation, nay a state, in the area of education. My thoughts as documented in my presentation titled Ogun Standard Education: A Way Forward unfortunately remains valid.
It is however easy to fall into the false conclusion that nothing has changed, that issues and concerns raised decades ago are still being raised today.
Yes, things have changed no doubt, quality is just not one of them.
We have more buildings, more hostels and more offices... but less quality tools, equipment, facilities and knowledge enablers than needed.
In a situation where you have thousands of students, I believe OOU has over 50,000 undergraduates in the institution as at today; it would not be surprising to have hundreds or more go on to excel in any given graduating year - not because of outstanding academic conditions, but in spite of it.
Yet, we celebrate the continuous award of a certificate and not an education.
When the global financial crisis occurred in 2009, something unique happened - the contagion effect was felt in our markets and economy directly; indicating how much we were susceptible to global trends. Universities across the world offering economics moved to change their curricula to respond to the knowledge gap now needed to confront changes in how the field of study can prevent such crisis and help managers of the economy better manage volatilities and changing dynamics.
According to reports, the University College London (UCL) and the University of Massachusetts in Boston were among the first to pilot a fundamentally new approach to the way economics is taught in higher education. Others including the University of Sydney, Sciences Po (Paris), and the University of Chile followed in early 2015.
This new approach is reportedly based on the CORE project of the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) at the Oxford Martin School, part of a global call for an overhaul of the economics curriculum commonly taught to undergraduates. True to its name, the CORE project has developed a new, interactive core curriculum-all delivered through an online virtual learning environment, and completely open to the public.
This has yet to happen in our school(s).
This is how knowledge gaps become wealth and productivity gaps in a sovereign; and this is where the competitive advantage of a school (nay country) lies.
The quality of a university is measured in relative terms rather than in absolutes; thus, in determining its trajectory as a citadel of excellence; as it would inform and define the quality of the Alumni - a critical recruitment tool and enabler to the future growth of the university and by extension, the society.
Some of us barely made it through school with our sanity intact, and did get lucky to be exposed to knowledge that emphasized enlightenment as the goal of education; not certificates. To those who became enlightened, you belong to an oasis; surrounded by a multitude that needs to be encouraged; and a system in need of accelerators that only quality education can provide.
Some of us just could not master the art of chaos that defined that era; something that persist and has morphed into a science of living in our larger society - a society that has changed in outlook but at its core, largely remains ethically and excellence challenged; without form and conscience; raising men and women with a provincial mindset, defined and influenced largely by their group affiliations - be it ethnic, religious or tribal.
The education system in place is not equipped to deal with that nor inspire both administrators and the students alike to seek enlightenment.
It is my submission therefore, after close observation and interaction at various levels that the university system was not designed for innovation, thought-led leadership and socio-economic development that can enable its products and society thrive.
If and where success does happen, it is an exception, not the rule. Excellence is not the norm but a default, not the design.
Yet, we strive on, engaging in hope and a belief in miracles or the miraculous; that somehow and in some way, we will overcome and reach Eldorado.
Without interrupting those investing in such hopeful adventures as a strategy, let me take the opportunity of the suspended state of reflection to unpack my thoughts on the theme of a village as a metaphor for the Alumni.
The Olabisi Onabanjo University - Reflections
Ogun State University (OSU), as it then was fondly known, was established in July 1982 upon the assent to the bill by the then Civilian Governor of Ogun State, Late Chief Olabisi Onabanjo to lead in the identification of the state's problems and also proffer solutions for them.
Records indicate that OSU was patterned after the American State University "land grant" system, and was designed as a multi-campus institution (political considerations), with College of Health Sciences in Sagamu (Remo), College of Engineering in Ibogun (Egba), College of Agricultural Sciences in Aiyetoro (Yewa), and the Main campus housing Faculties of Arts and Humanities as well as Natural Sciences in Ago-Iwoye (Ijebu).
Let me digress a bit to quickly comment on the land-grant university principle which in the main, was a unique solution to a problem in the United States at the time; one that allowed a university or college so designated by a (federating) state to receive the benefits of the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890.
"The Morrill Acts funded educational institutions by granting federally controlled land to the states for them to sell, to raise funds, to establish and endow "land-grant" colleges. The mission of these institutions as set forth in the 1862 Act is to focus on the teaching of practical agriculture, science, military science, and engineering (though "without excluding classical studies") as a response to the industrial revolution and changing social class.
This mission was in contrast to the historic practice of higher education to focus on a liberal arts curriculum. A 1994 expansion gave land-grant status to several tribal colleges and universities. Ultimately, most land-grant colleges became large public universities that today offer a full spectrum of educational opportunities. However, some land-grant colleges are private schools, including Cornell University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Tuskegee University.
The land-grant college system has been seen as a major contributor in the faster growth rate of the US economy that led to its overtaking the United Kingdom as economic superpower, according to research by faculty from the State University of New York.
The three-part mission of the land-grant university continues to evolve in the twenty-first century.
What originally was described as "teaching, research, and service" was renamed "learning, discovery, and engagement" by the Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities, and again recast as "talent, innovation, and place" by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) in 2018 I believe."
To understand a problem, it is always good to go to the origin of it. Where purpose and structure are designed to deliver a specific solution; chopping and cobbling parts of it together will not produce the same expected outcome.
This point goes to the heart of the conversation about University Autonomy, which is not the same as the related issue of Financial Autonomy, that dominates such discourse.
Characteristically therefore, University Autonomy means the ability to exercise independent control over its day-to-day operations and curriculum i.e. the funding agency or state does not have control over academic matters.
Financial Autonomy simply refers to a university's ability to manage its funds and allocate its budget independently i.e. decide freely on its internal financial affairs. European universities for example receive an important proportion of their funds from the state. Whether this funding is provided as a line-item budget or a block grant, the extent to which it may be freely allocated to different budget lines and the length of the funding cycle are important aspects of financial autonomy.
We operate a convoluted approach to state owned universities that defeats the very purpose for which it was set up - as the state is unable to fund all its basic needs not to talk of aspirational needs. There are other factors that make this quite a challenge; and can be a subject for a future alumni lecture by an esteemed alumnus or expert; as part of our contribution to our alma mater.
I however felt it necessary to dive straight into this issue because, for those of us who had to undergo a university education off loaned buildings in the Abusi Edumare Academy, Ijebu-Igbo (faculties of Arts and Social Sciences) due to a lack of space at the then mini-campus; OSU has gone through a lot of challenges and changes since 1982, not just in name only; and this needed to be addressed for the sake of new intakes.
...at that time, it was a different Nigeria.
It was a time when education was taken seriously and there was a bond between the school and the community - such that students lived with people, complete strangers and felt safe - from Ago-Iwoye to Oru to Ijebu-Igbo and other off-campus locations.
There was a common bond between the town and gown communities; and students felt a part of the host community.
Despite what some may call a provincial outlook of the communities, they were more than welcoming and made everyone feel at home, helped us settle down to the rigours of the ticket-collecting molue buses, GNS courses no one cared about, overflowing compulsory course classrooms, the Bisrod chairs, and the cafeteria that merely prepared one for the NYSC camp canteens. Oh yes, and Jerry Sodipe acting the dual role of the VC's enforcer and man-o-war commandant; with Rotimi Anifowoshe in tow marshalling the Popoola hall. I am told that Jerry is a QC now so I take that back, Rotimi I can argue with.
On a more serious note, OSU had its challenges but it was not just school to me, it was a second home. It was where I discovered love, experienced uncommon brilliance and genius from my colleagues in the accounting department, met my first mentors - Mr. Aje or Baba Aje as he was fondly called (who made me fall in love with the English language and gave me my most prized possession - a To Whom It May Concern recommendation) and Prof Salako of the Faculty of Law (who supervised my final year paper and instilled in me the principles and application of critical thinking); grew up with many other teachers in the ways of life who helped in their own little way to 'borrow myself some brain" (Yemi Adesiyan, Abbey Idris, Dayo Bankale and Tubosun Ladele) awon agbaya in Popoola hall, kept a couple of good and bad company, fraternized and went to my first party, rave and carnival without Mama Yetunde breathing down my neck...I even got to do a break-dance competition - my futile attempt at getting admitted into the Royals Club....where Bayo Adeyemi, 'Balinga' and M'Lord Demola Bakare held court.
There are many names and memories of friends, housemates and colleagues too many to mention; most of whom are now able to stay connected on social media, a few of which includes - Afolabi Sorunke (immediate past president), Fela Adewusi, Muyiwa Onabanjo (SU President), 'Okenla' of the Kegites fame, Tunde 'Gary' Awoyemi, Segun and Ahmed Oduye, Seun Oduyemi, Bayo Olomodosi, Toks Olajide, Bayo Odude, Segun Soewu, Kayode 'Rufus' Oteniya, Ahmed Sule, Tele Kpotie, Ayo Sadare, Ayo Oleshin, 'Big Boy', Tunji Olugbodi, Bola Adeeko, Yemi 'Tiny' Odukoya, Biola Oduyemi and the late Bode Sobola.
Given that success is relative in a society where people are forever optimistic; we have all come very far.
The majority of the public service in Ogun State is populated from top to bottom with members of this Alumni while the current Registrar of the school, Femi Ogunwomoju was part of the 84-88 set.
By far the most remarkable and unique landmark achieved, and one for which all members of the Olabisi Onabanjo University Alumni must be very proud of is the fact that the first Alumni of a state owned university to rise to the post of the Vice-chancellor in the same state university was achieved when Professor Wale Olaitan was appointed (2009-2013).
It is fitting that I mention why today is also significant for someone in this room. Today marks the 30th year wedding anniversary of Mr. & Dr. Mrs. Muyiwa and Iyabode Onabanjo. Recall that Dr. (Mrs) Onabanjo, married to our SU president taught in the University and retired as a Senior Lecturer in 2007 before she relocated to the United Kingdom. We wish them the very best and remain proud of their strides.
We have indeed come very far as products of this institution that made us.
If any of us is now looking for a university in the state, nay country, for a ward; will our alma mater be in the Top 5?
So, what is the missing link?
What can we do as an Alumni?
I know what I must do and will do, even as everyone else must answer the same question for himself or herself?
It must start with a clear understanding of the role of a University Alumni - one which is primarily to support and provide contributions voluntarily for maintaining and expanding a university's development.
By establishing channels that can facilitate closer ties between the alumni, students and university, it can provide crucial benefits in enriching the student's experience while being at the university. Every alumni has experienced being a student to becoming a unique and different graduate, hence there is potential for all alumni to contribute to the university in different ways and scale.
A few pointers from best practice, considered relevant for our clime; may offer us a clue:
1. As a Role model and inspiration
2. As a Career mentor
3. As a Provider of expertise
4. As an opportunity to access professional development:
The senior alumni community that are successful can be a most effective medium not just for the university graduates but also with the younger alumni. When the alumni community is successful and obtain recognition from the corporate world, industry and the wider community, it can potentially create a stronger network as well as trust in the university and in turn, will assist younger alumni from the university to access opportunities in improving their careers and professionalism. Currently, more universities are committed in providing continuous education that can assist in improving the careers of the working graduates by offering postgraduate courses to alumni that graduated with 1st or 2nd class honours.
5. As a vehicle to improve student recruitment efforts
6. As a means of increasing efforts in collecting funds:
Alumni especially the more senior ones that are more stable from the economy perspective are able to reduce the financial burden of underprivileged students in university. It is similar to lighting a candle that will give meaningful positive impact to the students' lives. An active alumni association can encourage greater collection of funds enabling the establishment of scholarships, supporting students' activities, cultural programs and clubs and associations expeditions, assisting in establishment of infrastructure for people with disabilities and support innnovative improvements at the university. Harvard University and Al Azhar University are examples of universities having the largest endowment funds in the world and a substantial part of it is contributed by the alumni. The endowment fund can sustain the sponsorship of significant programs, scientific research discoveries and supported hundreds of professors in various fields of academic.
7. As a support platform for the university's reputation:
Views and positive statements that alumni present in relation to their university through media or other physical or social means provides support for the university reputation. It can influence the community because of public perception that the alumni is more understanding of the challenges faced at the university having undertaking several years at the university. The alumni is in effect, an asset to the university, and our contributions and involvement can significantly increase the reputation of the university nationally and internationally.
Doing all or most of the above, will define and cement the alumni's role as a crucial plank for the development of the university.
All alumni can provide support in various aspects that are beneficial to the students, graduates, alumni, universities and the society.
Finally, in the framework to strengthen the development of the state and the nation, a successful alumni can be the social model for unity of the society and a factor for economic growth and development.
If we cannot make this Alumni work, we have no reason to complain about why Nigeria is not working.
This is the missing middle in the development of OOU and the incomplete part of our collective story of humble beginnings.
I have a lot more to say on the subject, but I must not abuse the courtesy extended to me by overstaying my welcome.
Join me therefore in thanking the Exco of the Alumni for their leadership and exemplar action in kick-starting this conversation. I am grateful to you, Mr. President and the distinguished Alumnus here present, and the esteemed audience watching for indulging me.