A recent advertisement placed in some national dailies by the Management of the University of Ibadan (UI), signed by the Registrar, Mrs Olubunmi Omobolanle Faluyi entitled “Appointment of Vice Chancellor” clearly indicated that the five-year tenure of Prof. Abel Idowu Olayinka is gradually coming to an end! How time flies! The tenure which began like yesterday ends November 30 this year.
Well, like his predecessors, Prof. Olayinka has put in his best efforts to sustain the enviable tradition of academic excellence peculiar to Ibadan. He came in on December 1, 2015 as the 12th VC with all his hairs black, he is leaving the leadership seat with grey hairs, having worked tirelessly to take UI to the next level. His achievements are no mean feats. The making of Prof. Olayinka’s successor is what has informed the vacancy advertisement.
However, with the benefits of hindsight, this writer can assert that the requirements expected to be possessed by the next VC are way beyond what the advertisement specified. Given the weight of the burden on the table, I sympathize with whoever emerges as the next VC in advance. This is not intended to scare anybody, but the point must be made that the job in question is as difficult as grasping shadow. It is a job with almost an endless scope. The position obviously carries a heavy price tag. It is a job that requires a king to work like a slave. The good news, however, is that true gold fears no furnace.
Perhaps it is against this background that an American literary critic, John Updike notes that a leader in this kind of a context is “one who, out of madness or goodness, volunteers to take upon himself or herself the woes of a people” The maxim that uneasy lies the head that wears the crown rings ever so true in this situation. With much confidence, one can say that the road to Vice Chancellorship of a university, particularly of Ibadan status is not only intellectually tough and somewhat rough, but also rigorous. It is a journey that is travelled by the brilliant, bold, and destined. This is a University with close to 500 professors in different disciplines. UI is a leading Centre of quality learning with untrammeled generations and contestation of ideas, free flow of thoughts, a cradle and crucible for the vigorous commerce of human mind and its restless traffic of imagination and intelligence.
The truth is that whoever is interested in leading this kind of a community of scholars must not only be confident of himself to provide intellectual leadership, but must also be a man or woman who will bring the full weight of experience and exposure to the tasks at hand. The person must be a specialist in integrative thinking. He or She must have the capacity to hold two diametrically opposing ideas in his or her head and be able to reconcile them. Interestingly, I have so far worked with three VCs, including Profs Olufemi Bamiro, Isaac Folorunso Adewole and the incumbent, Prof. Idowu Olayinka. I saw some of their challenges. I saw the weight of the burden they bore for the system to survive. I saw the way they worked day and night for five years without going on leave. They were barraged round the clock by all sorts of demands from staff and students.
To underscore these challenges, I asked Prof. Adewole in the twilight of his tenure to tell me his saddest day in office as VC, he retorted “my saddest day was the day I first sat in this office as the VC. It dawned on me that the challenges were daunting. I asked myself if it was worth it after all. It was burdensome but I thank God I survived” His successor, Prof. Olayinka in his own reaction told me that the unpredictability of human nature has been his major disappointment.
Indeed, the journey on this seat is an admixture of dismay and delight, if not an undulating wave of sweet, sorrow and sadness occasioned by the vicissitude of life and the complexity of the system. Whoever is interested in this job therefore must be a person of huge intellectual savvy, uncompromising sense of justice, uncommon courage and steely grit in defence of rule of law and justice. On this job, whoever emerges to succeed Prof. Olayinka must be a philosopher, a seer, and a thinker of finest hue. He should be ready to dream and dare in order to succeed. On the other hand, s/he should be ready to face mob malediction and merchants of mischief . S/he may have to suffer unwarranted malice and face undeserved attack. It is part of the job.
Yet, he must have the wit to humour the schizophrenic by calling them the bridegroom so as to have a way out of trouble. He should be able to regale his audience with banters, thus, creating a gregarious atmosphere for intellectual adventure. Conversely, he must be courageous to face danger, for it is demeaning for an elder to tremblingly shout for help, just as it is disgraceful for a hunter to flee before a game. The person must be ready to work to a breaking point so as to achieve breakthroughs .
The tension associated with this position is enormous. Since 2015 when Nigeria tasted what is called recession, workers have been under pressure. The salary is poor. The system is underfunded. The condition of service is increasingly inclement and there is a gross disenchantment among the workers. This poor situation has created a serious suspicion between the leaders and the led. Interestingly, leaders are like a thermostat, they determine what happens to everyone in the sphere of their influence. They are a compass which provides direction to others. Consequently, any direction that is perceived to be antithetical to the interest of the workers is vehemently resisted.
Therefore, the next leader coming after Prof. Olayinka should be a person of creativity and prayer. He must know about the Bible, the Quran, the Torah, and the Veda- all of which contain divine knowledge. The candidate that will be picked by the Nde Joshua Mutka Waklek led governing council must be a man or woman of valour, whose courage is that of a cognoscenti and illuminati ready to die for the system. Beyond academic profundity, the 13th VC should be able to sing, drum, dance, crack jokes and laugh heartily. He should be able to drink wine, but not to the state of stupor! This is because the job is not only about serious scholarly enterprise , but also involves social engagements.
The next VC should be able to manage his mood effectively, mind his manner in public places and master his mouth. He must be at his best behaviour all the time because the moment he or she is announced, the global attention shifts to him or her till 2025 when the tenure expires. People will be looking up to him or her for inspiration and limitation. He must be legacy obsessed, ready to drudge all day long. He must not be a vindictive person, planning to use the position to punish his perceived fiends and reward his friends. He must not be enamoured with the rule of arbitrariness. He must do away with parochial encumbrances.
Certainly, this coming 13th VC is not a man that will carry the carcass of an elephant on his head and still be using his feet to hunt for crickets. Through the instrumentality of a scientific platform for proper interrogation and provision of enlightenment, he is expected to shape the tone and texture of the development paradigm. Leadership isn’t a joke. The point has been made ad nauseam that the causative factor in Nigeria’s underdevelopment is failure of leadership elite. Leadership simply means influence. Two major components make a leader:character and competence. A leader has an uncanny ability to see far deeper, larger and longer than the ordinary man. This 13th VC as a leader must have capacity to learn, tackle difficulty and question the status quo. He should be ready to lose a battle in order to win a war.
He should be tenacious without being overbearing, accommodating but not permissive, firm but fair, displaying amazing discretion and diplomacy. A man or woman who will hear more and talk less. The Council has the responsibility of choosing a person of humility and humanism. Above all, all the candidates must realize that the interest of the institution is far bigger than theirs. They should therefore pursue their ambitions with a sense of emotional moderation. Whoever is picked must be supported in the interest of UI. Five years is like five months as time does not go like a vista. Whoever is appointed must be magnanimous in victory. He or she must immediately extend a hand of fellowship to his co-contestants, seeking their assistance and cooperation. May UI continue to be great.
Saanu (08059436919) is Media Assistant to the Vice Chancellor, University of Ibadan.