So much for LASU, it appears, deriving from Ambode’s penchant for excellence and distinctions. But the true test of the governor’s consistency with excellence and distinction for LASU may lie in what becomes of LASU after the raging crisis. Yes, the strikes are over, but the air of uncertainty in LASU seems persistent.
While the recently suspended national strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) raged, the Lagos State University (LASU) earned an extra-ordinary visibility. An unpleasant one. LASU again? Many wondered. The people’s amazement was not unfounded. The two immediate past vice-chancellors were literally sacked by the staff, even as the tenure of each of them was already running out. But then, Governor Akinwumi Ambode, on assumption of office in 2015, had the daunting task of taming the seeming wild LASU forces.
Incidentally the new governor’s deputy, Dr. Oluranti Adebule, is actually on leave from LASU. She had been on leave prior to her emergence as Ambode’s deputy, having functioned as the secretary to the state government (SSG) in the immediate past regime of Governor Fashola. Doing the very best for LASU therefore appeared to be compelling.
A swift scan through Ambode’s profile presents him as a thoroughbred professional with distinguished academic records and therefore one that may be inclined to be strongly supportive of the education sector. An alumnus of the renowned American Hubert Humphrey Fellowship scheme, his other distinctions include being one of the best graduating students in his set at the University of Lagos, in addition to being one of the best WAEC candidates in his year in the early 1980s.
I first encountered Ambode’s profile as a member of the Joe Igbokwe team of campaigners insistent on Lagos for good. For that team, the priority was to ensure that only the deserving should be allowed to run the affairs of Lagos State, even as parties did not mind fielding just anyone. The potential voters in the state were promptly reminded of the looming danger in some of the candidates. Even as some of those candidates had done their best to sabotage the peoples’ will in the very recent past, they still felt Lagosians were too gullible to note their misdeeds.
My initial meeting with Ambode was when he brought his campaign to my neighbourhood at Protea Hotel, Ikeja. Fortified on his seat by NADECO’s all-weather, activist politician, Ayo Opadokun, and his scholar deputy at the Protea Hotel session, Ambode mustered all the possible wits at his disposal to assure and reassure the audience, heavily saturated with activists, that he would do his best for the Lagos youth, who were in and out of school. He equally promised a better future for the civil society, which he promised a stronger reckoning.
Not a few people have applauded Ambode’s bold move to establish the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSTEF), which has restored hope to several otherwise hopeless citizens who are creative enough not only to employ themselves but also some extra hands.
For the in-school youth and the entire community of the only university owned by the state, Ambode’s vision for LASU seemed only next to that of the founder, Alhaji Lateef Jakande. The choice of the renowned sociologist, Professor Bayo Ninalowo, as the chair of the university council, has been widely applauded for some obvious reasons. Ninalowo himself is a Lagos based scholar, a teacher at the University of Lagos, who could not have been in the dark about the challenges of LASU. He can’t be led by the nose.
A most commendable consolidation of the above was the celebrated appointment of the incumbent vice-vhancellor, Professor Olanrewaju Adigun Fagboun. This choice of Fagbohun is significant for some reasons: It reassured members of the LASU academic community that the owner government still has a lot of confidence in us in spite of the rancorous past. Fagbohun had invested his early career years in LASU before seeking to assert his competence and experiential asset in some other strategic environments. A leading light in the scholarship on environmental law, a development activist, astute researcher and administrator endowed with uncommon capacity for warm disposition notwithstanding being a blue blood, Fagbohun has, within two years, demonstrated his preparedness for the office beyond any doubt. VC Fagbohun started well by ensuring the university-wide circulation of copies of the published version of his vision for LASU.
As a fellow development enthusiast, what struck me mostly in Fagbohun’s agenda, already running, is the democratised governance with a human face. For more than a decade that I had served LASU diligently until Fagbohun assumed office, ordinary information about most privileges meant for all LASU staffers were always concealed and often preferred to be wasted by those who called the shots across all levels. Especially under the regime immediately before this, I was a victim with regards to opportunities from TETFUND, Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), the Association of African Universities (AAU), even when a personal friend and former teacher, Prof. Paschal Mihyo of Tanzania was its executive secretary. Mihyo, a Pan-Africanist and former legal adviser to Mwalimu Nyerere, sought for opportunities and dispensed them to countless Africans, especially when he was a distinguished scholar at the Institute of African Studies (ISS), Hague Netherlands. The heartless people of power in LASU before Fagbohun extended their avarice to the support that Lagos State Government used to give academics in LASU for local conferences. They would allow only minute fractions to trickle down. They later initiated the campaign that Lagos State was no longer interested in supporting experts to attend both local and international conferences, as well as training schedules.
Enter Fagbohun. No fewer than 30 committees were set up to cater to different spheres of the university’s activities. Besides such strategic committees as TETFUND, the university also has committees dedicated to hostel development in line with Governor Ambode’s vision to turn LASU into a residential university. There’s also the Internationalisation Committee that has been making efforts to nurture the institution’s relationship with the international community. Not again are members of the community diminished to such level as to keep depending on some favoured counterparts for information on rights and privileges. Indeed, even as there is still substantial room for improvement for the university’s information management team, the university information dissemination system is pleasantly different from what it used to be. The university has therefore started attracting good attention from interested parties, locally and internationally.
So much for LASU, it appears, deriving from Ambode’s penchant for excellence and distinctions. But the true test of the governor’s consistency with excellence and distinction for LASU may lie in what becomes of LASU after the raging crisis. Yes, the strikes are over, but the air of uncertainty in LASU seems persistent. It has always been so each time the national leadership of ASUU directed members to resort to strike. State universities have always had their peculiar misfortunes to address afterwards. This is prbabbly excusable for other universities but not for LASU. For me, the issue of the sacked ASUU leaders isn’t beyond the courts. But what happens to the dignity of the entire workforce, especially the academics now that the chair of the university’s council will, as well, soon benefit from the agreement reached with the ASUU leadership? Governor Ambode inherited an affluent state which has also pleased God to be elevated to the status of an oil producing state, soon to play host to the biggest refinery in the world. The innovative governor has equally done well to grow the state’s internally generated revenue (IGR) and phenomenally intensified physical development across the state.
For all these good records, history beckons to Professor Ninalowo, the first academic to chair the university’s council. He should just go for gold. The reality today is that Lagos State can afford to own two universities but for now makes do with one. Conspicuously less resourced Ondo and neighbouring Ogun States have two universities each. It will beat my imagination if this era of the leadership of Professor Ninalowo does not stand out in the history of LASU for a long time with all the benefits of experience and supposed patriotic desire for his dear state. Currently, the best state university in the country, LASU can’t afford to be rated lower than the best federal government universities. If it could do better with enhanced facilities, it already parades some of the best scholars in town, deserving only the best possible from the promising profiles of the governor, the university council chair and the vice-chancellor.
Tunde Akanni teaches journalism at the Lagos State University. Follow him on Twitter @AkintundeAkanni.