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As vice chancellor, you must not be covetous

Published by The Nation on Sun, 06 Jun 2021


Vice Chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Professor Eyitope Ogunbodede in this interview with Yetunde Oladeinde speaks on the target as the institution clocks 60, the challenges of running a university, management style and how he founded a dental museum.Tell us about life as Vice Chancellor'To be a vice chancellor is one of the greatest things that can ever happen to any academic, because that is the pinnacle; the very peak of your career as an individual. And you dont want to misuse the opportunity. You are happy that you are vice chancellor, but at the same time you are very carefulbecause whatever you do at that level can make or mar you as an individual. So, its a mixture of both joy and some level of fear. You dont want to disappoint people, having gotten to that level in life. Its an opportunity to impact lives, even beyond the shores of your country to international level.Surely, superintending intellectuals such as you have in the academia is no tea party; what has been your management style'There are certain key things that you must take cognisance of as a vice chancellor. The first is that you must be able to listen to people. Whether you think what they are saying is right or wrong, whether it is necessary or unnecessary, you still have to listen to them because you learn from whatever they say. The second thing that you must have is patience. You must not act by virtue of the kind of power that is given to you. You have to be patient and know that people do things differently. The other thing that you must also introduce into your management style is the ability to recognise the values in other people. You must not be covetous as a vice chancellor. So, my management style really is for you to use your experience and before you become a vice chancellor, you must have been so many things. Before I became VC, I had been Head of Departments for many years, Dean, Provost of the Medical School and Head of Council. So, in your management style, you must look at all that you have done and use it to take decisions; not just what you see on the spur of the moment.Tell us about some of the memorable moments at Ife and in your personal life'The day I was pronounced vice chancellor, which was 8th May 2017 is a memorable moment in my life. The entire campus was agog; people dancing and jubilating. I had never seen anything like that in my life. To me, its a memory that would never fade away because we were actually getting off a crisis situation. So, it is something that I would forever cherish and would forever be grateful for. The other memorable moment in my life is my very first day at O.A.U, then University of Ife. That was before I became a student of the university. I actually came to O. A.U for the entrance examination and immediately I entered the campus, I was impressed. I told myself I want to live my entire life here, if really its possible and God answered.Tell us about the challenges'There are quite a number of frustrating moments and this is based on the fact that there are things that you can do but the process in place and the bureaucracy in the Nigerian system will definitely not allow you to do. So, it is highly frustrating. You know that you can do something in 24 hours and you are finding it difficult to do it in 24 months. That is rather frustrating.How seamless is bureaucracy in your administration'We have tried to avoid quite a number of things that constitute the clog in the wheel of progress. We have been able to do this by selecting the best people to occupy positions. Yes, you are VC; you can select your friends. In my own style, I believe that whoever is best for any particular post is the person you should put there. If it requires going to plead with them, to beg them to take those positions, I do it. We made a lot of progress in the area of utilising the Tertiary Institution Trust Fund. When I came, I had to set up a Tetfund office; and to do that, I had to look for the best experienced of our academic staff to head that office. People that are knowledgeable, that are intellectuals are in demand. They are not going to come to you to put them anywhere; you have to go to them. Once you are able to put the right person in the right place, you will see changes. I think the country should take a cue from this.You started a dental museum, what does this mean to you'My aim was not to start a dental museum. My aim was to answer a simple question: who, actually, was the first dentist to practise in Nigeria' So, when I went into that, I found out that people were giving different answers, different people, depending on what they knew. Somebody would say 1926 and another would say 1934. So, I decided to go into that, just to answer that question. I found that I could write a paper on it. In the process, I had to interview quite a number of people and found that I could actually write a book on the history of dentistry in Nigeria, which I wrote and published in 2015. And that is the book that all dental personnel in Nigeria are still using. It is the only book that stands for the history of dentistry in Nigeria. While interviewing people, I discovered that they would tell me what they were using in school. If I asked if they still had it, they would say, No, because it is no longer useful, I threw it away. So, I said okay, I could add this to what I was doing. I started going around, especially if you told me one dental clinic was opening or they were modernising somewhere. I would go there to collect whatever they had; it doesnt matter where in the country. For example, the first dental chair to be used in Nigeria and manufactured in 1907 is in that museum. And the very first dentist to practise in Nigeria came in 1907 as an industrial missionary of the Baptist Mission. He was employed and worked in Iwo, Ogbomosho, Shaki and he used that chair. Now, you find everything that has to do with the history of Dentistry in Nigeria in that particular museum. Its a one-storey building with four flats. Its about the only dental museum in the whole of Africa.Obafemi Awolowo University is 60 this year; what are the plans for the next 60 years'We expect that O.A.U is ranked at the very top of higher education in the world, not just in Nigeria. Yes, we are a first generation university. We are doing well in Nigeria and we are also comparatively doing well in Africa. But, I want to see us become the Harvard, the Yale and Oxford of the world. It is possible and it is achievable. I also want us to identify some key areas where we have comparative advantage, go into these areas and ensure that we lead the entire world in those areas. Still, I want to ensure that the university would not be dependent on foreign grant and support.Insecurity is a major problem in the country at the moment and some have asked that private security personnel must carry gun. Are you thinking of this for the university'Anywhere in Nigeria, whether it is in the campus or outside campus, you actually need adequate security. Where we are in the country now, you cannot do without people carrying guns. The days are over when you just used people with batons. I also want to tell you that you dont need to recruit on your own. There are people who are already trained to do that. As a university, you can use those people; you dont need to go into an area where you are not really an expert. When you look at the Nigerian campuses, you have security men there at any point in time. The only thing is that they may not be in uniform. In O.A.U for example, we are very lucky in the sense that over many years the campus has been very secure and I pray that it would continue to be so. And that is because we have quite a lot of security people there. Anybody and everybody should be part of the security. Almost everybody in O.A.U does that job of manning the security. You have the porters in the halls of residence, you have the students themselves, you have the lecturers and we know what it means to secure the premises. And that comes from the fact we actually came from a situation where you have the Ife/Modakeke crisis. Everyone went through that war and so we knew what it means to have security.Lets go down memory lane, what dreams did you have as a young boy'Growing up, I really wanted to be somebody who would be known and recognised. At the secondary school level, I had friends with whom I moved. We even formed the young scientists club at the time, and at a point decided that we would read Medicine. But suddenly, I found that in my state , somebody who was a dentist came, one Dr Omole and every day, it would be announced on radio, Dr Omole wants to go to Ado-Ekiti, Dr Omole wants to go to Ondo and if you have any dental problem, go and meet him there. So, I decided that no more Medicine for me; that it would be a dentist. So, my first choice was Dentistry and my second choice was dentistry. But I chose dentistry to be able to feed my family, not to become a Prof or VC. As fortune would have it, here I am today; I attended Owo High School founded by the late Ajasin. That is why I behave like Ajasin. My mum is 87 this year and my father is still alive, he is 97.The appointment of vice chancellors in Nigeria always comes with crisis. Why is this'There would always be crisis if you fail to follow some guidelines in the appointment of vice chancellors. The first thing in appointing a vice chancellor is to be dispassionate about it. Once you focus on the person you want and want to ensure that by whatever means, that person gets there then there will be trouble. Others are no fools, no idiots; they would work against the process.Whats in the office that makes it so coveted'It is not the office. When you say somebody is an academic, he believes that he knows what is right and what is wrong. So, immediately you begin to do what is wrong, he knows. The issue here is cheating. Nobody wants to be cheated. What happened in Ife for example has nothing to do with the office. People were not really interested. I was a professor at Harvard and there is nothing you want to give me as vice chancellor that is up to what I can get over there. But when you see that something is infringing on your right, or when somebody believes that he can do somethingwhether you like it or not; then you want to show that person, as an academic, that it is not going to happen. If 21 of you are contesting a position, you already know that only one person would get there. But the moment you start to disqualify qualified people before they even get to the process of being interviewed at all, then you know that the process has gone beyond normal. You dont introduce extraneous guidelines. You have an advert that says this person must have 10 years experience as a professor; he must not be beyond the age of 65 years. By the time you now shortlist and disqualify somebody who is convinced that he is qualified, you cannot expect him to keep quiet. Most likely, he will do everything to make sure that the process does not work. So, dont change the goal post in the middle of the game. Secondly, dont give the impression that you already have a candidate that you are working for. Once you give that impression, all the other candidates would gang up against that particular candidate. The third thing is that the chairman of the council must be experienced enough to understand the process. If you are dependent on the people within the university to advise you on what to do and what not to do, you are going to get the wrong advice because they also have candidates. The fourth thing is that you need to understand that to have a seamless appointment of a vice chancellor; you must select a respected and responsible Chairman of Council. As an academic person, when you bring someone like our Chairman of Council with his trajectory, why wont I respect him' But when you bring somebody who is a professor of six years experience. You dont go and pick a professor in one university that is not up to the level of Obafemi Awolowo University, make him Chairman of Council of O. A.U and expect that he will succeed.We dont have such rancour in the developed countries. Why'There is always a problem everywhere but the difference is that when you take up that position in other countries, you are going to work to ensure that the university survives. The situation in Nigeria is very different. Here in Nigeria everybody is spending the so-called oil money. You sit down in your office and at the end of the month the salaries of your workers are paid. If you are VC over there, the salary of the workers and everything is dependent on what you are able to make. So, if you are not qualified or competent, it shows almost immediately. You can even leave the place vacant and it would run on its own. So, whereas everybody wants to be VC here, in those places, even if they invite you to come and become vice chancellor, you wont like it because you know the possibilities and you know what can happen within a few months. Incompetent people would never aspire to such position.
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