Heart of Arts

Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe: Five Years A Captain of Our UNILAG

Toyin Falola

 

 University administration and management are not easy anywhere in the world, and it proves more difficult in the case of renowned, older, and more popular universities. Such universities are another world, with their modus operandi, several systems and workflows, and myriad problems. If such a university is domiciled in Nigeria, the challenge of management and administration more than doubles. Little to no attention is paid to the Nigerian education system, and the support that may be readily available for universities elsewhere is non-existent for Nigerian universities. Ironically, for a system that receives little support, funding and resources from the government and other supposed stakeholders, the Nigerian tertiary education system, especially the universities, receives a lot of criticism.

Accepting to manage a Nigerian university is almost an impossible mission that would expose one to public criticism and put one’s political, technical, and diplomatic abilities to test in ways one may have never experienced. However, Vice-Chancellors like Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe have demonstrated that no matter how Herculean the task, it is possible to effectively run Nigerian universities. In the past five years, the University of Lagos (UNILAG) has enjoyed the services of an administrator who profoundly grasps what it takes to manage Nigerian universities.

I have a warm relationship with the University of Lagos and have known Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe for years, even before he ascended to the topmost management position at the university. Aside from his administrative strides, his life and career as an academic have been nothing short of wonderful, with awards, grants, and discoveries to his name. His work history is the definition of excellence. He is a technocratic administrator, a unique leader who understands the technical know-how and diplomatic aspect of governing a body and managing people. It is no wonder that despite the tribulations that nearly ended his Vice-Chancellorship, Prof. Ogundipe could steer the ship through the storm.

Before becoming the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe demonstrated strong academic planning and management abilities at various levels of authority, from Head of Department to Deputy Vice-Chancellor in charge of academics and research. They say present responsibilities prepare one for even greater responsibilities, which is true for Prof. Ogundipe. His position as the administrative head of research and academics at the University of Lagos prepared him for the work of Vice-Chancellor.

Since Prof. Ogundipe has been Vice-Chancellor for the past few years, the University of Lagos has reclaimed its prime position as one of the nation’s best universities. There is also a deeply admirable thing about how the astute administrator and academic has managed the university, which is how he has reinforced the academic and research focus of the institution and openly supported and promoted extracurricular activities like sports and public speaking that contribute to holistic university education. Additionally, the University of Lagos has single-handedly or collaboratively launched initiatives such as the African Student Leaders Network to help its students and staff serve as societal change agents and innovators.

Prof. Ogundipe’s time as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos has seen the university receive research grants running into tens of billions of naira. The great thing about this is that the university’s research focus has encouraged academic members to pursue research projects and included students. The University of Lagos’ research focus under Ogundipe has been designed to produce some of the nation and continent’s best researchers, a mission that the prime and award-winning researcher and foremost botanist led by example.

Another remarkable aspect of Prof. Ogundipe’s administration at the University of Lagos is its progressiveness. The seasoned administrator and his team are forward-thinkers who have gauged the future of work and the transformation of this world post-COVID-19. They are introducing new programs to the University of Lagos system to supply Nigeria and the African continent with the type of skilled workforce the future requires. It is also worth noting that the institution was the first federal university to adopt a fully online mode of learning during the coronavirus pandemic, lending credence to the progressive mindset of this dynamic man.

Furthermore, knowledge and its application are two distinct things, and the fact that one is informed in a specific field is no guarantee that one can apply such knowledge to achieve the right results. This phenomenon has manifested its truthfulness among leaders and administrators in Nigeria, including university executives, who, although knowing the theories of management, perform woefully in managerial positions. Prof. Ogundipe, however, is both knowledgeable and has demonstrated his ability to handle the administration of a university system. One memorable instance of this was at the first convening of the Carnegie Conference on Higher Education in Africa, where Prof. Ogundipe was the keynote speaker. His contributions demonstrated his sound knowledge of the intricacies of higher education in the African region, especially in Nigeria, including the problems the system faces, the causes of these problems, and why solving them has been somewhat elusive. Prof. Ogundipe’s inputs and observations that day take more than theoretical knowledge. It requires someone who has worked their way up through the system trying to make changes.

Prof. Ogundipe is one man who is more concerned about doing the work than revelling in the office or position. With such people, it is difficult to get back at them by relieving them of their position because their self-esteem, fulfilment, and joy are not tied to the position but to their service, people, and contributions. Thus, Prof. Ogundipe was not ruffled as many would have expected when he was briefly removed from office by the University of Lagos Governing Council, an action that subsequent happenings have further confirmed untrue and misrepresented the leadership, commitment, and excellence of the Ogundipe-led administration.

Whether good or bad, everything comes to an eventual end. This finality of everything about life means our deeds are what sustains us. People have negative thoughts about individuals whose periods of dominance and authority fueled personal and selfish interests at the expense of general progress and development. Likewise, posterity and legends are always kind to those who dedicate their life to stellar service. For Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, the end of his tenure as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos has come, and, without a doubt, posterity and legends will be kind to him for his commitment to the institution and how he proved that commitment through service. Wherever the new season may bear him, whether to the intellectual walls of an academic office, the technocratic boardroom of an international organization, or the intricacies of a political office, Prof. Ogundipe will deliver on the mission as he is wont to do.

Congratulations to a decorated captain! May the ship bearing all your endeavours not capsize when you hand over the controls. Keep my song of victory on your walls and minds.

 

CAPTAIN OGUNDIPE

Like an agoyin-girl story,

Who danced to the melody of agony,

Selling happiness from a hot pot that hurt her head,

Making ends meet; ends that are never met,

To being beaten like a whore in Sweden,

Is the tale of many lives before the enthronement of Ogundipe

****

Like any other passenger in a ship of murky waters

In between life and death,

Ups and downs,

Troubles and more troubles;

We stayed sleepless and helpless,

But Captain Ogundipe came on to safe us

****

Half a decade is gone

Years have passed

UNILAG waxing great

Lives formed; dreams built

Great strides, untold achievements

UNILAG breaking borders

Men are born; Kings are made

Legacies live on; kingdoms end

But Ogundipe’s vision is clear;

 His name was a word that never missed in people’s mouths

In prayers; In talks; In ceremonies

His name was the theme song for all,

Students sang it, Staff sang it, Friends and family sang it

God blessed us; He gave us Ogundipe

And now UNILAG is great again!

****

Ogundipe, you’re “The Captain”

Whose power can drive a clan

Breathing in and out

Gasping, sighing, screaming, and shouting.

Spreading his arms wide and smile

Making himself tall, as tall as a mile

Doing the impossible

One, two, three or ten times

****

A milestone of achievements

Five solid years of making a name

The one that stays long even after death;

You surely deserve a statue

On the streets of UNILAG and its environ

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