My attention has been drawn to a recent publication in your widely read newspaper on “Unilorin: The defloration of citadel” by Sulaiman Owolabi
In the piece, Sulaiman who claims to be a “grateful alumnus” of the great citadel believes that there is “bull in a China shop” at the helm of affairs at the University of Ilorin and that person is the vice-chancellor of the university, Prof Sulayman Abdulkareem.
For those of us who might wonder what it means to be a bull in a China shop, according to the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary and Thesaurus, it means someone who behaves very carelessly. Think of a raging bull, then think of a shop that sells the delicate porcelain-like material that originated in China. It becomes obvious that if such a bull enters the shop, there might be wide-scale chaos and destruction with significant damage in the aftermath. After going through the write-up, it is not apparent why the writer thinks that the vice-chancellor’s actions are sloppy or how the university is like a China shop.
Ordinarily, right from my student days at the university where I was also a one-time Student Union president, I do not respond to articles in the dailies; partly because I believe that you do not dignify people’s ignorance with attention. However, I believe that Sulaiman’s case is different: the allegations he raised showed that he does not have a full grasp of the personality of Prof AbdulKareem and he does not know how the university works. The absurd and unprovable accusations that are full of innuendos raised by the writer only ended up exposing his ignorance. I believe these absurdities were made out of sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity; armchair analyses that characterise the menace from attention-seeking bloggers in the age social media explosion that rarely reflect a thorough examination of facts and precedence expected of someone who passed out of the university, as claimed by the writer.
I am not clear on how to fit Sulaiman’s type in the famous Arabian proverb: whether to categorise him as “He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, is a fool; shun him”. Or to group him as “he who knows not, and knows that he knows not, is a student; teach him”. I am tempted to assume that he belongs to the latter group; he does not know, but he is willing to know, and because I have some information that might make him understand better, it behoves me to explain to him why he is wrong in his assessment.
That the vice-chancellor is a man of excellence is a fact evident to everyone. Right from his days as the head of SIWES unit of the University of Ilorin, to his days as the dean of the Student Affairs up to when he was appointed and reappointed for a second term as the vice-chancellor of Al-Hikmah University Ilorin, Prof Sulayman Abdulkareem has displayed excellent managerial abilities. These are outside of the research laurels and commendations he has received for groundbreaking research both in Nigeria, the United States and many other foreign institutions.
My relationship with the vice-chancellor dates back to my days as the president of the Student Union government of the university and while Prof Abdulkareem was the dean Student Affairs. Although before that time, I had the opportunity of listening to him showcasing one of his brilliant research breakthroughs on a national broadcast on a Thursday in one of the network programmes of the Nigerian Television Authority. On the televised programme, I saw him explain how his innovative solution for clearing up the oil-spillage could be efficiently done with the use of plastic waste. Though I was not a student of the university as at that time, hearing such an innovative approach for solving some of the biggest challenges, struck as a man of brilliance and was impressed by his intellectual and cognitive ability. Little did I know that I would eventually build a long-lasting relationship with him; worked directly under him while I was the Student Union president and also during my youth service days when I was deployed to the Student Affairs unit of the university.
Now going to one of the allegations. The writer noted that the vice-chancellor is undoing everything his last four predecessors have achieved and why any right-thinking people, according to him, should not stand by and watch. I do not fully understand what the writer means by this, but if I get him right, he refers to the reconciliation of the two factions of the Academic Staff Union (ASUU) of the University. Then he needs to know that attempts at reconciliation did not start with the current administration. Indeed, previous administrations made several attempts at uniting the two factions. I still recall vividly a congress that was held during the early stage of the last administration where Prof Albert Olayemi hinted on the move at looking for a lasting resolution to settle the dispute. I am also aware of several such moves and the culmination of which may have paved the way for the crises to be effectively resolved during the current administration of Prof AbdulKareem.
If not anything, the resolving of the age-old crises with two ASUU bodies of the university only shows the exact opposite of how the writer describes the vice-chancellor. I think, and indeed any right-thinking individual would agree, that the vice-chancellor being methodological in approach, which reflects his scientific background, and being peace-loving, maybe by virtue of his creed and personal conviction that love and building bridges matter more than pursuing ego and self-interested agenda, are not the traits that qualify someone as careless.
On second thought, I wish to pose this to the writer. Going by the name, I guess that he is a male. If he happens to be the head of the family and there are age-long crises that do not add to the collective value of the family, won’t he be seen as stupid if an opportunity to resolve such crises arises and on the pretext that it is an age-old crisis allow such to continue? I think it would be foolhardy and puerile for anyone to take such a position. The same thing is with the current vice-chancellor. An opportunity that builds on previous reconciliation attempts presents itself, and according to the writer, he expects the vice-chancellor to shun such simply because doing so would amount to undoing what his predecessors achieved.
Concerning the allegation of nepotism, and the granting of autonomy to the various department of the university in respect of management functions, here the writer also goofs and exposes his myopic and short-sighted opinion of the vice-chancellor and the limited understanding of the working of the university. Prof Abdulkareem, if he does not know, could deny his biological son any privilege that he thinks he does not deserve. Take my own as a case study. I applied for supplementary funding from the university TETFund in pursuance of my PhD in the UK. The practice over the years has been for the vice-chancellor to determine a large proportion of those who benefit from the fund. In the case of Prof Abdulkareem, when I approached and after being duly qualified for the fund, he told me that the decision on who gets funded does not rest with him but with the director of Credit. Despite my closeness with him and also qualified for the award, I was not favoured, and the decision in my case was not favourable. This is to disprove the allegation of the vice-chancellor of nepotism.
Finally, the writer needs to know that many challenges are facing the country at present. These are numerous; growing and restive youth population, rising unemployment and insecurity. The challenge is for university management to evolve innovative solutions and experiment with a new style. For this to happen, university managers; especially, the administrators are expected to shed off old practices that are nolonger fashionable and come up with new styles. As it is normal for any management decision that departs from the old ways of doing things,sacrifices would have to be made, and lessons would be learned. However, the most important thing is not to stagnate and be proactive in addressing the issues as they arise. I think in this regards, the university management under the current administration is doing wonderfully well. Not quite long ago, the university of Ilorin and four others bagged the National Tertiary Admission Performance Merit Award for their outstanding performance in the 2018 admission by Joint Admission and Matriculation Board. These and many more showcase the general admiration, accolades, trust and acceptance independent accessors have of the quality of the management style of the current administration.Animashaun is of Department of Economics, University of Manchester, United Kingdom