By Adewale Kupoluyi
The position of vice-chancellor in the Nigerian university system is not a small thing. The vice-chancellor is not only first among equals within the rank of professors; he or she would usually provide both academic and administrative leadership in the ivory towers. It is for this reason that the position of vice-chancellor is lucrative and prestigious. However, recent disclosure by a former vice-chancellor and professor of international standing seems to suggest that assuming the post of VC may not be bed of roses. He spoke at his Valedictory Lecture, marking his retirement from active service at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogun State titled; “A servant is not greater than his master: Who wants to be a vice-chancellor”.
A valedictory lecture serves as a good custom for a retiring professor to inform the academic community about his/her research activities. Professors who retire would have the opportunity to give a farewell at such lectures. When the lecture is given, it affords members of the university community and those present at the occasion to appreciate what the lecturer had done over the years and the legacy being left behind within the lecture. It is cherished tradition that many universities uphold, to promote scholarship as well as the town and the gown relations.
Professor Okojie disclosed that his vice-chancellorship was divine, as he never nursed the ambition but circumstances only created the opportunity for him to be. He said he wept when he was encouraged to run for VC because he felt he was incapable. The don noted that he was glad that he had the opportunity to successfully serve twice as VC. According to him, the VC is everybody’s servant but nobody’s master. Hence, “A servant is not greater than his master. Who wants to be a vice-chancellor?”, he asked.
He described a VC as the chief operating/executive officer in universities, who has responsibilities for the day-to-day management of the system as the chief accounting officer while providing academic and administrative leadership and that, a VC has great and complex responsibilities. Professor Okojie pointed out that the management of a university has its challenges, which the average professor may not be prepared for and as such, many distinguished scholars fail to make good vice-chancellors. A good vice-chancellor has to be a good shepherd that is willing to care for his sheep and be ready to protect them at all costs. He has to be kind, compassionate, courageous, caring, a good listener, operating an open door policy, have emotional intelligence to deal with issues, proactive and engaging. No two VCs have the same experience in managing a university, he added.
The two-term and former Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC), disclosed that the vice-chancellor is expected to dig deep into this arsenal of virtues to confront any situation, as he is the alter-ego and the face of the university and should always have a commanding presence. Additionally, the VC is appointed to serve the university community and the public. He is for everybody and, therefore, has many masters such as the staff, students, external communities, government parastatals, agencies and the public. He is appointed by the governing council and can be removed from office, for a just cause anytime, by the same council. This seemingly superman is actually a poor servant and is nobody, in the true sense of it, is appointed to serve and he is, therefore, a servant, Professor Okojie said.
He recollected that he was the least of all the professors and became the vice-chancellor to lead FUNAAB for about six years, just as he called for the re-introduction of the Higher School Certificate (HSC) programme in public schools, decolonisation of education in Nigeria, designation of the top 10 universities in Nigeria in terms of age and ranking as postgraduate universities, need for universities to streamline sustainable development goals into their research and development activities, internalisation of universities by act of national assembly and mentorship of staff, to promote the quality of teaching and research in our universities.
The Professor of Forest Resources Management recommended staff training and retraining, to discourage brain-drain, introduction of courses for the acquisition of soft skills as certificate programmes, saying that the selection of vice-chancellors should be more open and based on merit, improved security on campuses, introduction of federal scholarship for all students in agriculture, education and medicine on merit, while the selection of governing council members should be based on integrity and the ability to attract funds, going by the importance of funding in the realisation of the goals, objectives and mandates of universities. These are daunting and require visionary leadership and sound administration of human and material resources to attain.
At the occasion, the VC of FUNAAB, Professor Kolawole Salako noted that the Valedictory Lecture was the first that he would be presiding over, adding that he was also offered appointment when Professor Okojie was vice-chancellor of the university, and that now, he was privileged to chair the occasion as the sixth substantive VC of the institution. The Professor of Soil Physics and two-term Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Development) of FUNAAB, highlighted the immense contributions of Professor Okojie to the Nigerian university system in general, saying that he had remained an invaluable force in national development and a source of inspiration to many people. On his part, the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council of FUNAAB, Dr. (Barr.) Aboki Zhawa, commended the lecturer for being a worthy ambassador, adding that if it were within his powers, he would not mind extending his tenure, describing him as a first class material.
No doubt, Professor Okojie’s lecture has provided more insights into what it takes to be a VC in the Nigerian university system, despite the pros and cons. The lecture was well-researched with relevant statistics to buttress his claims and assertions that could provide a way forward to enhancing university administration in the country. It continues to surprise many people why not a few professors would want to become vice-chancellors. However, his question still remains puzzling; “Who wants to be a VC?”.