Academia has a new entrant. Throughout this piece, the said entrant would be known and called Dr. Olu. No disrespect is intended in this naming system. It is for simplicity. It is avoidance of trouble. For Dr. Olu can be warlike. Few would have forgotten what General Theophilus Danju, one of Dr. Olu’s political benefactors but who later broke with him, said about his prowess in war many years ago. That is the stuff about how the then Colonel Olu came up with a strategy that worked in terms of ending the Biafran War, notwithstanding Headquarter’s disapproval of his plan. In other words, Dr Olu is a strategist. Nobody with good knowledge of strategy would like to stay too long without something involving putting such knowledge into practice. In Dr. Olu’s case, he makes sure no fight passes him by. Any reader who, therefore, goes ahead to add anything such as Segun, Oba, OBJ or Baba to that name is on his or her own.
In fact, there is a strong belief in a Vice-Chancellor imaginary vis-a-vis the recruitment of a Dr. Olu as an academic. It might not be common knowledge but there is, indeed, this unease with the Vice-Chancellor: he or she behave in a way reflective of the very character of the university as a self-contained universe defined by its concentration of ‘madmen’ certified as specialists: thinkers, eggheads, theoreticians, eccentric, dissidents, radicals, critics, agitators, inventors, iconoclasts, rebels. The reasoning is, who would govern such an ensemble without assuming the indigestible character mix?
It must have been this background that informed the scare when Prof Attahiru Jega was to become the Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano. Words went round on what was to be done about it. The puzzle was how a radical could become a Vice-Chancellor without sinking into the VC imaginary. Everyone was particularly scared about how a former National President of ASUU could navigate his way through the impossible Nigerian system.
So, some people came up with an answer. The answer was to remove the chair on which previous Vice-Chancellors sat to administer the university and never got anything right. That is, never got anything right by the standards of radical academics. The argument was that the chair in question must have a way of making otherwise reasonable people acquire the VC imaginary and hence the need to remove the existing one and replace it with a new one that might not make Jega to follow the beaten path because if Jega sank, it would be such a collective comment on the community of radical activists across Nigeria. I cannot report whether the old chair was successfully removed and a new one secretly placed there before Jega got in. Suffice it to say that Jega has since finished his tenure as Vice-Chancellor and even gone to head Nigeria’s electoral management body, (INEC) and been done with that. That does not diminish the message of changing the chair: the Vice-Chancellor imaginary as a thick black box.
Black, red or green box, Dr. Olu has, according to Malam Ibrahim Sheme, the echo chamber of NOUN, enthusiastically inspected his office space at the institution’s Abeokuta Study Centre and assumed duty a bona fide staff of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN). Dr. Olu’s universe can leave any and every one gasping for breath. Why not?
Yes, he has followed the tradition General Gowon pioneered by formally registering as a student, working hard and getting his PhD. But Gowon did not get appointed as a facilitator. Even if that happened, Gowon has no history of being the author of the preliminary version of the analogy that lecturers could be teaching what they were not paid to teach before General Abisoye eventually framed it as such. Yes, Dr. Olu did. That was during his Dodan Barracks years when he warned against any teacher indoctrinating students, a position which so angered one of those days VCs, (some people swear it was Prof Ade Ajayi that he told the then Brigadier-Gen Olu that he would fire any lecturer under him who was not indoctrinating students. Lecturing, said the angry VC, is about indoctrination, by its very nature. Well, the rest is now history. The angry VC had his say but Gen Olu had his way. The VC was sent packing along with his fellow traveller from that hotbed of radicalism in those days up North by the name Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
Whatever it is that facilitators do at NOUN, it must include lecturing, teaching, researching, supervision and the likes. That has got critics and intellectual enemies of Dr. Olu to look forward to him being given one of these Dugbe Market size classes to teach. They are thinking that it is about time facilitators such as Dr. Olu come to terms with nemesis. As a former landlord at both Dodan Barracks and Aso Rock, he had every opportunity to have transformed the universities to a level where no facilitators would have to cope with more than 45 students in a class. For whatever reasons, he didn’t do that. Therefore, there can be no better penalty for that than being made to teach one of those courses with as many as 1000 students. That of course means marking that much of examination scripts. And having been an eternal opponent of the demands of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASUU), no one is sure if ASUU would accept that he too collects Excess Work-Load Allowances. Fortunately and unfortunately, ASUU also has a history of permanent warfare as Dr Olu. Too many observers have already taken good positions from where they can watch how this plays out. They are watching out for whether Dr Olu is arriving campus with own loud speakers or some other magical mechanisms by which to teach an extraordinarily large class.
Others are not as keen on whether Dr. Olu gets the largest or smallest class size. They are reflecting on what they think is a coming pedagogical anarchy. Pedagogy is in ferment across the world. Constructivists have successfully excavated Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed but given it the rather fanciful name of ‘active learning’ so that nobody remembers that that’s what Freire came many years ahead of them. Simply put, it makes the idea of the lecturer as a ‘sage on stage’ dated. Although ‘active learning’ itself is not turning out to be problem free, it is still the fad. So, those who recall Dr. Olu’s habit of micro-managing events when he was the landlord at the Aso Rock Villa slightly over a decade ago are wondering how he would cope with the demand of ‘active learning’. That is, how would someone who was used to combining the position of Guest of Honour, Chairman of the Occasion, Keynote Speaker and Master of Ceremony would tolerate, not to talk of successfully coming to grips with ‘active learning’ requirement? Dr. Olu would be very interesting to watch regarding the research finding that students rarely absorb anything much after the first 20 minutes of a lecture, no matter how fantastic the lecturer might be and, hence, the imperative for interactive teaching.
Dr. Olu’s universe is a many sided one. There is a squadron out there whose own concern is his legendary stinginess and how that could be a problematic trait as far as this facilitator job is concerned. How someone who set out to make 50 people billionaires in eight years during his headmastership of Nigeria could be associated with Dr. Olu’s rating in stinginess is what is difficult to understand. But that is a matter for another day. For now, the contradiction in view is the desire of students for easy or free marks pitched against Dr. Olu’s stinginess. Some people are already cocksure that it is from this contradiction that Dr Olu’s first physical combat with students will spring. Why they are so sure remains a puzzle. You see what the VC imaginary can bring to academia!
Dr. Olu’s universe cannot be spoken or written about without wondering about its implication for the debate culture that makes the university a special community. Rated to be afflicted with “messianic arrogance and residual militarism”, what happens if he writes a paper which some members of the community of eggheads tear to pieces on whatever grounds? This fear has nothing to do with Dr Olu not being used to academic protocols thereto. Not at all. Rather, it is a reference to his noted fiery temper, similar to Okonkwo’s in Things Fall Apart. He has probably been mellowing with age and time although his opponents say that he is the ultimate leopard: just can’t change anything again.
Who knows if Dr. Olu would not insist on attending the next meeting of the National Executive Council, (NEC) of ASUU? There is just no knowing if he might not want to contest for a position even? Does he care whether it is election time or not? He might actually be thinking that ASUU is next site to take the politics of imposition.
Closely related to that plausible fissure is the incredible number of ASUU members who are all ears, eyes, nose, cameras and what have you just in case Dr. Olu is caught sending a seductive text to any female students under him. After all, wasn’t he the one who said many years ago that academics were doing nothing other than seducing female students? So, it would be such a pleasant payback time. would he turn out to be human after all or successfully demonstrate that it is not every academic who does that?
Against the above background, some people are wondering why Prof Abdalla Uba Adamu, NOUN VC has not been summoned to appear before the Education Committee of the Senate on why he imagined Dr. Olu to be appointable. Of course, he has been heard saying that Dr. Olu enrolled in the university’s PhD programme, proved a problem free student, applied himself very seriously and successfully defended his thesis, was awarded the degree and, naturally, dragged in as a facilitator.
Should he get an invitation to the Senate and, unlike the Inspector-General of Police, decides to appear, it is easy to imagine him arguing that no other person is as qualified as Dr Olu for the job. He can crash or build or extend any theory should he choose to use an account of just one of his numerous empirical encounters in his life: from his battles over his anti-colonial thesis at the military academy to his battlefront encounters, to life as the landlord of Dodan Barracks, the politics of de-militarisation in Africa, the world of farming, Eminent Persons politics and global stardom, the art and science of throwing stones at successors and getting them removed shortly afterwards, encounter with death/prison life, metamorphosis from prison to presidency, global limelight in search of only God knows what, Third Term intrigues and presidential manufacturing politics.
The VC is likely to cap his submission with a subdued chest pounding in recruiting a well travelled, highly exposed and well published later day academic. And then proceed to point at Dr. Olu being on his way to becoming the fastest academic in accomplishing the progression from PhD to the professorial rank in recent memories, possibly anywhere else in the world. And then add that when that happens, Dr. Olu would have sent a message to those who have always looked down on the burst of academia in him because it would then be difficult not to reckon with him if he became a professor after retiring at the rank of a General.
Not if he also has a factory where he manufactures presidential materials for Nigeria. His presidential products are not ‘ijebu’ or fake but they hardly perform. And he ever ends up pursuing them and pushing them out of the Villa. None has successfully fought back him to a standstill yet. Perhaps, Baba Buhari might overwhelm Dr. Olu in an encounter unfolding before our very eyes right now and become the ultimate image breaker. At this rate, the Senators might end up even apologising to the NOUN VC for inviting him to explain what is a self-evidently life time novelty in fishing out such a resourceful person for a university in need of such.
Above all, the VC is sure to wonder if Distinguished Senators cannot see that with Dr. Olu teaching Theology, Satan and Satanism are under attack. That should be obvious to everyone given the connection between teaching and doing!
The message in all these: Dr. Olu has not finished with this country called Nigeria yet. Nigeria has not bothered to engage with Dr. Olu’s universe beyond hauling invective on him, even by academics. Now, he has invaded their space, on their own terms – a PhD. If that is not a statement, which one might then be?