By Dr. Tunde Akanni
In 1985-6, the Cross and the Crescent was the problem the University of Ibadan confronted. In 2018, it is the hijab crisis. Below is the opinion of someone who is both an insider as well as an outsider. Others who might wish to put pen to paper on the issue are welcome – editor.
So, the University of Ibadan, at 70, the nation’s premier, will now act the proverbial lamp lacking the capacity to see own underside? What has happened to all the promises of the supposed progress made in peace and conflict studies for which it has no rival in Nigeria? What has happened to the impression it keeps flaunting to the world on the rare capacity of the peace and conflict studies team? Is the University of Ibadan no longer part of the SPSP which is the exclusive preserve of peace and conflict scholars and practitioners? What has happened to all the exposure and collaborations? How can hijab haters be allowed to make a mess of Africa’s foremost peace scholars and practitioners?
Fate beckons to UI. It beckons to the distinguished scholar and the ingenious administrator at the helm of affairs, Prof Abel Idowu Olayinka who is reputable for being a fair minded and all-time modest person. I can testify to all these but this would be later in this same intervention.
The raging controversy over hijab at the International School Ibadan, (ISI), is unfortunately adding to the mounting pressure on the incumbent administrators of the institution. I resist adopting stronger but seemingly more appropriate expression for the hijab struggle as a biased UI alumnus. What is it with hijab at ISI owned by UI as a private institution? Hijabite won’t be admitted into UI and other tertiary institutions in Nigeria? Hijab has self de-recommending history? C’mmon UI has transcended this pettiness! There are more fundamental issues for UI to address urgently.
UI’s leadership in the tertiary education sector in Nigeria is being keenly contested and in fact being overtaken. And it didn’t start with Prof. Olayinka’s leadership. As a stakeholder in the education sector and respectable consultant to the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB, I was at the Gbongan meeting convened for stakeholders June 26, 2018. A major issue that arose from the admission pattern of many Nigerian universities was de-internationalisation. UI was openly declared guilty. It is no longer opening its doors to international students and therefore international values and by extension, resources. And diversity, of course.
Today, according to the nation’s public service most visible icon of integrity, who is also the Registrar and Chief Executive of JAMB, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, the University of Ilorin is the most international university in Nigeria today. I was happy for the University of Ilorin as a distinguished alumnus and proud parent of current student.
Your natural query on this Unilorin status are regularly answered by the institution: It is home to the highest number of SAN law lecturers. Perhaps more than any other university in the country, it attracts international grants for research and other developmental activities. It may interest you that it emerged as one of the African Centres of Excellence, ACE, enabling it again to attract millions of dollars for more functional and timeous research activities. Yes, as its own support for peace in the country and resistance to menacing experience such as Boko Haram is inflicting on us, Unilorin recently announced its breakthrough on bullet proof vest and has even gone ahead to sign memorandum of understanding with the Nigerian Army. More money, more recognition! What will it cost Nigerian Army to extend its collaboration to the University of Ilorin’s Strategic Studies programme, a feat University of Ibadan celebrated recently.
As a University of Ibadan postgraduate student, I had been invited for an award by the University for Peace in Ethiopia in 2009. Beyond ordinary television features, I had encountered and interacted with Ethiopian ladies decently decked in hijab. My Islamic consciousness welled up to reckon with most of them as Muslims. I was wrong! Ethiopia today is a leading light in Africa having produced another female president. When will the ISI administrators be exposed to cultures that would enable them appreciate the diversity that will keep pervading the world? Have they not heard of Amina Mohamed, our fellow Nigerian, always with her hijab, who is now a top player in UN? Shouldn’t they start thinking of inviting diverse motivational speakers to come inspire their students? And the university community, present and past, has this in abundance.
Stories and actions of inspirations and tolerance abound in abundance at the University of Ibadan which owns ISI and which ISI must learn from. Those who may choose to hang on to their conservatism should not be encouraged to think they still have relevance in the community especially under Prof Olayinka. And I return to his story.
Prof Olayinka was the Dean of the Postgraduate School when I applied for my doctoral programme in Media and Conflict Studies. The result of the master’s programme I had submitted was from the University of Leicester in United Kingdom where I was a distinguished British Chevening Scholar. Somehow, because it was one of the few international submissions, the reckoning was that it presented some difficulty in interpretation. It therefore had to be kept apart. In spite of the fact that I had a PhD grade, my name didn’t feature in the first list. My brother, friend and teacher, Sola Olorunyomi was surprised but felt caution and dialogue, now missing in the ISI context, should be explored. He reported back to me to say that “it took the personal intervention of the dean fah”. He insisted I should call Prof. Olayinka for taking the pains to resolve my matter. I called my dean and notwithstanding the fact that mine was not a familiar telephone number to him, he picked it and we exchanged pleasantries. I also registered my deep gratitude.
Must Olayinka be made to stoop to drain pains at all times? This fine administrator has competent lieutenants in abundance including my benefactor and able Professor of Peace Studies, Isaac Olawale Albert, as well as another brother and friend, Prof Abideen Aderinto, a Deputy Vice-Chancellor.
University of Ibadan is too endowed to be pulled back by ISI administrators who probably need more education in diversity and diasporic knowledge both of which are available and as leader programmes in the University.
Beyond intervening in my admission matter, Dr Olorunyomi is a model in diversity management. Not too long ago, he and her late wife played host for a long time to a niqab sister and her hubby at their Kongi Layout residence in Ibadan. The Olorunyomis had plastic kettles for ablution in the house and has had to remind me of times for salat. What else do ISI administrators need to learn from? They should start their lesson with the history of the desegregation of schools for black and white children in the United States. Diversity has come to birth and develop at ISI.
Tunde Akanni, PhD, the author of this piece, is the Director of Digital Media and Research Centre of the Lagos State University, (LASU). Follow him on Twitter via @AkintundeAkanni