By Andrew Aroloye
Sometime during the military regime, a senior lecturer from a university in the northern part of the country was drafted to serve as Vice-chancellor of University of Lagos.The man knew the system well, he never showed up at Akoka. He was aware that such a position has to be filled through competitive screening of candidates for such position. There is no godfatherism or money-bag-sponsors. In order to safeguard merit, that is why the academic and administrative qualifications of qualified candidates are clearly stated in the university statue Meritocracy has been the order of the day in making leadership appointment in UNILAG. No qualms or should we say without any ill-feeling after the selection of the right candidate the loosers will return to their small offices, with or without air-conditioners.
However, and like other universities, UNILAG has always struggled to achieve gender equity, in handling such issue because of the death of qualified women or even those deemed qualified, donot show interest in such high positions Nevertheless, UNILAG recently gracefully responded to both meritocracy and gender equity with the appointment of two Deputy Vice-chancellors viz: Prof Ben E.A Oghojafor as Deputy Vice-chancellor Management Services and Prof (Mrs.) Folashade Tolutope Ogunsola, the immediate past provost: College of Medicine university of Lagos was equally appointed Deputy Vice-chancellor ‘Development Services’.
What interests this writer about the appointments, is appointing ‘right people’ for right positions. The two officers have the experience for the positions they were appointed to. ‘Big Ben’ as Prof Oghojafor is fondly called in Unilag, joined the system as a young Graduate Assistant and rose through the ranks to be appointed professor of Strategic Management in 2004. On her part Sade, (as she too is generally called), joined the services of the university as lecturer1 in 1995 and full professor in 2008. This writer congratulates the university’s Vice-chancellor Prof Rahamon A. Bello for making the right choices of probable candidates which he forwarded to the university Senate for consideration from which the Senate made its selection of the two candidates sent to the university council for the appointments.
Now, let me narrow down to another area that interests me in this new appointments. Prof B.E.A. Oghojafor has served as head of Department and even as Dean of the faculty of Business Administration, university of Lagos: Prof (Mrs.) Folasade Ogunsola (nee Mabogunje), was the first female Provost of the College of Medicine University of Lagos. It need be noted that the gender gap had begun to close with the appointment of Prof. (Mrs.) Modupe Ogunlesi as the first female Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic and Research in November 2007 to October 2011. Nevertheless, the timing of Professor Ogunsola’s election as provost during the 50th anniversary of the founding of the University of Lagos shows how long it has taken to end male dominance in top positions in the academia that require a combination of professional expertise and administrative skills. Unilag Women are now only a short-step away from the vice-chancellorship.
True, many women in the academia had attained the rank of professor, fewer have had cognate administrative experience for such top positions requiring a combination of both skills. Professor (Mrs.) Grace Alele-Williams, a professor of mathematics, then of unilag, was the first to attain this feat, when she was appointed the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Benin way back in 1985. It took another 20 years before another woman, Professor Aize Obayan of Covenant University, to attain the position of Vice-Chancellor. To date, only these four women has attained that feat of leadership of a university as far as I can recount in the country. In this regard, the political system and the academic system that were at-power in the 60’s has been ahead of the university system by electing women as legislators or ministers and even as ambassadors.
This leads to the third significance; the focus on merit in the academia as a criterion of appointment or election to top positions. This contrasts sharply with the practice in the larger political system in which merit is jettisoned in favor of primordial factors, such as ethnicity, religion, and geographical location. The two appointments in Unilag show-case the focus on merit, is doubly significant. Not only does it highlight the role of meritocracy in university elections, it also draws attention to the outstanding qualities that allowed the two academics to meet the merit threshold. The case of Professor Ogunsola brings to the fore the clarion call of the late Deputy Governor of Ekiti State, Mrs. Funmi Olayinka, to Nigerian women to “pursue merit as they aspire to positions of authority in the country” (Punch, November 19, 2011). It is from the selection and appointment within the academia that our politicians have the most lessons to learn to move the country forward.
Let me use the bio-data of Prof Ogunsola to make my point here on experience and service as having to use ‘Big- Ben’s’ will use up all the space allotted to me for this thesis. Professor Ogunsola’s, academic and administrative qualifications, are stellar by all standards. At the time of her appointment, as provost CMUL she was the Secretary of Infection Control African Network. With services in many, and varied across Africa, Europe, and Asia, including assistance to various international organizations, particularly the World Health Organization She still serves in these organizations to date. For instance, she was appointed to her lately position on a Wednesday, the following Friday, she was already in Geneva attending a meeting of a body of the WHO as a consultant. Recently, she was elected into the body of National Academy of Science.
In her discussion with me after her election as provost nearly 5years ago, Professor Ogunsola promised to live up to the expectations of her colleagues by building on the legacies of her predecessor, Prof. Oluwole Atoyebi, and her mentor, Professor Tolu Odugbemi, a former Vice-Chancellor, University of Lagos. She was also aware of the pressure on her to function as a role model for other Nigerian women aspiring to higher positions. I believe, she has lived up to the expectations of the system.
As a young woman, Professor Ogunsola may as well learn from the reflections of Professor Alele-Williams, on her appointment. In an interview in 2004, a year before she left office: “The excitement I felt on receiving the news from Professor Jubril Aminu (the then Minister of Education) had more to do with seeing it in terms of opening up the field for women than anything else. I saw it as an opportunity to show that women too could rise up to the occasion. Also, I knew what the weights of the expectations of the women were. They were eager to see how things would go and I was not going to let them down. Mind you, those who appointed me felt I was qualified for it; so it was not just a case of wanting to satisfy the yearnings of the women folk. It wasn’t that simplistic.”(Prof. G. Willians-2004) Professor Grace Alele-Williams, as we all know, is still her usual-self today even in her 80s, an academic activist for the rights of women to the core.
I wish Professors Oghojafor and Ogunsola successful tenure.
(Andrew Aroloye, former Director of The Center for Educational Technology UNILAG, wrote from firstname.lastname@example.org).