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Great IFE: Metamorphosis of a Progressive Varsity

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The primary function of any academic institution the world over is teaching and research.   When these activities are performed over time, the institution evolves for itself a unique ideology for which it becomes known for. And I am talking about serious institutions here.

  Advanced institutions in western countries are known for their ideologies. In economic and policy discourses, for instance, you often hear of Harvard school of thought, Chicago School, Texas School, Oxford school, Austrian school, etc, each having its own approach to solving the same problem or explanation to the cause and effect of a phenomenon. Harvard economic thought has especially been so dominant in global policy formulation. As a Social Scientist, we often dwell on this in our analyses, and from my limited knowledge of natural sciences, I know same applies in the field too.

  Back home in Nigeria, in the golden years of education when the existing universities at the time(now dubbed first generation universities) compared with the best in the world, exactly same can be said of these universities. You knew what University of Ibadan, for example, stood for. There was the Ife school of thought, the Zaria School of thought and so on. Issues were thoroughly debated and positions held. These institutions were hotbeds for lively intellectual fireworks. But today, as education generally continues to take a southward dive, these universities, which should be the beacon of hope for the nation, have also continued to languish in poverty of cutting-edge ideas.

  Of all these institutions however, I am particularly interested in University of Ife, later rechristened Obafemi Awolowo University. This is so for two reasons. One, I am an alumnus of the institution even though not at the much-talked-about golden era and I take special interest in the school, to the extent of monitoring   events pertaining to the ivory tower in the news. Two, of all these first generation universities, OAU is arguably the one that was able to preserve its known ideology for the longest time. ABU and UNN are other schools that I believe also tried in this regard.

  However, with the worrisome quiescence from my alma mater in the last five years at least in the face of events the Great Ife of old will not keep quiet on, I am seriously afraid the university may have found a space in the cemetary of once powerful institutions.

  I finished from the faculty of Social Sciences, so I will take it from there.   When the banking reforms initiated by the then Governor   Chukwuma Soludo of Central Bank of Nigeria threw up a vivacious debate in the national economic scene, I did not hear contributions from the faculty, or specifically, the department of economics. Of course, I saw one of the lecturers being interviewed for three minutes on Osun Television, which can easily be explained by the fact that the university was the closest reputable higher institution to the TV station's site and the reporter could have easily gone to the school to interview anybody from the department of economics for his news story. But a three-minute interview with a lecturer is just not something one can be proud of as contribution from the department of economics of a whole University of Ife on an important economic policy debate. I am aware that the CBN governor himself came to Ife to deliver a lecture during the period, where I was also an audience, but this was done on the invitation of the Law Students' Society.

  When new CBN governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi's intervention, few years   later, also stirred up another round of economic analysis and debate last year, I had thought my faculty will be able to prove me wrong that it was actually not sleeping. I read every bit of commentary and analysis that were published and tried to listen to virtually all broadcasted commentaries while the debate lasted, with the hope that Ife will find its voice in this debate, but, like the first one, I was served another bout of disappointment. Only Professor Adebayo Lamikanra, ironically of the department of Pharmacy, and student activists Kola Ibrahim and Taiwo Hassan, were the voices from Ife in the debate. Ibrahim and Hassan, both avowed Marxists, took on the CBN governor on his policies on one hand and the sacked bank chiefs on the other, while, as was expected, putting all the blames on capitalism, and they rounded up proposing a socialist alternative. The witty Professor Adebayo Lamikanra, one of the Ife's remaining brightest minds today, wrote a masterpiece, titled 'A 'dangerous' man in the CBN', published in The Guardian and other media. That was all I got from Ife while the discourse lasted. I stand to be corrected.

  If one remembers the fact that Professor Sam Aluko, unarguably one of Nigeria's most cerebral economic commentators ever, was once the dean of the faculty of Social Sciences of my great alma mater, one will understand why I am so embittered at the turn of things. Ife is too great not to be heard on national economic matters.

  More than the worries about silence on economic debates, is the unprecedented hibernation in the political scene. It is not for nothing that the late Lagos lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, by far Nigeria's greatest political activist, on his death bed, mentioned University of Ife, as the institution deserving of his corpse. If anybody still doubts the prime place of Ife in national political consciousness, then Gani's statement should put that to rest. But is the Ife of today the institution Gani used to know and proudly identified with, despite not being his alma mater? I have strong reasons to believe the answer is in the negative.

  In the 60s and until late 90s, when Ife sneezed, the whole Nigeria caught cold. The fear of Ife, and other progressive universities like Zaria and Ibadan, was the beginning of wisdom at the time. Ife students and workers unions played active role in keeping successive tyrannical governments at check, and the struggle for the rescue of education was led by Ife, not, unfortunately , without the shedding of blood of students in the process.

  Ife students' unionism offered a veritable model in democratic system. Elections were never won by the biggest spenders. In fact, the more expensive your campaign was, the less likely your chance of winning. Fumbling students' union leaders were easily eased out in democratic manner.   There were various students' political movements with clear ideological leaning, like what obtains in the United States' politics. National issues were tabled before the congress of Ife students, and after thorough debates and analyses, a position is taken and made known to the government.

  The dualization of Ife-Ibadan expressway was to the credit of Ife students.    Ife took the front seat in the Ali-must-go rescue education struggle of 1978. As recently as during the June 12 struggle that laid the foundation for today's democracy, Ife students were the most visible students' group that participated in the struggle. The now nationally quoted Senior Advocate of the Masses honour for the irrepressible conscience of the nation, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, was coined and given to him by Ife students in 1988.

  The school's staff unions are also always on top of national issues, offering their voices and striving for the evolution of a just society. Or does anyone think it is a co-incidence that Femi Falana, Dipo Fashina, Wole Soyinka, Mike Ozekhome, Justice Oyewole of Bode George trial fame, Bamidele Aturu, Lanre Arogundade, Kayode Fayemi, Olusegun Mimiko and a host of other high flying progressives have something to do with Ife, either as ex-students' leader or   lecturer? That is the type of fearless progressives Ife breeds.

  I still very much believe that Ife still leads the pack today especially in the area of progressive ideology but the standard is far from being comparable with what obtained in the golden era.   Ife, I believe, is just on a temporary slumber. We need to reclaim our leadership on all fronts. I am aware that Ife is the only university that has never dropped out of Top three Nigerian universities in bi-annual webometric ranking of world universities. Our leadership should not only in terms of our unrivalled architecture and serene academic environment which is what we first flaunt today; we should get our acts together and re-stamp our spot in not only national but global reckoning. This is a challenge to everybody that has something to do with Ife. Great Ife must rise again.   Suraj Oyewale Dideolu Estate, Victoria Island, Lagos