“Please be cautious wherever you go during this Christmas break because there is no staff or student of this university who does not have a ransom value” Prof Kayode Soremekun admonishing the staff to be security conscious giving the spate of kidnapping in the country at that time.
This quote among several others depicts the caring, fatherly disposition and commitment of the Vice Chancellor, Federal University Oye Ekiti (FUOYE), Prof Soremekun who clocks 67 on Thursday May 21, 2020 to everything he commits his mind to do.
The man Olukayode is many things rolled into one. To some of us who have the priviledge of working very closely with him, he is a leader, a boss, a perfectionist with incurable thirst for excellence driven by passion, energy and speed to achieve set goals and targets. He is a nationalist per excellence and a fighter for a just nation.
To some of my friends in the academic, one of whom was his student, Prof Soremekun is a father figure, a highly cerebral human species who years after graduation, mentor and impact lives.
Even to members of the Unions on campus, who often pick bones with him on several approaches to solving university problems or disagreements over prioritizing agenda, the Vice Chancellor has been responsive, supportive and kind.
How will you rather see yourself?, a journalist asked in 2018. “I am a public spirited intellectual who occupies the critical interface between journalism and academic”, he replied.
Born 67 years ago, in the cosmopolitan city of Lagos, this academic giant and media icon, who is married to Dr. Rebecca Soremekun, another academia, fits into both academic and media professions like a key fits into its lock. One wonders how he manages to grow within both roles excelling therein.
He stepped out as Staff Writer on Political Affairs at the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) and at Times International of the Daily Times of Nigeria before growing to become Member, Editorial Board of Daily Times of Nigeria, Editorial Training Instructor, Times Newspaper Training Centre, Visiting Board Member, AM News, The Guardian, The Compass, ThisDay and The Sun. He thus reached very enviable height as a media icon in the country.
Similarly, as an academic, Prof Soremekun is at the highest echelon becoming not just a professor, the highest the career offers, but also the 2nd substantive Vice Chancellor of FUOYE, working hard to proudly present us with arguably Africa’s fastest growing public university.
With Trinity degrees from Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), then called University of Ife, in English/History for Bachelor and International Relations for Master and Doctoral degrees, our birthday celebrant built quickly on the foundations laid at Kings College Lagos and with hardwork and uncommon erudition, became National Award Scholar. This set the tone for several awards and fellowships he will later bag as he journeyed through academic life.
His career in journalism and academic grew rapidly and in 1997, he became a Professor having bagged 1,2,…..5 Post Doctoral Fellowships including the Ford Foundation Fellowship, Netherlands Fellowship, Salzburg Fellowship, Senior Fulbright Research Fellowship and Resident Rockefeller Fellowship in Bellagio, Italy.
Prior to his becoming Vice Chancellor, Prof Soremekun had been Dean, Faculty of Administration at OAU and Dean, College of Development Studies at Covenant University, Ota.
The nationalism in him and his quest for a better equitable nation got foothold and expression on two fronts. First, in the mentally stimulating weekly debates at the Editorial Boards of national newspapers earlier mentioned, where together with fellow Nigerian compatriots galvanized the nation using superior opinions, convincing analyses, pungent articles and incisive expositions to aggregate different perspectives and mobilize the nation for a better democratic agenda of self rule and the dumping of military governance.
Secondly, in the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) where the nations brightest and best brains led by the likes of Prof Attahiru Jega and Lai Olorode among others gave direction to Nigeria’s academic policies, helping to deliver tuition free university education, establishment of Tertiary Education Fund (Tetfund) then called Education Tax Fund (ETF) etc.
The 2006 Consultant to Heinrich Boll Foundation in South Africa, who was also Visiting Professor on Peace and Development at the University of Jaime 1, in Castellon, Spain has transformed the rain forest field he met when appointed FUOYE Vice-Chancellor in February 2016.
A member of several professional bodies including American Studies Association on Nigeria, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), International Studies Association , Nigeria Society of International Affairs and the prestigious Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Prof Soremekun was also Consultant and Resource Person at the Governance Institute of CODESRIA, Dakar Senegal where he taught young African Scholars from universities across Africa. He was again, Consultant and Resource Person to the Swedish based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).
Furthermore, Prof Soremekun was the Recipient of Association of African Universities (AAU) Fellowship for a project on The Future of Higher Education in Nigeria, Consultant and Resource Person to the Commonwealth on the Media and the Ombudsman’s Institution and Director and Member of Governing Board of Research Project on Governance and Democracy in Nigeria, a US funded collaborative project between Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) and the University of Florida, Gainesville.
This Celebrant has authored several books and jointly authored about 28 others. He has also published more than 50 academic papers in reputable international journals prior to putting his hands on the plow to build FUOYE, Nigeria’s newest agent for innovation and character building for national transformation.
The FUOYE Family, comprising members of the Governing Council, the University Senate, the Management team, and entire Staff and Students, in solidarity appreciates this Nigerian patriot and nationalist not only for his media and academic brilliance exposed above but for his selfless service, his impact in the lives of many around us and his fatherly disposition despite his glowing accomplishment as the Vice Chancellor of the fastest growing university in Africa.
Council Members who finished their tenure recently went around 47 university projects earlier this year. Some of these were inherited as abandoned projects but now completed. Several others were delivered from initial conception, design, implementation, execution and commissioning stages.
Speaking to journalists at the end of the tour, Engr Sabo Inuwa and Alhaji Abdullahi Jibrin who were representative of the Federal Government challenged whoever is coming behind the Vice Chancellor to keep up the tempo……otherwise Nigerians will be very unhappy with him.
The 47 Projects, as if to symbolise his 67th birthday include completion of abandoned Central Administrative Building and the University Library. Others are ultra modern Faculty of Pharmacy buildings, ultra modern Faculty of Agriculture building at Ikole Campus, well equipped mass communication studio facility for the training of mass communication students, ultra modern buildings for Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences and Faculty of Management Sciences, New building complexes for Faculty of Science, New Faculty of Arts complex and many more..
Characteristically, the Vice Chancellor does not see all these structures as his main achievement. According to him, “when you talk of achievement as it pertains to educational institutions, many people focus on structures and expansion alone, whereas such achievements ought to go beyond structures.”
I think my major achievement so far is inculcating the whole idea of a university, the idea of a healthy contention, narrative and counter narratives. Continuing, he said, “Vice Chancellors should not be seen as Chief Executive Officers (CEOs). He is by Divine providence primus interpares (first among equals). We can liken a university to the Editorial Board of a newspaper. Despite the fact that each newspaper has Chairman of the Editorial Board, that does not make him the sole fountain of knowledge. The Board is a concentration of various individuals with ideas. At the end of the day, superior idea prevail. This is the deepening and activation of a university idea.”
The 20 other projects left to complete 67 footprints of this discourse are intangible but even more impactful, sometimes touchable sometimes not but all the same essential for the functioning of a standard university. For instance, academic programmes have expanded from 22 at the inception of Kayode Soremekun administration to over 90 academic programmes now and it is still growing.
Faculties were four when Soremekun started, now they are ten. A Post Graduate School is already in place and the culture of academic in a distinct community is emerging. Admission capacity has risen from 3,000 to about 20,000. This exponential growth not only put action to Federal Government goal of increasing job opportunities, it more importantly created a future for indigent students who yearn for quality university education.
This was emphasized when the Celebrant had to respond to why FUOYE is admitting students for Bachelor of Law programme giving the fact that a state university and another private university offer same in its domain. “We want to further deepen access to legal profession and remove any trace of exclusivity people may erroneously have about law profession in Nigeria”. This is another example of his caring heart for the less priviledged.
All FUOYE’s programmes are accredited. Again the university has been connected to the National grid and FUOYE portal is now independent of any other institution. For a university that is about ten years old, which turbulent beginning, these are remarkable feats.
Soremekun represents excellence. Any graduate of Kings College Lagos who has enjoyed scholarships year in year out and scholars of Great Ife who get Fellowships upon Fellowships cannot but excel in higher callings. The foundation has already been laid for the superstructure.
This Celebrant is loved, admired and appreciated largely because he bears no grudges. “Keep close to your friends but be closer to your enemies”, he once counseled this writer. A thoroughbred professional, a natural leader, this Vice Chancellor knows how to draw excellent people to himself and make them work seamlessly, endlessly, not minding obstacles to achieve stated goals.
I love leaders who don’t breathe on you. I love bosses who having explained what needs to be done, allow you to express your creative ability. To me that is one great weapon of a leader in quest for excellence. That is Kayode Soremekun.As you mark 67 eventful years sir, I wish you many more glorious years ahead and blissful celebrations. Thank you sir, for all you had done, and are doing, and will still do for FUOYE family.
Ademuyiwa is the Deputy Director, Corporate Services Federal University, Oye Ekiti 07034577333