By Wole Adejumo
He sauntered in with a gait that did not betray his age in any way. As he approached the staircase that led to the Office of the Vice-Chancellor, he noticed a gathering of students in the Library Hall a few metres away. He made a detour and within minutes, he was addressing a set of freshmen, telling them of the myriad of opportunities ahead of them. Hearing that it was their first day as students of First Technical University (Tech-U), Ibadan seemed to ignite something in him. He took his time to tell them of his experience as an undergraduate about five decades ago and how it was possible for them to chart a course for their lives even from day one as Tech-Uites.
He did something similar at the gala organized for the pioneer students of Tech-U during their orientation. Having arrived the venue early with his wife, he took time to interact with the students, many of who didn’t know who he was until later that evening. He spoke to them individually about their dreams and aspirations and encouraged them to work towards those dreams.
That was something no one could take away from Professor Oyewusi Ibidapo-Obe; timely and necessary presence. Those who were in the University of Lagos then would agree that in his time as Vice-Chancellor, if there was a crime on campus, he would be there within five minutes. Another thing was his love and avuncular disposition towards young people.
His profile was no doubt intimidating; apart from being a renowned Professor of Systems Engineering, he was a man given to path-breaking research, passionate teaching and impactful community engagement. From being the best graduating student in 1971, he was the first to graduate with a First Class and the first student to win the Vice-Chancellor’s Prize outside the College of Medicine in UNILAG. Those who say his rise was exponential are always quick to add that he put in a corresponding amount of effort to achieve the results he did.
I found his affection for young people inexplicable until he told my good friend and brother, Femi Babatunde one of the reasons behind it. “Of course I relate with young people. The people you are making policies for are young people. Your policies will not prosper if you don’t carry the young people along”, he said.
An apparently unknown part of his achievements is that he set up what is today known as UNILAG Consult from the scratch. He was the pioneer Managing Director of the organization. His unmitigated interaction with the industry was put to effective use during his sabbatical leave when he became a Director at Ikeja Hotels; the company that built the Sheraton Hotels back then.
His skills of analysis and organization have never been in doubt. When put to the test, he produced outstanding results: the Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu Alike, Ikwo is a proof. Narrating the experience when he was tasked with setting up a Federal University in Ebonyi State, Professor Ibidapo-Obe said “when I went to Ebonyi, I had to start from the scratch. We call it green field; they just give you a forest with some touches of human beings living there, which they claim is their ancestral land”.
That probably explains the serious bond between Professors Oye Ibidapo-Obe and Ayobami Salami, the pioneer Vice-Chancellor of Nigeria’s premier Technical University. The latter is going through what Professor Ibidapo-Obe went through in Ndufu Alike with the establishment of First Technical University, Ibadan. Interestingly, Professor Ibidapo-Obe was the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Governing Council of Tech-U till he passed on.
Both are united in the belief that vision is one of the key requirements for building a 21st Century University. Both men also see functional technical tertiary education as a panacea for Nigeria’s education system which has been uglified by the innumerable problems bedeviling it. Both professors have demonstrated their belief in the Tech-U advantage, which is equipping young people to become job creators right from the university. Little wonder the Council of the University chaired by Professor Ibidapo-Obe is made up of accomplished professionals who know fully well that education as a tool can cure all the problems of Nigeria as a nation. Yes, Tech-U’s pioneer Pro-Chancellor saw the birth of Nigeria’s first entrepreneurial university, where students are trained not only to use their brains but their hands too. Sadly, he didn’t wait to see the pioneer set graduate.
The list of those who will miss Professor Ibidapo-Obe is endless: Governor Seyi Makinde, who was his student in UNILAG will miss the wise counsel of the deceased. Alex Ekwueme University, Ndufu Alike, will miss its pioneer Vice-Chancellor while Tech-U will miss its pioneer Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Governing Council. The reason may not be farfetched, over the past four decades, he has built people who became instrumental to the development of their immediate environments and the country as a whole. Those people have in turn, gone ahead to impart more lives.
No one contests the fact that he lived an exemplary and fulfilled life. And his transition sends a strong message to those of us left on this side of eternity that when wind carries clothes stacked in a box in the room, the yam flour seller needs not to be told to take heed. Gone are the days when people argued whether Coronavirus was real or not. Those who have not lost anyone to the virus will likely know someone who survived it or someone who is presently undergoing treatment. It is already that close.
The community transmission we were warned against is already here with unprecedented aggression; same for the second wave of the pandemic and even deadlier new strains of the virus. And while Nigerians continue to anticipate the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine, hardly does any one of us need to be told to take responsibility for ourselves and those around us. It is already public knowledge that medical facilities are already overwhelmed as we have heard of billionaires who could not even get treated for lack of space in the hospitals.
It is deeply disturbing that many of us have let down our guard. Nose masks are now mostly worn as chin masks while some have done away with them outrightly in the name of “we work in the same office, so I can remove my mask, he is a family member so I am covered”. The culture of regular hand washing that we imbibed only a year ago is fast fading away. Quite unfortunately, not many people are confident enough to go for voluntary testing.
If strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols can save one the stress of contracting the virus, the risk of infecting others and unnecessary death, it is incomprehensible why people have chosen to jettison such preventive measures.
Perhaps more needs to be done to enlighten Nigerians that prevention is not just better; it is also cheaper than cure. COVID-19 is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. And with the rich and influential not immune, the yam flour seller needs to take heed when wind starts removing clothes stacked in the room.
Adejumo writes from Ibadan