The man who would be king

By Adelani Ogunrinade
The Guardian, Lagos
Monday, November 28, 2005

I WAS one of the 20 contestants for the University of Ibadan
Vice-Chancellorship. I did not make the next round because the Council
of the University declared that 'I had retired from the University
service four years earlier at the age of 51' and like Gen. Obasanjo
was alleged to have asked General Gowon, they asked me what I had
'forgotten behind to want to come back'?.

Prior to my retirement from Ibadan, I had been Deputy Vice-Chancellor
(Academic Affairs) at the University of Witwatersrand, one of Africa's
foremost institutions after a successful Deanship at Ibadan. I am
presently in the same position as Associate Vice-President for
Research in another institution in Jamaica. I consider my
international experience quite useful enough to offer my services to
my country and my alma mater in a different mode. If I had come back
to Ibadan as Vice-Chancellor, I would probably be taking a drop in
salary in doing so. Why I came back to contest and why I am I writing

I am writing out of the same patriotic fervour and honesty of purpose
which took me out of the country. I believe there is a lesson to be
learnt from this exercise for all those gleaming-eyed idealists in the
diaspora and the University Council of Ibadan and other universities
in Nigeria on how to choose a Vice-Chancellor in a transparent manner.
First, many of us living in the diaspora would rather criticise our
country - the poor infrastructure, the corruption, the lack of basic
amenities, etc. I was not going to be one of those critics. I left in
1997, first because my appointment as Deputy Vice-Chancellor in South
Africa opened up new vistas of personal development which the Abacha
regime closed in 1997 and retired in 2001 because many of my
colleagues who were not so fortunate, had started to pressurise me to
come back home or forfeit my appointment at Ibadan. I chose to retire
to preserve my honour as I had not finished my term at Witwatersrand,
South Africa.

The atmosphere of the Nigerian university system had become quite
decadent for some time and this had been documented in a World Bank
Report, 1993 titled the African Universities: A decade of Crisis and
the Lessons of Experience. Because of the US sanctions against the
Abacha regime, many Nigerian academics were caught square in the
middle of the crisis. Our collaborative grants with US institutions
were cancelled or suspended and one would have to be plain crazy not
to take up foreign opportunities which came beckoning to academics in
1997. Let no one labour under the belief that those Nigerians
academics who remained behind were the patriotic ones. Many of our
colleagues who remained behind were either too lazy to search for
opportunities outside of our shores or their credentials were not
marketable enough in the scramble to get out of our blighted system.

There were the few of them with personal businesses successful
research and consultancies, family commitments or government patronage
who did not 'check out'. However, most people (including a traditional
ruler who went to Saudi Arabia) checked out in the Andrew fashion,
spurring the government to do jingles on the radio decrying the act.
Some of us who got out later became the butt of abuse for not 'helping
others' get out of the system. Even now, one gets loads of
applications and curriculum vitae from dissatisfied Nigerian dons who
still want to check out. Ali Mazrui, the political scientist had once
justified this new wave of intellectual brain drain by comparing it to
refugees fleeing famine or wars. He had said, if refugees could flee
the land, what stops academics from fleeing the system? Indeed, the
phenomenon of brain drain is not peculiar to Nigeria as an UNCTAD
report in 1987 estimated that about one million academics had entered
the North American academic market between 1967-87. The academic flow
is now a global phenomenon and a SESFAT database of the US National
Science Foundation in 1996 indicated that 72 per cent of 1.4 million
people with Science and Engineering degrees in the US are foreign born
and less than half of those who received their doctorates in the USA
return to their countries. Viewed from a developing country
perspective, it is obvious that a significant proportion of
intellectuals are lost to the brain drain. The return option for
reversing the brain drain has been successfully pioneered in
Singapore, Korea and India and one was pleasantly surprised that the
Council at Ibadan thought it fit to eliminate a Nigerian candidate on
grounds that he had left the system citing disloyalty for leaving the

There was more to the problems of selecting a Vice-Chancellor for
Ibadan. There were no written guidelines for the VC exercise.
Initially all 20 candidates and their spouses were invited for a
dinner which was later cancelled. Time table and schedules were
shifted at short notice. There were no stakeholder representation at a
selection committee which was to choose a Vice-Chancellor for
students, staff of all categories, parents and alumni. The candidates
were not asked to present their vision to the constituents except as
an interaction with the community which had no statutory standing.
What was worse, candidates ought to have been shortlisted ahead in
order to avoid the situation of potential candidates like me, who
travelled great distances at great expenses only to be told that I did
not qualify to contest.

For a job which ought to be a five-year contract, the gate ought to be
thrown wide open for even international candidates who could enrich
the experience of the university as is the normal practice in modern
universities. All universities now advertise nationally and
internationally as indeed that was how I got employed overseas. I was
one of the three shortlisted candidates at the University of Makerere,
Uganda Vice-Chancellorship but denied an opportunity in Ibadan in
Nigeria. The international opportunity offered is the reason why some
of us have been able to secure jobs internationally and contribute to
other systems.

Politicking is a normal phenomenon in a political post such as the
Vice-Chancellorship but it seems that the University Council at Ibadan
were playing out a prewritten script. The long and short of it, is
that the University system at Ibadan still retains archaic structures
for choosing its executives and running its systems and structures.
Unless overhauled, she could never compete in a world that recruits
and strives to retain only the best and brightest from anywhere in the

* Prof. Ogunrinade is the Associate Vice-President for Research
and Graduate Studies at the University of Technology, Jamaica and one
of the eliminated candidates at the recently-concluded University of
Ibadan VC race.