Former Vice Chancellor, University of Lagos Prof. Tolu Odugbemi is of the opinion that the tradition of excellence the University of Lagos brand is known for is most exemplified in the story of Unilag Radio/TV.
He stated this while fielding questions from reporters of both Unilag TV/Radio over the weekend at his private residence in Lagos.
“I’m so happy to have you people here this evening. Ordinarily in retirement I have chosen a rather quiet life, but when I was told about this scheduled interview I didn’t hesitate a minute to accept. Unilag Radio/TV reminds me constantly of the struggle we had as an administration to make things work. And the story of the radio station for me is a perfect example of how nothing is impossible to achieve.” He said.
Reflecting on his time as Vice Chancellor, Prof. Odugbemi recalls that at the heart of his administration’s policies were issues of “welfarism”- for both students as well as staff of university- and environmental conservation.
“Students are human beings; and they also deserve to be heard. We did not limit any external trips to only our staff. The welfare of students was a very important business for us. And I am a firm believer in the philosophy that a good relationship is very important and that if you treat people right, they naturally reciprocate.
“For our staff, I had on assumption of office inherited a system where salaries were not paid as at when due, and even when paid departments were not paid uniformly, and this needed to change. So, we designed and deployed a system that would enable the harmonization of all staff salaries and prompt payment. And I am glad we achieved it.”
Speaking about his environmental protection policy, Prof. Odugbemi stressed that only an environmentally clean and sane society can make the best out of people.
“I had realized this from very early on, so I moved swiftly to reclaim the University of Lagos campus community. We started preaching the gospel of keeping the environment clean; we also began to take care of the green vegetation within the university and also planted many more- including some rare species. In a short time, the university environment was green again. At that time, as I remember, it was an offence for anybody to tamper with any of the plants in the school. In no time, everybody started falling in line, and although I was given the name, “Baba oni flower” which meant the man of flowers; the result we achieved was self- evident and rewarding.
Bearing his thoughts on the drive towards achieving the desired change in the society, the former provost of the College of Medicine said that though requiring a painstaking effort, the task of affecting a positive mental attitude necessary for change, was not a willow-the-wisp.
“We can make this country a better place, if we just respect the law ourselves. For example, when I became VC a lot of staff began to sit up and keep to time. If I was going to attend an event, I did not go there a minute later. I remember once going to a class based on a tip I had got from some students and I wanted to find out for myself, within a period and after about thirty minutes the lecturer had not come to class. When I called him he became flabbergasted; and that was the end of it. We have to create the mindset that we have to keep to time.
“Also, like I said earlier, it was our drive towards achieving a cleaner and a more serene environment at the University of Lagos that influenced the Lagos State government at the time to adopt the various environmental laws and enforcement mechanism they operate on today.”
Asked about his thought on the issue of an attempted name-change by President Goodluck Jonathan, the renowned professor of Medical Sciences opined that, “name-change for the University of Lagos was totally uncalled for. When you create a name, you allow it to subsist. The name Unilag, is a universal brand and should be leveraged on by a responsible society. In the end, I thank God that commonsense prevailed eventually.”
He was particularly elated by the fact that the University of Lagos of his dreams was becoming ever increasingly manifested.
“No institution can grow today without embracing the new ICTs. If your students and staff are not up to date with the ICTs then you have not started anything.”
In recognition of this unassailable fact, my administration initiated and moved to implement programmes aimed at educating our students and staff in the use of ICT through a collaborative effort with the Microsoft World Wide organization at the time. Strategies were implemented to help raise awareness.
“I am happy that this tradition has continued through the years and today- more ever than before- the University of Lagos is easily well positioned as the foremost in the development of ICT in driving education in Nigeria. In the end, my hope is to see the University of Lagos take its place among the top ten universities in the world.”
Looking back, the former Vice- Chancellor believes that in light of his achievements, what most encapsulate his works were the writings on a massive plaque hanging on the wall of his living room with the caption, “We salute your courage!” The piece was presented to him by the College of Medicine on the occasion of the grand reception held in his honour on Wednesday 10th March, 2010 after having served as Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos.
Amongst other things, Prof. Tolu Odugbemi also served as Vice- Chancellor under the Ondo State government, and in recognition of his contributions to society he and his wife were conferred with the traditional title of “Baba ati Yeye Gbekoniyi” of Ondo State. He is a recipient of the Order of Niger (OON) awards as well as the highly coveted NNOM award- which is the highest award given to members of the academia having reached the pinnacle of their career in Nigeria.