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Awujale @88: Legacy gifts to education

“The root of our developmental problems, our stifled national growth and shortcomings in our national behaviour can be largely traced to the weakening of our educational system.”
– Oba (Dr) Sikiru Adetona, in Awujale, The Autobiography of Alayeluwa, Oba S.K. Adetona, Ogbagba II

Ours is an age of rapid demystification and the abasement of gold standards in institutions, personalities, formerly solid ideas and solutions. Political and economic uncertainties and turmoils have laid siege to characters, values and erstwhile heroes. One unhappy consequence of this development is that it is extremely difficult in a country like Nigeria to find role models and enduring heroes. Pinpoint a role model today and find out to your chagrin that your role model has been diminished to the point where he/she can no longer be so regarded; everywhere you turn, politics, business, the intellectual world, the story is almost uniformly the same. It is the pervasiveness of failure, disappointments, downturns that makes the remarkable strides of our heroes past, and persisting, even more impressive. Many Ijebu people are familiar with the expression, ‘the Awujale standard,’ a catchword which no one has precisely defined. Everyone knows, however, that it connotes something like excellent, superlative performance or outstanding output, which the monarch, currently in his 63rd year on the throne, brings to bear on whatever tasks he undertakes. So, in the midst of crumbling values, morality and benchmarks, Kabiyesi, who will turn 88 next Tuesday, continues to surpass most expectations, especially in the areas of governance, in particular his contributions to education.

In a period when our higher institutions of learning are waylaid by industrial disputes and the devaluation of merit and global rankings, the monarch has continued to find ways of creating new educational auspices and innovatively funding higher education. For example, a few years back, he organised an elaborate fundraising ceremony with the view to endowing a professorial chair in governance, located at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State. The ceremony took place in May 2016, while the professorial chair was kick-started six months later. One of the aims of the chair was to return merit to university education as well as nurture a platform for topical discourse on national issues. A few years into the take-off of the chair, Awujale gestated a fresh new idea in order to enlarge his vision. Taking a cue from a distinguished guest lecture delivered in 2019 by foremost Humanities scholar, Professor Toyin Falola, of the University of Texas, Austin, US, in which the scholar touched upon the benefits of an Institute of Governance, the monarch resolved that such an Institute will be the next step in the evolution of his legacy projects. Working with rare dispatch, the monarch ensured that the Oba Sikiru Adetona Institute for Governance Studies took off in May 2021, also warehoused by Olabisi Onabanjo University and was approved by the National Universities Commission for the awards of postgraduate and professional degrees, including Masters and Doctorate in Governance, early this year.

One of the remarkable things is that once Adetona conceives an idea, he gives himself and those around him no rest until he has brought the idea to full implementation; for him, the gap between conception and implementation is a very short one indeed. It is, in the process of bringing his ideas and visions to fruition that he brings to bear on projects the famed ‘Awujale standard,’ which implies a level of micromanagement in which he more or less supervises after delegating details of the project. This columnist, having lived in a country like ours, where politicians talk or daydream endlessly about what they propose to do for the people, finds Adetona’s pace of work exciting and game-changing. To substantiate the establishment, within a few years, of both the professorial chair in governance and the Institute for Governance Studies, Adetona built on OOU main campus, a clutch of upscale and impressive buildings, residential and clerical, the most engrossing being the Governance Institute office complex, currently being completed on campus. It is no exaggeration to say that it is one of the most outstanding architectural pieces on any Nigerian University campus. But, Adetona was not done. Upon being told sometime last year that OOU does not have a Vice-Chancellor’s lodge to its name, the monarch replied that this was humiliating for a higher institution of such reputation and stature. He did not stop at lamenting, however, he quickly put together a network of business men, employing them to raise funds to build a befitting lodge in the mould of ‘the Awujale standard’ for the university. It is noteworthy to remark that less than a year after the turning of the sod of the edifice, the lodge is nearing completion. This is in sync with Kabiyesi’s commitment to raising the bar in higher education.

As the opening quote, drawn from his important autobiographical work, affirms, no country or community can fast-track its development without paying adequate attention to education. In contrast to the national pastime of letting Nigerian youths wander around the globe in search of good education, the monarch believes that educational decay can be turned around and that the country need not remain in the tatters to which its neglect of education at all levels have pushed it. The argument may be made that he is able to accomplish these tasks because providence has endowed him with resources and a social network of billionaires. This is only true to an extent, for it is clear that resources without vision creates a lame duck situation just as vision without resources produces a talkative but never implementing circumstance. At any rate, Adetona was not always as rich as he became in his later years, however, he made a conscious effort not just to gain wealth but to use it for edifying purposes. In gratitude for his spirited determination to uplift and rebrand OOU, the Senate of the Institution, under the leadership of its Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Ganiyu Olatunde, gave Adetona a standing ovation when Olatunde read out to members of Senate, the list of his redoubtable contributions to educational excellence. One of the reasons for highlighting this notable case is that there are many more Nigerians who can assist in remoulding university education but will rather lavish their fortunes on expanding their wardrobes, putting up luxury and ostentatiously furnished buildings, taking serial trips around the globe and other amusement projects which do not alter the human condition.

Worth studying as well is the monarch’s employment of financial engineering and prudent management habits to prevent a run on and haemorrhaging of resources raised for the purpose of expanding the educational oyster. As is well known, many endowments have come and gone with life spans shortened by financial recklessness and failure to safeguard the survival and longevity of those endowments. By subjecting the funds to rigorous financial management, the monarch ensured that, in the case of the professorial chair for example, the seed money has been kept intact, while only the interest accrual has been so far spent on overheads. In other words, he had established the basis for an endowment to exist long after him and possibly in perpetuity.

It is apposite to wish Alayeluwa a festive 88th birthday and many tremendous years of service to the fatherland.

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