By Sunday Saanu
His initial ambition was to become a farmer, for he was of the opinion that “farmers are kings “. However, providence seemed to have a better plan by boosting his intellectual fecundity, thus, becoming a cynosure of all eyes among his peers, following his exceptional academic brilliance. Interestingly, yesterday’s potential farmer is today, the Vice Chancellor of Nigeria’s premier university, university of Ibadan (UI), Prof. Abel Idowu Olayinka who is marking his 58th years in the land of the living this day.
Born at Odo-Ijesa, Osun state on February 16th, 1958, the young Olayinka who attended St. Bartholomew’s Primary School, Odo-Ijesa from 1964 to 1969 was appointed the senior prefect in his final year as a result of his dazzling academic performance.
The latent prodigious academic excellence has been trailing his track throughout his academic pursuits. It ultimately culminated into his appointment last year as the 12th UI VC. Naturally humble and unassuming, Prof. Olayinka, like President Muhammadu Buhari is extremely abstemious and frugal- the kind of a leader required by the current economic reality. He is greatly distinguished by his asceticism.
Before his ascension to the mantle of leadership, even after taking over on 1 December 2015, Prof. Olayinka has so much remained cerebral in thinking, radical in orientation, courageous in conviction and empathetic in his relationships. As a matter of fact, he is an excellent human relations expert with the remarkable way with which he develops and maintains cordial relationship with all and sundry, irrespective of status and position.
While on familiarization tour to all faculties, departments, centres and units across the university campus recently, observers were dazed by his uncommon ability to recall individual’s names, crack jokes and share some past stories regarding their departments. It is no exaggeration that he takes pleasure in mentally storing people’s names as well as their birthday dates. Obviously, he has a sharp memory and intelligent mind.
Prof. Olayinka, according to many people who had worked with him before he became VC, had an uncanny way of remembering the birthday dates of people and he will send goodwill messages. This affection he has for people, possibly explains why so many people love him in UI. At a thanksgiving ceremony organised by his family shortly after his appointment, many speakers at the occasion emphasised the fact that Prof. Olayinka relates rather empathetically with everyone irrespective of levels as he is not class-conscious.
However, his mission is to guarantee optimal human happiness, hence his decision to abandon his personal comfort for the betterment of people through the instrumentalities of leadership position he has just occupied. Determinedly, since he got the opportunity, he has always been in his proverbial beehive to produce honey for the people. Just as great life comes with great trials, tribulations and travails, the UI boss has not been having it all smooth-sailing. But he has been so courageous in the face of trials and tribulations . As at time of writing this piece, Prof. Olayinka was experiencing the first baptism of fire from the university workers.
The monthly allocation from the federal government was insufficient to pay salaries.Certain allowances had to be withdrawn by the management, workers insisted that their allowances must be intact. Pronto, the gate was locked in protest! Fiasco is the word. But Prof. Olayinka has been upbeat, radiating courage and strength, assessing various options to explore in order to quickly overcome the challenge. It is expected that a truce will be reached as soon as possible.
Certainly, the current economic hardship is a major wound in his vision for the university. But from his body language and various initiatives from his administration, he is determined to turn the wound to wisdom. He understands the system. He is very conversant with the university . Having served as Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic)for two terms under his predecessor, Prof. Isaac Folorunso Adewole, Prof. Olayinka has definitely seen a great deal as an observer and has surely gone through a great deal as a participant observer, hence his experience to take UI to greater heights.
Today’s birthday boy is an interesting personality. Though laconic in nature, his arguments are breath-taking in its range and reach, and his delivery magisterial and compelling. He is not given to egomaniacal pomposities, rather, he is humble and humane, quite prudent and parsimonious, preaching the virtues of dedication and nobility. With the benefit of hindsight, Prof. Olayinka’s tenure is very likely going to be a moving story of vilification climaxing in a glorious vindication. Assessing him critically, one comes away with an impression of a consummate ‘multi-taster’ who passionately hates disregard for deadline. He is technically accomplished, tactically sound and strategically alert with uncommon qualities to manage people’s emotion: both negative and positive.
Indeed, one of the greatest attributes of Prof. Olayinka is his robust sense of humour. His non-smiling visage notwithstanding, Prof. Olayinka has a way of providing comic relief in any tensed situation. He is in agreement with an American motivational writer, William Arthur Ward who says “a well developed sense of humour is the pole that adds balance to your steps as you walk the tightrope of life”.
This placid man of extraordinary mental acuity is supremely confident,bold, daring and always in control of his faculties. These qualities are always on display as he carries out his burdensome schedules with a calm and collected confidence. Prof. Olayinka hates assumption, for he believes that assumption is the lowest form of knowledge. Therefore, he tremendously enjoys reading different maps of the same territory before launching any offensive.
Saanu is with the Directorate of Public Communication, University of Ibadan.