My Vice-Chancellorship was divine: … I never had the ambition -Prof. Julius Okojie

The second substantive Vice-Chancellor of Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB) and immediate past two-term Executive Secretary of National Universities Commission (NUC), Professor Julius Amioba Okojie (OON) has disclosed that his Vice-Chancellorship was divine as he never nursed the ambition but circumstances created the opportunity for him. He Infact wept when he was encouraged to run for the office of the Vice-Chancellor of the institution because he felt incapable.

(Inset) The Valedictory Lecturer, Professor Julius Amioba Okojie (OON), making salient points at the Lecture while a cross-section of Academic Staff listen with rapt attention.

Professor Okojie revealed this while delivering a Valedictory Lecture marking his retirement from service titled, “A Servant Is Not Greater Than His Master: Who Wants To Be A Vice-Chancellor?”, held at the University Ceremonial BuildingHe said with benefit of hindsight, he was glad he had the opportunity to serve twice as Vice-Chancellor and to the Glory of God, he made a huge success  as Vice-Chancellor of two Universities successfully and crowning it with a two term appointment as the Executive Secretary of NUC.

His words, “I Cried When I was encouraged to run for the office (Vice-Chancellor), because I felt incapable; But with the benefit of hindsight, I am glad that I have had the opportunity to serve twice as a Vice-Chancellor and in each instance, it was not my own making but by providence, I am now a better man for it”.

He, however warned that “Vice-Chancellors are made from heaven, but be careful, it is an endangered species. Have an open mind, be convinced, courageous and go for it. It is an exciting assignment.

According to the University Don who has served as Vice-Chancellor twice; the Vice-Chancellor is everybody’s servant but nobody’s master.

The Valedictory Lecturer, Professor Julius Amioba Okojie (OON), exchanging views with the University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Felix Kolawole Salako at the Lecture.

Professor Okojie said that his appointments have fetched him a rich harvest of experiences the positions offer and influenced his choice of title for the Valedictory Lecture, “A Servant is not greater than his Master: Who wants to be a Vice-Chancellor?”.

Describing the Vice-Chancellor as the Chief Operating Officer or Chief Executive Officer of the University in many countries, who has responsibilities for the day-to-day management of the system as the chief accounting officer as well as provides academic and administrative leadership in addition to being an ex-officio member of Council and Chairman of Senate.

He informed that, the Vice-Chancellor is the Chairman of Congregation and in the absence of the Chancellor, takes precedence in Convocation ceremonies.

According to the former ES, from the foregoing it is obvious that the Vice-Chancellor has great and complex responsibilities. It is therefore anybody’s guess then as to who has such broad and powerful shoulders to carry the burden of the day-to-day running of the University which has the implications of multitasking, energy, drive, foresight, patience, knowledge of the system, respected leadership, a team player, honesty, accountability, integrity and the fear of God.

He noted further that the Vice-Chancellor is expected to dig deep into this arsenal of virtues to confront any situation/challenge. He is the alter-ego and the face of the University. He, therefore, must have a commanding presence. Above all, the Vice-Chancellor is appointed to serve the University community and the public. He/she serves everybody and therefore has many masters; Staff, students, external communities, government parastatals, agencies and the public. He/she is appointed by Governing Council and can be removed from office, for a just cause anytime, by Council. This seeming superman is actually a poor servant and is nobody. In the true sense of it, he is appointed to serve and he is therefore a servant.

Giving his take on the Nigerian University System (NUS), Professor Okojie pointed out that the Management of a University has its complexities which the average professor may not be prepared for, and as such many distinguished scholars fail to make good Vice-Chancellors.

From Left: Representative of the Executive Secretary NUC and Deputy Executive Secretary NUC, Professor Chiedu Mafiana, the University’s Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council, Dr. (Barr.) Aboki Zhawa, former Vice-Chancellor, Bells University, Ota, Professor Isaac Adeyemi and former Executive Secretary NUC, Professor Peter Okebukola at Professor Julius Okojie’s Valedictory Lecture.

The University Don who disclosed that luck has no role in the success of a Vice-Chancellor in the University Community, stressed that “a good Vice-Chancellor has to be a good shepherd willing to care for his sheep and willing to protect them at all costs. More importantly, he has to be God-fearing, kind, compassionate, courageous, caring, a good listener, with an open door policy, prayerful and have emotional intelligence to deal with issues. He also has to be proactive and engaging. He should operate the committee system which is the trade mark of a good university management”.

According to him, no two Vice-Chancellors have the same experience in managing a university however, they may be able to identify a few experiences that will assist them but invariably  on their own and should hope for the support of a good university community like FUNAAB.

He charged the incumbent Vice-Chancellor, Professor Kolawole Salako, to “rekindle the passion of past Vice-Chancellors, for FUNAAB to excel, for God has endowed us with the spirit of power and love and self-control. Do not hesitate to testify to God and the system you serve nor of me, one of your predecessors in office, because I am in chain for the hope of the restoration of the NUS, but take your share of criticism, sufferings and tribulations the system brings upon its Vice-Chancellors”.

Believe in the incredible and you can do the impossible. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, “A workman who has no need to be ashamed rightly handling the word of Truth. “May God help you”.

To the University Community, he stated that, “though I am the least of all the professors, I became the Vice-Chancellor to lead FUNAAB for about six years and the NUS for 10 years as an implementing regulator of all the Universities; Federal, State and Private and made the NUS understand what effective regulations, applying the BMAS holds for the system. That you will take the regulatory activities and the BMAS seriously and be rooted and grounded in them, so that you may have power to comprehend with everyone in the NUS the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of God which surpasses knowledge and be filled with the fullness of God”.

In his recommendations, Professor Okojie called for the reintroduction of the Higher School Certificate programme in public schools, decolonization of education in Nigeria, designation of the top 10 universities in Nigeria (by age and ranking) as postgraduate universities, encourage Universities to streamline the sustainable development goals into their research and development endeavours, internalization of universities by act of national assembly, mentorship of staff and new universities as this will guarantee quality of teaching and research and performance-based funding for universities.

He also suggested the strengthening of the external examiners system, staff training and retraining which discourages brain drain, introduction of programme for the acquisition of soft skills as certificate programmes encourage early attrition and eliminate the “token student” syndrome, ICT aided research and teaching with the NgREN facilities, selection of Vice-Chancellor to be more open and based on merit, improved security on campuses with help facilities such as perimeter fencing and CCTV in strategic points on Campuses, less emphases on structures and more on facilities and equipment, facility sharing, e-timetable, introduction of Federal scholarship for all students in programmes in Agriculture, Education and Medicine based on merit, Bursary for others and possibly student Loan Scheme.

Other recommendations include   selection of Council  members  based on integrity, ability to attract fund, projects and understanding of the university system, encouraging industrial peace on campuses and Leadership training for staff, students and Management, discouraging the “Learned helplessness and escape conditioning syndrome”, staff and students audit and audit of programmes, system wide, activation of the University Pension Scheme NUPENCO, to encourage Entrepreneurial Universities among many more suggestions.

He wished all aspiring to become Vice-Chancellors, good luck, God’s blessing and help.

Earlier in his Introductory remarks,  the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Kolawole Salako stated that the Valedictory Lecture is the first he was presiding over as the Vice-Chancellor, noting that coincidentally, he was employed when Professor Okojie was the second substantive Vice-Chancellor of the University and he was presiding over his Valedictory Lecture as the Sixth Substantive Vice-Chancellor.

He enumerated the enormous contributions of Professor Okojie to the Nigerian University System, disclosing that the Professor of Forest Resources Management has remained an invaluable force in national development and an inspiration to both town and gown in and outside the shores of Nigeria.

He stated that Professor Okojie’s commitment to higher education has gained him national and international accolades. His unflinching concern for community development earned him the traditional titles of Aare Agbe of Egbaland and Omotadese of Owu Kingdom.

In his goodwill message, the Chairman of Council and Pro-Chancellor, Dr. (Barr.) Aboki Zhawa on behalf of Council lauded Professor Okojie for being a worthy ambassador of FUNAAB whom the University is proud of, adding that if it were within his power he would have extended his tenure.

The Pro-Chancellor described him as a first class material who would definitely be missed.

Goodwill messages also came from the Executive Secretary of NUC who was represented by his Deputy, Prof. Chiedu Mafiana; the Vice-Chancellor of Augustine University, Epe, Prof. Steve Afolami,

others representatives of the Vice-Chancellors of Bells University, Afe Babalola University and FUTA and Edwin Clarke University.