The Obafemi Awolowo University, formerly, the University of Ife was founded in 1961 and has notable alumni such as Fatou Bensouda, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Nkemdilim Izuako, member of the United Nations Dispute Tribunal, Amal Pepple former Head of Service of the Federation and former Minister of Housing, Mr. Mike Ozehkome, a renowned lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Otedola, a business tycoon, the late Prof. Eyo Okon, former Vice-Chancellor, University of Uyo, Governor Olusegun Mimiko, Sam Nda-Isaiah, a newspaper publisher among other distinguished personalities.
It is not by coincidence that the university is referred to as “Great Ife” mainly because of the impact it makes on the society through scholarship and its alumni who are still playing significant and unique roles in the life of our nation.
The subjects of this piece are two contemporaries at the OAU, who enrolled into the Ivory Tower by providence and graduated in 1976. One bagged a Degree in French while the other graduated with a degree in history. They all went their separate ways after graduation without knowing what the future held but they were full of self-esteem and confidence because of the impact the university had on them.
One went ahead to pursue a career in the academia and ended up as the vice-chancellor of his alma mater and the other went into the civil service and veered into politics later in life to emerge as a Minister of the Federal Republic.
I am talking about Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture and Prof. Bamitade Omole, the current Vice-Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
Alhaji Mohammed, who was actually at the university on Friday, January 29, 2016 to deliver a paper at the Distinguished Guest Lecture of the Faculty of Arts, took time off to visit the Department of Foreign Languages, from where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in French and exchanged banters with the lecturers and students before moving to the Office of the Vice-Chancellor.
Prof. Omole has this to say on Alhaji Mohammed: “For us in the university today, as they say, it is a Red Letter Day – a day that this university is so proud of that one of its products, who came here as a young boy from Kwara State that never knew that God would raise him up the way he had done for you. When we heard a few weeks back that you will be coming, my memory went back the lane and I kept seeing you crossing the lawn from the library.
“For me as the Vice-Chancellor of the great university, I am so proud and full of emotions that a product of this university will be one of those that history will count as one of those that changed the course of governance in this nation. Many of us have been following your trajectory politically and it’s been very daunting and at times your life was involved but in it all, you have shown the stuff that the Great Ife alumnus is made of”.
Prof. Omole said despite reading French, through a dint of hard work, talent and commitment, Alhaji Mohammed became an expert in Public Relations, a wordsmith and a political communicator per excellence.
“The way you have handled the issues of governance, especially when you were in the trenches, has become as it were, a study in the resilience of the spirit and the hope of man to conquer the unconquerable.
“You have always spoken the truth. Some say propaganda, that you are a propagandist, some would say that Lai Mohammed can make a dead man to come alive again by the time he speaks English. But I think the agreement amongst everyone is the resilient power that you have in your faith for this county. Someone like me, who is your contemporary, I am so proud of you,” he stated.
For Alhaji Mohammed, the moment was nostalgic as he went down the memory lane to relive the good old days in the citadel of learning.
“None of us knew when we came here as very young students that we would become anything in life, we just believed in God and we believed in ourselves but I thank God today that we all carved a niche for ourselves,” Alhaji Mohammed said.
He described OAU Ile-Ife as one of the best universities in the world, which gave him the confidence and self-worth to excel in life.
By chance, the graduates of the Great Ife have continued to add value to the career, political and professional conduct of Alhaji Mohammed as he confirms. “By the grace of God, I am the Minister of Information and Culture and an alumnus of the University of Ife, my Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, is also an alumnus of Ife, my Special Assistant, Mr. Adeyemi is also an alumnus of Ife and my Personal Assistant, Femi Odutade, is an alumnus of Ife. Incidentally, I met them much later in life, I never knew they came to Ife but what singled them out is that Ife Thing you always see”.
Lai Mohammed recalled that he came to the University of Ife, as it was called then, by chance having secured admission to read Library Science at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, which fell under the catchment area of aspiring students from the northern part of the country.
“I didn’t want to come to the University of Ife originally. Of course I’m from Kwara State and normally in those days, it was shortly before the creation of states. It was Northern Nigeria, Western Nigeria and Eastern Nigeria and if you are from Northern Nigeria, you automatically go to ABU and I already had an admission to read Library Science in ABU but you know in those days, we used to teach for 7 or 8 months after HSC before going to university. So I was teaching somewhere in Kwara State and there was this young man who was already a preliminary student in Ife and he asked me to accompany him to the university. I don’t know whether he had a resit or so and I accompanied him from Ilorin to Ife. When I got to the gate, I fell in love with the university and said I am not going to ABU,” he recalled.
As a Northerner, who went to study in the South-West, the experience blended the two cultures in Alhaji Mohammed, which later shaped his perception of the nation and made him a true Nigerian.
Then the time came to recite the OAU Anthem and the Vice-Chancellor’s Office became agog when the alumni recited the anthem with passion and enthusiasm.
Chief Press Secretary
Minister of Information and Culture