- ‘Nigeria’s public life is in shortage of personalities like Onosode’
- ‘Those you read about in the papers are villains, crooks that we all know’
- Why world class public university education eludes Nigeria, says Bamiro
By Ozoro Opute
RECENTLY, book enthusiasts and lovers of integrity in public life gathered at the open court of The Booksellers Ltd premises on Jericho Road, Ibadan, Oyo State, at ‘An Evening of Virtues’ to celebrate the life and times of late boadroom guru, Deacon Gamaliel Oforitsenere Onosode, as captured in a book written by a professor of theatre, Femi Osofisan, with assistance from a professor of classics, Kunbi Olasope. Titled ‘Gamaliel Onosode: Classicus, An Honourable Life’, the book is published by Mosuro Publishers. The event was chaired by a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Prof. Femi Bamiro, who worked closely with Onosode, as Pro Chancellor of the university.
What was clear from the presentation was that a man who had a rare integrity quotient that is sorely lacking in today’s public discourse has passed on, his footprints were still visibly around to help guide the young ones who might think that what curently passes off as political rascality is the norm of behaviour in public life.
Acoording to the author and scholar, ”It’s such a big privilege (to write the book), because this was a man who was so decent and so intelligent; he was really intelligent. I hope the younger ones in particular will read this book, because we’re in shortage of such personalities in our public life nowadays. Most of the people you read about in the papers are villains, crooks that we all know, and this may give the wrong impression to the young ones growing up that our society is made up solely of these kinds of people, people you cannot trust, who lie so openly and delight in it by say: ‘you know we are politicians,’ as if that’s the definition of politics.
”But there are so many people in our society who are not like that. There are people who still have integrity, who have great compasion, and he (Onosode) was one of them. I hope this book will remind us about who we are and push us not to imitate the villains.”
Earlier, Bamiro highlighted the contributions of Onosode to Nigeria’s public education while he was Pro Chancellor of University of Ibadan at a time when he (Bamiro) was the insititution’s Vice Chancellor. He stated that the appointment of two private-sector players as Pro Chancellors in succession helped refocus the premier institution on the path of greatness.
”I had the unique opportunity of working with him (Onosode) as Pro-Chancellor,” he continued. ”When a government’s Visitation Panel came calling, University of Ibadan was adjudged one of the best universities, because we transformed the university, courtesy of Onosode. We owed a lot to Gamaliel Onosode in guiding us. We had the unique opportunity of having two Prof-Chancellor who were from the private sector.
”First was Felix Ohiweiri who (as Pro Chancellor) remarked that University of Ibadan had no Vision Statement; many grumbled and wondered about what a Vision was, saying that the institution’s Vision was to produce many graduates. Then a Vision Committee was set up which came up with the Vision for UI to become a Post-Graduate University with emphasis on research.
”That done, Onosode came when I was Vice Chancellor in 2009 – 2014. He said we had a good Vision, but asked: where is your Strategic Plan?’ Some of us grumbled again: what’s a Strategic Plan doing in a university and told him that everything was in the Vision. But he said ‘no’. But when he saw that we were not keen, he took us on a retreat. After that retreat, we realised that we needed a Strategic Plan to implement our Vision. This was going to translate to the entire public university system by a series of events that happened thereafter.”
Bamiro also said Onosode was so intuitive that he foresaw the rut currently plaguing public universities in the country, particularly the loss of autonomy of public universities that rely solely on government for funding. He applauded Onosode for being among the best Pro-Chancellors to ever hold that position in the history of University of Ibadan and perhaps Nigeria at large.
”Onosode almost predicted what is happening now in public universities,” Bamiro stated. ”Now salaries are paid from Abuja. As a vice chancellor, you cannot employ ordinary cleaner. Onosode used ot ask: ‘what is now autonomy when universities depend on government for 90 per cent of funding?’ So, it’s instructive. How can we have world class public universities in that situation? That’s not possible.”
Bamiro emphasised that world class public university education would continue to elude Nigeria, so long the source of funding that should guarrantee universities’ autonomy continues to come from government. Also, with the current Integrated Payroll and Pesonnel Information System (IPPIS) that Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) vehemently fought against, public university autonomy will remain a mirage, since university vice chancellors could no longer employ a cleaner or lecturer except Abuja so determines.
Bamiro therefore urged universities to obtain copies of ‘Gamaliel Onosode: Classicus, An Honourable Life’ to pick his brain on how to resolve the crisis of education in the country.
Continuing, Osofisan narrated the process that led to the writing of a book on Onosode and the delightful man he found him to be, even though sadly Onosode passed on before the book could be published.
”I must say that it was a delight for me to write this book on Onosode,” the theatre professor confessed. ”I have written a number of biographies, as some of you know. I have to be inspired first. I don’t accept all invitations. I have to be inspired by the personality of the person. Then I have to look for a style that fits that personality. So the number of peronalities I’ve written about have different approaches. I think the one that is most known is about JP Clark, who I wrote extensively about his poetry.
”Now, writing about a businessman was a bit challenging to me at first. Prof. Kunbi Olasope, who was my research assistant, brought the subject to my notice; she was looking to write the biography and asked me if I was ready to do it. If you read the introduction you’d see why I finally decided to do it, because I looked at him as a stern, very difficult-to-approach person. When we visited his house, I found out why many women were attracted to him, particularly women.
Although Onosode as a stern, no-nonsense personality and a disciplinarian was legendary while he was alive, Osofisan found to his pleasant surprise that the man was perhaps the most jovial personality in private life that contrasted sharply with his stern public persona.
”In his private life, he was very charming,” he revealed. ”He even tells jokes; I was very surprised that he tells jokes at all. So a book already exists about him that talks about his business life; but that kind of book wasn’t the one he wanted. He wanted a book that will talk about his personal life. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it before the book came out. I don’t know, but I have a feeling that he would have liked this book, but I don’t know. It’s only those who had interacted with him who can tell me if I achieved what I meant to achieve.”
While welcoming guests to the event, the CEO of Mosuro Publishers and The Booksellers Ltd, Mr. Kolade Mosuro, enumerated the unique qualities of Onosode that will continue to endear him to lovers of integrity and discipline as encapsulated in the book. And in strict Onosode tradition, the event started at 5pm prompt, the advertised time on the invitation.
”And we have chosen to gather this evening around a man who showed us exceptional moral rectitude and grace,” Mosuro said. ”A man whose name evoked integrity, intelligence, humility and creativity. This evening, we have chosen to discuss Onosode through a conversation around his attributes and finally to present the book that looked at him from a human angle.
”I would like to thank Prof. Femi Bamiro for accepting to chair this event. The choice of a chairman was an easy one for us because Gamaliel Onosode was an ex-UI student, but more particularly he was Pro-Chancellor of the University when Bamiro was Vice-Chancellor. Prof Bamiro knew him intimately for the progress he drove at UI and he will have a word or two to say about his virtues.
”I want to thank Mr. Sam Omatseye who has come all the way from Lagos. Many of you here will know Sam from his incisive column in the Nation. Sam is the Chairman of the Nation’s Newspapers Editorial Board. I should add that Sam went to Government College, Ughelli. Onosode was one of the early students of that great school. I salute all the old students of Government College Ughelli here.”
Mosuro commended Osofisan who he said is ”particularly remarkable is his inventiveness, his ability to create new styles to get stories across. You will find plenty of that in this book and I dare say you will enormously enjoy it.”
Although published in 2020, with a presentation made in Lagos last year, Mosuro said ”it was subsumed in some other activities. So, we decided that Ibadan would give the book and the man a dedicated event. Here we are today.”
Olasope moderated a conversation between the Editorial Board Chairman of The Nation newspaper, Mr. Sam Omatseye, and a university registrar extraordinaire, Mrs. Tayo Ikotun. Three selected readers, Temitope Agoro, Abiodun Akinsikun and Olanike Onemisi, treated the audience to tantalising excerpts from the book to whet the audience’s appetite to its juicy content.
The Urhobo Progressive Union (UPU) was represented by its cultural dancers’ arm that thrilled the audience to Urhobo folk songs and dances.
Other dignitaries present were Professors Dan Izevbaye and Bode Lucas, Mr. Dare Oluwatoyin, among others.