By Toyin Falola
It was Professor Akin Alao, my former student and a professor of legal history, who first told me about the conversion of the acronym of OAU from Obafemi Awolowo University to Oba Awon University. I laughed so loud that water rolled out of my eyes. Brilliant! The students composed their anthem, boasting that any other OAU is a counterfeit. Nigerian universities engage in a boasting competition, and I remember students at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria calling the University of Ibadan, ABU-Ibadan, and others as ABU-Ife, ABU-Nsukka. People at Ife call the University of Ibadan Agbowo High School! And people at the University of Ibadan would say there are only two universities in Nigeria—UI and others! Let us all amuse ourselves and remember that Oba Awon University was called in the 1960s Awolowo High School! If you follow American college football, you will notice the same joking competition as schools name themselves after animals. Africans love to self-describe themselves as sons of lions and tigers, but if you call anyone an animal, you get into a boxing match.
Situated within the verdant environs of Ile-Ife, a city imbued with the rich tapestry of Yoruba heritage and customs, proudly stands the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), an esteemed establishment that holds a prominent position within Nigeria’s scholarly sphere. Referred to by Professor Alao as “Oba Awon University” or the “King of Universities,” OAU transcends its role as a mere educational institution. It stands as a powerful emblem of scholarly eminence, serving as a source of optimism and motivation for numerous people across Nigeria. Since its establishment, this esteemed institution has epitomized the collective aspirations of a nation, diligently pursuing progress in the realms of intellect, culture, and scientific inquiry.
The narrative surrounding the establishment of OAU unfolds during the formative years of the 1960s, a period characterized by a profound sense of optimism and transformative shifts within the Nigerian context. During the pivotal juncture of the nation’s imminent attainment of independence, a compelling imperative emerged for the establishment of educational institutions that would nurture the intellectual faculties of the individuals destined to assume leadership roles and spearhead the progressive advancement of the nascent sovereign state. The establishment of OAU, formerly recognized as the University of Ife, was conceptualized as a proactive response to the appeal as mentioned above. A remarkable level of ambition characterized the project in question, as it aimed to challenge the prevailing norms of its time and establish novel benchmarks within the realm of higher education. The institution of higher learning bears the appellation of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, a wise statesman whose educational and governmental tenets persistently reverberate within its hallowed precincts.
Since its inception, OAU has established itself as an institution of scholarly eminence, characterized by its stringent academic curricula, pioneering research endeavours, and unwavering dedication to the preservation of cultural heritage and the pursuit of social equity. The university served as a dynamic nexus for the convergence of diverse ideas, wherein the rich tapestry of traditional African values harmoniously intersected with the profound intellectual rigour inherent in the Western academic tradition. This institution served as a breeding ground for some of Nigeria’s most brilliant intellects, whose remarkable achievements spanned diverse domains within Nigeria and beyond its borders. The roster of graduates from the university exhibits a remarkable collection of distinguished individuals in the realms of Nigerian academia, politics, business, and arts, thereby emphasizing the institution’s crucial influence in moulding the intellectual terrain of the nation. I am happy to have attended the institution where I met Olabisi Olusola, the teenager who later became Mrs Olabisi Falola.
The academic framework of OAU serves as a testament to its unwavering dedication to providing a comprehensive and well-rounded education. The university boasts a diverse array of faculties encompassing disciplines spanning from the Arts to Sciences, Law to Technology, Medicine and many more. This comprehensive range of academic departments provides a wide spectrum of programs meticulously crafted to engage and motivate students, fostering an environment conducive to intellectual growth and exploration. The distinguishing factor of OAU lies not solely in the extensive scope of its academic program but rather in the profound and exceptional calibre of its pedagogy. The esteemed faculty, consisting of highly accomplished scholars in their respective domains, contribute a vast reservoir of erudition and expertise, thereby guaranteeing that students undergo a profound intellectual metamorphosis rather than mere acquisition of knowledge.
In addition to its notable academic achievements, the is widely recognized for its remarkable architectural designs and aesthetically pleasing campus, which synergistically foster an atmosphere that is conducive to both intellectual development and individual maturation. The expansive campus, spanning vast acres, harmoniously combines the splendour of nature with remarkable architectural achievements. The Senate Building and the Oduduwa Hall, both renowned architectural structures, serve as powerful representations of the esteemed heritage and ambitious aspirations of the university. The verdant foliage that embellishes the campus not only possesses aesthetic appeal but also serves as a poignant symbol of the university’s unwavering dedication to sustainability and environmental awareness. The cultural ramifications of OAU transcend its mere academic accomplishments. The locale has served as a central hub for the exchange of cultural and political ideas, effectively mirroring the dynamic and multifaceted nature of Nigerian society. The university has cultivated an intellectual milieu wherein students are actively encouraged to grapple with the pressing concerns of their era, encompassing domains such as politics, social equity, and the arts. The presence of events such as the OAU Arts Festival and a multitude of student-led initiatives serves as a testament to the vibrant campus culture that reveres artistic expression, ingenuity, and a deep awareness of societal issues.
Yet another distinguishing characteristic of OAU lies in the dynamic and lively nature of its student life. The OAU fosters an educational setting wherein students are not merely passive recipients of knowledge but rather engaged participants in a vibrant and interactive learning milieu. On the university campus, there is a proliferation of student organizations, clubs, and societies that cater to a diverse array of interests and passions. The university serves as a multifaceted platform wherein students are afforded the opportunity to articulate their thoughts and ideas through engaging in debates and dramatic performances. Additionally, it serves as a conduit for students to cultivate novel proficiencies and establish enduring social networks spanning various domains such as sports and social services. The dynamic and lively student life at OAU plays a pivotal role in cultivating a strong sense of camaraderie and affiliation within the student populace.
Within the domain of scholarly inquiry and inventive endeavours, OAU has exhibited noteworthy advancements, thereby enriching the reservoir of intellectual capital at both the domestic and international levels. The research output of the university has exerted a significant influence on society, particularly in domains such as public health, agriculture, and engineering. The researchers at OAU are at the vanguard of addressing a multitude of urgent challenges that confront Nigeria and the global community, encompassing health emergencies and ecological concerns. The university’s dedication to achieving research excellence is clearly demonstrated through its strategic partnerships with various academic institutions, government agencies, and international organizations. These collaborations establish a robust network that amplifies the calibre and influence of its research endeavours.
The university’s pedagogical approach is comprehensive, encompassing not only academic prowess but also the cultivation of character and the honing of leadership acumen. The philosophy of OAU is firmly rooted in the conviction that education ought to be a catalyst for profound transformation, empowering students with the requisite knowledge, aptitudes, and principles necessary to enact constructive societal advancements. The university’s commitment to this philosophy is exemplified through its community service and outreach initiatives. These programs afford students the chance to apply their acquired knowledge in practical settings, thereby contributing to the resolution of pressing issues within the community.
The impact of OAU on Nigerian society is of immense significance and should not be underestimated. The institution has served as a fertile environment for cultivating individuals who have emerged as influential figures and catalysts for transformation across diverse domains within the nation. Throughout periods of national adversity, the university has consistently served as a bastion of rationality and advancement, steadfastly championing the principles of democratic governance, fairness, and societal equity. The manifold contributions made by Nigeria to the realms of arts, literature, and culture have served to enhance the fabric of its society, thereby illuminating the nation’s opulent heritage and multifarious voices.
As an individual traverses the corridors of OAU, one is inevitably captivated by the palpable ambience of historical significance and profound intent that saturates the atmosphere. The walls are embellished with the depictions and accomplishments of previous scholars and leaders, serving as a perpetual reminder of the university’s historical heritage and the obligation inherent in one’s affiliation with this esteemed establishment. The library of the university, which stands as one of the most expansive in the region of West Africa, represents an abundant reservoir of intellectual wealth. Within its walls, a diverse assemblage of books, journals, and manuscripts is meticulously preserved, encompassing a multitude of subjects. Notably, this collection includes a number of exceedingly scarce and priceless works, further enhancing its scholarly significance. The challenges encountered by OAU are comparable to those experienced by other Nigerian universities and institutions in developing nations. Ongoing concerns encompass a range of issues, including the allocation of financial resources, the development and maintenance of infrastructure, as well as the availability and accessibility of essential resources. Nevertheless, the distinguishing factor of OAU lies in its capacity to transcend these obstacles, perpetually discovering inventive methods to accomplish its mission. The university has exhibited exceptional fortitude and flexibility, deftly manoeuvring through the intricacies of the higher education terrain with elegance and unwavering resolve.
The capacity for resilience and adaptability is likewise evident in the response of OAU to the dynamic and evolving nature of the global higher education milieu. In an epoch characterized by the transformative influence of technology and innovation on educational paradigms and social dynamics, it is noteworthy that OAU has successfully embraced these advancements, thereby positioning itself at the forefront of progress. The university has adopted digital technology in its pedagogical practices, thereby augmenting the educational encounter and expanding its influence beyond the confines of the physical campus. The incorporation of online courses, digital libraries, and virtual collaborations has become an intrinsic aspect of the educational milieu at OAU, thereby guaranteeing the university’s continued pertinence and competitiveness within the worldwide scholarly sphere.
The essence of OAU is most effectively captured by its dynamic network of former students, whose reach extends worldwide. The alumni serve as a testament to the university’s enduring influence, making substantial contributions across a diverse range of domains, encompassing academia, government, industry, and the arts. The individuals in question serve as representatives of the core principles and ideals upheld by the academic institution, embodying the pursuit of exceptionalism, moral uprightness, and dedication to the betterment of others. The alumni network plays a multifaceted role, serving as a valuable support system for present students while also functioning as a conduit that links the esteemed institution of OAU to a broader global community. In doing so, it facilitates the cultivation of international partnerships and collaborations, thereby enhancing the institution’s global reach and impact.
With a forward-looking perspective, OAU persists in aiming ambitiously, propelled by a grand aspiration to attain the status of a globally renowned educational establishment. This vision encompasses more than mere academic rankings; rather, it strives to generate a palpable influence on society. The task at hand entails fostering the development of a forthcoming cohort of individuals who possess the necessary skills and capabilities to effectively address the intricate and multifaceted issues that currently confront our society. The strategic plans and initiatives of the university are oriented towards the promotion of sustainable development, active community involvement, and global competitiveness. These efforts are aimed at ensuring that OAU remains a symbol of inspiration and exceptionalism for an extended period.
Upon careful examination and contemplation, it becomes evident that “Oba Awon University” serves as a remarkable embodiment of the profound influence that education possesses in the process of metamorphosing individuals and communities. The trajectory of this nascent establishment from the inception of Nigeria’s independence to its current status as a distinguished hub of erudition and cultural enrichment is an account characterized by foresight, tenacity, and steadfast dedication to achieving the highest standards of merit. This narrative serves as a source of inspiration, not only for individuals who traverse its corridors but for all those who hold steadfast faith in the profound ability of education to effect positive change. As we engage in contemplation regarding the profound impact that OAU has bestowed upon Nigeria and its global reach, it becomes evident that this esteemed institution transcends mere educational boundaries. It assumes the role of a potent emblem of optimism, a nurturing ground for cultivating exceptional leaders, and a bedrock of distinction that will persistently radiate, illuminating the trajectories of forthcoming cohorts. In a global landscape characterized by multifaceted challenges and pervasive uncertainties, OAU stands as an unwavering symbol of intellectual fortitude, illuminating the path towards a more promising and enlightened tomorrow.
Oba Awon University, congratulations on our 47th Convocation ceremony,
This is the second in a four-part series on Obafemi Awolowo University