By Rotimi Lawrence Oyekanmi
January 19, 2016
The National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) flaunted its string of recent successes in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory at the weekend, where a record 10,653 graduating students were officially discharged at an elaborate sixth convocation.
The institution’s Vice Chancellor, Prof. Vincent Tenebe could hardly hide his enthusiasm, as he announced that this particular ceremony was the first to be held on the university’s permanent site, where an impressive Senate building and a convocation square were the most visible edifices.
Although, 15 out of the graduating students bagged First Class degrees, one of them, a 70 – year-old retired Rear Admiral named Orisha, who made a First Class in Mathematics, was the cynosure of all eyes.
Another 78-year-old Chief Femi Balogun, the Maiyegun and Tunwase I of Isara who obtained a degree in Law, and a visually impaired Mr. Obinna Bede, who acquired a Bachelor of Education (B.ED) degree in English, were also specially recognised.
So was NOUN’s most celebrated student to date, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who this time emerged with a Master’s degree in Christian Theology.
However, the high point of the ceremony was the decoration and confirmation of two individuals – Prof. Olugbemiro Jegede (the immediate past Vice Chancellor of the institution) and Prof. Godwin Soglo, (a member of the university’s governing council) as emeritus professors.
And as Jegede’s citation was being read, Prof. Tunde Adeniran, a former Minister of Education (1999 – 2001) who facilitated Jegede’s appointment as NOUN’s pioneer Vice Chancellor, watched with keen interest from the sidelines.
The National Universities Commission’s (NUC’s) Executive Secretary, Prof Julius Okojie who represented President Muhammadu Buhari as Visitor, and the Tertiary Education Trust Fund’s (TETFUND’s) Executive Secretary, Prof. Suleiman Bogoro were also there.
Tenebe said the past 12 months had been very eventful for the University, the most significant of which was the movement to the permanent site. He said: “Using the Special Intervention Funds from TETFUND, NOUN has been able to build a massive Senate Building; a School of Health complex with an administrative building attached; a Specialist Hospital with an administrative building attached, as well as (a) modern convocation square.”
He said additional Study Centres were opened in Bauchi, Lagos, Abuja, Cross Rivers, Ebonyi, Ondo and Osun states. He revealed that three inaugural lectures were held within the past year, while four new Research Centres have also been established. According to him, NOUN has also just initiated the process of establishing a School of Engineering and Environmental Sciences.
On staff development, Tenebe said: “In the past one year, a large number of staff were sponsored to attend conferences at local and international levels. In addition, 79 academic members of staff are on university sponsorship for their doctoral programmes in universities at home and abroad. At present, about 80 percent of academic staff in the university possess PhD.”
Olugbemiro Jegede, the Emeritus Professor
The resuscitation of the National Open University of Nigeria began in 2000, when Olugbemiro Jegede, a Professor of Distance Education was invited from his base at the Open University of Hong Kong by Prof Tunde Adeniran, the Minister of Education at that time. The military had buried the university after the 1983 coup, but the quartet of Otunba Dele Olapeju, the immediate past Principal of King’s College, Dr S.K Babalola, who was Obasanjo’s Special Adviser on Education, Adeniran and Jegede planned the resuscitation.
Adeniran it was who took Jegede to Obasanjo one evening, where Jegede got the rare opportunity to unfold the dynamism and opportunities of the Open University System. Obasanjo was so impressed that night, that he immediately agreed to give the idea a chance
Although, Adeniran was curiously relieved of his position as Education Minister the very next day after that historical meeting, in what has variously been attributed to the murky politics prevalent within the ruling party at that time, Prof Babalola Borishade, who took over as Education Minister in 2001 built on the foundation Adeniran laid down and gave Jegede his full support.
Borishade not only ensured that Jegede assumed the full status of Vice Chancellor, he also followed through with the original plan of siting the University in Lagos.
With presidential backing, Jegede took over the disused huge complex that used to serve as the Federal Ministry of Education’s headquarters along Ahmadu Bello way, Victoria Island, Lagos, where he held his first official meeting with NOUN’s pioneer staff members, with worried rats, lizards and cockroaches watching from the sidelines.
Faced with stiff opposition from familiar forces, who were miffed by the “effrontery” of the institution’s promoters that mooted the idea of taking the Open University to Lagos, Jegede was starved of funds by the National Assembly and could not pay for course materials earlier promised the pioneer students, who soon began to agitate. Obasanjo, it was learnt, then advanced some money from his security vote the Open University and charged Jegede not to waver.
Another stiff opposition came from conservative academics in the conventional universities, who scorned the distance learning idea, more out ignorance and envy, than their vaguely professed patriotism.
Jegede was also responsible for the recruitment of the first set of academics that manned the first set of study centres, and also the large number of egg heads who produced the institution’s course materials.
With his wide international connections, Jegede quickly linked up with the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) and UNESCO among others, leading to swift collaborations that boosted the university’s standing.
Tenebe told the audience that Jegede was the “”Moses” who led NOUN out of “Egypt,” while he (Tenebe) was the “Joshua” who settled the university on the Promised Land.
Jegede had predicted in 2004, that the Open University would dwarf the controversial satellite campuses that dotted the country’s landscape at that time and would eventually become the biggest provider of tertiary education in Nigeria at full maturity.
With 72 Study Centres spread across the country’s state capitals and still counting, the institution appears to be on course to fulfilling Jegede’s prophecy, although, it would still have to reach an amicable agreement with the Nigerian Law School, which still bars its graduates from attaining full qualification to practice the legal profession.