Sofoluwe: Remembering the ‘people’s VC’
Five years ago, the University of Lagos (UNILAG) lost its 10th Vice Chancellor (VC), Prof Babatunde Adetokunbo Sofoluwe. Family members, friends, students and colleagues gathered at a memorial lecture held by the Lagos State chapter of UNILAG Alumni Association to reflect on his life and times. ADEGUNLE OLUGBAMILA, MEDINAT KANABE and JANE CHIJIOKE report.
He cared about people. Although I can’t say or judge, I think he did it to the extreme. With the benefit of hindsight, maybe if he had cut off some relationships, or pegged down some things, maybe he would still be alive
Some called him an academic and a humanist; others described him as generous. The late Prof Babatunde Adetokunbo Sofoluwe demystified the office of the Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) with his humility when he was in the saddle. Many believed his philosophy was anchored on the simplicity of life. To some, he took things too lightly. However, one thing was clear about him: he created lasting impressions on those who crossed his path.
When last Friday, family members, scholars and friends, gathered in his memory at the fifth anniversary of his death, organised by the UNILAG Alumni Association, Lagos State chapter, what was on the lips of everyone was that he lived a fulfilled life and impacted positively on many who knew him.
The late Sofoluwe, who was born on April 15, 1950, was UNILAG’s 10th vice chancellor. He mounted the saddle on January 30, 2010. He, died on May 1, 2012. He was 62.
Beside a series of events, which included an interdenominational service and sports, among secondary schools, the week-long event climaxed last Friday, with the annual memorial lecture and presentation of scholarship valued at N3 million to 20 indigent, but brilliant undergraduates of the university. Each got N150,000.
This year’s lecture titled: “The administration and management of a university in a recessed economy; A case study of Nigeria”, was delivered by Sokoto State University Vice Chancellor Prof Nuhu Yaqub. It held at the school’s main auditorium.
The alumni Chairman, Dr Lukumon Adeoti, said the scholarship represented the shoulder the late Sofoluwe offered many indigent students to lean on by funding their education.
“While alive, the late Prof Sofoluwe loved education a lot. He sponsored about 72 indigent students and all of them graduated. He was not using the university’s money. He was personally funding them. He began that initiative before he became the VC and he felt even as VC, he did not need to help himself with the university money to sponsor them,” Adeoti, who teaches at Unilag Department of Geosciences, recalled at a press briefing ahead of the weeklong programme of activities.
He added:”Aside, he was equally monitoring their growth. We didn’t know them (beneficiaries) until we started the lecture five years ago, and some of them showed up to tell us the role the late Sofoluwe played in their education.”
Many of the late Sofoluwe’s friends, colleagues and associates were at the event to testify to his large heart.
The UNILAG management said the deceased would be remembered for his handling of an office many have held with arrogance.
His successor, Prof Rahamon Bello, said he demystified the VC’s office.
“Sofoluwe was full of simplicity. He was a man, who demystified his office as the VC. It is still difficult to believe that he is gone. At this time five years ago, the university was not as calm as it is now. There was unrest because that was the time we wanted him more,”he said.
Bello’s Deputy (Academic and Research), Prof Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, described the deceased as a fantastic scholar. “The truth I can say about him is endless because I worked closely with him and I miss him.”
Emeritus professor of Computer Science and former UNILAG Deputy VC, Prof Laide Abbas, also spoke glowingly of the deceased.
“Sofoluwe was a nice man, a simple but talented academic. He demystified any office he occupied. He moved like water, an easy going fellow with lot of energy. Although he had his weaknesses as a human being. Sometimes, something you take serious might not be that serious to him and people sometimes misunderstood him because of that,”he said.
Prof Mopelola Olusakin of the Department of Educational Foundation of the university, recounted the the late Sofuluwe’s relationship with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
“During his (Sofoluwe’s) time as VC, he would use his salary to buy snacks for ASUU members whenever we held our meetings. Sometimes, he personally showed up for ASUU meetings and we appreciated it, but that didn’t stop us from deciding on issues bordering on members’ interest; yet that didn’t stop him from attending meetings.”
Olusakin said one of Sofoluwe’s weaknesses was his excessive trust in people. “He cared about people; he would always want people to be happy. Although I can’t say or judge, I think he did it to the extreme. With the benefit of hindsight, maybe if he had cut off some relationships, or pegged down some things, he would still be alive. Though only God can say, but truth is, he was so free with everyone, so jovial, and wanted to please everyone, even students.
“Students could go and stretch out their hands to embrace him. If you have ever attended our convocation or alumni get together, you would see students hugging him. That was the late Prof Sofoluwe for you. He was passionate about UNILAG, especially when the government wanted to rechristen the university; he couldn’t bear it.”
The alumni’s National Secretary, Tunde Fadahunsi, said Sofoluwe, who was also an alumnus, graduated with a Second Class Upper Division in Special Mathematics in June 1973.
“So, we remember a man who left indelible marks on the sands of time. Sofoluwe gave himself to the service of the University of Lagos. I am not a worker in this university, but as an alumnus, I felt him. He had interest in the alumni. He did everything he could to make sure the alumni grows. It is a pity he only lived for two years in his service as the VC. but within that short period, he did a lot. Indeed, we all have termination date, but it’s quite unfortunate that his came five years ago, at a point we humans thought we needed him more,”Fadahunsi said.
A lecturer in the school who pleaded anonymity, said in the history of the 55-year-old institution, there had not been a man as charismatic and infectious as Sofoluwe.
“One thing I miss him for is his humility and compassion. We are yet to have another VC that has such charisma and we may never have. He was open to everybody; you can access him any time any day. He would not only listen to you, he would ensure that you feel the impact of his administration.
“There was a time I wanted my daughter to do diploma programme, he said: “Why don’t you encourage her to sit for JAMB instead of wasting money?” Eventually, my daughter wrote the JAMB examination and got admission on merit. That was who he was: a compassionate man committed to the service of the people. He touched so many lives regardless of individual background,” he said.
Another teaching staff, who also chose to remain anonymous, said. “I was newly employed at the time he (Sofoluwe) became the Vice Chancellor. Also at that period I won an award with which I was supposed to travel to the United States. Coincidentally, there were issues. I was compelled to personally see him when I felt other offices, which would have handled it were not giving me positive response. Instantly he gave approval. That was how I was able to travel abroad. It’s painful that that period was the last time I saw him because I was in the US when he passed on,”he recalled.
Another member of staff, Prince Awere Odor, extolled the late Sofoluwe as a man who held women in high esteem.
He said: “He gave exceptional regard to women, and you could almost call him ‘woman wrapper’. For women, who worked with him, once it was 4 o’clock, he would tell them to go home and attend to their husbands and children. He didn’t want their work to affect their family life.
“He was quite generous; he gave out everything, even his wife expressed worry while we were having (burial) mass for him. She said at a point, she became worried that he was giving out everything and she didn’t know what he would leave behind for the family to live on upon retirement. She said she tried to make him stop but he didn’t.
“He was that generous. He paid the fees and hostel accommodation for many people. For me, he did quite a lot; he even got annoyed with me that I refused to collect money from him many times; but I was feeling for him. Most time, he would empty his whole pocket to please someone.”
Students were also not left out in pouring encomiums on the late professor.
“He (Sofoluwe) was always available in times of trouble. I could remember when I had issues with my courses. I went to meet him, he was then the Dean of Sciences and the problem was resolved. He displayed fatherly role to many of us. He deserves to be remembered at all times,” said Afolabi Fashoranti , who is pursuing his Ph.D programme in the university.
Another student, Bunmi Akinyemisi, who did his Masters programme in 2013, said the late Sofoluwe was an astute administrator, who, during his time, reduced the one-year Masters programme to nine months. “It was good news to those of us then and I felt his service before he died,” Akinyemisi recounted. .
Speaker Lagos State House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa, and Mobil Oil Managing Director, Adetunji Oyebanji, who were both special guests of honour at the lecture, noted that good people are not forgotten so soon even in death.
“When people die, they are forgotten, but those with good deeds will forever be remembered. Sofoluwe left a good legacy and the gathering here today by people from all walks of life is a pointer to this fact. He was accessible by all, he never placed himself as a small god to be worshipped,” Obasa said.
“It is good to celebrate people, who have impacted on our way of lifve and the society. Though he is gone, but his good name still lives, “Oyebanji noted.
Earlier, Prof Yaqub while delivering the memorial lecture, urged the management to accept Sofoluwe’s death philosophically.
Yaqub also noted that the university has done the needful by floating the memorial lecture to sustain the late Sofoluwe’s memory. “It is stated that time heals the wounds an individual might have sustained, experienced or suffered through life’s journey. Certainly not the pains of the death of a beloved one, especially when it is put in the context of the fact that Prof Sofoluwe died at the pinnacle of his career. He was an accomplished computer scientist, a committed professional teacher, and a technocrat of administrative distinction. He can never be forgotten and this memorial lecture is one way to keep his memory alive and evergreen,” Yaqub said.