I was once at a dinner reception for a former Vice Chancellor of the National Open University of Nigeria. After his stint as VC of NOUN, he moved on to Accra to head the secretariat of the Association of African Universities and was visiting Ottawa in that capacity. We met over dinner and bonded as two Kogi citizens. The story he had to tell me about how NOUN was founded haunts me to this day.
This Professor is a perfect gentleman with a very big profile in the Australia and Hong Kong axis. He commanded huge grants and was very busy in research. Baba Obasanjo was visiting those parts of the world. They met and Baba invited him home to come and kick off NOUN. The University was founded in the 80s but we closed it. So Baba was inviting him home around 2001 to come and help reopen and relaunch it.
The man came home. They booked him into a luxurious suite at the Transcorp Hilton and forgot him there. They booked him in one of those wasteful no limits VIP categories. He could host anybody. He could order anything. For six months, he was doing the rounds between the Villa and the Federal Ministry of Education. No funds to start the University. Baba just forgot him in the hotel.
In one of his joro jara joro to the Villa, he even met the Minister of Education and complained bitterly that he needed funds released so he could go to Lagos and start the University. He threatened to return to his job abroad as he had not come home to languish in a luxurious hotel. The Minister was surprised that he was complaining.
Prof, is there a problem with your accommodation at Transcorp Hilton?
Prof, are you being billed for any of your expenses there?
So, Prof, what is the problem? What is the hurry?
The Nigerian official couldn’t understand why the Professor from abroad was complaining about being lodged permanently at the Transcorp Hilton on a no limit Federal government account! The Nigerian official must have muttered to himself: this is how life abroad messes up their head.
Anyway, after nearly a year, Baba Obasanjo saw Prof at the Villa.
Ah, Prof, how far? What are you doing here? Where is my University?
On hearing that the Professor had been languishing in Abuja for nearly a year, Baba expressed surprise that the boys at the National Assembly had not released the vote to start the University.
Prof, you should have told me now. I know how to deal with those useless boys in the National Assembly! Anyway, I will advance you some money personally to go and start the University but you will pay me back with interest once the Senate settles you o.
Baba gave some instructions. As Prof was leaving, every manner of Villa aide began to surface to remind him how they facilitated his access to Baba; how they were the ones who advised Baba “to borrow Prof the money”, etc. Translation: Prof, don’t think you will just walk out of the Villa without our own cut o, ehen.
Nope, this is not fiction. I heard this directly from the horse’s mouth about five years ago.
Because Senators were sitting on a University’s take-off funds, Baba Obasanjo had to personally “borrow” the VC some money (apologies for the naija English) and that is how one University took off in Nigeria in the 21st century.
Today, I read that Benjamin Ogunbodede, a professor and former director of Institute of Agricultural Research and Training, had to give N50 million to some members of the National Assembly so that they could release N606 million – the school’s grant from the Federal Government.
Poor Prof! If Professor Ogunbodede had talked to me, I would have advised him to visit Baba Obasanjo