Tribute in Honour of Prof Ayobami T. Salami, Pioneer VC, Tech-U By Oludamilare Bode Adewuyi

Some people are born great, some turn out great and some are just great.

Growing up in my little corner in Ogbomoso, gaining admission into the great Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife for my tertiary education was my dream. My admiration for Great Ife, as fondly called by her numerous admirers (students, staff and alumni) must have stemmed from the great intellectual discussions I had witnessed my elder brother and his friends engage in which were often concluded with them singing the institution’s anthem. I believe what sold the idea of the university to me was the captivating phrase “Africa’s most beautiful campus” from one of the verses of the Great Ife anthem.

However, as fate would have it, despite gaining admission to study my chosen course at Obafemi Awolowo University in 2006, I opted to study at the best state university in the country, the great Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso which gave me admission to study the same course a few months earlier and whose admission offer I had accepted and committed myself to financially. Today, I look back with gratitude to God, the perfect and master planner of man’s journey for just at the right time, I had the chance to study on the Great Ife campus and this opportunity made my path to cross with Professor Salami.

I walked into the Great Ife campus as a postgraduate student on a fateful day in August 2014. It was a dream come true even as the phrase “Africa’s most beautiful campus” kept on ringing in my mind as I moved through the gate to my department, looking forward to the next few months of studies and new experiences. A few weeks after resumption, I attended an academic seminar organized by a Christian ministry at the Post Graduate Hall. The seminar was centered around proven ways towards attaining academic excellence, career fulfilment and development of the total man. It was indeed one of the most enriching seminars I have ever attended. The invited speakers were established researchers with a track record of academic excellence, remarkable career trajectory and exemplary faith life – great models of all I have ever wanted to be.

I paid rapt attention and I ensured that I did not miss any of the sessions. Thus, when it was announced that the concluding session would be on the following Sunday morning at the organizing ministry’s place of worship, I knew I had to be there. It was there I met the man I am writing about. I walked into the Church – The Abundant Life Chapel of the Cedar Generation Gospel Outreach – and the journey of self-discovery, mentorship and re-alignment of vision began. After the worship and seminar sessions, the pastor-in-charge, a professor of Geographical Information Systems, stepped forward for the closing remark and benediction before we all left for our various residences. There were follow-ups as expected and new friends were made, most of whose company I continue to treasure. The congregation became a family where I was blessed and still blessed to date!

It took a while, not so long anyway, to get to know that the set man was not just a Professor but also privileged by divine arrangement to be the Deputy Vice-chancellor (Academics) of the great institution, a position he held from 2011 to 2016 with remarkable records of achievements vis-à-vis upsurge in grantsmanship, quality research outputs and drive for internalisation. Little wonder he was the popular choice for the position of the vice-chancellor to succeed his principal whom he served and supported with absolute loyalty towards driving the university to an enviable height within a short time of administration. If you are in doubt, the records are there for you to verify.

All things working together for good: The plot, the twist of fate and Re-direction for maximum/lasting impact

“Some people are going to reject you, simply because you shine too bright for them. And that’s okay. Keep shining.” – Mandy Hale.
With all selection processes duly followed and electioneering procedures well-coordinated, Professor Salami won the election to the vice-chancellor’s position as widely expected and he was rightly pronounced so by the council. But as the above quote reads – he was rejected by those who couldn’t handle his brightness!

‘The [very] Stone which the builders rejected and threw away, has become the chief Cornerstone; this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous and wonderful in our eyes’ – Mathew 21:42 (AMP)

The above verse of the Bible captures in entirety the journey of this great man. Just when people thought he had been dropped to the lowest, God placed him in the heart of men when he was not even aware. He was by massive vote of confidence selected by the then Oyo State Government to lead or, for a better choice of word, pioneer a new university “that will focus on imbibing in students the desired technical skills to bridge the existing skill gap between university graduates and industrial practices while encouraging entrepreneurial development” in accordance with the university’s vision and mission statement!

Just like Mary the mother of Christ, it was apt to ask – how would this be possible? Looking at the state of the Nigerian economy and the limitedness of resources.

“Ours is the responsibility to keep our lights bright for others to see and follow.” – Thomas S. Monson

True to the above quote, Professor Ayobami Salami rose gallantly to the occasion and beyond every reasonable doubt, he has proven to be the right man for the job; a right peg in the right hole. He has led and served meritoriously and within a short while he has placed the University on a path to “sustainable greatness”.

Some of his evident achievements at the First Technical University, Ibadan, within the first five years of full operation include:
Remarkable infrastructural development: a university that started with just two buildings has grown into a city of several buildings with well-equipped laboratories, functional workshops and state-of-the-art learning management systems (LMS).

Recruitment of capable hands to drive the university’s vision and prioritizing of staff welfare: there is no doubt that the best hands (academic and non-academic) that you can find anywhere in Nigeria are at Tech-U and the reason for this is not far fetched. Tech-U has one of the best remuneration packages amongst Nigerian Universities – both private and public and it is more sweetening to know that non-payment of salary has never been an issue and it’s always paid on or before the 24th of every month. On this, the numerous experiences of Professor Ayobami Salami as a faculty member, unionist (being the secretary of OAU-ASUU in the early 2000s) and an experienced administrator, as well as his God-fearing personality, come to play in working out a modality that will encourage the growth and stability of the system.
Approachability and inclusiveness: I doubt if there is any VC in Nigeria whose office is accessible to all and sundry. The students have his email and possibly his phone number. He never avoids attending to the numerous concerns from both students and staff members that reache his desk every day.

Unbeatable drive for excellence and unusual ability to wade through the water: The drive for excellence is conspicuously written all over him and it is the culture that has been etched into the fabric of the whole institution including the secondary school arm – Tech-U Academy, Ajoda, Ibadan. Records are smashed almost every day by students and staff members who continue to gain recognition in their respective fields.

No wonder, a University with about 5 years of full operation was ranked the 7th best state university and 28th overall best out of over 150 registered universities in Nigeria.

Achieving a complete cycle within the first 5 years of existence: This point is massive and specifically points to the vision of this great and graced man called Professor Ayobami Salami. The first matriculated set of students have graduated with full accreditation of all their courses, maiden convocation was held and NYSC mobilization was done hitch-free.

There are several other memorable achievements that I couldn’t write about due to space restrictions. However, I will conclude this appraisal and adulation of this great man of courageous faith with one of his favourite quotes credited to Steve Maraboli:
“Every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was being re-directed to something better”

Indeed, true to one of your recent statements, Great Ife has given you many good memories to treasure and many reasons to trust God’s faithfulness and, Tech-U, Ibadan has indeed given you a place of excellent legacy and a cemented arcade of greatness.

“Do you see a man skilful and experienced in his work? He will stand [in honour] before kings; He will not stand before obscure men” – Proverbs 22:29 (AMP)

So is the story of a man filled with God’s grace and uncommon wisdom who, despite coming from a very humble background in the ancient city of Ibadan, Oyo state, has lived up to the responsibility given to him. Indeed, anybody can keep a spinning wheel running but it takes a man of uncommon grace to break the inertia and start the spin towards sustainable progress.

Dr Oludamilare Bode Adewuyi writes from Cape Town, South Africa.

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