Why I enrolled in school at 77, by Obasanjo

Academic and administrative activities at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) literally stood still on Tuesday, September 30, 2014, for former President Olusegun Obasanjo. That was the day OBJ, as he is fondly called, came to Lagos, all the way from Abeokuta, Ogun State, to pick up his admission letter to study for a postgraduate degree in Christian Theology. The visit was his second to the institution in the past seven years.

The busy NOUN headquarters on Victoria lsland, Lagos, was almost deserted, as students and visitors were barred from entering the compound because of the august visitor. NOUN security personnel screened people at the gate before allowing them in while DSS operatives and policemen were on ground to provide security to the former number one citizen of the country.

On alighting from his black Prado Lexus SUV, with registration number APP 7690B, and wearing a cream-coloured Kaftan, Obasanjo spotted a boy in his school uniform, playing within NOUN compound. Quickly, Baba Iyabo, as he is also called, strolled across to him and started a conversion. “I’m going to start school like you,” he said.

The boy, whose age was in the region of nine years, was lost between fear and surprise and could not mutter a word, as he continued to stare at the Owu chief in utter disbelief.

Shortly after, Obasanjo received his letter of admission to study for an MA/PhD in Christian Theology in the School of Arts and Social Sciences, at the NOUN Abeokuta Study Centre. Like an obedient school boy, the former president then sat quietly to listen to the address by Prof Vincent Ado Tenebe, Vice Chancellor of NOUN and that of the Dean, School of Postgraduate Studies, Prof Israel Adu.

Even when his two supervisors, Prof Isaac Ayegboyin, Head of Department of Religious Studies, University of Ibadan, and Dr. Philip Tachin, lecturer in the Department of Systemic Theology, NOUN, were introduced to him, OBJ stared at them and smiled without uttering a word.

Before handing over his admission letter, which was signed by the Registrar, Mrs. Josephine Akinyemi, NOUN VC, Prof. Tenebe, in his address, recalled Obasanjo’s similar visit to NOUN headquarters in 2007 to register and collect his admission documents when he enrolled as a postgraduate diploma student to study Christian Theology, which he passed in 2009 in flying colours.

An elated Prof Tenebe said he was happy to receive the former president to NOUN on behalf of the Governing Council and Senate not as the visitor to the university as he used to be some years ago, not also as an alumnus of the institution but as a newly-admitted students in the Postgraduate School, to study for MA/PhD in Christian Theology.

Tenebe told the gathering which included some Nollywood personalities that admission and registration into universities were not marked by special ceremonies and jubilation, stressing “however when special people are involved, when passionate, sensitive and exemplary leaders whose leadership styles are people oriented, committed and altruistic in words and in action are involved, special attention and little celebration are in order as we are having this morning.”

Looking directly at the former number one citizen, the NOUN VC noted: “Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, you are a true father to the nation hence you have been nicknamed “Baba” by all Nigerians; no one can take that from you. You are a friend and a mentor to all Nigerians and whether any one likes it or not, all Nigerians love you for your selfless services to the nation, first as a citizen, a pace setter, and then as a leader.”

Punctuating his speech with some jokes that had to do with Obasanjo while he was in power, Prof Tenebe, who hid under the cover of being OBJ’s vice chancellor to recall two of such jokes, stated that he was not qualified to enumerate what Obasanjo did for Nigeria, Africa and the whole of humanity even as he acknowledged his contributions to the education sector.

“I am only a little qualified to say that your intervention in educational development of Nigeria by resuscitating the National Open University, ensuring the vigorous development of the institution, enrolment as a student and graduating with flying colours, and today returning for yet higher qualifications of MA/PhD can never be overemphasised,” he noted.

The VC, who handed Obasanjo his admission letter, NOUN bags and other necessary documents, again described the former president as a leader to be emulated because of his quest to see to the development of Nigeria through NOUN new technology in education. He disclosed that the Senate of NOUN had approved his MA conversion to PhD within one year if he did well in his studies, and used the opportunity to announce the establishment of Obasanjo Centre for Anti-Corruption and Anti-Money Laundering Studies which was commissioned by the former president same day.

Tenebe used the opportunity to highlight some of his achievements, particularly the students’ population which rose from 16,000 in 2010 to 308,000 in 2014, increase in the number of study centres from 32 to 55 and accreditation of 30 programmes by the NUC in 2012. He equally brought to the notice of Obasanjo, the challenges confronting NOUN which were inadequate funding, need for more advocacy and awareness programmes on the open university, participation of NOUN graduates in NYSC scheme and admission of its graduates of Law into the Nigerian Law School.

After going through the admission formalities, including introduction to his two supervisors, an elated Obasanjo recalled that in 2007 when he decided to enrol as a student of NOUN, he did it for three reasons which were to acquire knowledge specially in Christian Theology because he wanted to be a pastor. The second reason, he noted, was to make a statement that no matter the age and position, one should continue to learn and third, to make NOUN popular. “I think I have succeeded in that NOUN enrolment after my graduation,” he said.

Obasanjo disclosed that his enrolment for MA/PhD was one of the few things he decided to take up as a challenge, adding: “I do hope that students, youths and people who want to acquire higher certificate but are not able through the conventional institutions should consider NOUN as an alternative. NOUN is not inferior to the conventional universities.”

Then he added: “I want to occupy myself with something that will contribute to the development of humanity. Eight of my children are PhD holders and I told two of them that when I ran into any difficulties during the studies, I would ask them to teach me. After my graduation in 2009, two leaders sent me congratulatory messages: one was from late President Umaru Yar’Adua and President Goodluck Jonathan.

“I love challenges. Since I graduated, I have taken up a number of things locally and internationally and one of such is the Presidential Library, the first in Africa and probably outside the USA. Another project I have taken up is to write about myself, work and exposure in addition to “Not My Command” and “Not my will.”

The former president gave credit to the lecturers who taught him during his postgraduate studies and assured the VC, his supervisors that he would work diligently even as he appealed to his supervisors to exercise patience with him. He also urged the lecturers to treat him like other students, asking not to be accorded special treatment and promised to obey the rules and regulations guiding his admission.

However, he pleaded with his two supervisors to treat him with patience because of his local and international engagements. He said he could call on them even when he was not on appointment. He pledged to support NOUN in the areas of the NYSC scheme and Law school programme but tasked the management to seek alternative avenues to generate additional funds.

It was learnt that the admission offered the former president was for 2014/2015 academic session and he was expected to operate from the Abeokuta Study Centre.


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