Water Must Flow Uphill

I’ve just finished reading a book of the above title written by Prof. Roger Makanjuola, former VC of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife. And after going through the book I realised that the title is in every way as curious and contrarian as the author is himself.alt

Subtitled “Adventures in University Administration”, and published by Mosuro Publishers, Ibadan, the book was launched without much fanfare a couple of months ago at the OAU, and in a curious ironic twist of fate, on a day beset by labour strike by the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) of the university – a running and debilitating theme throughout Prof Makanjuola’s “adventures in administration” in OAU!

Even though the book gave me laughter and relief in places (laughter at the author’s self-deprecating humour and candid view of himself, and relief that there are folks like him in Nigeria), it filled my heart with heaviness and sorrow at the horrors, the monstrosity, of the evils within our universities and the implacable negativity of Nigeria and Nigerians. That Roger survived the “adventures” with his mind and body intact is amazing, and owe as much to serendipity as to the indestructibility of his will.

Prior to becoming the VC of OAU (first in an acting capacity from July 1999 to May 2001, and substantive till May 2006) Roger Makanjuola, Professor of Psychiatry, was Chief Medical Director (CMD) of the university’s teaching hospital (OAUTH) for two terms (1989 to November 1997).alt

The book chronicles his time in both capacities in their horrifying and “water must flow uphill” Herculean-task details. They were periods of the most labour unrest in the countries universities, and an epoch of proliferation and rampaging campus secret cults, including Black Axe, Eiye, etc.

What Makanjuola brought to both jobs was what had perhaps not been seen before, and may not be seen for some time to come.

Here was a CMD who physically joined hands with cleaners to clean the hospital wards – “the morale of the cleaning staff was greatly boosted – we were showing them how important their job was, and that their tasks were not menial, but work in which everyone participated” – and carried diesel to make generators work to save lives of patients, and a VC who ate beans with students, made himself easily accessible to students and all, was unfailingly at his desk by 7.30am on working days, and shorn corruption in whatever guise or disguise.

Lacking interest in, and completely abhorrent of, the intrigues and shenanigans of campus politics Roger lent himself to be buffeted by unyielding and conspiratorial colleagues and staff unions on the one hand, and damning, violently unruly student bodies on the other. He was treading, nay galloping, along ubiquitous landmines without a care (well, seemingly) about his own safety, trusting only in the purity of his mind and nobility of his mission.

Of his success as CMD, he attributes this to: “a genuine commitment to the hospital and the welfare of its staff, and being able to convey this to them, so that they believed in me…I also hope that I was able to convey to them the true values that I hold dear – hard work, honesty, and honour; values that, alas, are so rare in our country today.” “I spent more time going round the wards, clinics, and service departments than I spent in the CMD’s Office or the Board Room.”

Of machinations in appointments, he says: “various juju sacrifices started appearing around the campus, at crossroads and in the vicinity of the VC’s Lodge. In addition, a number of the candidates began consulting with various Pentecostal Christian churches. I recall one candidate in particular who became as thin as a rake from protracted fasting.”

He wrote, “Although I wanted the job, I had not gone to see anyone to influence the decision or to seek divine intervention.” “I did not understand the politics of such appointments, but then I have never engaged in politics over my personal fortunes. I never shall.”

And did he suffer untold deprivations, humiliation and even torture on account of his uprightness and visionary stance? Striking staff unions severally hit him with ‘pasan’ (or atori), the juju shrub attributed with magical powers to inflict impotence (the author says his virility remains unimpaired in spite); student secret-cult members amidst striking student unions dragged and kicked him on the floor: “I was continually kicked and beaten. I was repeatedly floored…A student nicknamed “Old Soldier” was particularly brutal, and was observed to repeatedly kick me, even when I was on the ground.”

But of his many bad encounters he says: “I also must admit that I am stubborn as well as confrontational.”

By his own account, he’s “a bit of a loner”, enjoying his solitude, his walks for miles and climbing the hills of the vast, beautiful OAU campus, and “sitting on my own in the garden on an evening, drinking beer (O, yes, dear beer) and reading a book or watching the sunset”. His love for “Great Ife” is unquantifiable.

There were also moments of reward in appreciation of his selfless dedication to his job and the university: “At one point, members of NASU carried me aloft along the corridors, singing my praises.” At another, students carried him aloft through the campus shouting: “Roja, Roja, Roja”.

Summarising his achievement as CMD and VC, Roger reflects:

“I was able to show that, even in Nigeria, it is possible to hold a position of responsibility without abusing it, and, in particular, without enriching yourself. I believe my position in this respect, of total integrity with the university’s finances, did influence a substantial number of the staff, and probably also the students. People respond to their leaders, and, they try to emulate them.”

As my friend, Femi Olugbile (writer, former Chief Medical Doctor of Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), and now Perm Sec Lagos State ministry of health) whom I lent the book to read said, there are quite a number of issues of grave importance that the book dealt with demanding our focus and each that should be treated independently as a topic! I agree with Femi, justice cannot be done to this book in one column.

Amongst these issues are the virulent incidences of corruption and collusion of security agencies in thwarting efforts to curb campus evils of armed robberies, rapes, and rampage by emboldened student’s “secret cult” members; corrupt and conspiratorial court judges; interference and nepotism in appointments by the governments; debilitating strikes of various unions – academic and non-academic; integrity of the universities in the standards of faculties and students admissions, and the weight issued diplomas carry within international reckoning; restoring the relevance of universities as indispensable agents of change and national development, and so on.

To confirm the great man’s ordinariness and simplicity, I recently espied his 6ft 6ins lean frame crouched at a corner in the economy class of a BA flight I was on from London to Lagos and had wondered if that wasn’t the former OAU VC. Therefore on disembarkation I hastened to catch up with him as we approached the immigration desk to know if my suspicion was right. Offish at first, he however permitted some friendliness on realising who I was.

But until that fortuitous meeting a week to the launch of his book, I had never met the professor in person.

However, I recall with interest that when a while ago this column sought for names of a mere handful of Nigerians on whose account God should show mercy and spare Nigeria from “imminent destruction”, he was one of the names that came up.

And this is what a reader said of him (in column of 05/02/12 titled: Our Unsung Heroes): “Roger O.A. Makanjuola, Fmr VC OAU – Principled, Incorruptible. Never had an official driver while in office. Drove himself in his car. One house, completed just last year. A highly respected role model”.

The book affirms no less.



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Re: Water Must Flow Uphill
Tomr posted on 09-16-2012, 13:03:22 PM
Having known him from childhood, I can tell you your surmise of him was spot on. Only his mates in school can testify to his impishness in the university. Impish, irreverent, and totally a gentleman, they don't come any better. At the risk of offending some, he matched the first VC of Ife, Professor Oluwasanmi, and surpassed him. Yes.
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