By Tunde Akanni –
Such is the depth and spread across all the campuses of the Lagos State University (LASU) where Professor Lateef Akanni Hussein held sway as the sixth vice-chancellor, from 2005 to 2011, that this tribute was to be authored jointly by two of us, colleagues at LASU, Dr Noheem Thanny, and yours sincerely.
Both of us and several others across the academic and non-academic staff of LASU have assorted, pleasant memories of the great soul and now feel heavily indebted to Professor Hussein:s fairness in university administration.
Hussein’s death inflicted a deep gash on many of us. What a time to die for him? Many of our current students who never knew Hussein are being made to realize that there was a LASU where sanity was ensured to prevail without agitation or any form of disturbance for peace on the campus.
That assuring situation was programmed and derived from the conscious efforts of a committed scholar, a demonstrative moralist of no mean standing guided by his ultimate belief in justice as prescribed by Islamic philosophy.
The distinguished professor of Physics was highly contemptuous of secrecy and abhorred unfounded officialdom especially with matters deserving urgent attention.
He was always quick to announce that no memo could suffer unnecessary delay on his desk even as final decisions on issues of general interest would not be hidden from anyone.
Hussein shocked the entire university community when he announced no fewer than some 60 secret bank accounts were being run for no clear reason.
He equally demystified the office he occupied often announcing that the vice-chancellor’s job was one of the easiest in the system with memos passed up to him often requiring only approved or not approved.
Hussein repeatedly celebrated openly the fact that that he had a most uncommon privilege, which even the nations president didnt have, of having two professors as deputies. His argument was that these deputies were qualified to be VC as well.
Indeed, Ibiyemi Olatunji-Bello, one of them then, is the sitting VC. Olatunji-Bello is often in awe of her late boss whenever she has cause to refer to him, just like many of us, fellow muslims, who will readily volunteer to pray for his soul as regularly as possible on account of his indelible, good deeds.
You are even tempted to even ask: What are those good things in LASU today that you cannot directly or indirectly trace to Hussein? Most conspicuous, perhaps, are the ubiquitous official Kia cars found all over the campuses, even as the conspicuous greening of the campus took root in his days. We shall come back to Husseins midas touch on LASU later.
He had both carrot and stick that he never hesitated to dispense. As soon as he assumed office, he announced that he would do all humanly possible to be fair to all but that he would not hesitate to sanction whoever was found wanting.
Hussein began with punctuality at the university Senate meeting. You will need to work hard to be as businesslike as Hussein. Senate meetings, he insisted, must be attractive to serious scholars and therefore shouldn’t exceed one hour.
There was no moratorium on this and so a number of old-order professors were alerted to the new sheriff in town the day he presided over the first Senate meeting.
They arrived 30 minutes after the meeting commenced but were politely turned back. The good thing was that some of them learnt the lesson fast and also passed it to the rest of us.
Yet, to give utmost prominence to his treasured attitude to work, the punctuality master procured several boards hanged on all blocks on the campus with the simple message: Punctuality is the soul of business.
Husseins welfare regime was so endearing that it disarmed even his adversaries, some of who, in their incurable bigotry, labeled him Taliban, just because, like every other tendency he had or perceived to have, he was unapologetic with his Muslim identity.
Some contemporary university staff in Nigeria will find it hard to believe that Hussein pressed for and paid LASU staffs entitlements with regards to excess workloads and related matters, without any agitation.
He became the strongest reminder to me of my late secondary school principal at Ede Muslim Grammar School, Mr Babatunde Olatunji, often proudly pontificating that he would either run a first class school or none at all.
Hussein left no one unconvinced that he didn’t beg for the VC job and that the government of Lagos State would only earn itself honour by acquiescing to his official requests for the good of LASU.
Holder of a First Class degree in Physics from Nigeria’s premier university, University of Ibadan (UI) and an avowed believer in the university tradition combined with his own ingenuity as an administrator, one of the most enduring components of Hussein’s legacy in LASU manifested in fair recruitment regime opening doors to academics of Lagos State origin and others alike without undue interference.
Yet, he was most prompt with payment of salaries, a most distinct departure from the practice of the immediate past, inept leadership.
Hussein wasn’t any less focused on students wellbeing. For the first time in the history of the university, he started the university scholarship award scheme. Students whose performance were from second class upper upwards were granted tuition waiver and even got paid as much as whopping N250,000 as book allowance.
Those were the ones referred to as university scholars and, at least, three of such have since joined us, their teachers, as colleagues at the School of Communication of the university.
Genuinely committed to cultivating and nurturing world class inspiration for LASU students, Husseins tenure remains the one to be beaten in exposing LASU students to international engagements and also enabling them to appreciate their teachers with varying international exposure.
Interestingly, Hussein earned as much as he also spent with his ingenuity and a most inspiring approach to cultivating and nurturing internally generated revenue for the university.
The vibrant part-time services he ran has been the most creative and the most robust in the history of the university. With accountability almost at perfection, lack of funds no longer constituted any serious challenge for basic services within the university.
Budget tradition thus became meaningful with academic departments and others being encouraged to ensure that their needs were duly documented in their budgets which they were also made to defend.
All the official Kia cars and a few Chevrollete owned till date by academic departments and others in LASU till date were bought by the Husseins administration.
Hussein, who taught 100 Level courses even as the numero uno officer of the university, subscribed substantially to mentoring and never hesitated to demonstrate it to the full admiration of the entire community.
Unfortunately, Hussein was too trusting with some of his appointees who tragically did him in with their own greed and arrogance, sharply contrasting to the philosophy of Husseins patriotic intervention as Omo Eko Pataki.
What resulted turned out to confirm the Shakespearian assertion in Macbeth that The love that follows us is sometime our trouble which we still thank as love.
The inevitable imperfections notwithstanding, Hussein’s unwaivering sincerity and commitment to quality scholarship, patriotism and good governance remain indomitably outstanding till date in LASU.
May his beautiful soul rest in peace eternal in Aljannah Firdaus. Ameen thuma amen.
•Akanni PhD, Acting Head of Journalism Dept, is the pioneer director of the universitys Digital Media Research Centre, DMRC. Follow him via: tundeakanni.com and @AkintundeAkanni(Twitter)