Ayobami Salami: The Rejected Stone that Became the Magic of TECH-U
At the mention of the name, Ayo Salami, the minds of many people go to that President of the Court of Appeal who was controversially removed during former President Goodluck Jonathan era. That is the man regarded by Hallmarks of Labour as a courageous and principled legal giant. Nonetheless, the Ayo Salami I’m talking about is a professor and a pastor who also has also gone through some controversial circumstances.
He is a man whose ability to think “without the box” – one of his popular sayings – makes him stand out among his peers, and whose bid for, appointment as the Vice Chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, in 2017, and his controversial removal then, made more popular. That seems to have become history, anyway. Has it?
When I got employed at the First Technical University Ibadan in April 2021, many of my colleagues asked if I knew him, that is, Professor Ayobami Salami the VC. But I didn’t know him from the Garden of Eden. I, however, got inspired to make findings regarding all stories invoked about him, especially his movement from Ife to Tech-U.
By the way, who is Ayobami Taofeek Salami? Professor Ayobami Salami hails from Ibadan, specifically from Akinyele Local Government Area in Oyo Central Senatorial District, Oyo State, Nigeria. He studied at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife, between 1982 and 1986. He continued in the same university for his postgraduate degrees, teaching and studying further, from 1987 through 1989 (Masters) and 1992 to 1996 (PhD.) Will it be a bad idea if this man is given a statue of honour in the prestigious Great Ife? Maybe that’s why he said in one of his interviews that OAU, Ile-Ife, is more or less his home.
However, instead of getting the ultimate accolade for being an excellent ambassador of the university as a student and later as a renowned lecturer and administrator, having served meritoriously in various capacities, he surely faced some adversity at a rather crucial moment. Here is a man who was elected to the University Senate from the Congregation in a non-professorial capacity for two terms, from 1996 to 2000. Also, in 2003, he was elected to the Governing Council of the University by the congregation, for a maximum of two terms which ended in 2007. While he was in the Senate in 1996, Professor Wale Omole was the Vice-Chancellor. In other words, Professor Salami had been part of the transitions from Professor Wale Omole to Professor Roger Makanjuola and then to Prof Mike Faborode. This deserves a round of applause!
As a member of the Council then, he was very active in ushering in the then new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Faborode. From 2006, he was appointed Director of the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Studies up till 2010 when he again became a Member of the Governing Council of the Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Owo in Ondo State, from 2010 to 2014. Also, he supported Professor Wale Omole as Vice-Chancellor in 2011, as he was elected Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University, a post he held till 2016.
The fact is that Nigerian political scenes usually comprise three different game players: the one who depends solely on an endorsement of political godfathers, sleeping, and dining with them and can even be their maid just to prove his loyalty. There is also the player who believes in the strength of the populace; you’d see him going around villages and towns to convince and not to confuse them about his ideology. The last player combines both the influence of the necessary stakeholders and the entire public. Professor Salami, one can argue, has the attributes of both the first and second, and such ability to network is one of the things some feared and misconstrued when the Ife saga lasted.
Another factor that gives Salami an “ifokanbale baba ijaya” bulletproof vest in his political battle to the seat of OAU’s top job was his huge list of several research grants he brought into the University since 2004 as a world-renown researcher. Ayobami Salami is ranked as one of the best two researchers in terms of research funds attracted to Obafemi Awolowo University. Bravo!
It was thus ironically sad that the most viable stone was rejected. But, unknown to many then, it was for a purpose. It was divinely meant to be the magic, the edge of the corner at a unique university of the future. That is the First Technical University which Professor Salami has made a great citadel within just five years. He was dreaming of building a house while God was only preparing him for a bigger mansion. Prof Ayobami Taofeek Salami was given two options by the late founding Governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, either to go on an established land to farm or go into the jungle to farm. Once again, Ayobami Salami proved he’s serving a living God as He led him with his experience in the university sector to decide to go to the jungle. He rejected the offer of starting at a temporary site in Ajoda and rather led his team to the thick forest on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. Now, within five years in the jungle, he built a university that is the 7th best state-owned in Nigeria and 27th among the 113 ranked nationally. This man surely deserves a standing ovation, please!