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Excerpt – My Days in Court

My Days in Court

In the year of my doctoral graduation, 1988, I headed for Makurdi and joined the new University of Agriculture as a lecturer in agricultural economics at the insistence of Professor F. S. Idachaba, who was appointed by the federal government of Nigeria as the pioneer vice chancellor of the institution. However, during his two-term tenure of eight years, Idachaba faced protracted hostility from the native Tiv elites, who expressed preference for a “son of the soil” as chief executive of the university. Nonetheless, he triumphed to put the university on the global intellectual map as a world-class institution before he left the position in December 1995. My own undoing was the naive decision I took to stay back at UNIAGRIC Makurdi. I faced a horrendous transfer of aggression from Idachaba’s adversaries and an extremely horrific persecution by his successor, Professor Erastus Gyang, a Tiv man from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

From the outset, apart from my classroom performance, I was quite conscious of the most important aspects of my conduct that glued me to Idachaba so tightly: disciplined hard work and impeccable moral behaviour. At Ibadan and later at Makurdi, Idachaba and I had no time for frivolities. Over the time I also imbibed from him a spirit of zero tolerance for fraud or corruption in both private and public life, or shades of corrupt practices of any conceivable kind. His penchant for merit and excellence knew no bounds, and he never found me wanting in any of these areas. At Makurdi when he was busied by administrative workload, he almost totally relinquished all his research projects to me as manager of the desk and field works involved, as well as the financials. He would assign me to represent him professionally anywhere and everywhere, so much so that I became very visible on and off campus.

Even though Idachaba groomed me to full professional maturity, he would not pamper me even a foot, and indeed in many instances he would consider me last for a special advantage at his disposal or willfully deny me such advantage altogether. In particular, even in his exalted position as VC, while incentivizing other staff to build a critical mass of staff for the university’s takeoff, my boss would insist I pass through the mill, such as my normal movements through the ranks, from Lecturer II to Lecturer I and to senior lecturer positions at the mandatory minimum intervals of three years in each case.

Meanwhile, with the prompting of his kitchen cabinet, Gyang had quickly identified me as the foremost Idachaba boy along with other endangered staff that he met on ground. We were surreptitiously earmarked to be crushed at all costs and sacked from the university. As I put up resistance by running incessantly to courts, a hullabaloo engulfed the institution, during which Gyang became so embattled, embittered, and battered that he could not organise the convocation for any set of graduating students as statutorily required of him. Gyang failed woefully in office for not having his signature appended on their certificates during his tenure of five years as VC of UNIAGRIC. In the aftermath, I triumphed as a plaintiff in ten criminal and civil proceedings that I filed in various courts against Gyang and his hatchet men. Sadly, aside from the psychological stress caused me during the period and the professional setback I suffered when my promotion to the rank of professor was delayed for seven years after the due date, the ensuing crisis also led to a rapid decay of the university, which soon diminished its image so badly and almost wiped it out entirely from institutional memory.

My Days in Court is a documentary of my travails and the consequential hullabaloos at the University of Agriculture Makurdi. It’s somewhat a separate chapter from but critically linked to my yet to be written Makurdi Files in a section of my forthcoming autobiography. As a memoir of generational value at this stage, it is purposed to not only expose the evildoing in Nigeria’s higher educational system but also illuminate the inner mechanisms of the academic system wherefrom important lessons abound for all and sundry to be learnt—students, lecturers, administrators, legal practitioners, and even filmmakers in search of fascinating scenes of uncommon types. Herein, my experiential story demonstrates the fact that contrary to popular expectation or belief, the typical Nigerian university or possibly other parts of the world is not immune to criminality, corruption, and application of non-merit criteria, amongst other societal ills commonly observed in government ministries, departments, and agencies in public service. Given its rich factual and empirical contents, My Days in Court is my own stylized antidote to falsehood or future misrepresentations of the facts by tattlers about what happened to me at Makurdi at the hands of Gyang, a deep-pocketed bully and, borrowing the word of the High Court judge in one of my cases, a quintessential “despot” dressed in academic robes.

Thank you.

Prof Gbolagade Ayoola