18 October 2018

Nigeria: Prospects in Retrospects... an Interrogation of Bello's Life, Career

Professor Rahamon Bello is a man that I admire and most certainly, a man worthy of admiration. I really became aware of Professor Bello when he took over senate after the death of Professor Sofoluwe, though I must confess that till the death of Professor Sofoluwe my attendance at senate was sporadic.

Reading through this book, one can see that Professor Bello's strength of character and value system are very much tied to his childhood experiences in his hometown. The title Prospects from retrospects most succinctly captures the theme of this book, which alludes to the impact of the past on the future- As well as to the style of writing which moves seamlessly between the past and present weaving a story that is both captivating and thought provoking.

The doyen of mass communication, Professor Afolabi Akinfeleye, and his protégé, a scholar in his own right, Dr. Ismail Adegboyega Ibraheem, wrote the book.The book has 243 pages and is divided into three sections that chronicle the life of RAB, as he is popularly known, into parts, one and two, which are separated by a photographic portrayal of his life and service. The book begins with a preface that describes the structure of the book and is followed by a foreword written by Chief Joseph J Akpieyi a fellow of the academy of engineering.

The main book is Part one, which runs for 105 pages from pages 15-120 and is made up of 11 chapters. In part 2, which runs for 72 pages from pages 171- 243 we hear from friends and colleagues that have worked closely with RAB, and we then get a deeper understanding of him as a family man from the voices of his wife children, siblings and in-laws.The final section sits between parts 1 and part 2. The photographs, and as it says, one picture is worth a thousand words. We get to see Professor Bello in different times of his life.

Part One

This part can be divided into four sections. Section 1: This is made up of chapters one and two. The first chapter is on the history of Iboro in Yewa North, Ogun State. It traces his family lineage and gives us an insight into the environment of his birth and early years. Chapter 2 details his early life in Iboro from his birth through secondary school. It tells us that Professor Bello was from humble beginnings economically but that is not the only story we glean from this it tells us another story. The story of a man born into real wealth, wealth of values, virtues and moral upbringing whose values which are so eloquently described in this chapter empowered and enabled him to be the man we are celebrating today. A man of honour, a man of grit.

Professor Bello's educational journey was not smooth but even as a young man his intellect and ability to make good choices held him in good stead and enabled him not only to overcome the many challenges he faced in achieving his dreams but also to excel. His story truly typifies the man who made lemonade from the lemons he was given. His journey from secondary school in Egbado (now Yewa) College to the Technical College Ibadan and from there to Obafemi Awolowo University makes really interesting reading and gives an insight into Professors Bello's tenacity and focus.

The second section, which is made up of Chapters three and four, covers his life in University both at the Obafemi Awolowo University and the University of Waterloo in Canada. Professor Bello was in the second set of Chemical Engineers to graduate from University of Ife in 1974. It was during his first year that he met his mentor, teacher and lifelong friend and older brother, Professor Ogunye. According to Professor Ogunye the19 students that made up the class were brilliant.

Later on he proceeded to the University of Waterloo between 1975 -1981 where he obtained his PhD. One major value of the Waterloo experience was not only about inculcating the value of excellence but it was sustained industry exposure based on a cooperative agreement with industry that ensured students spent substantial time in the Industry so that by graduation students were conversant with the workings and expectations of industry. Prof Bello therefore came out from Waterloo not only ready for a career in academia but he was also industry ready.

In section three, (chapters 5-8, which deals with his career both in public and private service and takes us through his service Internationally, Nationally and Locally we see different facets of his working life and how these will impact on his later working life.

Working as a consultant with multinationals like ILO, one of the projects he handled included entrepreneurship development training, which probably laid the foundation for the development of the Entrepreneurship and skills development centre he set up in UNILAG during his tenure. Nationally, he served as commissioner for special duties in Ogun State in the cabinet of Col Daniel Akintonde, One thing that pops out in this section was the large portfolio he was given. He was in charge of 15 local governments and their heads, all Interministerial assignments to do with political transition as well as, Chieftaincy matters. These were friction-fraught portfolios. Reading how he was able to navigate the various minefields and remain in harmony with opposing groups is a lesson in good management and diplomacy.

This period also armed him with the wisdom and administrative prowess needed to administer the complex environment of the University as Vice Chancellor, his last major assignment. The section ends with a chronicle of achievements in the Unilag and in particular his management style. It underscores his belief in research and innovation as the engine of development. It shows a man who walks the talk and describes his central role in the setting up of the African Research Universities Alliance. His other achievements in his five-year tenure led many to compare his tenure to that of Prof Ade Ajayi.

Section 4 of part one comprises the final three chapters (chapters 9-11), which dwell more on the man Bello, his personal relationships, his leadership style and his achievements.

Chapter 10 in particular titled, My greatest achievement is nurturing a productive family with my faithful wife strikes a different tone from the preceding 9 chapters. In this chapter we hear the voice of Professor Bello himself and he lets us in to what drives him and what matters to him the most. This chapter tells us about the best moments of his life, the most important person in his life, Lessons he has drawn from life experiences, his relationship with his children, his social life, the most memorable things in his professional career and his favourite publication. In this chapter we learn what gives him joy. We also hear his views on Nigeria and what he believes has gone wrong and should be fixed. One theme that reverberates in his discussions on Nigeria is about our governance structure and the damaging impact the negative narrative of Nigeria by Nigerians, has on keeping external investors out!

When asked about his next steps his answer is instructive of the person he is, a man of service and a man of the people, he answers, "I take things as they come. Its not that I am not ambitious but... I now see myself as being able to contribute to my community, my state and my nation." He further said, "I am a politician in the sense that every man is a political animal as he must be interested in what goes on around him. I can be a community politician by looking after my people and rendering helpful service" but I do not have the energy for partisan politics.He closes this chapter by telling us what makes him happy! I will leave this to your imagination and till you read the book.

Chapter 11 discusses four of his public speeches. The first one on the United States of Africa was written when he was in secondary school and was exceedingly mature for a young man of that age. He proposed the need for the coming together of all African nations to promote free trade and development. He recognised challenges and proffered solutions fast forward to the African Union. His most recent paper on University funding proffers a win-win solution that would ensure all had access to education, the universities had access to capital and the government had access to the goodwill of the people. His paper Technological Innovation and commercialisation for sustainable development focuses on the need for Nigeria to embrace technology and shift from a consuming nation to a productive nation. He goes on to discuss practical ways to achieve this transformation. This section is a must read.

In part two, we hear testimonials from associates, colleagues, friend and family. They all attest to his brilliant mind, hard work, humility, loyalty, integrity, strength of character, quiet confidence, diligence, kindness and reliability.In the words of Professor Ogunye, "Bello was outstanding in waterloo because he got distinctions in all the six graduate courses." He went on to say, " Bello is very open. His leadership style is open leadership. He tries to be as democratic as possible. He puts everything on the table and when you see you will be convinced."

Professor Abass thought he was strange in choosing as his supervisor a brilliant but difficult academic in waterloo, Prof Moo-Young. And according to Prof Abass, in addition to this RAB chose a very difficult topic " I told myself that this must be a very strange person indeed!' He went on to excel which spoke to his brilliance, patience and problem solving skills.

This problem solving skill was further attested to by his former employer Col Daniel Akintonde who said: "When Bello became commissioner, I used his office and person to establish farms and to run them. I would have given the project to agric, but if you want to speed up things, give it to somebody who will be able to do it. I want result... "

Dr. Chief Fassy Adetokunbo Yusuf says of him, " he struck me and still strikes me as gentleman with a quiet disposition. He is very cerebral, soft spoken and full of ideas."

The measure of a man can be determined by how he interacts with money and relates with his wife and family. In this area Professor Bello did not fail. The way he managed the university resources and his bursar Dr. Lateef Odekunle succinctly captures his relationship with his management team and Registrar Dr. Taiwo Ipaye. His major achievements at the University of Lagos are well chronicled in this book and attested to by Professors Alo, Duro Oni and Toyin Ogundipe who served under him at various times as DVC.

His unifying role in the Yewa community was well captured by Brigadier General Olurin. Finally on the home front, we hear from his wife of over 40years, Alhaja Momudat Bello, who has stood by him through thick and thin, his children and grand children. What you glean from their testimonials is a loving family man, kind, protective, caring but a strict disciplinarian who is absolute putty in the hands of his grand children!! This love he has for his nuclear family is also reflected in his larger family where he remains very close to his siblings and extended family.

Does Professor Bello have no faults? That depends on whom you talk to, and a number of people have highlighted these faults in the book.Professor Akinfeleye and Dr Ibraheem have put together an inspiring book about a man who despite humble beginnings has reached the pinnacle of his career and has dined with kings and not mere man. This book is about the value of hard and selfless work and maintaining the values with which you were raised. It celebrates a simple man, a kind man, a brilliant man, a man of honour who has served his family, community the nation and international community to the best of his ability. It shows a visionary and a good administrator, professional and academic. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a book I could not put down. I recommend for all of you to read. It is a book worth reading.


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