Come with me to the Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU Ile-Ife, the one alumni and students of the school delightfully call Great Ife. Arguably one of the few universities in Nigeria where learning and culture is still prime and a great deal of quality education still rests. The story of Nigeria’s tertiary education system cannot be told without her mention; neither can the tale of students activism in Africa be recounted without due credit given to the 50-year old institution.
From Professor Wande Abimbola to Professor Roger Makanjuola - both former Vice Chancellors - to Dr. Dipo Fashina, the former chair of the Academic Staff Union of Universities and a number of others, many of the lecturers of the university can hold their own anywhere in the world. With OAU as their platform, they have confidently managed to impact the country, nay the continent. OAU is like an organic fertiliser site - it is rich with stories of the past and the present.
The last two weeks has seen the university which was renamed by the Babangida administration unwillingly play host in real time and virtually to both the traditional press and new media users. The birth of Okikiola, the one easily referred to as Moremi baby under initially reported startling circumstances was all it took. The mother – Miss Oyinlola Rotimi of the department of Agricultural Extension and Rural Development had ab initio been accused of attempts to snuff life out of the baby by flushing him through the toilet into the septic tank. Reports and interviews by the mother and other eye witnesses later showed that it was a wrong conclusion. But by then, the new media space had gone feral. Keyboards had been quickly hit, keypads had been happily cuddled and the news was out. A damage of sort had been done. In the conventional media, ‘bad’ stories travel fast but in the new media age, ‘bad’ stories travel faster! It really is not news that a student gave birth out of wedlock, what made it news was the circumstances surrounding it. The new media, in its entire make up especially its social component, gives wings to news. Information in essence is the currency of the social media.
What however bothers one is the management’s rebuff of social media use for information dissemination and engagement with her stakeholders following the break of the story. For a university that is a pacesetter and one of the few that first incorporated ICT culture into university management, it definitely comes as a surprise. Social media use is a pop culture that is emergent. This disposition is not a forward looking. It rings like the submission of an institution trapped in the past, revelling largely on past history when another one already calls to be written.
I am not sure it is an opinion shared by a good number in the community. The university’s construct is that of a universe in the city. It is only logical to think that if social media use has caught up with the universe, the city should also follow suit. Even China, a closed state, could not ignore the global trend, it reacted by coming up with a platform like Weibo. The university is known for its usual pronouncement of synergy between town and gown. This is another instance where such should count.
As early as 2002/2003 in the same university, long before I knew what the word ‘blog’ meant, Professor Babatunde Sonaiya was already discouraging note writing in his ANS 204 class. He had a blog from where he wanted his students to go access lecture notes and only come to class for intellectual discourse. It was splendid. It was a departure from the norm. It was a posture of an academic environment rooted in Ife but reaching for the globe. The university’s Student in Free Enterprise (SIFE) group two years after then had developed an app for rice farmers. I am convinced that there are already some undergraduate and postgraduate thesis unpacking social media nuances in relation to the arts, sociology and even the social sciences.
Maybe someone from the university needs to look closely at adverts in the newspaper and see that there are calls for social media managers today by multinationals and fashion courses to meet this market demand. The university if anything by now should already have digital media incorporated into the Special Elective in Technology, SET course offered by students. Despite the university’s apathy to social media use, there are currently about 25 affiliated groups using the university’s identity on Facebook – Nesa OAU, Nasels oau-ife etc and a couple of others on twitter.
In the past, OAU has had countless numbers of students unrest ones majorly triggered by deficiency in information management. If for any reason there would not be power or water supply on the campus, the university’s use of a known social media identity to make such announcement would prepare students for it. A social media outlet would make it easier for the university to run its daily affairs by ensuring information comes cheap and not through press releases that has to be circulated and pasted across campus at huge costs. In a green age, OAU would save cost this way. With poor funding for tertiary institution, OAU may also smile to the bank by offering corporate organisations and other bodies a cheap way to advertise products and events to its teeming population using its platform.
OAU should not be called the Harvard of Africa for nothing by those who love to do so. It should learn from other global contemporaries. Harvard currently has 2,721,298 likes on its Facebook page; Oxford has 1,048,869 even Makerere University has 28,652 likes. University of Cambridge has 61,492 followers on twitter, while Yale University has 71,579 and Cairo University has 3,339 followers.
There is no reason why lecturers should not be encouraged to set up closed Facebook and email groups to share assignments and thoughts with their students. There is no explanation as to why the school cannot capture social media identity of students on registration form and even send bulk SMS to students on very crucial matters. It would be strategic if the Vice Chancellor addresses students and staff quarterly using YouTube which can then be watched by all at convenience and the VC can check later to see reactions and feedback. The days of FOTRAN are far gone. The OAU Distance Learning page on Facebook with 9,021 likes may however give insights with its fine engagement.
The current vice chancellor Professor ‘Tale Omole is of the new breed; it is thus rational that when next the senate meets, a social media engagement proposal having inputs from the school’s PRO and digital media experts should be at the table for consideration. Meanwhile, I heartily wish Miss Rotimi a delightful motherhood experience.