“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breaths away.” – George Carlin
The news of the death of the former Vice-Chancellor of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso, Prof. Akinola Muritala Salau, hit me like a thunderbolt last Saturday night (July 25, 2015). I felt a personal sense of loss because Prof. Salau’s impact on people remains phenomenal.
A native of Ibadan, Prof. Salau was a global citizen of extra-ordinary dimension. A versatile scholar, an astute administrator, a community leader, a bridge builder, a family man, a perfect gentleman and a devout Muslim, the late former Vice-Chancellor was striking in his intellectual depth, academic humility and simple lifestyle. Easy going, soft-spoken and impeccable in character, the late Professor of Physics was a model scholar in all its ramifications.
Prof. Salau was one of the longest serving Nigerian Vice-Chancellors and his place in the annals of LAUTECH is permanently assured. He was first appointed Sole Administrator of the University on June 15, 1997, a position he held till July 5, 1999 when he became the acting Vice-Chancellor. He served in that capacity till May 22, 2000, after which he served his full tenure as a substantive Vice-Chancellor till May 22, 2005. Altogether, he spent eight years setting LAUTECH on the path of glory.
It was shortly before he was appointed substantive Vice-Chancellor in April, 2000 that I first met this amiable manager of people and resources at his residence. In 2000, I was job hunting to support myself and my postgraduate studies, having lost my father a year before then. I strayed to Ogbomoso to try my luck and I submitted an unsolicited application.
I was told the University was on transition and the acting Vice-Chancellor was contesting. He hosted a prayer session as part of the measures of actualizing his ambition and I attended it, after which I was briefly introduced to him by Prof. Abdul Wahab Tijani. Though the response was perfunctory, I found him warm and kind.
By the time I learnt he was appointed as Vice-Chancellor, I followed up on the application. By October, my job application had sailed through. Even before then, the Department of General Studies under the headship of the then Dr (now Prof.) Dele Afolabi, had kept me busy with the pre-degree programme of the University.
Though I hardly spent a year in LAUTECH, the University had a tremendous influence on me as everything about it was beautiful. I was happy to belong to a community of scholars, who were largely men and women of learning and integrity, based on the environment created by Prof. Salau. I still have fond memories of LAUTECH.
As Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Salau led LAUTECH to the pinnacle of eye-popping success. For two consecutive years (2003 and 2004), LAUTECH was awarded the prize of the best State University in Nigeria. In 2005, the year he completed his tenure, the National Universities Commission (NUC) acknowledged Prof. Salau as the Best State University Vice-Chancellor in Nigeria. He would later become the Executive Chairman of the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Oyo State.
It was after he left office that things turned sour for the University for some time. I am referring to the period when the politics of Oyo and Osun States, joint owners of the University but controlled then by two mutually acrimonious political parties, tore the campus apart with brothers seeing one another as strangers.
In February 2011, I was happy to see Prof. Salau at the University of Ilorin as the Chairman of an eight-man Visitation Panel of the Federal Government to the University. Prof. Salau did the assignment with uncommon passion and commitment, meeting virtually everyday with all stakeholders with a view to obtaining information on his panel’s assignment. I told him how he was my benefactor and expressed my appreciation. How many beneficiaries could a man like him ever know?
The success of this year’s elections was anchored on the integrity of people like the late University don and administrator. As a National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Salau worked tirelessly with the accomplished former Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, and his colleagues in INEC, to make the elections a reference point in our electoral history.
Prof. Salau could have lived longer than 67 years but it is not the number that really matters, it is “the moments that take our breaths away,” as George Carlin said. May God bless his soul and admit him to Paradise. Adieu!