Save that you are encountering him on the seat of the office of the Vice Chancellor, you could easily dismiss Prof Israel Adeniyi Olatunbosun, as just another egg-head or non-academic staff member at the KolaDaisi University, an exquisite highbrow campus in a wide basin on the right side as the traveller from Oyo descends the knoll between the Akinyele Cattle Market/Abattoir and Iroko community enroute Ibadan.
His lanky frame, almost invariably clad in suits, simple mien and reserved but genial disposition belie the status, pedigree and accomplishments of the man who sits atop the exclusive private university owned by one of Nigeria’s most successful businessmen, Bashorun Kola Daisi.
The gentle, almost shy-looking, soft-spoken man is an internationally renowned Professor of Law, experienced higher education administrator and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, which capped a long list of illustrious honours and achievements garnered over a career of a little more than three decades, practising and teaching law!
But the rise to the top was not one of a sudden flight. Olatubosun had paid his due working the hours as a military policeman (national youth service), young legal pupil in the law chambers in Ibadan and state counsel in the Oyo State Ministry of Justice, a radio presenter, before making a foray into the academics with series of feats in both scholarship and higher education administration.
For Olatunbosun, no job could offer fulfillment as teaching and research. That is why even though he trained as a lawyer and had stints in public and private practice, he spurned the prospect of lucrative fat briefs as an advocate by pursuing postgraduate training and heading for the classroom between 1994 and now.
From the then University of Ife, Ile-Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University) where he started out and worked with uncanny diligence and unquestioning stoicism to apparent non-reward of his service and sacrifices, after his postgraduate training he was headhunted and appointed Professor and Dean Faculty of Law by the University of Ibadan, the nation’s premier university between 2013 and 2014. Before then, he was a Senior Lecturer at OAU.
Prof Olatunbosun comes to the KDU VC’s job with vast and versatile experience as visiting professor and consultant to many universities and international bodies in Africa, America, Asia, Europe and other parts of the globe.
In this interview, the academic cum legal genius shares talks about his life’s journey, legal scholarship and administration.
I attended Salvation Army Primary school between 1971 and 1976. I later went to Oluyole Estate Grammar School from 1978-1983. I went to Osogbo Grammar school for my A’levels 1983 and 1985. 1985, I read Law in the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University between 1985 to 1988. I went to Nigerian Law School, Lagos in 1988-1989, served at Nigerian Military Police, Kaduna between 1989 and 1990. From there, I joined the Oyo State Ministry of Justice in 1990 and left around 1994 to work in some private law chambers.
During my service in the Army we handled cases involving soldiers, who apparently were found culpable of indiscipline, abusive or irresponsible at the home front. Some of them were fond of not taking care of their wives and not spending the salaries appropriately. So, when their wives and children report them to the Provost Marshal, he will arrange for us as legal officers to help them settle the matter amicably most of the times and sometimes maybe a disciplinary action could be taken. It was a worthwhile experience because it also gave us an insight into the way and manner soldiers relate in their private settlement.
Inalende of my childhood was a relatively peaceful environment then. Most of my colleagues and peers were neighborhood children with whom I related together at the time. A lot of us were eager to go for further studies because it was an environment that kind of stimulated academic thirst and competition. Most of our elders had passion for education; we had great uncles who hammered into us the need for us to face our studies. So, right from the onset, we had been propelled to make sure that we study very hard. And also to set targets and work towards achieving them. So, it was a very competitive environment in which there were very few private primary schools unlike what you have now. Most were public schools, mission or faith-based schools ran by Anglican Church, Salvation Army, Methodist, Baptist, Ansarudeen, Nawarudeen and so on.
Like all other indigenes of Ibadan, those of us in the town have a village, a homestead with which we relate. Alamoko village in Akinyele Local Government here is my own. I remember that our dad used to take us to the village especially during Christmas or some other occasions.
But the University of Ibadan has taken it over now. It is close to Ajibode there. But the university is able to retain a few plots for the families at least to respect heritage.
Our grandfather used to come to town maybe when there are important events, though he too stayed much of the town with us in the city, so we were not actually having so much direct affinity with our people there, but we know them very well. Some of them are still there today.
Why teaching, not practice?
Going into academics has always been my0 personal ambition. Law is a multi-purpose discipline. There are various areas that one can delve into as a lawyer, you can be a private practitioner or be in the public service as state counsel, eventually becoming a magistrate or a judge. Then, you can be in the bank, in the industry of oil and gas as well as the university system. So, the spheres where we can work in are wide and broad, but right from the onset, I have always desired to be a professor. When I was in the ministry, my ambition was to go for my masters and PhD, even though at that time, it was not so enterprising or attractive even to most of our leaders at that time. I would have become a judge as far back as 2003, having worked in the ministry I as a prosecutor also for tribunal then in the old Oyo State. I saw it all. When I was about leaving, my seniors and colleagues tried to discourage me because they believed I had the potential of becoming Solicitor General or probably a judge. In the ministry, they will go at a very slow pace. Some cases will be handled while some may not, but academic environment is more challenging, when you are in the classroom even where you have never averted your mind to, your students can prop you to that area. So, I found that could actually bring out my potentials very well. I prefer that against all other forms of opportunities as a growing lawyer.
Days as ‘Radio Lawyer’
I had a working relationship with Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State (BCOS) for more than 15 or 20 years, running the programme, ‘You and the Law’. The series was essentially about issues concerning landlord and tenancy contract and so many aspects of law. At that time I had an office close to BCOS. I also did similar thing for Radio Nigeria at Oba Adebimpe Way, Dugbe, Splash FM and Impact Business Radio.
Because you are dealing0 with life issues, because when you talked, your listeners could be landlords who were owed rents or tenants refusing to pack out or being victimized, by Shylock landlords, sometimes we have phone-in programmes on which some of them would ask the broadcasting stations for my phone numbers. The part that’s important is that we touched the lives of some people who were downtrodden. From the phone-in programme a lot of them were helped. We talked about the issue of marriage, about grounds for dissolution of marriage, one of the requirement for the dissolution, we talked about presumption of death, that if either the husband or wife has left home about seven years and the person cannot be traced, then, there is what we call presumption of death. The partner can now remarry, you know, that the marriage has been terminated. A man called in to say that they just handled similar matter in his church. The husband had left his wife for about five years. I told the man that what the law says is seven years and that the person concerned can and must still wait for the two years required to satisfy the statutes and that if she did anything outside that she would be breaching the law. There are a lot of issues that affect people like that and we try to settle them. We have talked about constitutional law, intellectual property and so on. And the feedback has been remarkable. People called and commended the show, some sent in SMS, and we would address the concerns raised. I have been interviewed in NTA, BCOS and I have done even more on AIT.
Participating in the programmes is fulfillment, really, because all my life I have dedicated to reading and research in law. So, if there is any area of the law we try as much as possible to be involved in it because there is a difference between those who teach, practice the law and research it. So, if you have been able to evolve in that you will have wider knowledge because some people find it difficult to break down some complex aspects of law so they learn at the level at which an ordinary person will be able to understand the law. So, it has been a fulfillment of one’s aspiration.
Q: How I became Professor, KDU VC?
A: The VC appointment was never expected or imagined but human beings propose, God disposes. I was teaching in the Obafemi Awolowo University and was going from Ibadan to Ife for about 20 years between 1994 till 2013. University of Ibadan is just close to my place here where I lived. At times I had to stay over in Ife because of the inconvenience. But as fate would have it, there was an opportunity for me to go for sabbatical in University of Ibadan. I never dreamt of coming to UI to teach because once you start a career, you try as much as possible to stay where you are and get the best out of it. It was during the time of Prof Isaac Folorunso Adewole as the Vice Chancellor. I had not gone for sabbatical for almost 20 years, each time I wanted to go, the university would refuse and say “we are short- staffed we cannot leave you”. I was supposed to go to Kwame Nkrumah University I was supposed to be paid in dollars but I could not go. Even I was supposed to go to Institute of International Law in India, I could not go when I was in Ife. So when this opportunity came this time around, I jumped at it, but the VC said: “I have seen your C.V we do not want you to come for sabbatical we want you to join us as a professor if you do not mind. Well, I said no problem I am from Ibadan, I live in Ibadan and I worked in Ibadan before going to Ife. That was how it started and howI came to Ibadan. At that time I was still a Senior Lecturer at OAU. I was in UI for about seven years and I was made an HOD of Public International Law and then I became a Dean from 2014 to 2020 for six years just about two weeks to completion of my tenure, I was invited to come to Kola Daisi to assist in setting up the Faculty of Law. I took a Sabbatical, gathered our people together and we were able to get it done. The Council for Legal Education came and gave us approval to host a programme of Law here. Along the line, when the then VC was leaving, I was asked, as Dean, Law Faculty, to come and act as VC on 17th August 2020 and after about a year, exactly 2nd August 2021, I was made a substantive Vice Chancellor.
Why marry another ‘acada’?
Well, it is just that fortune used to find a way around someone. She used to be a banker for a long period of time before we decided to start nursery/primary school and secondary school. The thing is that we share the same vision. She will soon be rounding off her PhD in Educational Management. Education is what we have that we can share and know how we can help others and thesociety. There were some teachers that taught us in primary school that we still remember up till now because of otheir impact. It is not the lollipop they gave us, but whatever the value they had inculcated in us we remember them for from time to time. When people are educated, 70 percent of their problems are already solved in that sense, that is what we can bequeath to all, irrespective of social status because everybody cannot come from a wealthy home, but education is what everybody can have.