Prof. Abisogun Leigh was the former Vice-Chancellor of the Lagos State University, Ojo between 2001 and 2005. The fifth Vice-Chancellor of the institution, he was brought in to curtail the unending lawlessness on the campus caused by staff unionism and cultism among students, which prevented previous vice-chancellors from serving out their terms.
In this interview with Saturday Sun, the animal breeding scientist shares the secret of how he was able to curtail cultism in LASU. He also talks about his passion for swimming, even as he proffers solutions to Nigeria’s seemingly intractable challenges, especially activities of killer herdsmen.
We learned that you were instrumental to the establishment of the Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo. Tell us about it.
I read my first and second degrees in Animal Science at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and was retained as an Assistant Lecturer after my graduation. That was before the Nigerian Civil War. But after the war, I moved to Canada to finish my Ph.D. in Animal Breeding in 1972. In 1973, I was employed by the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). But after about two years, in August 1975, I was appointed Commissioner for Agriculture in Lagos State. I had to apply for a Leave of Absence to come to Lagos from Ife. I started work with the then military governor, Adekunle Lawal. After about a year, he was removed from Lagos to Imo State while the then military governor of Imo, Navy Commander Ndubuisi Kanu was brought to Lagos. He became our governor and I worked under him as Commissioner for Education and later Health. So, between 1975 and 1979, I had three portfolios: Agriculture, Education, and Health. After my tenure as Commissioner, I still went back to Ife to teach as a lecturer. I got promoted from Lecturer 2 to Lecturer 1, and Senior lecturer. But I eventually left Ife in 1981 when the first civilian governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, invited me to come and serve on one of the boards, the Economic Planning Board. I ended up becoming the chairman. That was when I was asked to plan for the establishment of LASU (Lagos State University). So, we wrote the report and position paper that led to the creation of LASU.
What is the relationship between you and “Baba Lee”? How old is he now? Is he still alive?
(laughs) My students in LASU used to call me “Baba Lee.” So, if you hear “Baba Lee,” it is my students talking. That’s what they used to call me.
That’s funny. Why?
Those tough boys in the cults were surprised that I was able to find out so much about them. So, they decided to call me “Baba Lee.” They could call anybody any name. They said that I was disturbing their plans. They gave me all sorts of nicknames that caught their fancies at that time. But the majority of them then were my friends. I knew that once they were able to pass through that stage, maturity would begin to show in them. I knew that responsibility would take over. Now, they have simmered down, and have been able to find their levels. They now know that life was not the way they were looking at it at that time. So I am “Baba Lee”. There is no other “Baba Lee.”
The other day, you praised Prof. Lanre Fagbohun, the immediate past VC of LASU for achieving more than all the past VCs of LASU combined, including yourself. What is it that he did that you did not do during your tenure as the 5th VC of the University?
I was not able to provide the infrastructure that we have now but I eradicated cultism from LASU. Even at that time, during my tenure, LASU was not the worst of universities where student cultism was very active. There were other universities where student cultists were killing one another on daily basis. In 2004, when I called a meeting, I invited seven student cult groups. I could identify each of them. They brought four members each to the meeting. I invited the SSS (the State Security Service, otherwise known as DSS) to give me security cover. At the meeting, we tried to find out why they belonged to cults. There were no cogent reasons. At the end of the day, we took some resolutions to abolish cultism on our campuses. The students themselves were part of the decision-makers. In fact, we allowed them to come up with the rules. We said if anyone should violate the rule, then we would punish them severely. From that day on, cultism began to wane on our campuses. We set up campus marshals or police to see to that. As soon as you enter LASU from the main gate, you will see them. I want to thank Prof. Fagbohun for believing in them. LASU Campus Police is the best. On every university campus, you will find some mad ones. Anywhere you find more than 100 students, you will find those who are troublesome. Those are the kind of people that the campus police were created and trained to take care of. LASU Campus Marshals were created by me, and I want to thank Fagbohun for keeping and using them during his tenure. It was based on that, of stopping campus cultism at LASU that I was bestowed with the national merit honour of the Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR).
You are so passionate about swimming that you are its patron at the Lagos Country Club. What do you like about it and how and when did your love for it start?
Thank you for bringing up this topic. It started in my secondary school days. I got the worst beating of my life because of swimming. May God continue to bless her soul and may her gentle soul rest in peace. My mum did not understand then but I knew. That beating was too much but I harbour no bitterness towards her because she was only afraid that I could die. Don’t forget that she was saddled with the burden of taking care of three boys after my dad’s death. I was eight years old when my father died. My mum was afraid that she could lose us. And, come to think of it, I was the most active, and swimming was part of it. I wasn’t afraid of it.
How did your mother’s beating of a thing happen?
Dr. Alakija was encouraging young boys to swim at that time in Lagos. So, he had this swimming pool called “Eja Nla” (Big Fish). It was one of the swimming pools available for us. There was one at Onikan. A new one was being built in Lagos Island, on a land donated by Chief Dr. J. K. Randle. It was located near where you now have the Museum Centre. He also donated as well the land where you now have the Ikeja Mall. That was where the swimming pool was. I loved swimming. And, we could do that without wearing swimming pants or suits. We used to swim without them. We just pulled off our school uniforms and began to swim. On one of those days, after exams, I gave my result to my brother to go home with and tell Mama that I passed. Academics were not my problem. But you are talking to one of the most rascally young men in Lagos. I was troublesome. Though I did not bother anybody, I was jumping from one place to another, following masquerades and all that. That was how I picked up an interest in swimming. That particular day, my younger brother gave my result to my mother and told her that I was at the swimming pool. She came there with a bunch of canes, I think six of them. She came and fought her way through to the inside. When the Chief Security Officer tried to hold her, she started screaming and she was allowed to have her way. That day, she beat me from Onikan up to Joseph Street in Lagos. Any time I wanted to run away, some elderly people would pretend to help me. But they would catch me for her again. After that beating, she thought I would forget all about swimming. But when I got to Form 2, she was surprised when I took part in a swimming competition and brought home a trophy. Up till now, swimming is one of my best sports. The other one is the game of chess.
You mean, in your old age, you still swim?
Yes I do
Is swimming a good exercise for the elderly?
I think it is. The beauty of it is, once you know how to swim, you don’t forget. You get into the water and simply allow yourself to float; only those who do not know how to do it from the beginning are going to have problems. You need strength to float. You need your heart to be in good condition. Once you do it regularly your body will get used to it. You can remain at the same spot while swimming. The buoyancy of the water gives you some kind of experience you cannot even describe to a non-initiate. Very, very interesting!
Could you share with us your scariest or most life-threatening experience you’ve had as a swimmer?
There are many but I will just mention one. It happened at the Onikan swimming pool when I pulled a muscle, you know, just had cramps. I just got stuck there and couldn’t move my legs because there were serious stabbing pains anytime I tried to. But then I had to stay calm. That was the most terrifying experience in my life because I could have gone under. If I didn’t stay calm until the whole thing eased off, I could have drowned. Any person who didn’t know how to stay afloat could have drowned.
You once recommended to the government to make swimming a compulsory recreational activity in school. In your opinion, how can knowledge of the skill help to solve the problem of youth restiveness in our society?
I am sorry to say that we don’t have enough facilities for our youths like they have in the developed countries of the world. Yes, we have built markets and schools. But we don’t have places for our youths to play or exercise themselves. There is no place for them to exercise and burn off their energies because they have energies. I have experienced it. Even as adults, we don’t have anywhere to go and sit down in the evenings. Let’s come nearer home. How much space do you have in your house for your children to jump up, run around and exercise themselves? So the lack of recreational centres is a major deficit in our town planning. It shows that the government is not thinking about the youths. The truth is that our youths have individual energies that need to be burnt off. So, if you don’t have spaces for them to become champions in lawn tennis, table tennis, chess games, etc, they go and rob banks. Or, they go into cults and create names for themselves: Eiye, Daughters of Jezebel, and the rest of them. In our time we had Boys Scouts, Boys Brigade and you taught them about forestry and foresting. But today, there’s nothing like that. When these things are created, they channel their energies into them. But nobody is creating them. We are worried as to why cults keep springing up here and there but nobody is meeting the needs of the young ones. In my time, we would pass through Obalende to the open lagoon and there swim. The water was calm. Although we had accidents, once in a while, we never troubled anybody because there were facilities built to occupy our attention and channel our energies. The colonial masters built them. We had Obalende Boys, Ilogbo Boys, Girls Club, among others. If you don’t build such sports facilities or form such social clubs, how are we going to socialise the young ones? Once there is no formal way, they will create their own way or method and this is what is happening.
You read Animal Science at your lower degree levels and researched on Animal Breeding for your doctorate. What pieces of advice could you offer to us a nation to solve this cattle breeding of a problem?
Every indigenous group has cattle. That’s the truth. But the problem with the Fulani herders is that they are nomadic. They move from place to place to rear and to find pasture for their cattle. The destructive activities of those cattle on people’s farms are what have been causing tension across the nation. Secondly, the Fulani take theirs as a major business. My suggestion is that government should come up with policies that can help those cattle breeders take good care of their cattle without infringing on other people’s right to living. Even in Saudi Arabia which has one of the best breeders in the world, cattle breeding is a localised venture. You don’t rear your cattle anyhow or everywhere. You cannot tell me it is our nature to roam about. I say this with all sense of responsibility as an animal breeding scientist, cattle breeding is not done this way. In Saudi Arabia, nobody allows you to roam with your cattle. Rather, you fix yourself in a location. The solution is political. Governments, at various levels, should come up with policies that will make the Fulani herders able to conduct their business without being harassed by the locals. And the Igbo, Yoruba, or Benue people should be able also to grow their potatoes, cassava, millet, yams, vegetables, and other economic crops and sell them and make money without having them destroyed by the cattle of the Fulani herders. I believe that if this is done, we will be able to live in peace and harmony.’
Credit: Daily Sun