Describing him comes quite easy. Physically, that is. He is dark and not quite tall. He also speaks with ease, the kind that comes with self-confidence. But Professor Michael Faborode is much more. He has been the Vice-chancellor of one of the greatest universities in Africa for almost two years. Therefore, he must be a man quite tall in ideas, his stature not withstanding. Such positions certainly do come with challenges.
Challenging, he says it has been, quite all right. “Dealing with human beings is a big challenge particularly in this environment. In this country, we are all managing poverty to an extent. Dealing with human beings is something for which one needs the grace of God. Dealing with resources as well; one should be able to stretch the little resources to be able to fulfil a number of things that one wants to do. And, of course, you are dealing with the society. If you are in OAU you have to deal with the members of the community, the royal institution, and then, the government circles. So, you are on your toes, 24 hours of the day. Sometimes, you wish that the days were longer than 24 hours because there is so much that you want to pack into it,” he says.
But he adds that the experience has been much more. “It has also been very interesting because you are dealing with different sorts of people. You have students; and, among the students, you have people with various backgrounds from different parts of the country because OAU is a very cosmopolitan university. Even in terms of staffing too, it is very cosmopolitan because you have a lot of lecturers who are from other parts of the country, who are unhindered from making their progress to the highest echelon as professors and deans. In terms of the job, when people see me, they look at me with pity and say this man is under so much stress because of some of the news that people get to hear.”
Getting to the pinnacle of one’s profession is the dream of every ambitious man. Probably Faborode, who is a professor of Agricultural Engineering, right from the outset, might have seen the VC’s shoes as one he would step into someday. “Not at all,” he says. “It was difficult to imagine at that time. When I was there, you don’t get to see VCs so much at that time. I have been in OAU since 1973. Then, I came as a preliminary student. I was very young; I think I was 17 then. So the greater part of my life has been there. Let me confess that even when I came as a staff in 1986 after I finished my PhD in the United Kingdom. I didn’t see it as something I wanted at that time.”
However, he agrees that, one way or the other, he has been prepared for it. “With hindsight now, I can say, three things have helped me namely, my academic engagement in teaching and research; I have always been liberal to people; and I have always wanted to work to serve society and humanity. Also in my professional engagement in the society of engineers and other professional bodies, I have always served with commitment and people always appreciate my selfless service. At OAU, I served as the head of department and dean. The ability to have comprehended the administrative and financial procedures and dealing with human beings have, in a way, prepared me unknowingly for this position. Now I just call on those innate experiences to be able to respond to challenges and I find that I have not found myself feeling inadequate. I, generally, was not lazy or used to passing the buck.”
Furthermore, his childhood and background, he says, are quite instrumental in making him who he is at present. He recalls, “My father was a teacher. So, because of that, he got transferred from one village to the other and we had to move along. And, in those days, discipline and moral teachings were very dominant. These are part of the things that have shaped one. It was not an affluent childhood, but it was a strict childhood.
“We enjoyed a family that was very responsible to the children; so that has taught me that we have to be responsible to the people we come across in life. This is because you don’t know when you are going to need help.”
Sexual harassment is a problem most tertiary institutions are grappling with. While students often accuse the lecturers of taking advantage of female students, some lecturers have cried out that they are constantly harassed sexually by female students. However, Faborode says it isn’t a subject he has had to lose sleep over, meaning he has never harassed any student nor had been harassed. “I am someone with a moderate appetite. So, a number of things don’t bother me. Things people lust and yearn for, I usually take as worldly things. Looking back now I have not had any case of being subjected to such strenuous decision making. This is because I have not allowed myself to be in such a position that I will be in a serious contention of either to do something or not to do something.
“I am happily married. I got married when I was doing my PhD. My wife came to join me in the UK. So, there was no time for me to be experimenting or going here and there. Ever since, because I feel I got the right person, I have been contented. In any case, my own strictness even with my children doesn’t allow for such proclivities. In OAU, we don’t want it at all. We have zero tolerance for such things. So, when anybody is identified to be doing that, we take the person through due process and deal with him very seriously,” he says.
Spotting a coffee brown shirt with a matching stripped neck tie to go with the beige suit, you will obviously conclude that, aside academics, fashion also has a place in his heart. But he says that would be judging him wrongly. Taking a deep breath, he confesses that fashion isn’t something he spends his energy on. “The thing is I am very impatient with dressing and going out. He must have a style consultant then. “Yes, my wife,” he reveals.
“She makes sure that before I go out, I must be properly dressed because she believes that when anything negative is noticed outside, people would blame the wife. I am not particularly good in choosing colours and matching things. So, I always ask her, ‘Am I okay?’ And she can choose the tie or shirts that go with my clothes.”
Well, she should know since they have been together for quite a while. According to Faborode, they met when they were still in a secondary school. “Then, I was in the fifth year of my secondary school, and she was in form two. She attended Trinity College, Ikere, Ekiti State and I attended Mount Carmel Grammar School. Her school is a Catholic school and a bit off town but the students often came to the Catholic Church in the city and passed through our school. Somehow, we spotted and we went to a disco party and, somehow, the right things got said. We courted for almost 11 years before we got married. That’s why we seem to understand ourselves so well.
The union, he says, has been everything he dreamt of. “When I hear that people fall out of tune and divorce, I ask myself, ‘Can this ever happen to us?’ And the answer is ‘No,’ because I can’t see the possibility. There is a lot of understanding; there is a lot of caring. She has been very good in taking care of the children. So, the children are well brought up.”
Any more disco after the courtship? That, he says, belongs to the past. However if occasion demands, I dance, but that will not be disco dancing. And certainly not fuji. Just the regular old music of Ebenezer Obey and King Sunny Ade,” he says.