A Big Elephant in a Small Forest

Kabiru I. Dandago

The history of the developmental process of the University of Lagos would not be complete without the open mention and full appreciation of the productive scholarship, comradeship, and professionalism of my dear mentor: Professor Eddy Olajide Omolehinwa. By 20th April 2021, Professor Omolehinwa will retire from the services of the University of Lagos as a humble and gallant academic who has achieved a lot within the 44 years he devoted to the services of the University and humanity generally.

Prof. Omolehinwa is known to be deriving a lot of joy as a producer of high-quality Accounting graduates and as an adopter of graduate students from different places to make them more useful to the society through rigorous postgraduate training and mentorship. This writer joins all the former students of the retiring Professor and other well-wishers to celebrate the 44 active years of his working life. During these years, Prof. Omolehinwa has contributed immensely to the growth of Accounting education in Nigeria and to the development of his students cutting across the breadth and width of Nigeria and beyond, which translated to the raising profile of the University of Lagos as it meets up to international standard and recognition. These 44 productive years deserve acceptance as equal to golden jubilee years that should be celebrated with an enticing national award to the celebrant, and with some pomp and pageantry.

The name of Prof. Omolehinwa has grown to the size of a big elephant whose forest (UNILAG) appears small for his academic versatility, professional acumen, and concern for betterment of the life of humanity. He was Head of Department of Accounting, Dean Faculty of Business Administration and Council member, representing the University Senate at different times. With this profile, Prof. Omolehinwa was being needed by many organizations (in the public and private sectors) for them to tap from his creativity, initiative, and versatile knowledge. These organizations were within Nigeria and outside the country. His rising national and international profile would educate you further about how Prof Omolehinwa was effectively utilized in different countries of the world through Fulbright scheme, some Exchange programs, and other platforms of getting good brains to serve global interests. This was beside the numerous national assignments, like his involvement as a Federal Commissioner of the Tax Appeal Tribunal (TAT), South East Zone, siting in Enugu (2010-2016), involvement in many activities of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) culminating to a Merit Award given to him by the Institute in 2014 and many other national assignments.

When a big elephant is noted to be residing in a small forest, the right strategy to adopt to make the elephant extremely useful is for the forest to be expanded to give the elephant the chance to utilize its full capacity. This strategy could be said to have worked well on Prof Omolehinwa, since the University of Lagos could be said to be only his full-time employer, but he has been used by many other organizations to achieve their various objectives. We should not hesitate to recognize his late wife (our mummy), Mrs. Olufemi Omolabake Omolehinwa, as his motivator, manager and counsellor who worked behind the scenes to make him the big elephant whose wizardry we so cherish. May her soul rest in peace.

During his many years of service at the University of Lagos, Prof Omolehinwa has contributed a lot to the educational empowerment of thousands of Nigerians who are leaders in their different fields of endeavours. Among these are eight state Governors, including three of the current State Governors, the first female Chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Service FIRS), former Head of Civil Service of the Federation, the Country Senior Partner of one of the top four accounting firms in the world and many Professors, including two Vice Chancellors and others like this writer. All these products are proud of Prof. Omolehinwa as he kept in touch with them as a father, a mentor, and an associate. They are also putting in their best, with high display of competence, integrity, and loyalty to the system they serve, as per the usual counselling of Prof. Omolehinwa.

As part of his scholarship productivity, Prof. Omolehinwa has authored many books on single authorship or on joint authorship, especially with his friend: Dr James Kayode Naiyeju (former AGF, former Chairman FIRS and former President CITN). His books usually address theoretical and practical issues with a lot of illustrations that have local flavour. This writer was opportune to serve as a book review during the public presentations of two books jointly authored by Prof. Omlehinwa and Dr Naiyeju as follows: (1) Theory and Practice of Government Accounting in Nigeria (presented to the public in 2011) and (2) Government Accounting in Nigeria: An IPSAS Approach (presented to the public in 2015). The two books were presented to the public in Abuja, and they enjoy wide readership.

On comradeship, Prof. Omolehinwa was an active unionist right from his undergraduate days when he served as the Financial Secretary of University of Lagos’s Students’ Union and then served as an officer of the Academic Staff Union of University (ASUU)’s local chapter and as a national officer at different times. When this writer was an MSc Accounting student at UNILAG and an Assistant Lecturer at BUK, he had been seeing Prof. Attahiru Jega, a Senior member of staff at Bayero University and the ASUU President then, frequenting UNILAG on ASUU affairs, always meeting with his comrades/friends, particularly Prof. Omolehinwa. It is no wonder to hear that Prof Omolehinwa presented his Professorial inaugural lecture on the topic: “Accounting for People’s Money”!

Personally, the writer has benefitted a lot from his relationship with the retiring Prof. Omolehinwa. He was the first to put the writer through the art of writing academic papers for publication in journals and even writing of scholarly books. When Prof Omolehinwa organizes class presentation, he would expect every student to meet up with the guidelines as well as short deadline. He would be in the class on time to listen to the presentation, allow questions and comments from other members of the class and then do his assessment before finally declaring the marks earned by the presenter immediately.  During our days (1991-1992), Prof. Omolehinwa gave this writer just 3 days’ notice to come up with a paper on “Assessment of the Auditor General for the Federation’s reports over the last 10 years”. This author had to go to the AuGF’s office, Government Printer, and other places in Lagos to search for relevant materials and produce the handwritten paper. He had to search for a good typist to produce the presentable paper and then produce multiple copies for the facilitator and all members of the class. When it was time, the writer was able to distribute copies of the paper in the class and Prof. Omolehinwa was happy with the writer and the presentation was well received. His inputs and corrections were taken care of as the corrected version was submitted to a journal for publication. That was the first journal publication of this writer!

Prof Omolehinwa was a very jovial lecturer, always keeping his classes lively and exciting. There are terminologies that he frequently uses to create laughter and excitements when the class seems to be dole. When you find it difficult to understand his explanation of a concept or idea, he would use the term “shabalee” (a hit below the belt) to tease you. When you seem to be uncomfortable about a directive, a challenge of the program or feel something is difficult, he would tease you by saying “na you apply oo, no bi me force you to come to the program”. These are just a few of the ways Prof. Omolehinwa makes his class always lively.

Prof Omolehinwa is ever ready to assist his former students to rise to the top of the corporate or public sector ladder. When he learnt of my appointment as a Commissioner of Finance, Kano state, he was excited and prayerful for me to succeed in bringing about positive changes in the public financial management of the state for other states to follow suit. His concern was not about getting any favour from his former students, but to hear people talking well about his former students’ exceptional performance. When I asked him, at different times, for reference report as I was searched to apply for the position of VC by the Selection Boards of two Federal Universities, he quickly wrote the reports and courier them to the Universities, praying for me to win the contests, even though he has a lot of reservations on the process of selection of VC in the Nigerian University system. When I asked him to contribute a chapter for the book on mentoring which I edited and was published early this year (2021) by the Bayero University Press, he was among the first three contributors to have submitted their chapters.

Above are a few of the good lessons to learn from our great mentor, Professor Eddy Olajide Omolehinwa, who is due to retire from active academic life on 20/04/2021. The challenge is now on us, his mentees all over the world, to continue with those good things that made him a big elephant in UNILAG (as a small forest) or even do better. We should hold on to the 7 identified attributes that he held firmly. This is if we want to enjoy the respect and trustworthiness that made him a great scholar, comrade, professional, and mentor at the University of Lagos, in the whole of the Nigeria nation and internationally. These attributes are integrity, independent-mindedness, competence, loyalty, humility, love for the younger ones, and hard work.

On behalf of my classmates (1991-1993) and other mentees that concur with this glowing tribute for Prof. Eddy Olajide Omolehinwa, we wish him a remarkably successful retirement life, which we hope would be more productive and beneficial than his active working life.

Professor Kabiru Isa Dandago PhD, FCA, FCTI, FNIM, FNAA, MNES, AQIF is a Professor of Accounting @ Bayero University Kano and a Professor of Taxation @ Prince Abubakar Audu University Ayingba, Kogi State.

He is a former Commissioner of Finance, Kano State and, currently, a Federal Commissioner of the Tax Appeal Tribunal (TAT). He is a 2017 Merit Awardee of ICAN.

He could be reached through: kidandago@gmail.com  +2348023360386