Soon after the passage of the Vice Chancellor of the Kwara State University, Malete, Professor Mustapha Mohammed Olarongbe Akanbi SAN was made known, the entire Kwara State felt the shock. The academia and the legal profession were shaken to the marrow. The many lives he touched positively shed tears. He quit this planet earth in his prime, aged 51 years.
He was a promising young achiever. The time he quit the stage was an age his exploits to shape the world around him was still being highly needed. That was the time the pages of his vision for Kwara State University (KWASU) were being opened. What a great loss to humanity!
I intend going personal with this tribute, which is quite unusual of me. This is simply because I had three memorable encounters with the late don. My relationship with him was purely that of a news writer and a newsmaker. And he didn’t, on any occasion, betrayed what had been said about him out there. He was approachable, courteous, considerate, compassionate and urbane. Quite unassuming just as his simplicity was almost to a fault.
The first encounter: It was after his elevation to the professorial rank. I interviewed him in his office at the University of Ilorin’s Law Faculty. He responded to questions on some legal isuues, how best to standardize the training of lawyers and his coupling of teaching law with private practice among others. Then, it was just few years after the decentratllization of Law School which he thumbed up. It was published in Newswatch magazine.
The second encounter was the interaction I had with him in 2018 in company of a senior colleague, Tunde Akanbi also in his office at Unilorin. The grand interview was to be published in a new publication christened BusinessEdge.
Unfortunately, the second edition never be. The lasting memory of the day’s chat was the discussion on Vice Chancellorship succession struggle. He dismissed off giving it a minutest thought. Then, he had been adorned the silk robe. Barely two years after, he vied for KWASU VC and was appointed. Pleasantly for him, the man he was named same day as professors of law and had elevation to the status of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN now occupies the Vice Chancellorship seat of the University of Ilorin.
Third encounter: Upon his appointment as VC, KWASU, I followed unfolding events. There were many bileful write-ups concerning the processes leading to his appointment but I wrote an agenda-setting piece published in The Herald newspaper titled: “KWASU and the Burden of Leadership”. The write up encapsulated people’s expectations of him grilled with his vision, the challenges therein and how to turn them into stepping stones. He was so meticulous to the extent that after reading the piece, he detailed his personal assistant, Isiaka Babatunde, to fetch for me as soon as possible. It was another opportunity of meeting the young achiever. An oppoerunity I didn’t waste; I used the occasion to show off as a development-focsed journalist. In the course of our discussion, I presented a proposal to him for consideration. Ill health couldn’t allow him do much as desired, and then came death, the final silencer.
It is safe to describe late Professor Akanbi as a self-made man. He grew up under the tutelage of a disciplinarian father, who taught him to go out there and make name for himself. His late father, Justice Muhammed Mustapha Akanbi was a towering giant on the Bench and an incorruptible judge, a man who distinguished himself as President, Court of Appeal in Nigeria. Despite his father’s outstanding status, he never for once hid under the shadow of his father to climb to the top. He worked very hard and distinguished himself as a member of the Inner Bar and an academic of repute.
I subscribe to the account of the late don’s lifetime by Professor Omoniyi Bukola Akinola, his student, now Dean, Faculty of Law, Redeemer’s University, Ede, Osun State, Nigeria. She said, late Professor Akanbi would be remembered as a bridge builder across different races, faiths, tribes, and careers. “Prof. Akanbi, you were pious, a good family man and a visionary. I have never heard or seen you discriminate against anyone on any basis,” she added.
The advice he gave Professor Mrs. Akinola to take time to rest and give priority to her health from time to time, was a counsel he had painstakingly noted for himself. Because the advice was informed by his personal experience.
For as soon as he assumed office as the 2nd VC of KWASU, he set a tall agenda for himself and applied himself to the task wholeheartedly. He held the plough and was not looking back. He was set to give the institition a turnaround for good. He embarked on far-reaching reforms in the administrative approach such as a change from collegiate system to less costly and highly efficient faculty system. He dedicatedly pursued the commencement of academic programmes in the two other campuses of the university, which the state governor, Mallam AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq(Visitor to the University) promised will now take off next academic session.
In addition, he sought and got accreditations for about 18 new courses which include Medicine and Surgery. He was about implementing international students’ offshore training programme in modern agricultural practices in Brazil. He aspired to deliver on his mandate beyond the expectations of the stakeholders. But that soon caused him his health. He broke down, flown abroad for treatment; he came back fully recovered but alas! Death was unnegotiable.
I pray the Almighty forgive his shortcomings, mercifully grant his soul eternal rest and give the family the fortitude to bear the irreparable, colossal loss.
Written by ‘Yemi Adurotoye, journalist and Director, ALGON, Kwara State