On Tuesday, September 1, 2020, two days before the announcement of LASU as the nation’s second foremost university according to Times Higher Education Tertiary Education Ranking, the tone was set for another trans-generational landmark at the Lagos State University School of Communication, LASUSOC. That day, without any tone of compulsion, nearly all of us as well as the very diligent Faculty Officer, Mr Olugbenga Oduyomi, yielded to a conference call. It was the first Virtual Conference of the Association for Communication Scholars and Practitioners of Nigeria, ACSPN.
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For no fewer than four years, ACSPN enjoyed the privilege of being led by the versatile Communication expert and scholar based at LASUSOC, Prof Lai Oso. Osos versatility, incidentally, has been generously democratized. A Leicester University alumnus, he has two others, yours sincerely and Agboola Odesanya behind him in his department. A multiple award winner, Dr Jide Jimoh and yours sincerely, again were awardees of the top flight Chevening and Social Science Research Council, SSRC. A dexterous reporter and editor with an enduring bond with the industry, Oso again has cultivated public intellectuals in the mould of the sitting Head of Journalism Dept, Dr Jide Jimoh constant with his regular media interventions as well as yours sincerely sitting on the board of the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, PTCIJ, publishers of Africas foremost online newspaper, Premium Times.
Osos leadership of ACSPN may be tough to match in many respects: Not a year passed without a national conference with the heavy turnout from both the academia and the industry inclusive of the print and broadcast media as well as advertising and public relations. The association has equally been consistent with the production of knowledge through its publications and occasional interactive sessions with leaders from the industry and academia.
Thats the stuff with which LASUSOC was originally made. Twenty years ago when it was taking off, LASUSOC broke new grounds in communication scholarship which it sustains till date. How?
In December 2019, the National Universities Commission, NUC, formally presented a new curriculum for communication studies in Nigerian academic institutions. Until then, all universities in Nigeria, except LASU, had been running a single department of Mass Communication. The new programme announced to the audience of representatives of all leading communication programmes in the country comprised Journalism and Media Studies, Information and Media Studies; Public Relations; Advertising and Broadcasting. From inception in 2001, LASUSOC had done this unbundling and shared its appeal with all who cared.
Not too long after LASUSOC commenced business, this novel approach it pioneered in Nigeria became the bride of both aspiring communicators and even the established ones. Within its first ten years, LASUSOC attracted sabbatical scholars from far and near. One of the earliest, Prof Anthony Olorunnisola is currently Head of Broadcasting, Film and Video Studies and Vice Dean, College of Communications, Pennsylvania State University, State College, Penn State, United States. A distinguished Fullbright Scholar, Olorunnisola not only devoted his all to the teaching of both undergraduates and postgraduates, but he also shipped down cartons of books for the enrichment of the LASUSOC library. He remains, till date, a major source of scholarly inspiration not only to LASU but also the Communication and Language Arts programme of the University of Ibadan, which beat LASU to mere second place in the latest ranking.
Soon after Olorunnisola, LASUSOC became heavily star-studded. The faculty got enriched further by Prof Femi Sonaike, former editor of Daily Times who later veered into full-time lectureship in the US thus breasting tapes of optimal accomplishment in both career tracks of practice and scholarship.
Yet another big masquerade was Prof Ralph Alabi Akinfeleye who retired recently from the Mass Communication Dept of the University of Lagos. As they say, only gold can attract other gold easily. Ebullient Akinfeleye was rather too enthusiastic to join Prof Idowu Sobowale, his former colleague at the University of Lagos, who had emerged as the first dean of LASUSOC. Indeed, LASUSOC was a special manifestation of Sobowales service to the Lagos State. He was Special Adviser to Governor Jakande who ruled the state from 1979 to 1983 during which time LASU was conceptualized and founded. Sobowale again made the list of commissioners when Asiwaju Tinubu became the governor of the state in 1999. On leaving government in 2003, he was rather too eager to nurture the communication programme he had joined others to formulate. Promptly, Sobowale further attracted renowned Prof Moemeka also based in the US for a sabbatical stay. LASUSOC thus became the toast of leading communication practitioners and scholars across Nigeria and even the West African subcontinent. In 2018 for instance, the annual Idowu Sobowale Conference was hosted in Sierra Leone.
Its therefore easy to guess what the quality of LASUSOC graduates may be, compared with those of other Nigerian universities. A good number of our graduates who sought postgraduate qualifications at the University of Lagos came top of their respective classes. As I write, that department won’t let go Dr Shuaibu Hussein even after concluding his doctoral programme, on account of his ultra capability for multi-tasking and multiple professional orientations roundly cultivated at LASUSOC. Hussein is a holder of a first-class degree of LASUSOC.
Back home, LASUSOC also cherishes own graduates. Currently, a Dubawa Research Fellow and member of the LASU Annual Research and Innovation Fair, Dr Raheemat Adeniran, holder of three LASUSOC degrees has also flown the flag of LASUSOC to far away from Birmingham as an Erasmus Mundus Fellow at Birmingham University. A good number of others in the public and private sectors of the economy, locally and internationally have added no fewer values or reputation to LASUSOC, endearing it to the world and by extension, the umbrella institution, LASU. This much height was attained by LASUSOC for LASU before the entry of the most accomplished VC of LASU in the recent time, Prof Lanrewaju Adigun Fagbohun.
Enter, the young and energetic VC, Olanrewaju Adigun Fagbohun in 2016. The gangling figure and Professor of Environmental Law nicknamed Obama of LASU by one of my Feature Writing classes came, prepared with a published, feasible agenda. The current level of efficiency of LASUSOC today derives from Fagbohuns listening ears and appealing personality coming especially after a regime least desired by the university.
Shortly after Fagbohuns assumption of office, for instance, Kehinde Bamigbetan his fellow ex-Ife, as University of Ife alumni prefer to hail themselves, then Special Adviser to Governor Ambode volunteered to support LASU Radio. That station has since been performing creditably, selling LASU to the world, far and near. Undoubtedly, this station with the backing of the professional expertise and leadership provided by the longest-serving and indefatigable Dean of LASUSOC, Prof Rotimi Olatunji, contributed immensely to the unprecedented ranking of LASU as the second-best university in Nigeria. LASU Radios ubiquitous and relentless presence online is unmistakably impressive. It is interesting to note that LASU achieved being repeatedly rated best State university also under Fagbohun who routinely declares LASUSOC as a most reliable and supportive programme.
LASUSOC, with its soaring prestige, has kept on attracting inimitable patronage from local and international civil society groups, academic institutions and industry leaders with collaboration offer on research and training. Some of these have been, not unexpectedly, accompanied by some ‘turbulence. Pulitzer laureate Premium Times trained our students on a variety of new journalism skills, enriching their capacity. Earlier, Prof Oso was persuaded to lead the Nigerian leg of the Global Internet Policy Project, GIPP, by Washington based Internews, among other global research undertakings.
At LASUSOC, the enduring and consensual culture is that whatever is worth doing is worth doing well with the constant projection that tomorrow can only be better. Soon, very soon, our competitors will no longer be ones within the shores of Nigeria.
Tunde Akanni, PhD, Senior Journalism Lecturer at LASU, is a member of the International Advisory Board of Dubawa, Nigerias first indigenous international fact-checking organization. Follow him on Twitter:@AkintundeAkanni