20th January, 2014
The Vice-Chancellor, University of Ibadan, Professor Isaac Adewole, in a recent media chat declared Nigeria’s education sector as a disaster zone that needs to be salvaged. GBENRO ADESINA was there
How do you feel being the vice-chancellor of Nigeria’s premier university?
I feel very happy and honoured being a VC of the first university in Nigeria. Appointing me a VC is as an opportunity to give back to the community that made me. In all, considering that one is not the best but just one of the best and the brightest, I am fortunate to be the 11th VC of this greatest institution and I thank God for it.
What was your agenda for UI and how far have you achieved it?
An agenda is an indication of preparedness. I was fortunate to have three months period between the date of appointment and the date of assumption of office. I was able to put together a tactical committee to work on my strategic plan. Essentially, what we have is a four-point agenda that features general administration, academic matters, staff and students welfare and the development of infrastructures. All that we have done could be located within these four themes. But the overall theme is to reposition UI as a 21st century university that is able to do business and survive in business. We are also mindful of the fact that a 21st century university must be digital. The resources coming to the university are depleting and therefore, the VC as a manager must look at how to generate resources to keep the university going. Everything is geared towards repositioning UI as a global university that is capable of adequately performing the roles of a first class university.
Could you highlight some challenges you have faced as VC and how you have been able to overcome them?
Challenges are meant to be solved. If you are not seeing challenges, it is either you have not been able to identify them or you are being pretentious. Challenges are human, infrastructural and those that relate with the age of the institution. In terms of human challenges, we got to a level where people didn’t think that things could change for better and we became skeptic and pessimism pervaded the horizon. So, to change people from despair to the position of hope to me represented a great challenge. An old sick person would require more attention than a person of 10 or 20 years. UI was established in 1948, 65 years ago. Cables are old, water pipes are old, buildings are old, and that is the problem of age. I believe that UI should not just be described as one of the first generation universities; it is the only first generation university. No other university came to be until 1962. The difference of 14 years is not a small joke. So we should have UI as the only first generation. OAU, ABU and UNN are second generation not first and government has to specially treat UI in this regard; according it the respect and attention due to it. In terms of funding, UI should be put in a special place.
How do you ensure cordial relationship with the institution’s neigbouring communities?
Ajibode, Agbowo, Orogun areas are inhabited by Nigerians who recognise the special place of UI. They have been nice to us and next year, we will reciprocate.
How have you succeeded in executing some of your projects despite insufficient funding?
The first we did when we came on board was to block leakages. These in some ways help us to generate additional revenue. We are moving predominantly to post-graduate and we have two sources of strong support: the Post-graduate School and Distance Learning Centre, DLC. We have also changed the sharing formula in the PG School and DLC in a way that we now have more money available to the central administration. We have also received some endowment and quite a number of people listen to us when we appeal to them. We have been supported even by unusual people. Pastor Adeoye has been very helpful. He has supported the transformation that we are undertaking in the zoological garden. In the first year, we got N5 million from him; in the second year we got N20m; this year another N20m, and we are using this in addition to internal resources to make things better for the zoological garden.
The chairmen of the councils have always been supporting us. We have been supported by capital allocation from the Federal Government and release from TETFUND. Quite a number of renovations that we have are funded by TETFUND and more are still coming. We are going to have a National Institute for Maternal Health to be supported by TETFUND to the tune of about N1.2b; we are also going to build a Faculty of Education Complex costing almost N400m with help from TETFUND. So, quite a number of things will come up using TETFUND allocation.
Let me come to the challenges of water and electricity. When we came in, I was unduly over-optimistic. One, I said within six months, electricity would be stable. I later realised that the challenges on ground could not really be cracked by just a hammer; they required a sustained approach. Initially we thought all we needed to do was to improve our ability to deliver power to UI. We renovated the Shasha and Ajibode line, we renovated 33kv substation and we spent close to N200m on this. We bought two giant generators at a cost of almost N450m, each about N220m, to the augment two on ground. Each of them has the capacity of two megawatts. We thought with this, when you fired, everything would flow. The first challenge was the cost of diesel. January last year, we spent N24m alone to buy diesel. We knew that would be problematic. Even when we fired, we discovered we had lots of fire accidents and explosion because the cables are old. These are cables installed about 65 years ago. So, we want to re-lay electric cables, and have more cables. In the next one year, we would have achieved a measure of stability in electricity.
The last time anybody did something on water was 1986, when the Professor Ayo Banjo administration constructed water treatment plant. Now we are building a second water treatment plant and we hope that by February next year, it will be completed. We will double the water supply to UI. The next thing is where do we get water? For now we are pumping water from Eleyele, and we buy water from Oyo State. But we also have our own Oba Dam. For many years, the dam was not functioning. We just awarded the contract; we are dredging Oba Dam. We want to turn it to a tourist centre so that we can make money through it. We will enlarge the dam to be able to pump water for supply to the community. For now, we are selling fish from Oba Dam. Two days ago, we made N120,000 from selling fish. Money will come; we just have to be innovative.
Is it true that UI is planning to have a TV station?
Yes. Very soon we’ll come on air.
Why are you going postgraduate?
When we started, we were alone but today, we have over 130 universities. We are being strategic. We are developing the manpower needed by other universities.
What are you doing to ensure that DLC is not affected by crises in the university?
Let me be honest, I share in some of the students’ sentiments. A DLC should be run properly as a DLC. It is different from face-to-face mode of teaching and learning. It is not expected to be affected by strike actions. But then our own DLC is in transition. We are moving from a hybrid; between the face-to-face and true DLC to a true DLC. But when we arrive at the true DLC, that true DLC will be insulated.
What do you want to be remembered for after your exit as VC and how do you intend to improve on the flagship centre meant to teach foreigners Yoruba Language?
We are planning to upgrade it to a centre where African languages will be taught. Secondly, we will promote Yoruba language through the centre. I want to be remembered as a VC that did not destroy the place, but one that God used to maintain the enviable position the school occupies.
How will you ensure that UI’s ranking improves?
With respect to ranking in Africa, we have no doubt that UI is a beautiful bride in Africa. Before the strike started, we had visitation by three institutions in Africa: University of Cape Town, University of Witwatersrand, and University of Johannesburg, all from South Africa, seeking to partner with us. Two years ago, we were number six in Africa and we said we should be number one. The web metric ranking essentially bases its ranking on websites. We are working on our website. We don’t have an excuse for not having a good website. So we will have a good website and when we have a good website in place, things will change. But when you look at research contribution, we remain number one in Nigeria in terms of research output.
What is your assessment of private universities in Nigeria?
It is not good for Nigerians who want to go to university to be denied the opportunity and therefore be forced to go abroad for university education where they will pay exorbitantly. It is good for them to study here. We don’t have enough universities to accommodate admission seekers because only four per cent could be accommodated. I believe NUC is monitoring and controlling private universities and also ensuring quality control in these universities.
As a VC, how are you checkmating educational rot in UI and if appointed today as Minister of Education, what will you do to ensure that public schools assume their rightful position?
Let me say categorically, I don’t share the belief that there is massive rot in Nigeria’s education system. I am not saying there are no challenges. For example, plagiarism is a human thing. Anybody, be it student or lecturer, who plagiarises will create problem anywhere. Plagiarism is a human factor, and an integrity issue. If I am made a minister of education today, I will visit Mr. President and tell him that he needs to declare education as a disaster zone requiring a massive Marshall-type of plan that was used post-World War II in terms of rebuilding Europe. And that reconstruction will go beyond just university. We need to go to secondary school and primary school because if you give a bad product to the university, no matter how good the university is, that university will be able to do little or nothing. I was fortunate to be a supervisor during UTME exam. I visited 14 of 24 schools in Ibadan, many of them are in rot. Some schools have no windows, some without ceiling, many without electricity. When you train students under that atmosphere, those students can’t do good in a university. So we need massive reconstruction. Unfortunately, education is on the concurrent list. So we need to carry along state governors, state commissioners. It is not something that federal alone can do. We need to revisit education. We need to see education as investment and as a viable tool for development. If this country is going to make it, we need to invest in education. We need to take our eyes off oil. Singapore, Japan, and Taiwan don’t have oil. What they are selling is their brain. This country can make money by selling brain and we need to invest in education and that would be my prescription. And if Mr. President is unable to do that, I will turn down the appointment.