In your opinion, was it prudent for the Federal Government to establish nine new universities instead of using those funds to adequately maintain the existing ones?
It was, in my opinion, quite prudent and I believe the federal government was very well advised in view of the massive problem of lack of access to higher education by Nigerian youths. The federal government appears to be the only institution that can provide more access at much less cost than either state or private Individuals who are now building universities all over the country.
So when you think of the fact that about one and a half million youths take entrance examinations (JAMB or UTME) every year and less than 400,000 get offered admission; eventually only 300,000 are registered, you still have a shortfall of about 1.2 million. This means that somewhere close to 75% of those who want the benefits of university education cannot get it because of lack of access. So I believe in the federal government’s steps especially given our population vis-à-vis the United States (US) and comparing the number of universities in Nigeria with the US, you’ll accept that we have not reached 10% of the ratio set by the US today.
At the rate Nigeria is going, are we not rather proliferating universities?
I don’t think we are proliferating universities. In fact, I think the right thing is being done; however, what the problem should really address is the quality of university education in Nigeria. Any education that does not make the people globally competitive when they are through with it is not good-enough education in this global-knowledge economy that the world has evolved into. I believe we are having more universities because we need them. We must also beef up the quality of education in these universities to maintain the demand for competitiveness that the world is seeking.
What informed the choice of the headship of the nine new universities?
I think it is most proper, and in cognizance of the fact that the term ‘university’ stems from ‘universe’ of ideas, knowledge, approaches et al. I think the federal government wanted to make these universities world class universities instead of localising them. If the federal government had appointed vice chancellors who are indigenes of the state, or who necessarily come from that same geo-political zone, the tendency would be for the heads of these institutions to localise these universities, emphasise employment on the basis of local or immediate catchment areas at the expense of quality staff found all over the country. I think the federal government was prudent to ensure none of us served in our geo-political zones.
What was your reaction upon learning of your appointment, just two years after leaving University of Nigeria Nsukka?
It was less than two years after my leave from UNN as vice chancellor. I was a little scared, as the running of an existing university is a Herculean task, not to talk of starting a brand new university; and one in an unfamiliar geopolitical area given their different culture, people, approaches, among other consideratiosn. I viewed the entire thing with a lot of trepidation. Yet again, I know that God doesn’t make mistakes and so I decided to accept the challenge. I braced myself up to meet it head on, and by the grace of God, we are doing our best.
Please share your experience so far in Ekiti State?
I find it really difficult to talk about my experiences, as they haven’t been easy. When the University was started, there were all kinds of problems because the Federal Government chose Oye as the location of the University but the State Government had proposed Ikole and because of that, there was quite a friction between the two communities that are only 15 minutes drive apart from each other.
So for several months, the Governor of Ekiti State refused to give a location for the permanent site of the University at Oye and insisted it be at Ikole and unfortunately, the whole issue appeared to have been reduced to politics of PDP versus ACN.
However, the FG decided to end the impasse by siting two campuses one at Oye and another at Ikole and with that announcement, the state government proposed a land at Oye which was shown to us only around October last year (2011). I was therefore saddled with the responsibility of building two campuses with the same money given to my colleagues to develop one campus. It was a big task for me.
The communities, Oye and Ikole, were suspicious of each other and I had to be the man on the ground to feel the pinch of the shoes and act as an ambassador of the FG. But it was not really appreciated by either community because each felt that I was supporting the other community. But, today, we have come to a point where people now know that this Vice Chancellor is not supporting any side. As a civil servant, I do what my master asks me to do, and do it within the limits of equity, justice, and fair-play.
Do you think the crisis was easier to manage given that you are an outsider, not from that geopolitical zone?
I would think so, because an insider would have found it much more difficult, as such a person would not find it easy to look at the issues dispassionately, altruistically and with neutrality. I knew nothing of these parts, so I was a “JJC”; but we were able to douse the tension, build a formidable team and forge ahead.
In your opinion, how do they see you now?
I think it is better to have them answer such. Ekiti is not an easy place to be or work in; but I have tried to earn the respect of the people.
You took a long time to reach a concession, yet you have achieved quite a lot, how did you do it?
Well, if one had started at the same time as others, one would have relaxed by comparing oneself with others. But realizing we were way behind others in starting and did not want to be the last to commence academic activities, we had to go all out and at full blast to ensure that the new university did not suffer on account of its teething problems and difficulties at the beginning.
Have you by these delays lost any grounds in academic activities?
Yes, we would have loved to have completed everything before now but it is not so. The permanent site you see was a virgin forest as at January this year 2012. Had we started earlier, we would have had a six month headstart, and we would be thinking about concluding a session by now. But, we have just started our session.
How do you hope to make up?
We will. There is a requirement by NUC about the number of weeks that constitute a semester, and we will do the first semester without a break and go on to the second semester and by February 2013, we would be able to end the session and the next intake would commence by same February. The current intake would continue to the second year then. I would say that by December 2013, we would have normalized the academic calendar.
Going by your C.S.R., what contributions do you plan to make towards the development of your host communities?
We are already doing a lot in that regard. We are employing at all levels from the communities; we also are mounting a formidable I.C.T programme to educate the people. The remedial programme we intend to host will begin with them, to help their youths pass such examinations like the UTME, WAEC, NECO, GCE “A” Level et cetera.
We also want to enhance their industrial base through our Ventures and Innovation Units. Our university’s motto, remember, is Innovation and Character for National Transformation.
Was it given to you, the motto?
No. It wasn’t given to me. I thought through the entire thing and felt what the mandate was; prayed about it and conferred with some fellows and friends and eventually summarised it in those words. Nigeria cannot be transformed no matter how developed we become unless men and women of character are built up and given the opportunity to run the nation’s affairs. I felt that merging innovation and character is what Nigeria needs for transformation. President Jonathan eventually chose the transformation of our nation as his agenda. This is definitely in sync with our school’s motto and I am glad this is the case.
What academic programmes are you starting with?
We have four faculties Science, Social Science and Humanities, Engineering, and Agriculture. In a couple of years, more will be added to those.
The Post UME was your first encompassing exercise, what was the experience like?
We had our first Post-UTME test last year, but then we had no campus or facilities. That was why we procured a property, developed and put in it all the facilities necessary to start teaching and research, before we actually developed the permanent sites. It would be on record that the State Government has not given us anything like other state governments did for other universities located within their states. My Ekiti experience is totally different. Other Vice-Chancellors are ‘pampered’ by their host Governors; it is not the same here and it is apparently due to politics.
The post UME went well even last year when we had so many candidates and had to use the facilities of Ekiti State University. But this time around, we did not need any such help – we used our own facilities and it was all a 100% electronic media. It was online and on-site and there were CCTVs to video the whole exercise. It was orderly and well organised. But there is a huge problem. Many of our secondary school leavers are totally incompetent to be university undergraduates.
The scores were woeful, reflecting what we see from the WAEC and NECO results, that less than 25% actually passed Mathematics and English. We had the same situation with less than 5% of candidates scoring up to 50% average. It is worrisome, but a good screening method to get the candidates we can best work with is in place.
What numbers do you plan to start with?
We have registered over 360 students; we may be able to raise it to 400 by the time we do our matriculation; but that’s for the first year. From the current set that just completed their post-UME exams, we will be admitting 500 out of nearly 12,000.
What is your carrying capacity?
Our carrying capacity now is 500 for intakes.
How do you intend to distinguish Oye from the other universities?
We believe in innovation and character for national transformation. It’s our vision and dream. We want to be the university of first choice among Nigerian youths and have the capacity to achieve that; but again we want our graduates to be globally competitive and nationally relevant. In other words, we will go beyond the call of duty, go beyond the NUC minimum academic standard, to make our students functional Nigerian graduates. We want to get them involved and engaged in community work and development. We want them to be innovative, not idle, to be I.C.T compliant and proficient.
We want them to be researchers, so that the skills we teach them in ICT applications will enable them excel. We intend to have a 24/7 internet facility for each campus to give students and staff access to the internet round the clock. We have already acquired the Massachusset Institute of Technology (MIT) open course-ware facilities, so we can have a hybridized course materials system to tap into what makes MIT the top technological university the world over. Our dream is a tall order, but we will get there by the grace of God through prayer, dint of hardwork and unwavering committment.
Do you have any affiliation with other universities?
Yes, we have first linkage with the Handong Global University in South Korea; and another with a Mexican university is in the works, and a couple more in the USA.
Do you plan to integrate the communities into what you are doing with the infrastructure on ground in line with the town and gown concept?
There must be a linkage; the ancient model of the ivory towers institution is long gone. We want to build a formidable entrepreneurial university and want it to be so distinctively interwoven with the development of the community that host it so that all will feel our presence and benefit from it. We intend to have a seamless relationship with the town.
On the issue of compliance by lecturers, he said lecturers of the University are consistently trained to comply with the rules and regulations.
He said the job is tough with all private universities as lecturers are drwan from established universities, adding that it takes a consistent effort to ensure the best staff is retained.
“Things are changing and those who cannot comply are asked to leave,” he said.