Thursday, November 5, 2015 3:14 pm
The out-going Vice Chancellor, University of Ibadan, UI, who has just been confirmed as a minister by the Senate, PROFESSOR ISAAC ADEWOLE alias IFAF, exclusively spoke with GBENRO ADESINA about his tenure, and his emergence as a member of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration.
Q: Years back, Muhammed Buhari, head of military government dismissed you from UCH as a result of a nationwide strike you declared as the president of resident doctors. He also ordered you to be arrested dead or alive and you ran away. Then 30 years after, the same man appointed you as a minister. How do you feel about this?
A: I was a leader in the medical association. We were unhappy about the status and functionality of the health system. As a result, we declared a nationwide strike action. We had a military government then that reacted negatively to our strike action. You know by the hierarchical nature of the military, they become uncomfortable when you challenge them so, they also reacted. They see our action as a declaration of war and actually requested that we should be captured life or dead. Well, there is a say that says that he who runs away live to fight another day. So, I decided not to get captured and I travelled out of the country.
Q: So the rest is history?
A: The rest is a good history. I never expected to be appointed by the same person. To me, it shows the type of a person the president is. He is not interested in the personality. I have not really had a one on one contact with him but I can really psychoanalyse him that he is interested in issues. He wants to get things done. He is someone who will not lay emphasis on the past but get concerned about the present and the future.
Q: How did you really feel when you got the information that you have been nominated as a minister?
A: I asked for a glass of cold water in Canada where I was at the time. I wasn’t too sure and I asked the person that called me from Nigeria whether he was seeing right. I had a text message the night before and I ignored it and switched off my phone. When the call came the next day by my junior colleagues, I said, are you sure you are seeing it right and he said I am watching it live and they are streaming your name. I said praise God. I called for a glass of water and I thought it was an occasion to celebrate God and thank God for his faithfulness.
Q: How did you feel about the petition from UI integrity group written to President Buhari to drop you from the ministerial list base on some alleged corruption practices you perpetuated as UI VC?
A: The petition was malicious, false, and no single aspect of the petition was correct. I sincerely felt pain. I am not averse to people writing petitions but let it be factual. I also felt that the petition had the capability of damaging the reputation of UI. My advice is that no single person should embark on a suicide mission. UI is too big for anybody and it is far bigger than any of us and we should spare UI in the future contest and protest.
Q: You were well grilled by the senate during the screening. How did you feel during the screening?
A: I was in the red chamber sweating. How I performed, I wouldn’t know but people said that I performed well.
Q: There are lots of problems with NHIS. If you emerge as a minister of health, what will you do with NHIS?
A: The first thing about health insurance is to improve the access and quality. As of today, I think it is only three percent of Nigerians that have health insurance and that is not good enough. In the shortest possible time, we need to increase its patronage by at least 30 percent as well as improving on quality for people to get value for their money.
Q: What else will you do?
A: If I am in health, I will do a mapping of human resources of infrastructure available for health. I will make sure I work on national health policy. We had one in 1988, another in 2004 and I am aware that one is in the pipeline. I will get it approved so that we can have a guiding principle for all that we are going to do. I will reduce health tourism and ensure that it is reduced to less than 20 percent. We can’t completely stop it for many reasons but we should drastically reduce it and make it unattractive for those who want to go abroad. I will also ensure that I will put in place mechanism to address cancer and reduce maternal mortality.
Q: What about education?
A: Major issues in education are accessibility, quality and equity. Only about 30 percent of those who qualify get position in the university. So, we will open up more spaces. We will strengthen higher secondary school not junior. If you look at it, we have 6-3-3-4. 6-3 is taking care of by UBEC, 4 is taking care by TETFUND. There is no one looking after grade 3. In the other words, the 3 is an orphan. We need to pay attention to the 3 because it is the 3 that determines the quality of the product going into the university. If you send bad product to the university, you can’t make any good out of it. I will expand and improve on vocational and technical education because that to me is the critical missing link in the Nigeria educational programme. We are producing a lot of white collar people; we don’t have those who can work with their hands link to their brain. That is what we need. No country can develop without a huge quantum of people in the technical and technological fields.
Q: The problem with polytechnic is majorly discrimination and ceiling being put on their advancement. To encourage that, is it not advisable that as a matter of urgency, all universities should be made to run Post graduate diploma in the courses they offer as a bridge programme for HND so that HND graduate who possess post graduate diploma is allowed to do a Master’s degree?
A: That to me will not address the issue. People are talking about unemployment and I say that your certificate is your visa. You need skills to get through the job or keep you on the job. I like your skills to your flight ticket. If you want to go to UK, you must have visa. With the visa, you will not leave Nigeria without the flight ticket. We have a lot of people with certificates but they don’t have skills. Asking them to have post graduate diploma is not really the issue, the issue is to let Nigerians know that with your technical education, you can succeed in life and that you don’t need to hold a university to survive in life. We need to make sure that technical and polytechnic education is accepted as a way of life.
We need more technical hands than we need university graduates. It is computed that for each graduate engineer, there is a need for about ten technicians. The problem with Nigeria education is that we are producing wrong type of products for the right type of market. The skill building system is dysfunction. The industries don’t talk to us. So, I don’t know what they need. We need to talk to one another. They should have input into our curriculum so that we can produce graduates for them. But for now, we are just producing believing that we are producing the right people. It is wrong for the companies to be saying that our products are not employable. We must work together to make them employable.