Students Are Their Own Enemies – UI VC

Students Are Their Own Enemies – UI VC

Friday, June 14, 2019 12:55 pm

In the last quarterly media chat of the Vice Chancellor, University of Ibadan, UI, PROFESSOR ABEL IDOWU OLAYINKA, which was attended by GBENRO ADESINA, the VC assured the students that Students Union Government, SUG, would be restored after the students may have purged themselves of undue radicalism.

Prof. Abel Idowu Olayinka

Q: As your tenure is gradually winding up, how can you assess your administration?

A: As you are aware, I assumed office as the 12th Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan on December 1, 2015. Well, I shouldn’t be the one to assess myself whether I have done well or not. I think it is the students, staff and stakeholders that should assess my administration and come up to say this man has done well or not. I can’t be the student and at the same time be the one to mark my exam’s scripts. As a student, it is the lecturers that will say I have done well or not. Mine is to try my best. Naturally, leaders want to serve well but at times, when they get to office what they meet is not what they expect.

Q: What has been your experience so far?

A: I have been here as a student since 1977. I became a staff in April 1988, meaning I have been a staff for almost 31 years. Things are not too rosy as we speak but we have seen the worst days in the past. There was a time that Establishment did not have stationery to send people’s promotion letters. Things are slightly better but they can still be better. I was appointed September 2015, just a few months after President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in, that was the time the nation’s economy went into recession. Definitely everything was affected. We started experiencing salary shortfall since December 2015. Most federal universities were affected in varying degrees. We are gradually coming out of it. I am trying to put in my best but I am not God. We also exchanged notes with our colleagues in other federal universities like UNILAG, OAU, UNILORIN and Nsukka. I ran into the VC of University of Nigeria, Nsukka at a conference. He told me that he has challenges as regards payment of salaries. We were at the National Assembly. We presented our budget to them. They also sympathized with us. They are familiar with the challenges. There will still be problem in UI in 200 years to come but the problem may not be the type we face now. The most important thing is to make our own impact. My principal in secondary school said that anywhere we are, we should learn to leave it better than how we met it. Now we are trying to create a Department of Nuclear Medicine. That is going to be the first in Nigeria. Are Afe Babalola has already given us a building in UCH for Nuclear Medicine. We are also trying to establish a new Department of Immunology by splitting the Department of Chemical Pathology. We are trying to split the Department of Agronomy into Crop and Horticultural sciences as well as Soil Resources Management. These are some of the efforts we are making that you may not even know. I know some critics will not understand what we are doing but let me tell you, we are trying to create a lasting legacy in the university. When I was an undergraduate here, there was no Faculty of Law, no Faculty of Pharmacy. Some people deemed it fit to establish Faculty of Law and now Law has produced so many judges, SAN, Professors. Those things are important. You have to look at fundamental achievements. There are certain things that are routine. Just coming back to the question our colleagues here asked me in Yoruba, you know it was a bit difficult to translate. You know I think in Ijesa before translating it into English. The best way you can measure whether someone has done well is first, what is the impression of those who engage him? How far has he gone in satisfying their aspiration? For instance, what do the staff think about Olayinka? What is the impression of the students, even the Alumni?

Q: What are the things you have not achieved among the things you set out to achieve while in office? At 70, UI should have been able to generate electricity that will be sufficient for the institution and the neigbouring communities?

A: Your question is double barrel. The first is that before I came on board I had a vision document, which one of our former Vice Chancellors said is well detailed. It is not that I was not well prepared for the position. There is hardly any position in the university that I have not occupied. I started from being a teacher, I supervise students. I became Sub Dean, Dean of the PG School. So I am one of the most experienced people using objective criteria. Having a very detailed vision document doesn’t translate to performance in office. To be honest with you, I am satisfied with what we have achieved. Again, I need to say that it is not one man show. I have on my laptop some 12 criteria as to what CEO should look at when you want to ask people to come and assist you. We have a very good team. It is not only Olayinka that is doing it. The technology to generate electricity has been known for century, it is not rocket science. That may not translate to power supply. You can’t outgrow the environment where you live. I was reading a report recently which says that the total power generated in Nigeria is between 7000 and 8000. It is less than that of the city of Glasgow in the UK. Our university is funded by the federal government. The FG itself has challenges with funding. It says tuition is free which is a very wise decision because if the tuition is high many students will not be able to attend school. Ironically, government is not able to fund the school appropriately and it says tuition is free. For some of those problems to be solved, university alone can’t do it. We have the government, the university, even polytechnic, colleges of education as well as the private sector, industry. Not until we are able to forge a good synergy between academia, government and the industry, it is not likely that the fortune of a Nigeria as a country will ever improve. If you say we are not generating electricity, how many universities in Nigeria are generating their electricity? I don’t even know of any university in Africa whether Witwatersrand or Cape Town. These are municipal services. We are not set up to be generating electricity. As academic staff, my duty is to teach students, conduct research and community service. I was not employed to be generating electricity. Asking us to generate electricity is to take us out of our core mandate. The Oyo State water corporation is supposed to supply us water and we pay for it. It is the responsibility of IBDEC to supply us electricity, then we pay for it. It is not fair to be asking why UI is not generating electricity. Government should provide all these and we pay for it. It is not about the technology alone. One has to think about its economy. For instance, people ask why is it that universities in Nigeria are not ranking so well and I ask: Is Nigeria’s National Assembly ranking the best in the world? Nigerian banks, are they among the best in the world? Are universities elsewhere generating electricity? Are they producing water? I went to Imperial College for my master. The institution does not generate its own electricity.

Q: What is UI’s status as regards universities ranking?

A: In terms of ranking, UI is the first in Nigeria. We are first in West Africa and among the topmost 15 in Africa. We can still do a lot better. Recently I saw a publication; UI came first in research output. When you look at PhD output, we are always on top. We have the largest postgraduate college in sub-Saharan Africa. If you are saying that by next year, we will be the best in the world, I will tell you that it will happen by miracle. You can’t compare us with the universities in South Africa in terms of infrastructure. The FG gave us some money recently about N498m for equipment. We want to buy a transmission electron microscope for the department of Anatomy. The one they have there is obsolete, donated in 1968. It will cost almost N200m. The question is how many transmission electron microscope can we buy from N498m? Other departments also need one important thing or the other. So, it is not just about fine building. It is about fine building that is reasonably equipped for academic exercise. Our primary function in the university is to teach our students and also to do original research. If you teach your students very well and your staff are conducting research, what else should we have done? So, we are not created to generate electricity but to teach, carry out sound research and do community services.

Q: What are you doing to have sufficient accommodation for your students on campus? Also, it is alleged that the cost of Tafawa Balewa Hostel is quite exorbitant and that is why the rooms there are not taken by the students?

A: It is true that the crisis of hostel accommodation in UI is not a recent phenomenon. It started as far back as 1973. If you look at the books, when the university was established as a college of university of London, the original concept is that it will be fully residential, that all the staff and students will be staying on campus. But as far back as 1973, it has become obvious that the university can’t meet up with that expectation. We started to experiment with off campus accommodation. There were some buildings around here that the university rented and gave it to students. That one was also short-lived. Then, at the time I came here as an undergraduate student, the effort of the university as at that time is that if you come to Ibadan for a four year programme, they will try to accommodate you for three years. So, your first year, you will be accommodated and you will leave the second year and come back in your third year and also in the final year. But you have to decide if you want to stay on campus. As we speak, maybe the number of bed spaces that we have in all our 12 halls of residence is about 8,000 both undergraduate and postgraduate. The students’ population is about 25,000, full time students not even talking about distance learners. That is just about one third. With the best of intention, we can only accommodate one third of the students’ population. And we don’t have money to start building new hostels. One of the measures we have taken is to encourage private developers to come and assist. But this kind of hostels will be more expensive than the university’s halls. We have Adebayo Akande Hall, Olatunde Rusewe at Ajibode. A few other ones are springing up. When I was coming on board, in my vision document, we say we will increase the bed space by 500 per year such that in the five year tenure, we would have increased it by 2,500. We have not lost sight of that. Again, if you don’t have money, how do you build hostels, if you build the hostels, you have to think about water supply, electricity and all that. Students are paying N14,000 per bed space up till about a year ago. Then we set up a committee and they looked at the record, it was obvious that it was not sustainable, it was costing us like N60,000 to maintain a student in the hostel. Meanwhile, they are paying N14,000. We have to reach a middle of the road approach. We increased it from N14,000 to N30,000. It became effective from the beginning of last session. Now they pay 30,000 per bed space. The question asked by my friend and brother, Mr Gbenro Adesina about Balewa. It is also the same. Those in Balewa are big people. They are PhD students. They live in a single room. If you increase your price too much, people can have alternative. They can go to Agbowo, Mokola, Ajibode or Ojoo. It is not supposed to be a punitive measure. Some of the students also stay in boys’ quarters on campus. We heard that they pay. It is a balancing act. If you also look around, for those of us who are familiar with the campus, you see that some of the hostels are wearing a new look. Idia Hall, for example, has been painted. Kuti Hall, Mellanby, is still on-going projects. There is no point for students to be living under sub-human conditions. I have looked at the records over the past 10 years; the students that come to UI are very good. With this incoming admission, for a student to come in for Law or the medical programme, you must have scored an average of JAMB and PostUTME 77 per cent. In my days, I don’t think I would have been able to score 77 per cent. I am sure they are better than me. It is just to make the environment better and conducive so that they can excel in their fields of studies. When I was an undergraduate, I never saw a computer, not to talk of using it. So the students are supposed to be better than us and they are smarter. They only need to be encouraged. They are more brilliant than us, very sharp. Recently the Alumni built a 54 room hostel at Ajibode. It is not only students that have the problem of accommodation, the staff is also affected. Every day I get requests from the staff. This morning, I still got an accommodation request from one of our colleagues from the Faculty of Arts soliciting accommodation on behalf of another staff. It is just that the staff are not too vocal like students. In fact I don’t have less than 700 accommodation request from staff. Some of our colleagues want to live on campus because they think it is safer. They say that armed robbers always attack in their houses outside campus. They said that when there is a new landlord, armed robbers will visit them. People even rent out their buildings and come to campus. But we will continue to see how we can solve our problems.

Q: There was a lecturer who was on PhD programme for 22 years and as a result, depression set in and he killed him. Is this how wicked the system is?

A: It is sad to learn about the demise of one of our lecturers who committed suicide. He was a native of Kaduna State. He did his undergraduate programme in Kano or so and came here for his master. He did very well. He was given a job because he did well in his master. I heard that he was living in a boys quarters in one of his lecturer’s residence. When he wanted to wed, his mother couldn’t come because of old age and one of the lecturers in their department acted as his mother. He blended very well in the university. We checked his file; he registered for PhD programmee 22 years ago. Normally, this is how it works. You will first register for a year, at the end of the year, you will register for the second year and continue like that until you finish. When we checked his file, he registered for three years. After the three years, we don’t know what happened. We found out that he had a problem with his wife and they went to court. The court ruled in his wife’s favour and they have three children. The court ordered that he should pay N60, 000 monthly for their upkeep. If you don’t appeal court judgment, court judgment stands. It was ordered that we should remit N60,000 to the wife monthly. If we fail to do it, it is a contempt of court. After some time, he said rather than paying the money to his wife, he will resign and he resigned. We are yet to know what happened exactly. We have set up a committee to investigate and report back to the university authority. It is not true that he spent 22 years on PhD programme. For a student to run a PhD programme for 22 year, it shows that the lecturers in the university are wicked. Out of 100 lecturers in UI, 80 graduated from UI. They can’t suddenly turn to wicked people. In Nigeria, UI produce the highest PhD. On our platform, a lecturer from Animal Science Department said that he has successfully supervised 12 PhD candidates, who have finished. He said further that there is a particular candidate, who is still on it for the past 10 years. It will be unfair blaming lecturers for everything. There can be many reasons that can be responsible for students not finishing in record time in Nigeria. These include strike action, unavailability of needed materials, laboratory problems, etc.

Q: Is it true that the Students Union Government, SUG President, Ojo Aderemi has been suspended?

A: It is true. The Students Disciplinary Committee, SDC, met. He wasn’t the only person. The allegation against him was gross misconduct. The truth of the matter is that the university community is a very complex institution. The minimum age for new entrants is 16. They come in as adolescent and by the time they are going out they are young adults. The degree of UI is awarded for character and learning. Character, for us is more important. In the particular case of Ojo Aderemi, don’t forget that we are Africans and it is in the holy books that you have to respect your parents. The gentleman said that the Vice Chancellor was concocting lies, that he didn’t have the power to suspend students union, that he didn’t follow the rule to convene the meeting of the Senate. Because we are staff, we are loco parentis for the students. Certain things are not just acceptable. A situation which a former student, Kingsley, not Ojo Aderemi, another student, a 100 level student, who in 2016 said Olayinka is a disgrace, he said all these pot-belly people, they went to the Senate and closed the University. So, we expelled him. Later, we converted the expulsion to two semesters. Ojo Aderemi now said we victimized that boy. He said the VC is a disgraced to “our noble profession”. A 100 level student! I was wondering, what profession does he have? Somebody who has just passed JAMB is now saying that he and the Vice Chancellor are in the same level. In the case of Ojo Aderemi, the Senate gave some ruling; he was flouting the rule of the Senate, not the rule of Olayinka as a person. If we allow him to go like that, then the University will become a jungle. It will send a wrong signal. It was the disciplinary committee that looked at his case and felt that what he did was gross misconduct. You are under authority. All of us are under authority anyway at every stage. So, we don’t encourage them to be lawless otherwise the whole system will break down.

Q: How do you intend to solve internet accessibility in the university? Also, obtaining transcript at the undergraduate level takes a long time At the postgraduate level, confirmation of result to foreign agencies are delayed. Some students have finished their exams for the past three years in DLC, they are yet to graduate. What are your responses to these problems?

A: You are talking about service delivery because if I requested for transcript, why does it take forever? Why should it take so long to get my transcript? As regards internet facility problem, we are aware. What we want is that we have fast reliable internet facility anywhere you are on the campus. It is not going to happen by magic. We advertised for private sector that has the capacity to do this. There has to be initial capital investment, there will also be recurrent. We have also tried to improve the bandwidth, which will affect the speed of our internet operation. We have tried to improve but we know that we still have a long way to go. The most immediate solution that we are likely to have is through Public Private Partnership, PPP, such that the people will deploy the optic fibre. There is optic fibre coverage on the campus but not the entire campus has been covered. I discussed with the Director of ITEMS about two week ago, he told me that in the next one year, those physical infrastructure related to IT would have been in place. Then may be before then, we would have started enjoying it. There is internet facility as we speak but it is not 100 per cent for the entire university. As far back as 2011/2012, we have tried to ensure that students can collect their certificates and transcripts right from the day of convocation. If the academic calendar were to be running smoothly, the session should end June/July. UI traditionally will do its convocation in November. Up till recently, it was Mr Yusuf that was writing the transcripts manually. We now said if you finish your session in June/July, with or without ASUU strike or union strike or students disrupting the calendar, and you then have about four months to November, there was no way Mr Yusuf alone as a cartographer can finish writing 10,000 certificates for undergraduates, postgraduates, DLC, even the affiliate institutions. So it is obvious that the most logical solution was for us to leverage on IT, which is what we are doing now. I am sure once the base data is available within two or three weeks, the certificates are ready. If Senate met in May to consider the results of the final year students, there is no reason why their results should not be available in November when they are having their convocation. I agree with you, there is a problem with service delivery. I want service delivery to be effective. If you can measure it, then you can manage it. The idea is that if someone request for a transcript, it should not take long before he or she can have it? We don’t have any excuse I must confess. I think we have a new deputy registrar in charge of that. He and the Registrar are on top of it. We think that in the next one year, most of these complaints would have disappeared. It doesn’t speak well of us that students request for transcripts from wherever they are and they don’t get their transcripts on time. We don’t have any excuse, I must confess. If there are students who have experienced it, I will like to apologize on behalf of the University for our dereliction of duty. It is unacceptable.

Q: Is it true that there is an external body that has been contracted to process transcripts in this university?

A: No, I don’t think there is any external agency. We still produce it in-house. We will not do that for the integrity of our data and your information.

Q: How soon will the University lift the suspension on the SUG?

A: Ordinarily, there is no reason why we should not allow students to come together under the umbrella of their union as one of the avenue for leadership training. For me as a person, it is not until you become secretary of the union or speaker of the house that you can have leadership skills. There are many opportunities open to them. We have centre for entrepreneurship and training, we have campus lab, among others. In the hall of residence, you can become a member of hall executive. Most departments have executive bodies. On the other hand, you cannot be doing the same thing the same way and expect a different result. It is a pity I am not in social sciences or sociology. I wonder how students think. There was a time, a former students’ union leader finished in LARIS in Faculty of Education. He wrote a book. He was trying to present it and invited me. When I got there, students were there. I just called a few of them at random and asked them what their ambitions were when they came to UI. They answered that they wanted to finish in record time not that they came here to fight their head of departments. If they fight their head of departments, is that an achievement? Things have changed. Some lecturers who taught me when I was an undergraduate are still staff in UI. Professor Oladiran, Physics department signed my registration form in prelim physics. As I was panting, he just said bring your form. I didn’t even know he was a lecturer. Professor Oderinde in Chemistry taught me in prelim. Tomorrow, I can’t look at him straight in the face. Whether I am a professor or Vice Chancellor, who cares? Am I the first professor in Africa? See students of this days, not all, few students, they are militant. Otherwise, I will not understand why a student will put it in black and white that Olayinka is telling lies in the discharge of his official duty, forgetting that it is Olayinka, on behalf of the Senate, that admitted him, the University people will process your result and you will graduate. It is unacceptable. If he graduates from this University and gets a job in Shell, will he now say that the MD in Shell is a fool? The summary of the long story is I don’t have any problem with reinstating the students union but you can’t be doing the same thing the same way and expect the same result. Go to Google, you will see where Ojo Aderemi is abusing the Vice Chancellor till tomorrow.

Q: The question still remains: when will you lift the ban on students’ unionism?

A: When they have purged themselves of undue radicalism. We have the most recent strike by my union, ASUU. The university was closed for three months. I know that ASUU was fighting for the institution. I don’t have any problem with that. The truth of the matter is that we were still collecting our salaries. But the students were at home for three months. The other time the non-academic staff went on strike, the University was shut down. When two elephants fight, it is the grass that will suffer. It is worse for the grass to now be punishing itself. ASUU goes on strike, its members will collect salaries, non-teaching staff go on strike, they collect their salary but you are at home languishing. You are not getting younger. You will now add your own crisis upon it whereby you are even preventing the lecturers to come and teach you. So what have you gained? Now, we are starting a new session this month of June and I am sure the private university will be on long vacation by now. The effect is that we have wasted almost a year. To me as a person, I have a responsibility to save them from themselves. Some of them who went to Afe Babalola are in Law School and you are in 400 or 450 level in UI and you are happy. It pains me.

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