Right Reverend (Professor) Dapo Asaju is the Vice Chancellor of the Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo. In this interview with YEMISI AOFOLAJU and GBENGA OLUMIDE, he speaks on the transformations that have been taking place under his tutelage and why the government needs to also support private varsities. Excerpts:
After a year as Vice Chancellor, what have you done to build on your predecessor’s success?
We realised that this university is unique because it is built upon St Andrew’s College, Nigeria’s first Teacher Training College so, we have a very rich foundation. It has always been a centre for educational excellence after the St Andrew’s College era. Our first major challenge on assumption was how to rebrand the university. Apparently, the university had suffered from serious under funding; it also suffered from past incidences of indiscipline, which affected its image. The first achievement has been the restoration of discipline. Discipline is very well restored here, the dress pattern of the students is very much enforced and their movements regulated. Students are no longer allowed to leave the campus at will, and they can no longer be held responsible for misbehaviour outside the campus. The reputation is now very high; we also ensure that spirituality is strongly emphasised. Being an Anglican university and a faith-based one, spirituality is topmost. We were able to build an auditorium that can accommodate 2,500 students at a time. In our one year here, almost all the roads have been tarred; streetlights are working while we have also been able to renovate 45 of our buildings, including the general library. The Mobolaji and Folorunso Alakija Faculty of Law, which is the best Law building in all African universities, was dedicated with the new Vice Chancellor’s lodge, donated by Chief Wole and Princess Lara Olanipekun. The medical services department was equipped to provide excellent medical services to our students. Other buildings commissioned include a block of 10 lecture rooms, a block of 30-room shopping complex, new cafeteria and students’ common room and Ajayi Crowther Student’s Union Building. Before we came on board, there was no income generating venture, but now, we have Ajayi Crowther Ventures, with a standard bakery and table water production machines, and laundry services for the university community.
All these projects, except the Law Faculty and the VC’s lodge that were donated, were executed without any support from any quarters. We are the only university that I know that does not receive grants or subvention from the government and owners. We have been able to operate by faith. Our fees have been stable since 2011 and we are the lowest paying private university in Nigeria. We allow parents/guardians to pay school fees in three equal installments. We have upgraded our hostel facilities to accommodate more than 4,000 students. We are building a new gymnasium for sports development and new sporting facilities. The most important is that we are progressing educationally. We have just instituted the University Scholars Award, whereby all the students whose cumulative score points fall into the First Class are regarded as the scholars who will be given cash awards of N20,000 each, while those with GPA falling into Second Class Upper will be given letters and N10,000 each. All we are targeting with these awards is academic excellence to appreciate the students, and those who are not yet there to aspire to do better. We have received NUC’s approval to start Post Graduate Courses since its takeoff 10 years ago, among other progress stories.
The Senate has also approved a Character Course, which students must pass before they can graduate from the university. To get a degree from any university, traditionally, requires a combination of academic excellence and good character. If they are found guilty of improper dressing, not coming to worship, absence from lecture room, caught with an act that violates the rules of the institution, marks will be deducted from their course. If students have distinction in their regular courses but fail character course, such students would not graduate.
Does this Character Course run just as General Studies for new intakes?
Character Course is designed to run through all sessions. It is a special course that is designed apart from other courses on spirituality and ethics. Let me quote a former American Secretary of State for Education, “To produce First Class brains in universities without the fear of God amounts to producing a bunch of clever devils.” So our slogan now is, ‘Ajayi Crowther University: Raising Godly intellectuals’.
From all you have enumerated, within a year of your stay here and without any subvention from anybody, what is the secret?
The secret of our survival is the combination of faith and prudence. When I got here, I discovered there was paucity of fund, yet there were loop-holes and leakages. Even where there are no loopholes and leakages, we tried to do things the way people don’t do things normally. Normal way of doing some things is to award contracts to big contractors. I discovered the contractors were taking the chunk of the money while the jobs were not getting done; some of them were even ending in courts because of variations and problems. I have not awarded a single contract to anybody. Everything has been by direct labour. There is a building which is the second wing of Faculty of Science that cost the varsity about N200 million to construct just half of the building, and I have constructed one-third of the second half of the building with less than N10 million!
I am always on site with engineers and builders, while I fire the unserious ones. I consult professionals when I need them and supervise all the projects myself. There is a portion in the Bible that says: “if you consider the wind, you will not sow”. When the contractor building these roads was not doing what we wanted, he was fired. I paid for asphalt, hired tractors and paved all the roads. The gardening of the campus was hired out to a consulting firm that was taking N1.5 million monthly just for 15 gardeners who were being paid just N20,000. The same gardeners are being used now for over N300,000 monthly! The university was paying N40million for internet monthly before I came. It now costs us about N350,000 and the internet is working perfectly. We have internet Wi-fi here 24hours every day. So, what they were paying N40million for was what we did with less than a million naira. I ensure that one kobo of this university does not go into my pocket apart from my salaries. If the leakages are stopped, we will be able to make do with the little we have.
Was there no resistance from the fired contractors cum allies within the system?
You must be ready to fight when you want to effect change. If you have an agenda of what you want to do, you will just go ahead and do it. As a leader, you don’t wait for the people you are leading, they will follow you.
How will you describe your relationship with the Students Union?
Student unionism here is different from the one in other universities. Our unionism here is an association which allows students to intellectually engage and to also collaborate with each other. They have their secretariat and elected leaders and they run their affairs. They have their money like others. But they operate under the fear of God and climate of the private sector enterprise. Their primary responsibility is how to make use of the facilities in the hostels comfortable for themselves, so there is no serious agitation. Then talking about myself, I have my records. I understand the language of unionism, hence the mutual relationship with the Students Union.
What distinguishes a private university from the public ones?
The states and the federal universities are surviving because government is funding them, especially now that TETFUND is giving them money. We have been fighting that TETFUND should be applicable to all universities. Incidentally, this fund was not government’s idea, but ASUU’s. It was during our negotiations with government, then as LASU ASUU’s Chairman, that the idea was muted. I gave the government how this could be realised. We told them that the best users of the products of universities are the private sectors, hence, they should be made to pay education tax; so two per cent of the money will go to this fund. When the money came, it was so big that the government lost the responsibility of its normal commitment and focused on TETFUND, that has been extended to primary and secondary schools that was not meant for them. This fund was supposed to be for tertiary education because the concept of the university is a universal institution where the certificate and curriculum are universal. We have our universal traditions and we expect that government will recognise that a university is a universal whole. Therefore, funding must be applicable to all. More so, that the private sector were the ones that are giving this money and they will not allow private universities enjoy the fund; this is an abuse of prerogative. So, this is why the federal and state universities will have facilities, buildings and laboratories because they have an edge financially. The candidates become few because of the increase in the number of universities in the country with bad economy. But then, in terms of the quality of the staff, private universities are not doing badly.
What is your take on the belief that standard of education in Nigeria has fallen?
Education standard in Nigeria is not comparable with what we have outside the country and the reason is not because of the lower standard we have here, it is simply because of the standard of students who come to university. The standard fell from primary school to secondary level. They are the ones that feed the universities; they feed the varsity an undergraduate who can’t speak good English; an undergraduate who stage-managed UTME result and a product of special centre! So, how do you know when they come into the university with good results and good UTME scores? It is only when they come in here that we know their standard. University system is so interesting; it’s like life, there is no competition, in secondary schools, there is competition.