Professor Igbekele Ajibefun is the vice chancellor of Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State. In this interview with HAKEEM GBADAMOSI, he speaks on his efforts to turn around the institution in the last two years, as well as the seeming industrial friction between the management and members of the academic staff union. Excerpts
It’s been close to two years since you assumed the mantle of leadership. How has it been?
The last two years have been challenging but also rewarding. We’ve been able to make progress on what I met on the ground. On assumption of duty, I promised to build on that, and I want to say that God has helped me.
In specific terms, what are those achievements?
This university has been rated twice as the best state university in Nigeria. The first one was by the National Universities Commission; the United States Transparency International also rated the school as the best state university in 2014. In terms of academic development, this university is making connections and trying to build partnership with foreign universities. In 2015, I was able to sign memorandum of understanding (MOU) with four different universities in the United States and Canada, specifically with Troy University, Alabama State University, and Alborne State University (all in USA), and University of Winston, Canada. These MOUs come with a lot of benefits not only to the university but also to the students and lecturers.
How would you compare your products with others from other universities? How have they been faring both within and outside the country?
Our products have been doing greatly. In 2014, two of our products that made First Class in the Faculty of Law went to the Nigerian Law School, and they also came out with First Class. Not only that, they also took almost all the prizes that were won for that year. And I am glad to inform you that in 2016, the recent result that was released, our product also came out with First Class in the Nigeria Law School. Our Faculty of Law is ranked as one of the best (if not the best) in Nigeria presently. In other areas, we also have our products doing well. One of them, a student in the Faculty of Arts, won scholarship that will cover all his doctoral studies in the USA. The report came just last week.
Apart from academic programmes, in terms of infrastructure development, we have been able to make great progress. Since I came here, I’ve been able to complete some projects. Such projects include the fully equipped Centre for Entrepreneurship Development, which was handed over towards the end of last year; and a 500-seater capacity lecture theatre, situated at the back of Senate Building. The Students Relaxation Centre was completed and handed over about a month ago. We have the Faculty of Education project which has also been completed. In addition to these, we have also started the Faculty of Education Administrative Building with attached Lecture Theatre; the project is also ongoing. They are too many to mention.
Are you saying you don’t have any funding challenges, considering the number of projects you have executed?
We will continue to have funding problem because the money we receive cannot be enough to meet the needs of the university; but despite that, we are still making progress. Most of the projects that were delivered this year were TETFund and NEEDS Assessment projects through the federal government agencies.
How would you describe your relationship with the various labour unions since you assumed office as vice chancellor?
It’s been very robust. The objective of unionism is to improve the welfare of members, and the welfare of members of different unions have been improved greatly since I got here. The recent strike that came up from ASUU was not because of bad relationship, but members were agitating for their salaries and they were at home for three months. Although at the inception, I told them the reality that irregular payment of salaries is not limited to Ondo State alone; it’s all over the country. In fact, the federal universities also have that challenge. I told them from inception that going on strike would not solve the problem; it may even compound it. After three months of that strike, they discovered that the university had lost a lot and that the strike had not brought money from anywhere and they decided to call off the strike early October.
But recently, some of the leaders of the unions were suspended by you. What led to this?
The suspension of some lecturers was not related to union activity at all; it was as a result of misconduct. When they went on strike, I did not make any effort to break the strike, because I saw it as something they started as a result of non-payment of salary; and up till now I have no problem with them as regards the strike. But after calling off the strike, we fixed Senate meeting (the highest academic body in the institution), and some individuals started sending text messages and WhatsApp messages to Senate members not to go to Senate meeting – which I see as confrontation against the authorities of the university. These individuals started sending counter-instructions for people not to attend the Senate meeting. But people turned out for the Senate meeting, where two issues were discussed. One was the resumption of students who had been at home for three months; and second, was the students’ results.
What we also considered at the Senate meeting was that all lecturers must submit students’ results. The rule of the Senate is that three weeks after examinations, results must be submitted; but some would not do that. So, the Senate took the decision that all results must be submitted within one week. These individuals, after having heard the decision of the Senate, put it on their WhatsApp group that no faculty or department should meet. If they do not meet, they cannot prepare for resumption of students and cannot upload the results of the students. They did not stop at that; the following Monday, when the different faculties were preparing for allocation of courses and uploading of students’ results, these individuals put themselves inside ASUU bus in the name of union and went to Department of Earth Sciences. They called out the head of department, assaulted him and asked him why he called the meetings. He answered them that he was paid to do his job, and that it would be morally wrong not to do the job he was paid to do. These people disrupted the whole meeting. They also sent a text message to the Dean of Agricultural Science not to call any meeting of his faculty too!
When I heard of this, I quickly called extended management meeting and the cases of disruption of meetings were reported at their meetings (faculties, departments). As the vice chancellor, it is my responsibility to ensure that law and order is maintained. I looked at the law of the university and quickly took the necessary steps. Queries were issued; they refused to respond to the query, and they were then issued suspension.
There was this allegation of lopsidedness in the appointment of HODs and deans. You were also accused of bringing academics that are above 70 years into the university system.
If the VC is appointing HODs and deans, does any individual have the right to go and beat other people because the VC is not doing the right thing? Again, the people they assaulted, are they over 70 years of age? These are all lies. During the strike, the tenure of HODs and deans expired (on 31st July). By mid-July, we were begging the union leaders to find a way of resolving the whole thing so that the university could reopen. From day one, we continued to negotiate with them. It was these ASUU leaders that said they would not negotiate with people whose tenure had expired, and would not allow the meeting to continue. I made it clear to them that I invited them for that meeting and that anybody that the VC wants to attend the meeting, he can invite for such meeting.
The VC has the power to appoint acting dean. So, immediately after the meeting, I appointed acting deans so that they could have the basis to be at the meeting; and the deans, before the expiration of their tenure, had recommended those to be HODs to the VC.
The ethics in the university system in Nigeria is going down. The law of the university says that professors shall be appointed as HODs; but these days, you see Assistant Lecturers aspiring to be HOD.
The way they are changing the course of university is unbecoming for the system, and somebody has to stand up and rise to the challenge. That is what we are doing here.
The issue of money had been resolved; we paid two months salaries. They said if we paid two months salaries, they would resume, and they called off the strike; but these set of individuals said the appointment of HODs and deans was illegal, and said congress should pass resolution for VC to reverse it within seven days. They also mentioned the issue of appointment of people above 70 years of age. This is a total lie. Since I got here, I have not appointed any person that is above 60 years of age. In any case, there is no law in Nigeria or in the university system that says you cannot appoint a professor, who is over 70 years. The agreement of ASUU with the federal government is that professor should not be retired before the age of 70. This is where they are getting things wrong.