How FG should not appoint VCs for universities —Ogunbodede, OAU VC

Professor Eyitope Ogunbodede, vice chancellor, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-ife, Osun State, in this interview with some newsmen in Lagos, highlights the impacts of OAU in its last 60 years of establishment, his sojourn in dentistry, among other issues. TUNBOSUN OGUNDARE brings the excerpts.

 

OAU will celebrate 60th anniversary this year, how has it been as a university?

OAU has done excellently in its tripartite mandates of teaching, research and community service. It was established in 1961 by the then regional government of Western Nigeria as a conventional university and commenced classes in October 1962, as the University of Ife (UNIFE). It was later renamed as Obafemi Awolowo University on the 12th of May, 1987 to honour the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the first premier of Western Region who was also one of the founding fathers. The university took off on the campus of the defunct Nigerian College of Science and Technology in Ibadan before it moved to where it is today on a total of 11,861 hectares of land in Ile-Ife, Osun State. It started with 224 students and 64 academic members of staff and 15 senior administrative and technical staff, but now has more than 25,000 students and 4,000 members of staff as of today.

So, the university has produced so many well-to-do individuals across fields of human endeavours. We don’t just produce graduates, but graduates who are well-rounded and with good character that make them to stand out among their peers anywhere across the world.

Today, we have two colleges, 13 faculties and 93 departments and all our courses are fully accredited by the National Universities Commission. We also have many institutes and centres including the Centre for Distance Learning; Centre for Gender and Social Policy Studies; Institute for Entrepreneurship and Development Studies; Institute of Ecology and Environmental Studies, African Regional Centre for Space Science and Technology Education–English (ARCSSTE-E) and Centre for Energy Research and Development (CERD), among numerous others.

We are the first public institution to carry out renal transplantation and also Siamese twin separation in Nigeria and have repeated the feats many times and also attracted so many grants and won laurels locally and internationally.

We have collaborated and still collaborating with relevant government agencies, corporate bodies and individuals on issues of public importance.

We have equally impacted our host community, the ancient city of Ile-Ife, in many ways, including the distribution of relief materials to the people of the community through Ife Development Board as part of contribution to fight Coronavirus recently.

And today, we have so many projects either completed or ongoing. The Rural Electrification Agency (REA) 8.03MW power project is one of them.  It is for us to get steady power supply independently and do away with public power supply. We are also upgrading our dam, Opa Dam, for us to get steady and enough water across the campus. We also have a Staff Housing Scheme on ground. We are giving our faculties, departments and hostels new look. We also have Students’ Village hostel project and Driving School and Driver’s License Centre at hand, and numerous others

 

About funding

The university is faced with paucity of funds and the alumni at the association and individual levels as well as friends of the university and philanthropists and corporate bodies are coming to the rescue. They have done very well and I believe they will do more to further lift the university. OAU is a global brand and its alumni for example are everywhere and giving back. So, I will appeal to them to continue to help the university as no support is too small or too big.

 

What about the IGRs

The main IGR any Nigerian public university can generate will be from the alumni. This is because government money is very limited and as researchers and academics, the more you venture into business; the less effective you will be in terms of your core mandates, especially in the impartation of knowledge.

Though, there could be partnership stuff with industries to generate money for the university, this issue of selling pure water or bread and all those petty products by Nigerian universities, I don’t subscribe to it. I don’t think that is the major way to go for a university to boost revenue. Academic institutions should concentrate on their core mandates. But at the same time, I can buy into such idea only when such products can serve better purpose than those already in the market, maybe capable of prolonging peoples’ life. Though, we have OAU water being produced by the university and people are buying it, it is not a major priority to generate money. Those are common items we need to leave for the business people to do.

 

Early this year, the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC) cut off the university power supply for two weeks. What is the situation now?

The issue was because of new and old tariff regimes. The company billed us about N47 million instead of N17 million when the negotiation between the government and the company was still going on as regards migration to the new tariff and we said we would not pay the new rate when it was yet to become a policy and we were cut off based on that. But we have resolved the matter and moved a step further to generate our own power independently. We almost complete the project.

 

What does it mean to be a vice chancellor in Nigeria?

You are just a captain on the driver’s seat. You must have to listen to every segment of the university community. By that, you will learn. You must also be patient, tolerant and recognise peoples’ opinions and contributions. You must not be covetous. You must be an experienced person and be wise.

Of course, if it is a big university like OAU, you would have occupied many high positions before like the dean of faculty, deputy vice chancellor and so forth. So, you must have to base your decisions on critical thinking and not just what you see on the surface.

 

Then why does VCs appointment for Nigeria public universities often comes with crisis?

There will always be crisis if you fail to follow certain guidelines in the appointment of VC. One of these is the failure to follow some guidelines advertised for the position. The first thing in the appointment of a VC is to be dispassionate about it. So, once you focus on a person that you want to appoint and you want to ensure that whatever it takes that person gets there; the others in the race will not fold their hands and watch. Because they are not fools, they will work against the process.

 

What exactly makes the office attractive?

It is not about the office. When you say somebody is an academic, you will believe such a person can differentiate what is right from wrong.  The issue is not about the office but about cheating. Nobody wants to be cheated.

What happened in our own university, OAU, for example, had nothing to do with the office. People didn’t see it as do-or- die affairs of a thing. I was a professor at Harvard University in the US and so, there was nothing you want to give me as a VC in Nigeria that I couldn’t get more than that at Harvard. But once you see something as infringement on your own right or personality and all that, and somebody believes he or she can do anything whether you like it or not, then you will want to show that such is not going to happen. So, that is exactly what is happening in most of the appointments of VCs in Nigeria. After all, if two, three or more people are contesting for a position. They all know only one person will get the seat. But the moment you start to disqualify people before they even get to the process of doing interview, there will be problem. You see some people believe they have the power to put anybody in a position. That cannot work in academic circles like universities if it works elsewhere.  So, whoever that wants to appoint a VC would need to know that there are certain things that must be done. One, you must keep to the letter of the advertisement of the position. You cannot advertise for professor with a 10-year experience and you now disqualified somebody because he or she doesn’t have international publication and all that. If you didn’t put all those things there originally, so don’t introduce conditions not advertised to disqualify people. For example, an advert that says applicant must have 10 years experience as a professor and that he or she must not be beyond the age of 65 years, or something and by the time you now want to shortlist, somebody who is so convinced that he or she is qualified, you now disqualify the person on something else and you believe the person will keep quiet and not challenge the process. The person knows that even if he won’t get there at the end of the day, he will challenge the process. So, there is the need to keep to the terms of the advert. Anything you want, put it there before people apply. Let them know and not after they have applied and you begin to shift the goal post in the middle of the game.

Another thing is that don’t give impression that you have a candidate in mind for the office. Once you do that, other applicants will gang up to ensure the person will not get there cheaply or not at all. Thirdly, the chairman of council must be experienced enough to understand the process of selection. If you depend on the people within the university to advice you on what to do or not, they are most likely to give wrong advice because they too have their favourite candidate. So, you must know the rules and regulations and follow them religiously. The fourth thing is that the integrity of the person who will select a VC is also very important. The person must be responsible and respected in the society. You can’t just bring anyhow person. For example, you can’t just bring a professor in one university that is not up to a faculty in another university and say he or she is your chairman of council. That person may not likely command respect let alone succeed.

 

But it’s like Nigeria’s case in VCs selection is peculiar?

No. There are always problems in selecting VCs everywhere globally. But the difference is that when you think of being a VC in developed countries, you have to think twice on how the university will survive. The situation in Nigeria is very different. Here, everybody is spending the so-called oil money. You sit down in your office and at the end of the month; the salaries of your workers are paid. If you are VC in other climes, the salaries of your workers and every other thing are tied to what you are able to generate. So, if you are not qualified, and not competent, it will show almost immediately. But in Nigeria, you can put somebody whether competent or not in positions just because the money comes from Abuja and you don’t need to struggle for it. And in fact, you can even leave the place vacant; it will run on its own. So, that is why everybody wants to be VC. In developed climes, if they invite you to become a VC there, you won’t like to take the job because you know what will happen even within few months if you are not performing. So, anywhere in the world, there is always a problem.

 

Your memories in OAU

I have many of them. The day I was pronounced a vice-chancellor, 8th of May, 2017 was one. The whole campus was agog. People jubilated and danced round the campus. I had never seen people in such happy mood before then in the university. We were just come out of crisis at the period but my appointment changed the atmosphere and everybody was happy.

Another one that comes to mind now was the day I came to do my entrance examination. It was like I came to London. A small boy from Owo, Ondo State, came to UNIFE then was a big thing for me. The architectural design and beautiful outlook of the university was second to none even till now in Nigeria.

 

How do you see security personnel on campus carrying guns?

Well, we all need to know that security is everybody’s business anywhere either on campus or outside the campus. We all need adequate protection of lives and also of property. And in our university, OAU, for example, we are all, either students or members of staff, security conscious. We don’t joke with our security, maybe because of the past experiences, particularly that of the Ile-Ife- Modakeke crisis.

However, the situation we are in today as a country demands that we can’t do without some people carrying guns in a community. The days we rely on ordinary baton for security personnel are over. Even at that, not everybody can carry guns but those who are trained and legalised to do so. So, there are some security personnel on campuses who are civilians and there are those who are government security agents who may not be in uniform.

 

How did you come about dental museum?

The original plan was not to start a dental museum but to answer a simple question of, who was the first dentist to practise in Nigeria? So, when I went to town, people gave me different names and times. Some said somebody in 1926, and another said somebody in 1934 and so forth. So, just as I was trying to find answer to the question, I felt I could write a paper on it. And that made me to interview so many people and I eventually wrote a book on the history of dentistry in Nigeria which I published in 2015. The book is a reference point for all dental personnel in Nigeria till today. It is only book that stands for the history of dentistry in Nigeria.

So, I found out that the first dentist to practise in Nigeria came in 1907.  I was able to discover some of the instruments some students used in those days and no longer useful today. I also found out a dental clinic that had been modernised somewhere and all that. I went to collect some of the items that are no longer useful. So, in the museum, the first dental chair to be used in Nigeria was manufactured on 10th of December, 1907. And the very first dentist to practice in Nigerian came in 1907 as an industrial missionary. He worked in Ogbomoso, Saki and he used that chair. So, also in the museum, every item that has to do with the history of dentistry in Nigeria will be found there. It is one-storey building with four flats.

 

Growing up

I attended Methodist Primary School and then Owo High School, both in Owo, Ondo State. So, no doubt, I wanted to be somebody in life. I meant to be known and recognised all over.  So, in secondary school, I have some friends we formed what we called the Young Scientists Club. We just wanted to be medical doctors. But along the line, somebody who was a dentist, one Dr Omole, inspired me.

 

How?

Almost every day, his name would be mentioned on the radio, that Dr Omole would go to Ado-Ekiti today or to Ondo, or to another town another day and that whoever that had dental problem should go and see him. Then, I decided that no more medicine for me but dentistry. When I applied to OAU, known then as the UNIFE , my first, second and third choice was dentistry. And even at that, I chose dentistry to be able to feed my family and not to be a professor let alone be a VC. But as fate would have it, here I am today.

 

Your Ifewara Road Hostel experience

It was official hostel of the university at the period. I initially stayed in Angola Hall. Then, I decided to go to the hostel along Ifewara Road. That was in 1977. The place was later used as technical college. There, you have one student to a room unlike in Angola Hall where four students were to a room. And on Sundays, we used to eat chicken and take ice cream and you pointed to the chicken and the quantity as you wanted. But that luxury was not on campus. Also, because we were all males, we could go for breakfast in pygymas and all that. It was nice experience.

Parents

Both of them are still alive. My mum is 87 while my dad is 97.

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