What’s in store for stakeholders in the new FRIN —DG, Prof Adepoju
Professor Adeshola Adepoju is the Director-General of Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN). He recently commenced a second four-year tenure as DG. He explains in this interview, among other things how, under his leadership, FRIN was able to get an enabling law after 64 years of existence, and the implications this has for students of its colleges, staff, and stakeholders in the environment sector within and outside the country. PAUL OMOROGBE brings excerpts.
A car manufacturer’s advert once stated, ‘Good thinking, good product!’ What was the thinking you brought to bear in this office on your assumption?
I must first of all give thanks to God Almighty. You can think, you can plan, you can package, but if God has not said yes to it, it will not come to pass. I commenced my leadership tenure of FRIN four years ago, and coming in, I spoke with faith what had been my dream for FRIN, keeping in mind that I evolved from the system. You don’t start to think on the job, you plan ahead.
I remember when I arrived here four years ago, I made a very simple statement. That I have not come alone, but I have come in the name of the Lord. And my dream for FRIN was that in the next six months to one year, the institute will begin to take a different shape. And I jokingly asked the staff on that day that they are free to take pictures of how FRIN was on that day because in six months to one year, they might probably not be able to trace their path again, because God would begin to work in FRIN. It was a very ambitious statement, but because I said it humbly, God hearkened unto my voice, and things began to happen that were beyond my own comprehension.
FRIN became my second book. After the religious book that we study, the next thing I think always is FRIN: in line with the mandate of the Federal Ministry of Environment, and the mandate of the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, what exactly is FRIN expected to be doing to contribute its quota to the achievement of the ministry? I began to search through books and realised that a lot of things that were our direct mandate had either been abandoned or left undone. So, we began to bring them out, one after the other.
For some who were working with me, some were criticising – if he is doing this, how do we benefit? For they felt I should not use the resources to do the entire job. But that is me, if I am not taking anything unduly, I also don’t expect anyone to take anything unduly. So, if you hear some grumblings in some quarters, it is probably because I am not sharing.
But the point is, some said let’s give him a helping hand. Let’s see whether things would happen. And when they saw things happening, some came fully on board. And some of the directors began to bring ideas also of what could be done in their departments. We would then look at it together, and we began to implement them.
That is why if you go to Forestry Conservation and Protection Department, it is from there that the issue of Man and Biosphere evolved, and now has become a global issue for FRIN. FRIN has now been adopted as a model for green economy in Africa, and has trained other African countries on green economy approaches.
If you go to Sustainable Forest Management Department (SFM), it is from there the afforestation activities, and vegetative propagation evolved. It was from there the issue of biotechnology approach to produce seedling evolved. It became so big a department that we had to divide it into two: SFM and Bioscience;and a host of other departments like that evolved.
If you go to Forest Products Department, so many things evolved so that we have more than 200 products coming out from here. That is why, in the near future, we are encouraging the system to come up with what I call FRIN Expo, where we will be able to show Nigeria and the business community various things that we can get from the forests: from timber products and non-timber products.
So basically, no man should take the glory. My basic contribution here is that I took the first step of faith and allowed God to begin to crown it. And with the support of some who are sincere and committed, that is how we were able to get here.
One of your landmark achievements was the signing of the FRIN Bill. How did you achieve this?
FRIN Bill really did not start with me. It started with the last administration, though under my supervision in that administration. It started around 2012, when there was a contention as to whether my predecessor was entitled to second term in office or not. Also, we were limited by what we could do because of the decree that established us. In the wisdom of the Minister of Environment then, Hajia Hadiza Mailafia, and the Permanent Secretary then, Mrs Ibukun Odusote, they felt the law of the institute should be reviewed. When I was appointed, it became a paragraph from the President then that the law was too old and should be looked into. So, the ministry came up with the first draft, but it was not moving at the pace it should be moving. So, all I added was to follow up on the movement of the document to get the needed attention wherever it goes. And miraculously I will say, that law was signed on August 17, 2018, and that gave birth to the new FRIN.
What are the key implications of the signing of the bill?
It has all positive implications. Let me start from the colleges. The colleges, in the past, were seen as monotechnic. But unknown to many, they are awarding more than seven different national diploma certificates, which has taken them off that “mono” nature. Now, the law recognises them as tertiary institutions.
Rider to that is that as a tertiary institution, they can now enjoy TETFUND facilities to support whatever gap vis-à-vis the requirement for NABTEB.
Going forward, with their recognition now as tertiary institutions it will encourage more students to be interested in going to the colleges, knowing that it they are now multi-disciplinary.
Next, lecturers there can enjoy the professorial cadre system, which the institute will also be enjoying. And so there will be no rush as we had in the past of people leaving the system for the university system – not because of anything but for their dream to become professors.
When it comes to the institute, that same law now empowers us to have seven colleges, because the law says that in each of Nigeria’s geopolitical zones, you must have at least one college, and that is why three additional colleges were approved and established.
Also, for the institute, before, we could not collaborate legally with the likes of UNESCO, UNEP and other multinationals because the first question by any of them was, where is your enabling law? We could only give them a decree that groups about 14 of us under the same activities that are not stated in legal terms as the lawyers will want it.
Most of the departments had been statutorily headed by the most senior, both in the college and in the institute all along, but it now allows for rotational as we have in other tertiary institutions. It allows us do as many things as possible under the confines of the enabling law.
What kind of support does FRIN need from the Ministry of Environment at this stage?
In fairness to the Federal Ministry of Environment, it has been very kind to the institute. I am made bold to say that of all the about seven agencies under the Federal Ministry of Environment, none is close to FRIN in terms of budget allocation because we are the only research institute and scientific authority of the ministry, and the only institute that has schools under it, and if not the largest in terms of personnel.
They can’t focus on us alone. But the ministry has been giving us a lot of consideration and support. You will notice that it takes less than three to four weeks of any minister resuming office to want to come here, because they know the importance of FRIN and what FRIN must be doing to enable other departments and agency in the ministry achieve their mandates.
I will give it to the last two successive ministers. You will remember that Hajia Amina Mohammed was here twice, and the current Emir of Nasarawa, His Highness Usman Jibril, was here about thrice; and less than a month of resumption of Surveyor Sulaiman Hassan was here. He spent three days (with us) in Ibadan.
Also, the board took their time to understand what we should be doing, and has also been interfacing with the minister of environment to make case for FRIN.
We have been very lucky in environment ministry with all the ministers we have been having in the past. We want that support to continue.
With what has been achieved so far, is this the FRIN of your dreams?
No! No! Far from it! The mandate I was given by Hajia Mohammed, when she was here in 2016, was that I should reverse the order of people going from here to IITA to do studies; so that people can come from IITA to this place to do one study or the other. That is the dream I have: to get FRIN to the level that all other research institutes in Nigeria will find one reason or the other to come to FRIN. They have started coming, but not routinely as I would have wanted. But at least, almost all research institutes know that FRIN is outstanding now. But my dream is for FRIN not to just be outstanding, but to stand out!
How do you want the public’s poor orientation towards forestry and the environment to change?
Part of the mandate the governing board gave to us is to do all within our capability to do proper publicity for the institute. You will recall that when the former governor of the state visited here sometime in November 2018, he was surprised to see the capability and capacity of the institute, and seeing that he had been on that seat for seven and half years and had never been told about FRIN.
So, we are doing more outreach now. How? By taking our products out so that people can ask questions about where and who is producing these and where are they situated. That will, in one way or the other, attract people here. When they get here, they will realise that there are more than 100 products they will be interested in.
And working with the media like yours, you would not know that reading about FRIN in Tribune people have come and said we learnt about this in Tribune, can we come and see it? That is an addition too.
The only factor there is the funding to do such. But having realised that it is important, that is why we are encouraging the FRIN Expo, so people can come around and see our products and services.
So whichever way, you can’t really value the role of publicity and enlightenment vis-à-vis the money we would make because you can’t tell where a single person who is informed will spread the information to. But we are doing our best. We will be planning, paying the price and enjoying after the price.
If I was not in FRIN and not into environment discipline, I probablywon’t be interested in environment news. If picked up a newspaper and saw only trees, that will not be interesting! But if I have had a negative experience because of not having trees around me, then I will be interested to know what trees do.
But if we go out from time to time, like we did on the International Day of Forests, someone will want to ask and find out what we are gathering for, and hundreds of people would have been educated that day that had never heard about FRIN before. Others will search online what FRIN means.