By Laja Thomas
The Olabisi Onabanjo University, OOU, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State is still trying to overcome a crisis provoked by the sack of some workers in the process of implementing governmentâ€™s White Papers on the Visitation Panel set up by the governor, Gbenga Daniel to review the activities of the institution. In this interview, the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council, Otunba Alex Onabanjo, speaks on the repositioning of the university. Excerpts:
Why VC was asked to step aside When a good manager takes over a business, the first thing he should do is to appoint his own disciples because if you donâ€™t you wonâ€™t succeed in that venture. Yes, we had to ask the VC and some other people to go. We asked them to proceed on leave so that we would have the time to look into the visitation panel report.
The Council set up a committee to look into the report and to advice on the way forward and we followed the advice of the committee. Council members made various suggestions to allow the Council carry out the responsibilities that we were appointed to carry out.
They were not things that were done irrationally they were things that were done with good management view, with sincerity and in order to move the university forward.
If you read things that were published on the university, you will agree with me that the institution that should really become a pride of the state has really declined so badly.
I think it is important for all of us Nigerians to understand one thing. Even if we look at developed countries that have more money than Nigeria , university education is not free there. If you look at America , Great Britain , Germany etc, there is no where in the entire world where people pay such a small amount of money as we pay in our own higher institutions here. University is very key and it is important to the development of the nation, as long as you make it cheap, what you get out of it will also be cheap.
The government that said they wanted to provide free education, as at the time they made that promise, how many people were applying for university education vis a vis the number of people that are applying for university education today.
Nigerian population has grown so much. Government must review the free education policy whether they can still sustain it.
The issue of schools fees up till today cannot sustain what the university needs to give out. That is what people must understand. It is not everybody that must go to the university. What I believe government owes the citizens is the ability to read and write.
For as long as you are able to go to free primary and free secondary school, I donâ€™t think that you need to go to free university. Let us be fair to ourselves, the problem here is that people are not sincere, they talk from right to left. But should we continue to deny ourselves the truth? The truth of the matter is that the state governments that founded those universities years ago are no longer as buoyant today to support the policy of free education. What I keep saying is that you cannot shock citizens of the state. Those who entered paying certain amount of money should be left to continue paying that amount of money because they already knew that that would pay a particular amount for certain semester or session.
But anybody who is coming newly, we will now tell you this is the amount you will pay. If you can come, if you canâ€™t, stay away. That is why what the final year student is paying is different from what second, third or first year students are paying.
Accreditation of courses
Our medical students are among the best in the country, but part of the things that administration that we kicked out did was that they went ahead to admit some students above the number stipulated by the National Universities Commission; they were collecting money from them and misleading them that they would do a pre degree in medicine and all of them would automatically do medicine.
That was one of the problems that I inherited. It was wrong, it was very bad. We had to call a meeting of the parents of all the students involved and we had to tell them that this is what we inherited and that those who made it happen we had kicked out of the university. What we then did was to look at where the students were good. Those who were good in pharmacology we encouraged them to go and do Pharmacy, those who were good in chemistry we encouraged them to do a degree biochemistry and those who were good in biology we encouraged them to do a degree in zoology.
This is how we distributed the students in all these departments. There is no way that they would transform to become medical students. It was an illegal entrance that was given to them, it was not approved by the NUC. It had nothing to do with our normal medical students programme. We were thus able to streamline everything.
It is been very difficult at OOU. We met zero management on ground, we met serious corruption on ground, we met a very disorganised school when we took over.
They did not even know the number of students that were there. They did not collect school fees from the students and paid into the coffers of the university. Well over 6,000 students graduated from that university without paying a kobo into the coffers of the university. A lot of people set up their own team. It is this cabal that is still fighting the university till today in the name of ASUU. It is these members of ASUU who are extorting money from students, who will tell students to come and pay them 100,000 before you are allowed to proceed on NYSC, before you collate your result, they will even charge some students money to boost marks. We have indicted some people, we have sent them packing, it is an ongoing exercise.
Last week a person was still caught, demanding money from a student. We had to use the police to go and give marked money to the lecturer, and that lecturer has been arrested.
A few months ago, we did the same thing, one of the lecturers who was trying to have sexual activity eve with a pregnant woman, we had to disguise, we had to wire the womanâ€™s body, we had to give her money to go and give to the man, the case is in court.
These are the challenges that we are having there. As a result, the university is broke, there is no money. Let us even say the average student pays N20,000 into 6,000 that did not come into the coffers, that is N100million. So this is money in the hands of a few people and the university is not buoyant and so unable to meet its obligations.
I had to order forensic auditing which has just bee completed and if you read the forensic auditing report, you will cry. I have given the report to the finance committee of the council we asked them to come up with a report on how we can circumvent all the shortcomings that were noted.
But in order not to say that we are no carrying the unions along, we called the meeting of all the unions of the university.
ASUU did not attend. They said they were attending a conference, we said all of you cannot attend a conference at the same time, we said send representatives to this meeting, but these enemies of progress refused to attend. But all the other unions attended. We gave them copies of the forensic auditing and I have challenged them to come back with recommendation to Council, so that by the time the report comes out they are not gong to accuse us of sacking their people again, so that they themselves can see the atrocities committed.
That these people who are working in the university, if somebody is the head of a department, you are graduating students, you donâ€™t even have register for the number of students, you donâ€™t have payment in for all these people, you buy something, you donâ€™t record it, sometimes when they record, the amount recorded is different from the receipt we found, all these anomalies.
I have given the forensic report to them for all of them to go and read. Let them recommend to us what punishment to mete out and if they donâ€™t want us to punish people, let them say so in writing. We gave them two weeks to work on it but they have not written back to us to say they need more time. I did not make it, that is what we inherited, so that at the end of the day when we take action, they will go out to the public and say all they are doing, they are sacking, they will never tell them the atrocities they have committed.
How long the process of cleansing will last
In the spirit of democracy, for us, the finance committee of the Council, it does not take them time to do their work because they are all professional people led by Mr. Fola Adeola who is a seasoned banker. But we will not just take their won report alone and act on it. We want input from these other unions on campus. So that we will tell everybody that it is not a council alone decision but that of everybody.
Indebtedness of the university
The indebtedness of the university today stands at about N1.8 billion. One of the things that I found out when I came in is that they were borrowing N100m monthly from banks to augment salaries while government gave the university N148 million monthly. These are unserviced loans. I called a meeting of all the unions including students and I said it does not make a business sense to me for a person running an organization to be borrowing N100 million every month and you donâ€™t have any means of servicing that N100m. So you can imagine how we have arrived at this huge indebtedness.
I said, how many programmes were you people running, they said 68 programmes and I said we need not run 68 programmes to be called a university and the question I put to them is how many programmes was Ife running when they were producing the best lawyers for the country, how many programmes was UNILAG running when they were producing the best engineers, how many programmes was Ahmadu Bello running when they were producing the best architects, how many programmes was UI running when they were giving us best medical students?
So I charged the Deans, the Provost and the others and said, go and reduce these things. Iâ€™m not going to be borrowing N100 million every month, it does not make a business sense. Iâ€™m coming from the private sector. How can I continue to borrow money to pay salary. All the ventures in the university are not making money. All of them were incurring debt. They have a guest house which is just four rooms and they employ 48 people to run four rooms and I say, are they brushing teeth for the guests, are they cleaning their shoes, how many people are serving one customer. And even in Ijebu area, how much can you charge a person for a guest room?
So I ordered for all these things to be closed. They now said I sacked, I did not sack, I was right sizing. They have brought 17 cases against me, they have lost 11 and Iâ€™m sure they will lose the others, there is no court in the land that I will tell that they are borrowing N100 million to pay salary and it will compel me to continue doing that.
Paying back the loan
If we close the gap of revenue losses and such revenue begin to come to the purse of the university, then we will structure repayment terms with the banks and we will pay. Then we are reorganizing and laying a lot of emphasis on research, we are encouraging most of our professors to put more emphasis on research, you know research brings in a lot of money; we are encouraging them to do a lot of consultancies for corporate bodies and that can also bring money to the university.
The council is working on a proposal to enable us have a lot of post graduate courses. This is where there is money because people pay a lot for post graduate courses.
We are going to partner with a lot of foreign universities, to run certain MBA and Masterâ€™s courses. Through this we can improve on our fiscal structure.