By Emmanuel Edukugho
Outgoing Vice Cahncellor of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Professor Michael Oladimeji Faborode, has put the choice of his successor in the hands of God. The 9th Vice Chancellor of one of the largest institutions of higher education in Africa, who assumed leadership of OAU in 2006, taking over from Professor Roger Makanjuola, told a group of journalists he would be leaving in June 2011 and God is going to select his sucessor from several qualified people around.
Asked whether he has preference for anyone to take over from him as OAU’s helmsman after an outstanding tenure, Faborode, said:
God will select the right person to replace me as Vice Chancellor of OAU. I cannot interfere in the selection process. There are so many qualified and competent people that can succeed me as Vice Chancellor. I am not interested in the choice of my successor, but I know there are capable hands to take over.”
For him, his concern is about taking the institution to greater heights, improving on whatever achievements made by him and build upon such accomplishments.
The Professor of Agricultural Engineering , himself a graduate of OAU, said his four years term had been challenging and difficult. But when he was reminded that no grey hair can be seen to show for those grueling four years, he replied: “I had some grey hair, not there before. Thank God, not much. I kept going by the Grace of God. I don’t despair, keeps going, running when you have the strength. Even when things are very tough, I keep going. Always thinking to solve the problems and not the other way round.”
What had been your experience since 2006 considering the difficult period that this university seemed to have passed through?
One thing that has kept me going is the grace of God, even in the most difficult times, when things were very tough That takes me back to the beginning. One day, my wife said we should pray for God to provide the wherewithal. We did. That prayer was the opening glory to a lot of things, including the alumni. People started coming in from left, right and centre. People were willing to give without restraint. But that was after we succeeded in conquering the initial problems the university had, because prior to my coming, things had gone on low ebb. The alumni association was not even part of the things the university was doing. Parents were unwilling to send their children to a University where you have a backlog of almost three to four years. A four-year programme will become a seven-year programme at the minimum. For the Medical students, the first induction that I conducted came nine years after. I remember, clearly, that the valedictorian of the group told his colleagues to find a place in their hearts to forgive the University for wasting their time. That statement hit me very hard, that in a way, by an act of omission or by not the allowing the university to run properly, we had actually frustrated the lives of these students, to the extent that they were pleading to themselves to forgive the university for wasting their time.
I then said to myself that this will never again at OAU. I made up my mind that we must try our best to ensure that the academic calendar runs as expected, and that all encumbrances are removed. A four-year programme must end in four years and so on. I think today, we have been able to achieve that to a great extent. We have not 100 per cent normalized the calender 100 per cent, but we have been able to achieve more in that regard. That prayer that God should provide the wherewithal is also very important because where would we have gotten the resources to do all the things that we did? The resources so far have come from various diverse sources, such as the alumni, friends and well wishers, corporate organizations, international donors, like the Carnegie Corporation and so on. The other intervention is that we have managed whatever we have very prudently.
You probably may have set targets in respect of some things to be done. Have you achieved the expectations?
We have gone beyond the expectations that we even set for ourselves. The truth is that when you are not yet there, you imagine some things won’t be possible, so you won’t even say it, so that nobody will count it against you at the end of the day. But having got there now, we found out that it was possible to go beyond even what we have set out to do, because we leaned on a lot of goodwill. I keep on mentioning the Alumni because they have been of very tremendous support. If we go to any corporate organization, there is usually an alumni of OAU there.
So early enough, I realized that we must celebrate the alumni of the university and let them know that the university identifies with their successes. There may still be one or two things that we said we were going to do that we haven’t done, but that must be because they are not the priority in the institution. But what is happening now is that, we have gone beyond the agenda we set for ourselves, we have surpassed it because we were able to raise more resources than we thought we could get.
Take the issue of lecture theatres. That wasn’t part of the things I even mentioned in my vision, but when I got here, I discovered that it was one of the most critical constraints that the university had. Now, we have quite a good number of lecture theatres. Almost 4000 seats have been added and more are still coming. Some of them were donated to us by organizations like First Bank, the Education Trust Fund and others. From the Federal Government allocation, we were able to build the 1000 – seater and another 500 – seater lecture theatres, and this is because we realized that a lot of departments were in need of space. All together, we have shown that with determination, we can do a lot of things and carry people along so that everybody will feel happy to be part of the process.
How many projects were actualized during your tenure?
There are quite a number of them that I can’t even remember right now. Car parks here and there that are strategically located that have transformed the ways things are done on campus. I have mentioned the lecture theatres. The Natural History Museum is there and we are going to commission it February 25th. It is being built by Leventis Foundation. The building was abandoned over 20 years ago, until we decided to reach out and we did a proposal that was approved by Leventis. This is a demonstration of what determination can achieve. The Natural History Museum is one of the best architectural buildings on campus because I understand the design has won an award before, but with the completion, it is going to win more awards. It’s not just about the building, but what will be inside it. During the commissioning, we intend to launch a document to let people know what the museum is all about and its significance to human development.
Beside it, there is the Postgraduate College building and that is courtesy of Mr Jimoh Ibrahim, also an alumnus of the university. A computer lab was donated to the Economics Department by Mr Demola Aladekomo. We have the OAU radio, 94.5 FM that was also commissioned and we are trying to develop, we have facilities for a television station, but we have not got a license yet. The idea is to use it for teaching and learning. For instance, a class of 2000 can be divided into two or three places and somebody can teach them from a central location, so that student would not have to bunch up to 1000 in a class meant for 200.
Again, on the water project, Mr. Aladekomo, wholeheartedly built the water plant and trained our staff, to improve the revenue base of the university. He is not asking for anything in return and that is not all. He is one of the pioneers of the idea of a Technology Park. He is the chairman of the planning committee. Now we have the document, we are now doing a road show to get anchor tenants and get the community involved as well. We are also getting the support of the governors of member states involved because when it eventually take off, it’s going to explode in a way that nobody can explain what is going to happen.
Let’s know your views on the issue of access to university education and the establishment of new federal universities.
When we had the Education Summit, we looked at the issue of access, but the solution prescribed was not exactly what the government came up with. I believe that establishing more universities is justified, but it has to be done holistically. I believe that the likes of first generation universities can increase admission (figures) by between 1000 to 2000 at one tenth of the cost of establishing a new University. Government should have adopted a combination of those packages (recommended at the summit), and get the older universities to take in more (students).
The new universities cannot take more than 500 students at a time, and before they can take 2000, it will be another two to three years. Buy if you ask OAU to take 2000 more, and you give us the incentive to do that, maybe you give us a new students’ hostel for example, then we’ll be able to deliver the goods, and the cost of that will be far less.
I think the outcome of the Education Summit should be used more in going forward, because the basis for planning was established by the Summit, under the chairmanship of the President himself. So, we should keep to that planning strategy rather than just having abrupt or sporadic policy changes that will complicate our problems.
Where are we going to get the staff for the new universities? It’s a problem. If you are not developing the older Universities to generate more postgraduate students, then you are going to escalate the problems we have now.
Some people will have to teach in several Universities, and that is a totally inefficient way of doing things. If you want to establish new universities next year, then the current universities must produce enough Doctorate degree holders to teach in those universities. But now, you are establishing nine new Universities, the only thing you may not worry about is who the vice chancellors will be, but what about the lecturers? Where will they come from? You cannot manufacture lecturers overnight? So, we need to be more careful so that we don’t complicate the problems of the nation. New universities are desirable, but not at the rate we want to establish them. They should come later when we have adequately prepared the ground.
Do you still have challenges as regards accreditation of academic programmes?
Presently all our programmes are fully accredited. We had some challenges a few years ago, like not having a Moot Court for Law and shortage of lecturers, but we are presently addressing that and before the end of this year, the building will stand on its own. Our Medicine programme is a source of pride to this nation. The kidney transplant pioneered here and we didn’t just stop there. One unique thing about us is that we don’t limit it to ourselves, we also try to assist others. In Maiduguri, Jos, our consultants are the people that are spearheading the transplant and other things that are going on there. So we feel very proud that when we have things, we don’t keep it to ourselves so that other people would benefit.
The fact about the institution is that the average OAU graduate is very passionate. When we make our claims and come here, you will find out that they are justified. The training here develops your total personality as a human being. That is why you will find the OAU graduates excelling is in the industry, not even in the civil service where your promotion.