Rector, Yaba College of Technology, YABATECH, Engineer Obafemi Omokungbe, in this interview, speaks on technical and vocational education and how to make it attractive to young Nigerians, the advantages therein, and his achievements in office among others.
By Adesina Wahab
You have been in office since March 2018, what new things have been added? What has changed?
I know you are not new to the College and you also knew what was happening before we came in. Is it the decay in infrastructure or the general low morale of staff and students? When we came into office, we came with a vision and mission and devised how to tackle the rot.
For instance, before we came into office, there was no motorable road within the campus and we came with four cardinal points of improving the quality of academic activities, that is teaching and learning; provision of modern infrastructure, upgrading of structures and boosting the morale of staff and students.
We also found out that the internally-generated revenue was low and that we must improve on that.
Also, the academic calendar was irregular and we knew that to achieve our vision and mission, it must be regular and that our staff must acquire higher degrees.
We also visited our hostels and found out that they were not conducive enough and we bought over 3,000 mattresses, changed the beds and renovated eight halls of residence.
Our classrooms have been renovated and upgraded with new chairs and benches. Some classrooms have been fitted with air conditioners.
On the part of lecturers, we have taken steps to discourage plagiarism. Our relationship with our alumni is fantastic and we are enjoying their assistance.
The number of polytechnics in the stable of the Federal Government has increased and we know that it cannot adequately fund them. So, we launched an Endowment Fund.
The College started over 74 years ago with less than 300 students, now we have over 20,000 students. The Fund is to realise N50 billion and we hope more money will still come in.
The Imperial College in London has less space than us. And we know we have to grow vertically and that we need to knock off some buildings and replace them with taller ones and that, we are doing. Our staff buses that were down were refurbished. We have done quite a lot and we thank God that our efforts have not gone unnoticed by individuals and corporate bodies who are supporting us.
We have a smart digital centre donated to us by Samsung, a museum sponsored by the Ford Foundation to the tune of over $200,000. We also have good rapport with the unions. As a former union leader myself, I understand the language of the unions.
How far about the conversion of the College to a university?
We made some moves and the Senator representing Lagos West sponsored a bill to that effect. During the public hearing, we went there and made presentation. There was the third reading of the bill and it was passed into law and remains the assent of the President. The issue of conversion used to be about Yabatech and Kaduna Polytechnic, but it is now Yabatech and Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro.
We are not going to be upgraded to a conventional university, we are going to become a university of technology.
What we do wrong with policies in the country is we don’t implement them. universities of technology should not operate like conventional ones.
What are the challenges facing technology and vocational education in Nigeria?
The mandate of polytechnics is to produce middle and high-level manpower and what is missing is this: not having the technical colleges in place anymore. Students to learn skills are no longer there.
They are now riding commercial motorbikes. If you need artisans, you have to bring them from outside the country. The polytechnics are being used to bridge the gap of TVET education. Universities cannot fill such a gap.
On our part, to help create room for those who would have gone to technical colleges to learn some skills, we established a skills acquisition centre and various skills are taught there.
Bring back the technical colleges and equip them so that our system of education will work well.
The technical colleges will produce the artisans and the polytechnics will produce the technologists and these are the people the nation needs for industrial takeoff.
Now, if you want artisans to help you do one thing or the other, you go to neighbouring countries to import them.
How can polytechnic education be made attractive to Nigerians?
Why do we have shortages in filling admission spaces in the polytechnics? It is because the polytechnics are marginalised. The idea that everybody must go to the university is wrong.
What does the 6-3-3-4 system of education stand for? It is that a child spends six years in primary school, do three years of junior secondary school, if he can cope academically, move to senior secondary school and if he cannot, go to a technical college to learn a trade.
But even when a parent knows that his child cannot cope after JSS 3 and he is told, he would rather take that child to another school than let him go to a technical college. The parent would erroneously think that the innocent boy has become a failure because he cannot complete secondary school. In places like Canada or Germany, a carpenter can even earn more than a university graduate.
It may interest you to know that in Germany, for instance, many people are now focusing on Technical Education and the colleges instead of universities.
Polytechnics are supposed to be for producing people who are inventors. Government puts more money in the universties than in the polytechnics. Polytechnic graduates are not supposed to be in the civil service, but in the industry.
How do we redress the situation?
Except the government listens to us, there is little we can do. The mandate given to the polytechnics is different from what is given the universties. Somebody with HND in Civil Engineering wanting to work in the civil service, can he fit in? A carpenter cannot do the work of a bricklayer even though they are in the same industry.
What is your opinion about the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, TETFund?
To be honest, without the TETFund, most public tertiary institutions would have collapsed. We no longer have access to capital grants. You cannot access capital grants for the year until about September of that year and by October, they are ready to mop up the funds. And that means if you have awarded a contract and you are unable to pay till September, the contractor would have left the site and if you want to continue the project, the issue of variation would come in. But for TETFund, the money to execute the project is ready, so there is no delay. I give kudos to them and they have assisted in ways too numerous to mention.
What is happening at the Epe Campus?
We have transformed the place to the best of our ability. We started the place with three departments but now we have three faculties there and we have completed the perimeter fencing. The School of Technical Education is there. We don’t want tbe people of Epe to think we just acquired their land for nothing. The Tertiary Education Trust Fund, TETFund, has been very helpful. They have helped us to do a lot of things there.
What is the school doing about gender-based violence and sexual harassment?
We are working hard on that and we have support from the Ford Foundation and what they requested we put in place have been put in place. We are also partnering with the Lagos State Government and the students are represented in the body set up to fight against the vices.
What is your view about the appointment of rectors from outside the polytechnic system?
The union has a position on that and the new Polytechnic Act states who and who should be appointed a rector. It appears the new polytechnics are not benefitting from the implementation of the Act. Old ones like Yabatech are following the dictates of the Act to some extent. A bus driver may not be able to drive a train.
Affiliation with foreign institutions
We have about five of such affiliations and the Governing Council has approved the setting up of a Directorate of Foreign Affiliation.
What has the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic taught the College? And what are the challenges?
In the last one and a half years, we have learnt a series of lessons and now we have been granted license to operate Open Distance Learning Centre.
A bulk of last session was done online and this session too, we did some online works too. However, the online thing reduced our cash flow.
When you start something new, it will have teething problems and you cannot improve on anything unless you start it. Let us give it a chance and improve on it,
People have been calling for the diversification of the economy, what is your take?
Let us hope our country gets it right. Let there be proper and adequate consultations to get the right advice as to what to do. The gap between the town and the gown must be bridged. We need to look at our own environment and not just importing policies from abroad.