Interview

Professor Dapo Asaju: Ajayi Crowther University’s Pragmatic Reformer

“I came, I saw, I Conquered”. The age long expression was first uttered by the mythical ruler of ancient Rome, Julius Caesar more than 2,000 years ago. A celebrated general and statesman, Caesar conquered Gaul and extended Rome’s territory to the English Channel. Having served as the Vice Chancellor of Ajayi Crowther University in the last 5years, like Emperor Julius Caesar who brought victory for the Roman Empire, Professor
Dapo Asaju, in this interview revealed that at the institution, he has come, seen and conquered. Excerpts:

Can you lead us into the background of this institution?

This University started off historically as Saint Andrew Teachers College, Oyo, and it is the first Teachers’ School in the whole of Nigeria and the first principal was Francis Jones, who after he left here became the first white Bishop of Lagos Diocese and it was after him we have the likes Bishop Seth-Kale who also served here and became the Bishop of Lagos State likewise. Those who were the Old Students of Saint Andrew College are called Andrans (Old Boys Association). They were the one who went about, agitating that there should be a university Call SACOBA University, but then President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo refused to sign, insisting that they should name if after the first black Bishop in the world, Bishop Ajayi Crowther. So Obasanjo, a Baptist man was the one who told them to go and name it and they went back and name it Ajayi Crowther University. In the year 2005 the license was granted and I am the 3rd Vice Chancellor, I assumed the office on the 22nd of October, 2015 for a tenure of 5years which means I have about 11months more to leave the office.

How will you rate this institution?

This school is one of the best universities in Nigeria today, because to train a graduate is a function of the quality of learning and the function of Godly character. To train the graduates without the fear of God is only to train the clever devil. That is what we have in the society today. Let me tell you a story, I attended a Muslim primary school then and I went to government secondary school this should be one of the best in the whole Northern region in those days, but then by the time I got there you cannot regard it as being one of the highflying schools and when I left that place it was a rural area in Igbiraland in Kogi State and I now gained admission to Federal College Ilorin, I did my HSC there in 1977. The story is this; I moved from a village school and I now came to higher school certificate I now met with the children of the very rich who went to Federal Colleges, International School Ibadan, all such schools where millionaires and billionaires send their children to and me I came from village, they came from elite schools. We used to read into far night, putting our legs into the bucket of water reading overnight. They are “Aje butter,” we all came to meet in lower six and we went to HSC, so all of us who came from village beat all the so called ‘rich’ students.

They were the one who paid millions in school; we were village people, what is the essence of this story? The ranking of the institution is based on the quality of students they produced! It is your products versus my products. That is today when you are a graduate of Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge University you are rated because of where you studied. It is the quality of production. So it is possible for a school at Olohunda in Ibadan here to have a better education in their school depending on who taught them, the teacher who teaches student, compare to private schools where they have everything and pay millions,. If you are going to rank school, you will be looking at facilities, beauty, this and that, you will not rate that school as if they are something, but their products can be better than this other one.

Look at the NUC ranking; they put Ajayi Crowther at 63rd. Did you Challenge the claim?

I am not interested in challenging anybody. Actually there is no basis for ranking. We don’t rank in the university system. It is a strange policy. Let me tell you the background, in the secondary school, there is ranking, primary school there is ranking, I came first, you came second and this person got third. In the university system do you have any such thing? You get admitted and run your own race, you are not competing with any colleague. Your race will tell you whether you are heading in first class, second class, third class or pass. There is no first, second, third in university, you have your race to run and you are running it and you are rated according to that. So judge each institution according to the quality of their products. And every certificate will say “having being found worthy in learning and character, then you are awarded this degree” so the products is judged by both moral cum spiritual, the character and some people there, the parameter they say they are ranking on web, the parameter for ranking does not exist. It is unnecessary, the competition is unnecessary; judge the institution by their products. As far as Ajayi Crowther is concerned, coming back to your question, our students are better students. Our students are sound. We don’t play games here. We don’t cut corners here. I addressed the convocation and said we are producing 45 first class and I said our first class are first class indeed. Which means there are first class in other institutions that are not worth it, they are using that as a marketing strategy, but here our first class are first class indeed. So as far as that case is concerned, I think we should be one of the best.

How was the process of your appointment?

Actually, I was the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Lagos State University. I have been a lecturer at Lagos State University for 36years and in the year 2010, the owner of the university approached me to be the Vice Chancellor, but I refused. Others are struggling to be VC, but I am not interested. It made no difference to me. It is actually a disturbance of my peace. I rejected the offer to be the Vice Chancellor, so they appointed my predecessor and five years after they came to me to be the Vice Chancellor and I still refused. Then they sent a delegation to come and appeal to me. As at the time they came to appeal to me Gov. Ambode had my name on his table to announce me as acting Vice Chancellor of Lagos State University, so the Anglican were faster, they quickly got me and I came here, I assumed duty reluctantly on the 2nd of October, 2015. And as I have said, I have served for 4years and I have just months to go. A lot of pressure has to continued to come, that they will give me the second time, I said it will not happen because I am a man of principle. I cannot stay beyond my tenure.

I was the ASUU chairman in the days of Attairu Jega, I was the one who led the struggle, Jega was in Kano, Asaju was the one who had the strike nationwide, because I was in the Federal Capital. Unilag wasn’t cooperating with us, it was me who met IBB. I was the one who confronted Abacha. All these salaries that we are getting in Nigeria, I was the one who started the struggle to change the salaries of university lecturers. I brought all the universities to Badagry. I was the one who dragged IBB, dragged Fafunwa as Minister, dragged NLC chairman, brought in Beko Ransome-Kuti and all these my friends and we started repackaging salaries, so I was one of the ASUU leaders who said you cannot have two terms as Vice-Chancellor, because it was bringing acrimony, second term don’t bring anything to anybody. They will come first term and once you give them second term they won’t perform. They will be attacking each other; they will be doing anything to get the second term. ASUU said let Vice Chancellors have one term of 5 years. So I was the ASUU leader who formulated that policy so I cannot now go back and violate it. And two, law here says one term is the tenure of a vice chancellor; you wouldn’t say because I have done very well you want to change the law because of me. Who am I? If I’m not alive, would they not have another vice chancellor? So if others are encouraging me, I will not deceive myself! No man is indispensable! When I leave here, I will return to Lagos State University as a lecturer under the head of my department, I want nothing more. I am just satisfied with my lifestyle.

How challenging was the journey so far?

This is the only university I know where there is no single subvention from the owner, zero subvention! We are not entitled to the “TETFUND” that the government uses to take care of other states institutions. The Anglican authorities that own this place don’t give us regular subvention, so I came into a university that has no source of income except school fees. I met a debt of over N450 million. I had to pay this debt and by the grace of God, I cleared it. After that, I came in by the time that most of the programmes of this university were due for re-accreditation, NUC had to come. So over 30 programmes, I processed all of them today we have one hundred percent full accreditation of all courses, it costs me over N500million, I didn’t get any kobo from any source, I managed it. And when I came, the roads were not yet tarred, to the glory of God I tarred the roads, put the street light, repainted all the building in uniform colours and completed all the ongoing projects like that of Alakija (Law Faculty). In all, to the glory of God I have constructed 37 buildings in the last 4years. I never awarded any contract, I supervised everything by myself.

These 37 buildings includes 3 floors in the Faculty of Science, it includes the Crowther Hall, have you being there? I built it. It is 2,500 capacity, it must be the biggest hall in Oyo State today. I built 10 classrooms and Governor Ajimobi gave me N5million, I added little to it, I built primary and secondary schools of 10 classrooms. All of them are there with air-condition and plasma TV. With just N5 million. Before now, we have no post graduate program in this school. I started the postgraduate programme up to Ph.d; level approved by NUC. I introduced HND conversion program and, so many people have been coming from Lagos and all over the places who have HND and we are graduating them with first degree, and master’s degree. They never had what they called inaugural lecture. Now, I have appointed about 13 professors and we have had 12 inaugurals. So we have no serious ventures, but now we produced our bottle water, we produced our bread, we have a laundry, we have supermarket and all these were done during my time. We have no staff quarters in this university at all except for the principal officers, but now I have created 40 apartments for staff quarters and there are many things we cannot say, so many thing. The result when I came were in shambles thousands of results were in outstanding, I have to do 7 sets of makeup examination to clear all the backlog of all results. Today almost all students have their result okay.

When I first had my convocation of the student I met on ground, we had 103 third class, but at this recent convocation we had 45 first class and only about 12 third class, so their results profile has gone up, level of instruction higher. When I came, we didn’t have more than 4 Faculties, we had Humanities, Social and Management Sciences, Natural Science and Law. But since I came I have started faculty of Engineering, Education, Environmental Studies and several other things. New programs have come in like Estate Management, Political Science, Industrial Relation, Music, Performing Arts and several courses. Guidance and Counseling, Library Information Studies, many programs have come in. So our profile is richer now if you know what it takes is to start new faculty. You need to provide building, furniture, books, library, staffing, it is very big job. For now, the biggest challenge we have was that we have the permanent site which have been bought since 2005, that was what they even use to license the university because you must provide land and governor Ladoja has signed the C of O but no money to develop the land. I had the courage to go to the land and Alaafin Oyo rose up against me that it was his. A land which we had a C of O, but somebody came in who knew him. He said he was going to take N10million and they paid him, so he had collected his money, no problem, so we have moved into the land, I moved in there two weeks ago. As I speak with you, we have cleared the land and building has begun to spring up there, so it is a monumental development and in all of these; let me add this, the rate at which we are developing is so rapid that this university is developing in leaps and bounds. The staff strength is more than 600 and the salaries give every month is over N70million. I have not owed salary one day; promotion has not stopped one day. We have done everything according to God’s grace. He had granted us, so that is just the few I know.

How did you address some of the problems you met on ground, most especially the financial aspect?

I prevented fraud, I cut down on the cost of running and I did most of the things by direct labour, as money came I offset the loan and I kept on managing the little that we have left. Occasionally when we ran into trouble because we didn’t have enough money, I took bank loans just to be sure that salaries were paid and anytime the students come back, I pay back the loans. But until we have the large number of student we would continue to do that until we are able to stand our own, but for now we have no subvention at all. What the Anglican gave us is one collection in one Sunday in a year. And they will then donate it to us which cannot take me to half of one month. But that is the structure of Anglican Church. I don’t blame them, the reason is because each diocese in Anglican is autonomous, so the Igbo people have a proverb; “the goat that belongs to the entire village will often go to bed hungry,” because this family will not like to feed it, saying another person will feed it and at the end of the day nobody will feed it. So that is it, if, dioceses that own this university, they are 65 in number, each with their own Bishop, so for them to come together jointly to fund it is a problem. People want to keep their money to themselves, but we are not complaining; we are surviving.

How do you think your legacy can be better managed after you must have left the institution?

The unfortunate thing is that, when I leave a place, I switch off completely. I disconnect myself completely. I have advised the owner of the university to start looking for the new Vice Chancellor, but they are still pretending to be trying to be persuading me hoping I will continue, I am not going to continue, I am going back to my base. It is left for them to choose the right person. A people will deserve the kind of leadership that they get, if they choose the wrong person, I’m sorry for them. If they choose the right person, I am ready to guide the person into the limited period I may have to tutor the person before he comes in. It depends on the person, he may have the mind of his own, he may not be interested in being guided, so I cannot say anything. Before I came here, I started the seminary of Anglican church, post graduate of the Anglican church, it is call “Crowther Graduate Theological Seminary, it is built in Abeokuta: I built it from nothing, I didn’t earn a salary for 6years, I was just labouring there and built it. And when I was about to leave, I recommended the person who had worked with me over these 6years period, a professor to take over from me. As soon as he got to power he changed, and made himself an opponent to myself and began to attack everything I did and he has ruined that institution and brought it down. So that has taught me a lesson to never get myself involve in who succeeds me. It is better they take a risk, but I won’t recommend anybody. According to Williams Shakespeare; “There is no method whereby you find a mind construction on the face.” Sir, I will not recommend anybody and I will not guide them.

How will you justify the future of Ajayi Crowther University after you quit?

The foundation has been built permanently; I have a team of management staff and a very solid one. So they will continue the little I have been able to do. In the Bible we are told that Paul planted and Apollos watered, God is the owner of the university, He will guide the place. Nobody can be in a place forever. So the future of the university is in the hand of God not in the hand of man. As far as I am concerned ooo, structure is in place, discipline is back, spirituality is back. They were not having regular worship in the past, but now every student must gather on Sunday, on Wednesday for community service. So we worship together. We talk to them, we discipline them and the result comes back on time. One of the new things we have done is that all results are put on website; if you open our website now, the results of all students for the last semester are put on website, the whole world can see it, we just not put their name but we put the matric number, so you can check your result and your parents can also check it. It’s not the matter of you are looking for your result after long time you can’t find it. Look at the recent convocation, on the day of convocation all the students were eligible to have their results and they got it and their certificate and we have already signed it. I came from the university that the statement of result is what they will give people. 5 to 6 years the result are not ready, people cannot graduate, but here, the day you come in you know the day you are going to pass out of this university. No strike, no problem.

What is the Secret to Success?

Number one, we pray and God guides us at every meeting. Number two, I have a good team. This team had never argued on any matter of development to the point of disagreement in making progress. What you hear from me, is what you hear from the Bursar. It is what you will hear from the Registrar and the Deputy Vice Chancellor, so we have a wonderful team. We have a vision of where we are going and we are moving. The Bursar is seated here, sometimes when I lost hope over certain things, he will be the one to be reminding me, please go ahead, are we not men of God. He is a pastor and I am a pastor, we move by faith and not by sight and that is the key word, we operate by faith and not by sight. Look now, we have just gone to the permanent site; caterpillar is moving on, building is springing up. I was trained by Primate Peter Akinola. He said to me: “Dapo, when you are leading, it is you that God will hold responsible; God has never blamed the people, it is their leaders that He holds responsible”. He said what God has given you to do, go ahead and do it, don’t wait for people following before you do what you want to do, keep carrying them along, keep them informed, but don’t let them dictate your pace. Keep moving forward and look back and say come on, come on let’s catch up, let’s go on, but don’t let them drag you back. So when I am moving I don’t slow down. So, the secret is, we have a team and we share the same vision and we go the same way.

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