Professor Joshua Olalekan Ogunwole, a soil scientist and an alumnus of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria is the current Vice Chancellor of Bowen University, Iwo, Osun State. In this interview with THE ISSUES MAGAZINE team, the erudite Don bared his mind on some challenges in the education sector as well as on certain contemporary issues in the Nigerian society. It is exclusive. Read on.
* As a university don, would you say successive governments in Nigeria have been giving education the required priority compared to your days as a student and lecturer?
Well, I wouldn’t say priority or no priority, that is not really the issue. The issue is with most of us that are managers of educational institutions; what have we done with the resources before us? That, for me is the most important thing to really address. As an undergraduate, University managers took some things more seriously than what obtains with current managers. There are roles government ought to play, notwithstanding, managers should play theirs as well. To be candid, as an undergraduate, with 50 kobo ticket, you will eat a good meal, but if you don’t have such, you’ll take Pap or Tea free of charge. Someone may retort: what has that got to do with education? It has a lot: imagine going to school in the morning with an empty stomach, with low glucose level, s/he can’t assimilate no matter what you think you’re giving. That is why in the wisdom of educational managers at that time, these things were put in place. Along the line, we lost it out for whatever reasons, that is why I feel concerned for youths of this generation; they don’t know what it means. Now to priority of education, the first thing is that there is need for successive governments to be informed especially of the significant correlation between nutrition and education. There were more opportunities for a student to grow and grow well in my time than now. I agree that we are in the time of disruptive technologies in which we never enjoyed but, naturally the brain and other organs must be sound before a person can acquire and use (effectively) the facilities on ground. I think there is a need for proper orientation so that government may be able to plan well and set priorities.
* Do you think current the government are up and doing like those that were empowered during your own time when you were in school?
Well government is still releasing money for education and so on and just like it was done before. In my time, there was no TETFUND – Tertiary Education Trust Fund. In my time, there were opportunities to study abroad, and I can keep mentioning opportunities. I don’t really see it as government matter. I see it more as that of the managers of the institutions; as problems with Vice Chancellors of Universities, Rectors of Polytechnics, and with Provosts of Colleges and their management teams. How are we managing our resources? In Bowen University, we don’t get external funding from anywhere, not even from the Nigerian Baptist Convention – the proprietor of the University. It doesn’t come; at least since I have been on this seat, no subvention is coming from the Proprietor and it is almost my second year as the helms man. But the university is moving on, the university is striving; it all depends on the ingenuity of the managers of the institution. Now, how are we coping? Well, when we came, we looked at places where there were leakages and we fixed them. We know that when we talked about the university, one of the areas people’s mind go to is the resources of the University in the area that has to do with Diesel and stationeries. So we started moving towards zero paper system because being in the university, you must innovate. Then we blocked everything that has to do with mis(use) of diesels. We currently own a 33KV Power Station running a direct line to ensure constant electricity from the national grid. Those are some of the ways and means which managers of a system can actually work because needs will always exceed available resources.
* Do you believe in the parlance that the standard of education in Nigeria is falling? If yes what would you say are the factors responsible for this?
I wouldn’t say yes or no, because we set the standard. Which standard are we comparing with? What I feel strongly about is whether the education we are giving students today prepare them for the future of work. We are not putting students on the same platform. If you put them on the same platform, you will realise what I am saying. Let me give you an example. During those days, many of us grew up with our grandparents. We sat with our grandparents as much as we can, listening to moonlight tales; telling us “Alo o, aalo!, there was a Tortoise…” Even when you have never seen a Tortoise, grandpa or grandma will describe Tortoise to you, such that you carry a vivid imagination, and later when you see either a picture or real Tortoise, it is not different from what you had imagined, because grandma or grandpa has described it in a way that you’ll identify and understand. Those were our first teachers, they built our imaginative capability; they strengthen it so much that without seeing anything, you will develop very strong imaginations. But now we have adopted the Western lifestyle that make us view our parents who took care of us as wizards and witches; so we don’t send our own children to them anymore. This is what obtains nowadays. This generation didn’t grow up with that, they never had anybody at their tender age to polish their imaginative ability, they never had it. Parents of today have little time for their children. We go to work early in the morning, put them at the Kindergarten; imagine dropping a two year old at Kindergarten. S/he stays in Kindergarten till 1pm or 2pm, when you come home, feed him and continue your work, she feels loneliness, she is almost always alone, and later in life, s/he grows up to school age. She is supposed to close at school by 2pm, but because you’re still busy at work, you organise an extra-mural class. He stays in school till around 4pm to 5pm, all these are for your own convenience not for the convenience of the child or for the development of the child. For example, after returning from work, with leftover assignments, the child is told to ‘face the TV and be watching cartoons’. Over time, the only friend that the young child got from what he has gotten after the Kindergarten is the Television. Now, you can see that there is no basis for comparison between my time and this generation, because of the generational gap. To my point, there are different standards of education.
It is because we don’t understand the logic, especially the contemporary example I just shared, that is why we have not been able to help this generation well. The way I went to school, the way I experienced course delivery, you’re now comparing mine with that child? Is it the teacher that something is wrong with? Once you change the method of delivery, you’ll discover what these children will be. Now, young children of these days can take their Smartphones anywhere, even in the toilet, you’ll see them pressing their phones. That is the only companion that their generation grow up to know. It was their generation that saw Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Instagram and others; if you want to deliver anything to them, deliver it here (using mobile devices and applications); you will be surprised by the kind of people you will get. So, the problem is not with the youths, but the problem is with us who don’t understand them. So, there’s no basis for comparison.
* Sexual harassment has found its way into Nigeria’s educational system most especially in our universities. But some argue that ‘sex for marks’ syndrome has been with us many decades back. Is this true?
Yes, it is true, it is only that it appears to have escalated to this current dimensions. In addition, the ease of information dissemination has made it more pronounced. I say this, because it has always been, where you will find irresponsible lecturers who get attracted to female students that their daughters are older than; even when we went to school. Whenever you don’t nip anything in the bud, either at home, or in any organisation, what you will find is that you will allow it to grow because there is nobody to check it. This comes back to the managers of the schools, since the Whites handed over to us, they know some of these things, but they look the other way. When you see some of these things happening, you can’t blame the government. Who really is government: It is you and I, the managers of the institutions. As managers, we cannot feign ignorance, because at least there is no way you wouldn’t hear rumours. When you hear of such, you move in because it is your responsibility to investigate even if it is a rumour; and when you investigate, whether the culprits are your friends or close associates, the university has its ways as well. You ought to issue such accused person a query and make her/him face the disciplinary committee. They will come back with the report and so on, if you’re satisfied as the head of the institution, you’ll send to the disciplinary committee to re-evaluate and take to Senate for approval and you take decisions. But, when we don’t do what we are supposed to do, one of the biggest problem with education system in Nigeria is this matter. The managers don’t do what they are supposed to do, for primordial sentiments and so on and that is what brought us here. Nigerians are good at reading the mindset and posture of any administration. When we came here, as a Christian university, we agreed that people who have divorced their wives and so on, should excuse us; you can’t divorce a woman and marry another one in this same compound, even if it is legally permitted, it is not permitted here. How will it not affect our work? So, when people see the steps the management is taking and the posture of the management, even randy people will decide to take sabbatical with their randiness; it is normal.
* How will you assess your service at Bowen University being the Vice Chancellor, your achievements so far since you came on board?
Firstly, leave people to assess me, but when we came on board, we met challenges. We met an institution that was indebted to the tune of about ₦1.5b and we met an institution where people come to work very late, come to work at will because they live in Ibadan, Osogbo and other major neighbouring cities and towns. Their excuse is usually traffic hold up on the road and things like that. We met a situation where everybody waits on the man at the top to determine before anybody move. People don’t use initiative. Response time both internally and externally was something you can’t even mention. So, when we came we met all these things and we realised that the university was going under. The first thing we declared was that this university is at an inflection point, and usually at an inflection point, if you don’t do anything, you’ll start coming down, or at that point, you can go up, it depends on what management does. So we declared that truly we were at the inflection point and every stakeholder must first know and agree and accept the fact. The budget that I inherited, was a month old before I came in. In addition, there was a deficit of ₦1billion and at the end of my first year, I would have added another ₦1billion to the ₦1.5b and it would have resulted to ₦2.5b, that was the budget we met because the budget was going to borrow ₦500 million from the bank, I was going to have a deficit of ₦500 million after that, because we wanted to construct a new hostel. We brought the founders of the university – the Nigerian Baptist Convention, to a retreat at Ogere. We had to put everything in the open. We said: “we are in the university because we are problem solvers. At an inflection three things must happen to move on; we are ready if you’re ready to support. One of the three things is to change our culture. The culture of the people must change or we must change the people, because it is not just about people but the right people. Therefore, we said if we can’t change the culture, you must permit us to lay off staff and recruit. At an inflection point, there is no room for sentiments because sentimentality will collapse the entity. We must also either change our product or improve our products. This is quality that we give our students to make it up. You must change the business model that brought you to an inflection. It needs to be changed or else you remain stuck and the owners of the university gave us the approval. We then started talking to ourselves – we moved the top leaders in the university to Ogere in Ogun State for what we termed ‘Change Management Retreat’, with a focus on the fact that management needs to change, and we brought in university managers as spokespersons. We invited Professor Dipo Kolawole who was the Vice Chancellor at Ekiti State University many years ago. Professor Kolawole is one of the Vice Chancellors that actually transformed Ekiti State University at the time, when it was University of Ado Ekiti. We also invited the former VC of FUTA in Ondo State, so we brought influential personalities to come and talk to us. Coming from the Retreat was an agreement that we needed to change. Now, a management that must do that must resolve; we had to query and suspend a principal officer and it created so much noise because it had never happened before and I told people we had all agreed together that we ought to change our system, the culture we use in management. If you can’t touch that level, you can’t tell the younger ones to do anything. Then we started picking people who were usually guilty, gave them queries and response was somewhat autonomous excusing holdup and so on. I instructed the deduction of one day pay from their salaries because if you understand an inflection point, you will know what we are talking about. As a Vice-Chancellor, you only have 5 years to transform and God help you if you are not transforming from zero but from minus; you must first get from minus to zero before you move-on, so we have to be strict about things. Then, the next thing is that you must be ready to do the work of more than one person, be ready to multitask. Once we accepted that fact, we called a management meeting with students when we now looked at our curriculum; that is talking about changing and improving on products. So, we looked at our products and we said no-no-no, we are not just looking at NUC curriculum which is benchmark minimum; it is not called the ceiling, so you can build on the floor. So, we also started interacting with the users of our products (Companies, and so on), what are the things that are missing? With every programme, we started changing and talking about the method of delivery and so on; we also emphasized entrepreneurship. To spur the entrepreneurial spirit, when we saw that Jim Ovia published a book titled ‘Africa Rise And Shine’ we requested for a hundred copies from him and it was ₦9,000.00 per copy and we sent a ₦900,000.00 cheque to him, but he sent us the 100 copies and returned our cheque; that he is impressed that we are the first school to consider this. We facilitated a Technology Mediated Reading Plan and invited our final year students to volunteer to read the book. We got about 40 student-volunteers and they were about to go on holidays, we had a meeting with them and we told them that reading is like swimming, you need to feel the water before you jump into it. So you need to feel the book, why it is colour red, who is the publisher and author, some people read books without even knowing the authors or the publishers, you must feel the book and read it; we appointed people we call prompters, divers and super-divers. The Bible says those who pick their Manna, pick it early in the morning before the sun will rise. So, the best time for you to read is before the sun rises. We were like silent listeners and they did it. With technological advancement, you will discover that so many things have changed. We were trying to see how we could get internship opportunities for our students and we were told that students have to apply individually, but we forgot to notify them when the advertisement came out, however, many saw it and applied and they were to do virtual tests. We were informed that many of our students took the test meeting up with time, while others didn’t make it. Therefore, when you talk about qualities, these are the little things that make a difference. Also, many of our medical students without being interviewed gain opportunities in big private hospitals in Lagos, because they know that they are from Bowen University. In this past one and half years, we have opened up travel opportunities for our students all over the country. We won the computer programming contest which was done recently and we were tops. Recently, we went for Abuja Model United Nations, and our students came back with five awards, the best among delegates came from here, the best position paper in one of the groups is from here, so it is not about the big names, it is by understanding, once they understand the times, they will also understand what to do. That is why I said leave them to assess us.
* What makes BOWEN different from other Universities in the country particularly with the level of ranking from NUC?
You have seen our results across other universities, is NUC ranking a ranking; NUC ranks for its own use. I am telling you that when the man outside comes to our university, they will see a working culture, they will see how we are dressing and so on, they will see our products, everywhere our products go, they stand out; they will see that we have evolved a different method, we are running a modified collegiate system. When you see all these, even if you see us at the last rank, it is not our business; anywhere in the world just numerical ranking or whatever has a merit and demerit. Ranking doesn’t effectively express how a university is, the people who sell the university are the products of that university. If somebody gives you a rank, what does it mean? What does that say? What we cherish more is that by the time a student is finishing from our university, s/he has done assignments in two to four countries, it is exposure; not mere classroom teaching. Remember the Chinese adage that what you see, you will hardily forget, what you do, you don’t even forget it. So it is not about ranking between 1 to 5 or ranking which will not bring money or add values to our products.
* What is your own story of Nigeria sixty years after independence?
It is unfortunate, if you say that I should give you a remark, it is really unfortunate. This was a nation that when it was created, our fathers had huge hope; but along the line, we missed it out, we missed it out based on the quality of education we are getting. We missed it out due to many number of things; the British gave us independence, they called it independence, we didn’t ask them what independence they gave. We never had any education independence, when they gave us independence, they gave us a curriculum, and that is the curriculum we are still running. So that is why there is no way that curriculum can cause creative thinking in our students; by now, we should sit down and form our own. You are reading curriculum which was made for British school: Mungo Park discovered the Niger; that is the curriculum. My great grandfather has been living by the bank of River Niger, we have taken it from the primary school, and you never asked yourself that how can Mungo Park discover Niger. But, the fact is that, until the lion will learn how to write history, the story of hunting will favour the hunter. These are the kind of things we carry over on our standard of education, but to which standard, which education? Did we have any standard from the beginning? The British formulated one for us, so that we will keep coming back. Do you remember how long it took us after losing President Yar’Adua and we didn’t know what to do; it took Britain to come and rescue us with the ‘principle of necessity’? Why Asia is different from Africa is this matter; we are a people that accept what a white man does even if absurd, but when a fellow Nigerian does it, we castigate. Something is wrong with our thinking, something is wrong, if for instance we have white man mechanic, we will allow our engineers to stay under him here, that is why in summary, our situation is unfortunate.
* Considering the state of security in Nigeria, some were clamouring for the state of emergency, what is your view on this?
State of emergency? If there is state of emergency, what will change? Are we not in a state of emergency already? So, we are just waiting for someone to go on air and announce state of emergency? Don’t let people use words and divert our attention; there is nobody now who travels whose hearts is not in the sky until he gets to his destination. Even ordinarily when you see a man holding a stick on the road, you may likely change direction. We have come to a point where the country is at an inflection point. The first thing government should address is the culture of the military, you will discover that something is wrong, if you’re sincere as a leader, the culture of the military, what is happening is that the culture of our military is faulty. We need to learn how to teach ourselves; a nation that does not talk and dispense knowledge cannot be a great nation. We don’t need to copy anybody abroad, we need serious and committed leaders who can address us based on this solution, you will discover where we are; Nigeria is at an inflection point, we are already in a state of emergency.
– Published in Nigeria by The Issues Magazine Vol 6 No 39