Pioneer Vice-Chancellor, Kwara State University, Malete, Prof. Abdulrasheeed Na’Allah, a former chair of African Studies at Western Illinois University, United States, speaks with TUNDE OYEKOLA on a number of national issues, including the rising wave of insecurity as well as how universities can generate funds and produce employable graduates
Do you think the establishment of state police will address the rising rate of insecurity in the country?
There is nothing wrong with the idea of creating state police. I think our government must begin to look at the advantages of decentralising policing. We should embrace state policing and even local government policing. In fact, every city that can afford it, like Lagos, Ilorin, Ibadan and Maiduguri, should have their own police. Neighbourhood policing is the best form of policing that we should have. A police is a friend of the neighbourhood. So, if you centralise everything at the federal, and you are sending somebody down to the community, he may need between two and three years to even know the terrain well and what is happening in the area. Community policing is the solution for us, especially now that we have major security challenges such as kidnapping and attacks by bandits. With neighbourhood policing, the power to recruit and supervise the police will be vested in the state governor or local government chairman. Nobody stops the Federal Government from having its own police, but it should be complementary to the state or community.
But some people have expressed fears that state governors may use the state police against the opposition and their perceived enemies. How can this be prevented?
People can say anything. You also expect that to be happening even now that we have the police under the control of the Federal Government. It is when you have city police operating alongside the federal police that everybody will truly know the effectiveness of the police. No police will allow themselves to be used because in reality, everybody will know who they are. What I’m saying is that the argument does not hold water. Let’s give local policing a chance where everybody knows the other person. That way, the police will not allow anybody to use them because they will have equal relationship with everybody.
Some people attribute banditry and terrorism to joblessness. How do you think Nigeria can generate sufficient jobs to curtail these vices?
Our society, including the universities, must change their orientation. They must develop young people that will create wealth. Universities, for instance, are not just about teaching and awarding certificates; they are also places that are known for wealth creation. They should be concerned about bringing out new products everyday and empowering industries all around their communities.
Every year, our universities should be concerned about how much they have contributed to the growth of the economy in the state or at the community level. If our universities are able to do this, then the issue of joblessness will disappear. We have more than 160 universities spread across the country. They must create wealth. Look at the enormous resources that we have in the country; you only have to throw a seed on the land and it grows in Nigeria. Let the universities harness all these resources to help this nation.
But in Nigeria today, many university graduates are said to be unemployable. How do you think this problem can be addressed?
Universities should focus on entrepreneurship. For instance, at KWASU, we train our undergraduates to be entrepreneurs. We let them know that their first degree is the development of entrepreneurial skills. We open their minds to understand the benefits of acquiring such skills. Those who think they are going to the universities so that they can get jobs after their graduation have got it wrong. The first degree is what we call liberal art. It is a tradition of developing your mind. What we have done in KWASU from 2009 is to make entrepreneurship central; you must be creative while on campus and register your company with the Corporate Affairs Commission, which is a government’s agency that registers businesses. You are also expected to make your business relevant to the community.
As a university, our goal is to make our students socially responsible, but that is not happening in most Nigerian universities. And when the students complete their studies, they may end up roaming the streets in search of jobs. Their parents start sending their CVs everywhere. What has happened to the skills they acquired in the university?
Interests in quality research seem to be dwindling, especially in the education sector. Why are university lecturers not engaged in researches that can solve current problems afflicting the country?
It is very unfortunate. I think part of the problem is that our government and their ministries or agencies do not prioritise research. Every ministry in Nigeria should set aside part of their funds for research and make the project competitive. For example, let scholars from all universities in Kwara State compete for research grants from different ministries for the state to develop in different areas. That is the way to promote research.
As ministries are doing it, agencies of government should also be doing it. You will see the exceptional researches that will come out of the efforts. They won’t just be researches that will end up on the library shelves and university offices. We have, for example, palm trees in abundance in the South. Have we researched how much wealth can come out of palm trees? For us, we are talking to some Japanese industries that are interested in creating biomass, using some tissues from palm products to create electricity. This is the kind of things that every university must do. The government, private organisations and industries must be part of this.
This is one of the areas KWASU is trying to intervene. At the university, we have the Centre for Undergraduate Research; we put money in this centre every semester. We allow competition among our undergraduates under the mentorship of their lecturers to create something new. For instance, we have some surveillance aircraft designed by some of our undergraduates with the support of their mentors. As we do to our students, we also support and promote our professors to do this through research grants. Every academic paper must have industry partners and meet the needs of the people.
The needs of the industries must also be incorporated into the curriculum that the students are learning; they are not just memorising but preparing for life after school. When they come out, they can work perfectly in any of the industries. And one of the ways we do it in KWASU is to say if you are a professor in the university, after every three years, you must submit yourself for evaluation. We assess how much research you have done. This is against what is happening in other universities. Professors are not evaluated in Nigerian university system but we do it in KWASU. And you have to prove to us that you have some achievements such as bringing in grants; creating some new products and working with industries. We also check if you have published in review journals or do community outreach around Nigeria. It is based on this that we give you professional achievement awards. We also increase your salary.
There are reports of alleged corruption in the university system. How do you think this can be tackled?
I totally agree that there are issues of corruption in the universities. When people say there is no money in the university system, my argument is that they should let us see what they have done with the little that has been given to them. If you can prove that you have judiciously utilised what you have with it, you will be justified to ask for more. Our universities still have a lot do in the area of prudence, commitment and transparency in the use of the resources at their disposal to develop their institutions.
What is your view on government interference in the administration of university?
University talks always about academic freedom. It is a well cherished tradition all over the world. They say he who pays the piper dictates the tune. There is no way government will not be part of university. Government has its own agenda and vision to turn the economy around, create wealth for the people, and it needs the university to achieve this. America was in trouble many times ago. There was famine in the land; people were lining up in the streets to look for food. The American government created a land grant for university system, and that system led America to wealth and made it the richest nation on earth. It is the university system that made it so. So, government is interested in the university administration and the government’s interest in the university is to make it a partner in progress. They want the university to be accessible to young people. If the university like the Kwara State University is not accessible, how can government fold its arms?
What are the major challenges of running a government-owned university?
There are many challenges administrators of public universities face. But we must see challenges as opportunities. There is the issue of cultism; many universities are dealing with it on a daily basis. There are also issues of funding, resources and teaching strategies. Some universities are still in the 20th Century in terms of resources and strategies that they use, yet they are with young people that are tech-savvy, operating in the digital age. These are people who are thinking digitally and you are bringing analogue methods and materials to the classrooms; it is not going to work. These are serious challenges around Nigeria. You have universities that are unable to get the academic staff to operate at certain level in terms of the infrastructure, research ideas and attraction of grants. How can a person call himself a professor if he has never got a grant externally? It doesn’t make sense. You have never introduced a product to help your community as a university professor; it doesn’t make sense to me.
We have electronic university in which we operate paperless. In fact, we have just established in KWASU the Institute of Distance and E-Learning. Part of what we do is to start from those who are within, to make sure they take courses online. It is borderless education. Anywhere you are in the world, you can take the courses. You don’t have to come to Malete to join our studentship and take degrees that we offer in different areas. That is where KWASU is going. We want to be one of the best universities in distance and e-learning in the nation. We see opportunities in helping our community to continue to grow and create wealth.
We insist that every student must learn entrepreneurship; it doesn’t matter what your subject and the programme you do in KWASU. You must create wealth while you are a student in the university. Most of our students now have companies and they begin to operate these companies while they are in the university.
The funding issue is difficult, but we try to find a way round it. We now create a lot of programmes and business through our companies. We do campus tours and travel. We have the Malete Film Village. We have the Rana Power which is a company that is going to be training people in the use of solar to generate power. So, these are the kinds of things we do to make sure we attract grants from any part of the world. We see most of these issues that you call challenges as opportunities and they continue to strengthen the university.
You have run KWASU for about five years without subventions. But many state universities are facing funding problems. What should they do to solve the problem?
It is an aberration to have a public university without subventions. I will not recommend it to any state government, community or the Federal Government. The subvention is just a way to show support to continue to help the institution to grow. No amount of money is enough for a university because university is like the world; university is universality. You have so much to do.
But what I want to recommend to universities is that they must not depend 100 per cent on government for funding. There will be a time that the money will cease to come and what you have will be zero subvention.
At KWASU, we just took the bull by the horns and moved on. Obviously, it was not easy, but we seized the opportunity; we never owed salaries. We have always paid salaries as and when due. We have our own strategies. One of them is making sure we are prudent, targeting things that will give us immediate results. We always insist on accountability. For example, we are a university that has price intelligence unit. Before we do anything, we send proposals to the unit to go to the market and find the correct prices and recommend to us. Government has promised us subventions. This university, if it has done what it has done in the last five years without subventions, you can imagine what it will do in the next five years with subventions. We will go beyond flying. This university is determined to make this state one of the leading states in resources, wealth and ideas that would keep the state going beyond what anybody can understand.
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The institution was established by the Kwara State Government. Throughout your tenure, did you have any occasion where you disagreed with the government on policy issue or any other things?
No, it is the same goal. There is no difference in goal. Government wants development for the state. The business of a university, especially KWASU, which is a university for community development, is about development. Government has so many things it wants to do. It wants to open up roads; it has to support health care, education and agriculture. So, for government, it has to do so much, and we are in education. It may not be easy for government to get all money that we require; that is the only thing. As a vice chancellor of a university, I will want all the money that I want. But I cannot see any government anywhere in the world that can provide all the money that you want. What we are asking government to do is to give us regular subvention and then we would mobilise the whole world to bring resources to KWASU.
What do you think you have achieved in almost 10 years of your tenure at the university that you believe you will be remembered for?
I want to thank God Almighty. Ten years is small really in the life of a university because there are universities that have been there for hundreds of years like Harvard and Cambridge. Some were founded in the 15th and 16th centuries. But Kwara State University is 10 years. It has been a lot of hard work to establish a foundation to make sure that the goal of being a world-class university is cast in stone solidly and keep it going for many years.
We are starting Aeronautical Engineering. As the first university doing this, we are putting Nigeria on the global map of aircraft design; how to use drone to do surveillance and how to work with the Nigerian Air Force to repair its airplanes. These are some of the things that are now happening through some of the things we do.
We have a school of tourism, which is very important to us. Now, we are challenging the school to develop tourism scheme for the whole of the North-Central. We want them to work with the every government, starting from our state in the North-Central so that the region becomes an attraction to tourists all over the world. So, our innovation is not just in the area of technology in terms of teaching and learning; it is also in the area of creating a great economy.
We have worked on the infrastructure. If you come to KWASU now, you will see a lot of lecture rooms and a number of other buildings. To cap this, we now have a library of international standard. We have set it up as a tradition for intensive research work. That way, we are happy that in 100 years, we are assured of high level facility for research.
Also, in the area of academic staff, we have some of the best from all over the world. The latest person we recruited is from Japan. We have just created the Japanese Language and Culture Institute, and this person is going to be teaching our students through the GNS how to speak Japanese language. So, we have people, who are at the top of their scholarly achievements from all over the world on our campus.
So, in ten years, if you ask me, I will say we have set a solid foundation for our university, a foundation to achieve a world-class status to give the best to our young people that can work anywhere in the world.
Recently, there was a directive from the state government that you should proceed on terminal leave. How was this resolved?
It was a policy of the government; I don’t think that is really important, especially since we have passed that stage now. What you are referring to was just a little thing. We are talking about the life of 10 years and you are talking about something that lasted two months. At the last convocation, you heard the address of the state governor regarding the support they would give the university. Governor Abdulrazaq AbdulRahman promised to give subventions to the university, making sure that it also begins to work assiduously to create wealth for our state. So, there is synergy between KWASU and the state government.
Culled From Punch Newspaper