On November 17, 2014, Professor Olukoya Ogen, a Professor of History, assumed office as the Provost of the Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo – making history as the first alumnus of the college to head the institution after 50 years of its existence. He spoke with LAOLU HAROLDS and MODUPE GEORGE on his vision for the college, as well as its challenges.
Can you share with us your vision for this college and the plans you are putting in place to achieve it?
Going through my modest pedigree, this would be my fifth institution in Nigeria. I started my academic career at the University of Lagos and I moved on to Adekunle Ajasin University and then to Obafemi Awolowo University. I was also at the Osun State University before coming here. That shows you a young man who is adventurous; who is also ready to learn. I’m also affiliated to quite a number of universities abroad.
I have my own plan and vision as to how a university system in Nigeria should be. One of them is the sanctity of the academic calendar. Another one is that every institution should be financially and economically viable and not be over-dependent on government. There should be a way to look inward to meet the immediate need of the host community or the society at large. I believe every department in the institution should be financially viable and that it is not all the time you go cap in hand to Abuja begging for money. Then, when you now produce the students, what are they going to do? What kind of knowledge are you imparting in them? Is it the kind of knowledge where they become employers of labour, where they can stay on their own or is it the type that makes them to keep on roaming the streets looking for white collar jobs? I came here with that kind of mindset. This is one of the leading, if not the foremost, Teacher Training College in the Nigeria. We have a name; we have produced so many successful people. So, why can’t we award our own degree?
Also, out of that vision is to see that this place transforms and becomes a full-fledged degree-awarding university. We have a lot of fantastic scholars; the academic staff especially. There is a need for reorientation for best practices.
What I have been doing since I got here is to closely study what we have on the ground. The former provost did a lot in terms of human capacity and infrastructure development, but I have to build on that. What I noticed when I got here is that there is a gap and that gap is what I call an ICT gap. So, I’m coming up with an ICT revolution. Without ICT, you discover that you are nowhere in terms of security, e-learning and administration. Therefore, two weeks ago, we signed a contract of N130 million for a complete upgrade of our ICT facility and it is comprehensive. We will even be serving neighbouring cyber cafés. Everything is tied to that ICT upgrade. I could be in the United States and be monitoring what is happening here with just a click on my laptop. On health facilities, all you need is a finger print and your medical records will come out. In library, you have access to visual and e-learning and administration. That is what we are doing. This college is broke and we are not getting enough funds from the Federal Government; but we have brought in investors. The N130 million project is not coming from the school; the people putting up the infrastructure are the people financing it. That is what we have also been doing in terms of hostel development; new people are coming in bringing their money from the US and Spain.
Against the backdrop of the resistance that initially attended your appointment as provost, what measure of cooperation have you been receiving from staff and other stakeholders of the college?
‘Resistance’ is relative; relative in the sense that if I had been in the shoes of the people who ‘resisted’ me, maybe I would have done the same. So, while I was coming in, there was resistance and I said, Okay, if I had been working here up to 10 or 15 years and I already had people who are qualified in every sense and I am a member of staff here, would I want somebody coming from the university system to come in? It is natural for you to support somebody you have known before, because the person that is coming is virtually like a stranger. So, they have every right (to resist me) and that is why I said ‘resistance’ is relative. However now that I’m here people are getting to appreciate and know me, knowing that this is an old student; he means well for the system and everybody. There is not so much of that resistance again; it’s going down gradually.
Now, let’s talk about challenges?
The major challenge is money. My major task here is to make sure that we have money to do the kind of things I want to do. There is no other means of getting this other than from outside. I have engaged corporate organisations, banks and insurance companies. An insurance company was interested in fire insurance; we want to have our fire station on the campus. We told them that from our own premium that we have built, they must give us a fire station and they agreed. The whole idea is that from the profit they have made from us they must give something in return.
Let me relay this experience, which is very dear to my heart. A contractor came to me and said he had been here for 14 years and that he came to congratulate me, solicit for continuity and then ‘take care of me’ (the Nigerian way). I told him God had taken care of my interest and I told him ‘what you can do for me is to go and return to me in two weeks with a proposal on how you are going to appreciate us for patronising you for 14 years. Once you are able to do that, then you’ll have continuity’. He came back with a letter asking me to identify a 250-seat lecture theater that he would furnish it free of charge. This is the kind of partnership that I want. It is not the type that would ‘settle’ the chief executive the Nigerian way. Every partnership should benefit the college. I believe leadership should be about sacrifice and the well-being of the people you have control over. The whole system is beginning to realise that fact. When I got here, I was asked to book a hotel and stay there for six months and I said ‘what for?’ I asked them to pay for just one month; that I’m not here to enjoy but to work and add value. Just three days ago, I asked that all the college guests must be accommodated within the campus. Let us make use of the facilities that we have on ground and save money.
There are other challenges as well: the backbiting, the politicking, intrigues, corruption, cultism, examination malpractices. And that is why we are starting with ICT. It will help us process everything within 24 hours. It is a complete automation of the way we have been doing all our things.
So, there is still this problem of cultism in the institution?
It’s all over in Nigeria, except we are pretending. It’s not only in higher institution, but everywhere. Cultism is just when you have an association where you don’t want people to know what you are doing. There you protect members’ interest. What we can do is to counsel them. I prefer a situation where I can discourage thieves to catching them. I would rather make it difficult for you to steal. I prefer a situation where I encourage people not to be cultists rather than chase them all about. I would rather love to see a day where students don’t find it fashionable to be called cultists.
When I came here I had an encounter, very serious one. The whole college was boiling and students were ready to go on the streets. The major Ondo road was completely blocked. I went to the students and appealed to them saying that “if this college is shut down, the provost will be collecting his salary and the lecturers will be collecting their salaries, while you will stay at home.” I appealed to them and they started appealing to one another. The so-called cultists were the people calming their fellow students down and clamouring for peace. I later called them and said “Are you guys really sure you are cultists? Please don’t let anybody give you a bad name. If you actually belong to an association, that means you must have changed.” Since then, they have been cooperating. Life is about choice; you can decide to be responsible or not. I cited myself as an example; that as an alumnus of this school, I represent the past, present and the future of the school and that if I could get to this level, it shows they can even do better.
It’s on record that you’ve been particularly successful at attracting grants. Now this is something that is in short supply in the Nigerian academia generally. What do you think our academics are not getting right?
I could be wrong, but what I think is missing – not even from the Nigerian tertiary education system alone but from Nigeria – is that we like things the easy way; we love short cuts. We don’t want to compete. You can’t get a grant unless you are ready to compete or be the best. In Nigeria, everybody likes to do the same business. If you are used to easy way or money, you won’t think. It’s about being innovative; it is about being adventurous and daring. In December, I was in the US and I went on an invitation by one of the leading communication firms – actually they came here for an IT audit and they invited me. When I was there, I made a quick one. I got in touch with the people and we deliberated on how this college can attract a grant of about 30 million US dollars for the development of our agricultural farm and we are still working on it. We have appointed a consultant and we are looking forward to getting there. We have a proposal to that effect already and I am working on it every day. May be if I had met a lot of money on ground while I got here, I would not have thought of how we could get all of these things done. If I had money, I would have been building hostels, but now that there is no money, I have to think of how we are going to bring in investors who will come with their own money. Really, it’s getting to a stage where government is finding it difficult to fund tertiary institutions. Higher institutions are all over the country and they all sit on gold mine. It’s part of my vision that within three to four years, we must be able to pay …….. per cent of our……. salary. I’m bent on achieving this goal, because if you want academic autonomy, it comes with financial autonomy too.
You spoke of your desire to make this place a full-fledged degree-awarding institution. What does that mean? ACE already awards degrees.
Yes, but the degree we award is that of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. What we are advocating is that we have come of age and we should be allowed to award our own degree.
How would that read – ‘Adeyemi University of Education’?
There are two ways. Abroad, you could have a college, an institute or polytechnic (awarding degrees); you don’t need to call it ‘university’. So, we could have Adeyemi College of Education awarding its own degree (we have a big name and a solid reputation when it comes to teacher education in Nigeria). So, if it’s Adeyemi College of Education awarding the degree, nothing has changed. We could also have Adeyemi University of Education.
But which would you prefer?
I would prefer Adeyemi University of EduBut which would you prefer?cation because of the Nigerian factor; but if the government says (Adeyemi College of Education) is what they want, there is nothing we can do.
Unionism was suspended here sometime ago due to persistent students unrest. What is the situation now?
I met students unionism on ground when I came on board. I have met with the executives and I have had interactions with them. I must say that the present executives that we have and the general students populace are extremely responsible. We are in very harmonious relationship; and as you can see, we have finished the semester, there is no major crisis. They always come to my office because they know that I’m accessible. Let me share this story with you. There was a time there was an accident and two students were knocked down and they died and the students wanted to go on the rampage. I appealed to them and they listened to me. The second day, they came to me to tell me that they were going to have a candlelight procession, and that they were going to town. I told them that they had to limit the procession to the campus environment, but they were reluctant. Then I said ‘Okay, when are you going to have it?’ They said they were going to have it at 6.30 p.m. So, while they gathered at the Quadrant and they were all in black outfits about to light the candles, I suddenly appeared also in my black outfit. I told them that I was the chief mourner; that I was going to lead, and they followed me.
They have a lot of challenges; part of them is inadequate hostel accommodation, electricity, water, among others. We are going to look at these things. I’m looking at how we can deploy solar energy so that we can solve the problem of light. We have been speaking with relevant companies.
There was a time there were reports of mysterious deaths among students in this college, and a lot of insinuations were made…
I heard everything; and since I came, one or two students have also died and people have been insinuating. Some said maybe the cultists are responsible. Some people have even called for special prayers. Well, we can think the African way; but most of us are trained as academics and we know that you cannot have a population of between 15,000 and 16,000 students who travel daily and no one will die. In Africa, we are yet to accept the fact that death is a necessary end, and that it will come when it will come. I was at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, and I saw students and lecturers die. We have people with Sickle Cell Anemia, while some accidents are caused through bad tires. I’m so much in support of prayers; we’ve been organising prayers because we don’t want such bad occurrence. However, if we pray from now till 2020, those who will die will still die. We are not in control of our lives; our death is decided by our Maker.
Source: Laolu Harolds via Tribune