It used to be one day one strike, one day one quarrel at the Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo. But there seems to be a new lease of life in the institution at present. The university’s Vice Chancellor, Prof. John Obafunwa, has promised to ensure and maintain a stable academic calendar in the institution this year. He speaks of a new face of LASU. In this interview with SUNDAY ROTILEFON, Obafunwa speaks on his achievements and the rapid transformational development, whic he says is going on in the school…
What is your vision for the Lagos State University in 2015?.
One of the things I want to achieve in 2015, in fact everything can be summarised in one sentence. I want to see a stable academic calendar in LASU. That is what I want to achieve, for so many things to happen you must have a peaceful environment. Today strike, tomorrow quarrel; those things should not be allowed to truncate academic calendar. Luckily, two or three of the unions are not creating any problem; we are able to manage some of the unions’ problems in the school. Although we argue among ourselves, we quarrel. In fact I invited one of the unions and it was part of efforts to sort out some problems. Today, we were inside this office for almost two hours and at the end of the day we laughed. At least to some extent we achieved middle of the road understanding, which is far better than shutting down the campus and blocking the roads. We ended last year on a happy note and we even had an end of the year party for staff members and students. That does not mean that we don’t have one or two individuals who are still complaining or creating problems, the fact is that we want to have a peaceful environment because when you have a peaceful environment, you will be able to move into a rapid face of development. Now the lecturers are marking papers to ensure that the results are being uploaded. The result can be vetted by the Senate and people can graduate, have their convocation and go for their youth service and move into another session. The administration has built on peaceful atmosphere because almost all issues facing the institution have been resolved. Having gone through different phases of turbulence, the university administration and of course the students themselves will want to make progress with regard to the academic calendar. However, that does not mean we don’t have individuals who are still complaining, the fact is that we want to have a peaceful environment I can promise that and assure you that this is a new face of LASU. Lecturers are marking papers and doing all the processes right so that people can graduate when they are supposed to at the appropriate time; we can have our convocation and students can go for their mandatory National Youth Service.
In fact, fresher students are resuming; these are part of the attempt we are making to ensure we get back to normal academic calendar and we expect that by September 2014/2015 session would have finished, and by October 2015/ 2016 calendar will begin. We are back to normal academic calendar. Some people are happy with us while some are not happy with us. In summary, my goal is to see LASU assume the status of the university where things will go according to plan in terms of academics, and I know that when you have a stable academic year and peaceful environment, infrastructural development will skyrocket. I was in Abuja recently to discuss the issues of LASU with the National University Commission (NUC). I have already identified ways in which we can get infrastructural development. I pray we come to see the end of that chaotic period.
Can we be assured that the next academic session would be crisis-free?
Of course students don’t want anything that will disturb their academics, I am not unaware of the fact that some people are not happy with our efforts to make it right. LASU is one place where you have a lot of rumour but, I also know that most of the students do not want to see anything that will disturb them again. There will be issues and we will always sit down to resolve them. I’m not promising that there won’t be any issues.
Are you saying the crisis between Management, ASUU and NASU is more or less over?
To me it’s over because majority of the people want peace. They don’t want any crisis on campus so we can all move forward to do what we are supposed to do. If we have issues we should be able to sit down around the table and get it right. If anybody has issues we listen to them. We cannot afford to take the situation where we start personalising issues, we have to look at a common goal and the common goal for LASU is for LASU to be seen as a stable university.
Can you tell us some of your achievements since assumption of office so that the people out there will know?
It is a pity I don’t have a copy of the end of the third year report in the university, there you would see a lot of achievements we have made in LASU, but I can list a few. One major thing is that this administration had succeeded in changing so many fundamental issues in LASU. Starting from the issue of admission, we tried to make admission as open as possible and the issue of people offering illegal admission has been stopped. A few weeks ago some people still want to float illegal admission; they were asking people to pay money to a particular account, we have been able to identify them. Even the issue of impersonation during examination, writing examination for people, we have been able to clamp down on them and other irregularities; I have changed the whole process of registration such that the Head of Department must know the total number of students in his department. It is by knowing that you have 100 students in a class that you will be able to plan ahead for your exams. You no longer have a period where you have 100 question papers and you find 500 students. Also, we have well modified our website in such a way that anybody can access all our students. With the use of their matriculation number you can verify who is a student of LASU and who is not. People make false claims that they graduated from LASU years ago and they are yet to be issued certificates whereas they did not. We have introduced a situation whereby students sit for exams and in less than four weeks papers are marked and graded. They are dispatched to the HOD, from the HOD to the faculty, to the Dean and to the Senate; everything happens within four weeks and they get their results. So the idea of I’m in 400 levels and I have not seen my 100 level results is now a thing of the past in LASU. That does not go down well with some people; they wanted it to continue but we are objecting to it. I came from the Medical School, LASUTH where when you finished exams today, within 2 days you are getting your results. Before students move to the next class, the results must be released. So coming from Ikeja to Ojo and hearing stories that I have not seen my results for the past four years or missing results is strange to me. We have made a lot progress in the conduct of our examination. We introduced the issue of docket on exam, you cannot come into exam hall without a document that bears your name, photograph, matric number. The docket will carry your name, matric number, passport, etc to show you actually registered for the course. With regards to the external campuses, we have streamlined it such that we now have in-house records. It is not impossible for any lecturer to negotiate marks with students, when you finish your exams that is the end of interaction between students and lecturers. As a matter of fact I have signed over 30,000 certificates since I came to LASU.
But what about the welfare of staff members, how is it being managed?
Without good infrastructural development you cannot create good welfare. I will give you an example, when I first came to LASUTH, I was sitting in a small office of about 5ft – 6ft, I had one small table and chair and later started sharing the small office with a professor, but when I became the provost of the school, the professor had a conducive office for himself during my administration. It was when I became provost of LASUTH that we started infrastructural development in LASUTH. You can imagine what will happen when we complete the entire building projects going on in LASU. We have finished school of transport, which is even too big for the number of students, the Faculty of Law Library has been completed, we moved in with about 150 computers, also two lecture theatres. You can also imagine when finish the Senate Building, all the workers in the registry and others who are currently managing the registry affairs will be moved to the place. The central library that can accommodate about 150,000 students has been finished. We will have more conducing environment to work, all these are welfare for staffs. We are building a new Faculty of Management Science, which is a big building, although just two floors. Our main auditorium, when we finished it in 2012, we were able to have convocation ceremony in-door for the first time. The hall is bigger than the Trenchant Hall at the University of Ibadan, and bigger than main auditorium in Unilag. With infrastructural development going on in LASU, the welfare of staffs is adequately considered. Also, the female hostel is under construction, we have changed the windows of the administrative blocks from louvers to casement and the buildings are going through renovation. All these we are doing are to create a good working environment for our staffs. You might want to say is it work environment without money, which is stomach infrastructure? Even though it is rather small for the end of the year for our staff, we gave a small amount, though we didn’t give rice and chicken but we gave some money to everybody, both senior and junior staffs. We paid them their salary every month; you cannot say that is not welfare of course I know other institutions where they are owing staffs’ salaries including some universities and it is sad to even hear those from such universities to even come and say there is crisis in LASU. Meanwhile, in their own university, they have not even collected two to three months salaries. Since this administration came on board, we have been paying salaries every month, maybe for about three months in total you might find that we were not able to pay exactly on 26th maybe by toward end of the month by 30th or 3rd of a new month and that was when there was a cut in out subvention and a drastic reduction in school fees. Despite subvention reduction, we have tried consistently to do it right.
What about promotion and welfare of workers?
You talk about promotion, I don’t have the figure here but I want you to know that staffs have been promoted under this same administration, a lot of promotional arrears were paid until economic situation became very bad. The greatest number of staff are getting their promotions as and when due. We paid a lot of promotional areas before our subvention was cut down. People have been going for courses, seminars, masters, doctorate degrees, conferences and exhibitions abroad. Some people who benefitted from the TETFUND are the same people coming out to say that we have not done anything. That was why we published names of the beneficiaries with the amount each received. Between now and last year we have directed people to come and apply for this money but only four or five people have applied whereas scores of University of Lagos people embraced the gesture. Let them bring their proposals for the research so that we can scrutinize it.
What about research and training?
Again, very soon we shall advertise for training that people want to attend in 2015.
What about part-time programmes?
We only streamlined the programme. This means that we stopped bad practices in the system. NUC said we should stop it because of certain irregularities that were going on in the system. We had to beg NUC to allow those already in the system to graduate, we have not been admitting since 2011. We now re-applied to NUC to commence the programme under different terms and conditions as applied to other universities. A director has been appointed for the part-time programme and we hope to start before the end of this year.
And your comment on reduction in enrollment of LASU students.
Before now we had too many students in different departments. Regardless of the course, how can you have over 400 students attending a particular subject? I know of a particular situation where a lecturer met with students under a tree. The school was overcrowded and the facilities and capacity of the school were not commensurate with that. What we did was to admit students in each department according to the available quota system and available space. If the quota and facilities improved or increased we shall admit more students. So, the governing council deliberately streamlined the admission so that we can have quality graduates from LASU and balance environment.
What about the issue of fake results?
To Whom It May Concern was generated by one of our staff members who forged the document with stamp. We also found out that the culprit too also graduated from one of our part-time study centers. I’m still waiting for their report because I need to write official report on it. Although there are some genuine cases but we are treating them one after the other.
What is the uniqueness of your forthcoming convocation?
The forthcoming convocation will be the fourth consecutive convocation of the school. There was a time that they did not hold convocation for five years. The uniqueness is that we shall be having fourth convocation back to back and some projects too shall be commissioned. It was in 2013 that students started and finished their examinations, had their convocation and went for National Youth Service and similarly in 2014 we went with Batch B.
There is an allegation of your Interference in student union activities, how do you react?
When the student union election was held in 2013, I was at LASUTH handling the victims of Dana Air crash. I have not been involved in their election.
What about security within the school?
Our last examination was free from crisis or violence. We are stepping up our security arrangement in the school.
How would you react to university rating in Africa where none of the Nigeria Universities was among the top 10?
If you don’t have a conducive academic environment, nobody will take you serious. Apart from a stable academic calendar and physical structures, we need to be ICT driven and that is part of our objectives. Part of our major achievements is the scrapping of over 50 bank accounts formerly ran by LASU. Today we have one major account for school fees and no money passes through any bursary staff, students are paying fees online. From there we can get data of how many students enrolled and the total income at every point in time.