Clement Adeyi, Osogbo
Prof. Eyitope Ogunbodede who was inaugurated as the 11th substantive Vice Chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Osun State in June last year, bares his mind on efforts being put in place by his administration to improve on the school’s infrastructure, maintain the rich academic standard that the university is reputed and also review its curricula and entrepreneurial programmes to prepare its students for job creation and self-employment.
OAU does not only have enviable records of rich academic standard but has also produced professionals that are major players in different sectors of our national life. Do you think any other university, particularly the private ones, can equal this record?
It is possible, but to be able to acquire the high magnitude of capital resources that OAU has would be relatively difficult. For instance, there are private universities in the country with less than five professors, but we have over 400 professors at OAU. So, it will take many years for such universities to catch up with us in terms of academic personnel resources. With the avalanche of professors and other eminently qualified lecturers that we have, we are able to run with our vision to maintain high academic standard. At one of our Senate meetings last year, we took a decision to review all the curricula to reflect the current needs that education is required to guarantee the society.
Every university’s priority should be total-man-education that has to do with proper training in not only academic but also technological, technical, vocational, agricultural and entrepreneurial skills and good moral behavour and character. In OAU, we have resolved to be producing graduates that are not only capable of employing themselves but who would also employ others and become relevant to themselves, families and the society through special skills that we develop in them. This requires a departure from the current curriculum that most Nigerian universities are operating which does not, in most cases, cater for relevant skills that could guarantee self employment. We also have a high profile research output that will take many years for any private university to attain. OAU has been rated as the number one research institution in Nigeria by the National Universities Commission (NUC). In any case, we keep on strengthening our research tradition to maintain the edge.
As a premier university that operates in a semi-urban environment, what have been your contributions to community development?
OAU has been significantly involved in diverse community development projects which have endeared us to the immediate environment and the entire Ile-Ife town and its environs. This partly accounts for the peaceful communal relationship between us and the community over the years. Currently, we are embarking on a programme that would compel every department to be responsive to the interest of the immediate community. For instance, the students in the Fine Arts Department go to some parts of the community to teach interested people arts and designs. They also help them to market the art works. Our Faculty of Education students, too, engage in model teaching programmes with a couple of primary schools in the town and adopt them for model teaching and academic works in a professional perspective. They create models for such schools for others to follow. This goes a long way in improving the quality and the standard of education in the communities involved. Also, the university council led by Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi is seriously working on a modern integrated agricultural project with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and the Central Bank of Nigeria that will enable us to be the number one university in terms of practical agricultural projects.
The plan has already been endorsed by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. To be able to actualise the vision, over N3billion farm projects would be developed here in OAU. Not only our students or staff but also the entire Osun State will benefit from the initiative. This is in consonance with the Federal Government’s ongoing plans to diversify the economy with agriculture instead of a mono economy based on crude oil. There is a Yoruba song titled: ‘Ise agbe nise Ile wa,’ which means farming is for all of us. Through this, we create an enabling environment for our students to participate in agriculture in tandem with the federal government’s vision and for them to eke out a living with it, especially in the wake of the unemployment challenge in the country. Helping them to be able to create employment for themselves and others requires academic institutions like ours (OAU) to be proactive and that is exactly what we are doing.
Despite high tuition, privileged parents and students, prefer faith-based universities because of the rich infrastructures and steady academic calendar. What are your plans to improve on OAU’s infrastructure to stand it out as parents and students’ first choice.
There is no university in Nigeria that you can compare with OAU in terms of infrastructure standard. If you are entering the campus, your first impression is that you are entering a city and not just a university. We have a university that is residential. The senior staff, junior staff and students are all residential, except a few students who prefer to live off campus for one reason or the other. OAU has over 11,000 hectares of land. The university’s territory extends up to Moro Town which is about 11 kilometers away from the campus and its still part of OAU. So, we are talking of a campus that is more than a typical city. There are several other facilities such as secondary school with not less than a thousand students. We also have two primary schools and two markets within the camous. I have been to so many other countries. I have been to Harvard University in the USA as a visiting professor for one year and I am very sure that it cannot be compared with OAU in terms of infrastructure pedigree.
In fact, I have not seen any university in Africa that can compare with us in infrastructure capacity. We owe this prestige to the vision of our founding fathers, such as the Late Oba Adesoji Aderemi and ObafemiAwolowo whom the university is named after. The poor hostel accommodation being insinuated is not the way people think. We have tried as much as possible, especially since I came on board, to reposition the hostels up to an appreciable standard. You need to see the pressure during admissions because of students’ and parents’ high preference for OAU. But we are now trying to resist the pressure as much as possible and ensure that the number that we admit tallies with the quantum and quality of facilities we have in the university. After all, we are not compelled to admit double of the number of students we can accommodate. As a part of efforts to boost our accommodation capacity, we have initiated a students’ village to be able to accommodate more students. We do it by allocating portions of our land to private developers who build hostels and operate them for 25 years and later hand them over to the university. Within the 25-year period, it is assumed that the partners would have recovered their money. We started the partnership since 15 years ago. In another 10 years, some of the developers would start handing over the keys to us.
So it’s not as if we lack infrastructure but because of the pressure occasioned by admitting more superfluous students than we can accommodate. The university started with 240 students. At a point, we had 10,000 students. But currently, we have over 35,000 students and this is enormous for any university to accommodate conveniently. In addition, our alumni have embarked on an 8,000 capacity hostel as part of the students’ village project. Also, there are other private people that have applied to put up more hostels for us. With this arrangement, the hostel accommodation challenge has been put to rest. As for the alleged poor electricity and water supply, you would agree with me that it is not a common occurrence. It is only experienced during a momentary breakdown of facilities and other logistics. We are committed to ensuring a steady supply of water and electricity. For instance, we pay an average of N60 million for electricity every month. The minimum that we have paid is N27, N35 and N45 million and that is when the students are on holiday, whereas the token they pay for accommodation when put together, can not take care of electricity supply for one month.
Discipline, decency, good moral behaviours and adequate security have been introduced for students in the faith-based universities. Is this achievable in OAU?
At OAU, we regard our students as mature folks. Before I got admitted to OAU in those days, I had worked as a secondary school teacher for two years. When I got here, I met some of my students. I taught for two years not because I wasn’t qualified for university admission but my father insisted that I needed experience. He felt that I needed to be mature enough before going to the university. So, I had to work, acquire experience and get mature before I enrolled into the university. Today, I have no regret doing that. In some universities like Lagos, they have age limit. If you are not up to 16 years, you can’t be admitted into the university. But here in OAU, we do not have that kind of regulation. We don’t bother much about regulating our students’ movements because we feel that they are mature enough to conduct themselves properly. I don’t think we are supposed to be monitoring people who are going to be on their own when they graduate from the university. They need such orientation from the campus. We can only ensure that they are not involved in any form of crime nor constitute nuisance to the school and the community environment or anywhere they may find themselves as products of OAU.
We also ensure that they can compete favourably anywhere in academic standard and good moral behaviour. We make sure that they can stand on their own and be able to look at anybody in the face and say, this is what is right and that is what I am going to do. In a university, students should be free to think on their own and be able to contribute meaningfully to social and economic development. All this orientation begins from school As the vice chancellor of our times, I would not want to truncate that kind of tradition.