Professor Nuhu Yakub VC, Sokoto State University: My battle with Uni-Abuja council
By TUNDE OMOLEHIN, Sokoto
Self-effacing and personable, he comes across as the neighbour next door. But Professor Nuhu Yakub, erstwhile vice chancellor of University of Abuja is an intellectual powerhouse and astute administrator. In deed, these qualities have earned him appointment as helmsman of soon-to-take-off Sokoto State University.
In a recent encounter, the renowned academician x-rayed the nation’s education sector and returns a grim verdict: standards, especially in the tertiary institution have gone for good. But he believes that a rescue mission is still possible. According to him, the commitment of all stakeholders including government at all levels can bring back the golden era. “I think structures should be made available, facilities should be provided, while students should be made as comfortable as possible.”
The professor of political science also speaks on his experience as VC of UNIABUJA and many others issues. Excerpt.
You have just been appointed the pioneer Vice Chancellor of Sokoto State University. What do you think are the challenges you want to tackle now?
I give thanks to God for my selection and appreciation to Governor Aliyu Wamakko for his vision in setting up the university and also for asking me to come and assist him to achieve his mission and vision. He wants to develop a world-class university. This has been my prayer from day one and by God’s grace, we will achieve that vision. I want to say that the structures at the permanent site are very solid and can meet the needs of future generations. I am sure that with the quality of structures in place, our quest and aspiration to recruit world-class lecturers would be met. We will also admit students and make sure that lecturers show commitment by giving them enabling environment. We will actually strive to make the university not only one of the best in Nigeria but in Africa and the World. I always define a university as a place where people go to get empowered, knowledge-wise, intellectually and in terms of skills to make their own contributions to the advancement of the society. So, one of the things we want to make sure we put in place is to have a university of manageable size. To have such number of students in class to make good interaction with the lecturers possible. When I was an undergraduate in the 70s, which was the golden era of universities in the country, we had student population that was manageable. Lecturers were able to identify with students and easily interact with them on the basis of what their needs were and how they could be met. I appreciate that Nigerians need education and that explains the burgeoning population we have in our universities today. You go to a particular university, what you find is a class of 400 and 500 students. I am not begrudging the students; it is a good thing but I think there is a way the government of the country can show responsibility by making sure that students are impacted upon by the university. And the university can do that in a situation where we have 400 students and enough lecturers. In fact, that huge number can be lectured by between five and ten lecturers teaching the same subjects. What they have to do is that everybody will take an aspect of the course that is being taught and teach it competently. Then, the remaining nine lecturers will be in the classroom to ensure that students also pay attention. If you have a class of 400 students with only a lecturer, it will be difficult for him/her to conduct supervision. Then, we can also make learning enjoyable because when classes are crowded, there are no fans and air conditioners, you will be expecting magic for students to assimilate what they are being taught. So, I think structures should be made available, facilities should be provided, while students should be made as comfortable as possible. There are classes where you see students go and stand for two hours to receive lectures. But if they sit comfortably and the lecturer is not stressed up while teaching, you will see that there would be fruitful and mutually beneficial interaction between the students and the lecturers.
Is that the kind of plan you have for the varsity?
This is the ideal thing that will make learning possible and beneficial and I think Sokoto State University should be unique in terms of making facilities available. For the next three to five years, we will monitor the growth of the university. We are not starting until October 2013 and we will start with a maximum of about 360 students. We are going to start with three faculties namely: Education, Science as well as Arts and Social Sciences. Then we will do English, Arabic, Hausa, Islamic studies, History and other humanities subjects. In the social sciences, we will have political science, economics, sociology and psychology. Sciences will have mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and other aspects of science. This university should be able to produce requisite and qualified teachers for the state and Nigeria as time goes on. From experience, I have discovered that the foundation is very weak and that is what makes students to have problems of assimilation when they come to the university. I know the critical role a teacher plays in the transmission of knowledge. So, one of the things we will do is to ensure that teachers are given enough encouragement; I mean, the welfare of teachers must be uppermost. We will try and see where we can improve so that we will get highly motivated staff. The plan is to build houses, a kind of accommodation for teachers, to ensure that lecturers are close to their place of work so that there won’t be any excuse for lateness. We will lay emphasis on lecturers giving students tutorials that will enable them to remember and assimilate as well as recall and repeat what they have learnt. By the time you have micro contact with the lecturer through tutorials, it helps students to remember. So, repetition is one sure way for students to assimilate.
What are you going to do to ensure that politics does not come into the running of the varsity?
The governor has already said that he wanted to develop a world-class university and needed somebody who will help him achieve the vision. We will ensure the improvement of staff and admit quality students. And for students who may not have requisite qualification, we have School of Developmental Studies, to enhance their ability to enter the university. So, if somebody comes that he is in high position in the judiciary or government, we will tell him that this university is an institution that has its own tradition and values that must be respected. So, the School of Developmental Studies is there to take care of such matters and if a child is committed within one year, he will be admitted to the university. I know that in the I970’s, the North was determined to close the education gap between it and the South. That was why the government decided to set up School of Basic Studies at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. A lot of people making waves in the country today went through the School of Basic Studies, which buoyed their chances to enter the school. So, they should allow us run the university the way it is supposed to be, to the pride of everybody in the state and the country.
Setting up a higher institution like a university is not an easy task, especially when it’s come to funding. Do you think the state government has the political will to sustain this project?
Well, I want to tell you that I am an optimist. I want to also assume that any offer I am given at this point in my life that will not be sustainable, I will outrightly decline. Besides, this job was given to me on merit, which means that I can add values to it suitability. I will not bother myself with the roles that politicians are going to play. My challenge is to develop the university. Talking about resources, of course, to develop a university is a capital-intensive enterprise. But a visionary and resourceful vice chancellor can also work within a given resources to produce more resources. The issue is not how much can you get from government but how much can you generate. The ability to generate and become financially autonomous speaks volume of the capacity of the leader of that particular institution. One thing I want to assure the governor and the good people of the state is that we will account for whatever resources will be given.
What are the efforts so far in the recruitment of teachers?
With regards to the number of professors, senior lecturers and others, the
National University Commission advised that we should have at least, for a start, 153 teaching staff. I think on that ratio, professors will be about 40, senior lecturers and lecturer one will be about 35, then the remaining 70 will comprise assistant lecturers and graduate assistants. We will not like to have teachers that don’t do anything but at the same time we will not like to have students that are not properly trained. So, we will have to make sure that we create a balance between teachers-students ratio. You have to also take cognisance that non-academic staff to academic staff will have to take the ratio of one to three.
What can be done to enhance educational development in the state?
Apart from the infrastructure that will be put in place, the students could be encouraged through scholarships. I remember when I attended secondary school in Kano in the I960’s, we were being paid allowance. So, we will advise the local government areas to sponsor their candidates. As far as I am concerned, the university gate is wide open; we have to absorb as many students from the state as possible. The main thing is that we will enhance educational opportunities for the people of the state. We will also try to provide a good library, which is very critical and Internet facilities so that through it, students can get good materials to read and do research. We can see what we can do to enhance partnership with other universities overseas. We want a situation in which by the time we start admitting students next year, to be a global player in university education.
Can you compare your school days with the present days?
Well, going by my age, I want to say that I belong to a different generation. In fact, I have spanned two generations in my lifetime. Within this period, you would agree with me that quite a number of things have changed. When I was a student, even at the primary school stage, I was a newspapers addict and very current to the extent that I knew the happenings around me then. As a pupil, we would contribute money in the class to buy daily newspapers and that really improved our reading and writing skills. Our period was an enterprising one in the sense that everybody was in a learning competition in order to excel. I also remember, for instance, when I was in primary school and always imagine myself being in secondary school. The Government Secondary, Okene (Kogi State) was on my way to the school and every morning I would see students either in their various classrooms or on the playground doing games. I always said, oh! when would I also be part of this school? That was the motivation to excel, which is quite different from what we have today. I used to tell my students that if it is possible to just give them their certificate as I enter the classroom without labouring for it, I am sure everybody would be happy to grab it. And of course, the students would even be laughing approvingly. But that was not what it was during our days. Then, we really struggled to excel. During my university days, I tried to make myself more relevant in the class. Sometimes, I went the extra length to look for materials to read ahead of the lectures. After the lecture, I would return to the library to continue my reading for further clarification on the treated topics. But these days, what you have is that students spend their time on cultism, gang raping of girls and going to night parties. The current social media is not helping matters. It is having a negative influence on them. So, this is a totally different generation, far different from ours.
Who is to blame- government, students or parents?
It is the fault of everybody. It all began from the period the military intervened. In the process, they undermined the importance of education. The military embarked on some policies that rubbished educational quality. They also promoted individuals’ interest in the system. People who had no knowledge of the system took over the affairs and became influential. People without educational backgrounds were given juicy positions. So, people simply felt going to school was no longer important.
Also, I recall my experience as vice chancellor and how parents would come and be begging for their children to be admitted, even though they knew that their wards did not qualify. They just wanted them to be there. Secondly, when the students are on holidays, the parents are not happy because they don’t even have time for them. Some parents are afraid to ask their wards questions because they don’t want to offend them. During our days, who are we not to obey our parents in anyway? I believe parents share in the blame too. Also, some teacher came into the teaching profession as a last resort. People like us came in because we have passion for teaching and that is what has propelled me to excel. When I finished as a first class graduate, I had offer of an executive job. I could have become a permanent secretary by now and probably be a rich man. And I am also sure that I would have by now contracted the virus of corruption in the system.
What was your experience as VC, University of Abuja?
Talking about corruption in the system now reminds me of my days as University of Abuja as vice chancellor, where members of the institution’s governing council were soliciting for contracts meant for public bidders. I couldn’t just imagine members of my council demanding for such contracts from me. I started wondering what kind of people we had in the system. A lot of us do not appreciate the fact that we are entrusted with enormous responsibilities, which we have to discharge diligently. In fact, what makes the developed countries what they are today is not the volume of natural resources they posses, but the quality of their human resources. Take Japan for instance, they are one of the most famous technologically advanced nations in the world and that is possible because of the power of the human resources they have. Unless governments at all levels realise this, all sectors, including education would continue to experience downward slide.
What were the other challenges?
Another surprise was that admissions were being sold. At a point, I had to struggle to stop it. During my tenure, I made all stakeholders in the institution to understand that my ethics cannot be compromised. Another challenge I had, though not peculiar to university of Abuja, is the inability of our institutions to be autonomous academically, financially and administratively. The way our universities are regulated is far different from what is happening in other climes like America. And every day, we are missing the point. For instance, you are giving somebody research grant and one of the criteria we have to look into is how it advances knowledge. The essence is to add value or to create knowledge. But it is not like that in this country because the regulatory body are there obstructing the creativity of the university. This is not a challenge unique to University of Abuja. It is a general problem that we should begin to address. Nobody should be afraid to criticise the roles of our regulatory body. If you said look, I want to maintain standard, go ahead with it. But within that standard, people should be allowed to create a notch higher than the standard. And in fact, when the researchers create such a notch, it means the bar of knowledge would be raised to another standard. Wole Soyinka, winner of Nobel laurel was able to achieve that because he was unorthodox. If he had followed the tradition, he wouldn’t have been able to write what he wrote. In fact, the universities in the sixties in this country were really centres of excellence, compared to now. The over-bearing attitude of the National University Commission and other regulatory bodies were not there before, so people were able to exercise their interest in the development of education to the fullest. It is a challenge not only for me, but for anybody who is managing tertiary institution in this country. We should be able to create rooms and opportunities for creativity and visionary leadership.
What is your rating of the University of Abuja as at the time you left?
When I was leaving office, no fewer than 62 people applied to succeed me. I am not trying to be arrogant; I excelled in Abuja and I think it was on the basis of my performance that I was given a national honour by the late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua.
What has been your greatest challenge as an administrator?
I always think of how to make the system better. I am driven by the passion to reclaim the good old days. I always think of how we can make the students appreciate the essence of education. Education is the tool that can be used, not only for self-development of an individual, but also for the general development of our society. As a teacher, I had been in the classroom for over forty years now and my headache always is how do we restore the lost glory of education. I am beginning to see school system breaking down with parents’ assuming the teacher’s role through the use of Internet facilities to get knowledge for their children. I also think that government has important roles to play in the system because our population is increasing daily and we still have many children roaming the street. All these could not have happened if only we have a more committed and responsible leadership; leadership that does not rule based on tribal sentiment. I remember in the I960s and early I970s when the nation was still relatively poor but students were being given allowance by the government. That continued until mid-I980s. But today, even though all the state governments are budgeting in billions and Federal Government proposing in trillions of naira, the education system is at the brink of collapse.
If given a chance, how do you intend to correct this trend?
At this point, I would not want to be appointed a minister except I am convinced that Mr. President would to my advice or input. Never! But the fact is that I would also blame myself for being an armchair critic. In advanced countries, we have seen professors that were active in politics. They are there to correct the bad leadership in such countries. That is the kind of a situation I am looking forward to, rather than just playing ‘sidon look’ game.
What is your take on the idea that PhD should be the minimum teaching qualification?
It has to work. We have the facilities and lecturers to realise it. Some of us are getting retired; who will replace the aging ones. So, what I discovered is that if someone is not innately motivated to develop passion for teaching he will not come. There are people that are only looking for incentives to come in and what I think government should be doing is encourage those who aspire to be teachers. We have what it takes to reach the place where the likes of South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia are. All we need is to ensure the facilities are in place. What should stop government from establishing institutions with adequate laboratories? The problem is corruption. We are hearing about N2.6 trillion oil subsidy scam and nothing has been done. If it has been possible to channel such funds to education, you will see solid structures. You have to develop physical structures and improve them. When I was the Vice Chancellor of University of Abuja, the Chinese Embassy sponsored me to a two-week trip to China in 2004 to see how things are over there. I was really amazed with what I saw. One of the things that impressed me at the Department of Mass communication was the television studio, which was much better than any television studio in this country. Just a department’ so, if you think you have something which is okay why not think about developing it and taking it to the next level? So, our problem, apart from corruption, is the inability to think big. Nigerians don’t think big and I think if our leaders and elite who were opportune to travel abroad are sincere to themselves, they will know that all what we are doing is so small and pedestrian. Why can’t we be creative, think big and put the ideas into action? If we do this, the country will change for the better. I think when we have functional federalism, we will move forward. If we actually think big, we will create grand structures that will befit our status. I am convinced that we can actually progress like South Korea and Malaysia. Our weather is good; we have sunlight and can actually tap it to make the country great.
To what extend has your job infringed your privacy?
Well, let me put it this way; I am a person that believes that work cannot kill. And if you have been given an assignment to do, do it properly. Beside that, I have in me a zeal that urges for excellent right from my primary school days. So, I am always working hard just to make sure that I improve myself and other people around me. So, this job is a continuation of where I stop when I left the University of Abuja. And I am used to it because I saw my training as an intellectual and researcher. Someone can say lecturing job is all about writing papers, but to do so, you need the quiet of the night. So, I have been used to working late into the night. In a nutshell, I am really enjoying every bit of my day in this job.