Lagos lawyer, Mr. Banji Alabi, was recently appointed as chairman of the Governing Board of Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Owo by the Ondo State government. He speaks on the mission of the board, challenges and efforts to turn the fortunes of the institution around
What are your plans for the institution?
The governing board is not unaware of the immediate challenges facing the polytechnic, paramount amongst which is the non-payment of salaries to staff. We commend their sacrifice. We feel their pains and the hardship of many others who depend on the staff for livelihood and we are doing our best to bring a relief at the earliest possible time. We are comforted by the words of Chief Obafemi Awolowo that after darkness comes sunshine and after sunshine, the glorious dawn as there is no sorrow without its alloy of joy and behind the ugly terrible mask of misfortune lies the beautiful soothing countenance of prosperity.
While not in denial of the issues currently besetting the institution, we believe that the secret of change is to focus all of our energy not on fighting the old but on building the new. We would need the cooperation of every member of this community to put this institution back on track. In a few days, we will welcome our fresh and returning students back to this campus for the new academic session. This is always a time of joy, when we embrace every student and family with the promise of what is yet to be. This year, however, many of our students and families will arrive with heavy hearts following the last students’ riot, the ugly violence and the wanton destruction of valuable properties worth more than N168 million. These include the IT centre.
The sad event serves as a painful reminder that we live in a world of brokenness, a world that needs healing. For that reason, our work here is more meaningful than ever. We are committed to equipping and inspiring every student to be a leader, a force for good, an agent of hope and a steward of justice throughout the world. As we strive to put the ugly incident behind us, let us forgive one another and redouble our resolve to ensure that every student and every member of this community is warmly welcomed on this campus.
What are the challenges?
The nation’s economy has been in decline since 2014, making it difficult to meet even salary obligations to workers. For example, Ondo State realised less than 60 per cent of its estimated budget in 2017. This has made it even more difficult for an administration that inherited a burden of arrears of university subventions and salaries for up to nine months as well as a debt burden in excess of N200 billion. That’s why debt repayment (on principal alone) and statutory transfer gulp as much as N20 billion annually. There are two major sources of funding for education worldwide. The first, and more recognised source, is subvention. This is provided by the government in our own case. The second major source of funding is Internally Generated Revenue, typically derived from tuition and other business ventures of the school,
There is nowhere in the world that institutions of higher learning depends absolutely on subvention from the government like Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Owo does. Some 40 years ago at Obafemi Awolowo University, during a convocation ceremony, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo said: “Gone are the days when the authority of institutions of learning should go cap-in-hand begging for funding.” The words of the sage are even more compelling today.
How can tertiary institutions be self-sustaining?
We need to understand that times have changed and therefore must wear our innovation caps towards generating sufficient revenue internally with little dependence on government but by optimally utilising our resources. Business as usual must be crippled. All departments must think outside the box in this time of scarcity and ideas must be bottom-up. Great institutions are birthed by great innovators. We are a technical-oriented institution. Therefore, we must live our calling by producing great ideas consistent with best practices in educational institutions across the globe with a view to improving our competitiveness and ranking in Nigeria.
In view of the foregoing, we would soon be meeting with all the revenue generating centres and departments so as to resuscitate and reposition them to generate more funds and resources needed to drive our vision for the institution. The avenues to raise funds are unending and the resources are lying fallow in the Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Owo. May I ponder to ask, what is our Artisan Center doing? Why is our large expanse of land lying fallow? What is the Faculty of Agriculture producing? What of consultancy services? Where is our printing press? What is our food science and technology doing? Where is our motor mechanic workshop? How do we administer our part-time programmes? What has been the impact of the Alumni Association? We will properly evaluate all these and other possible initiatives to grow revenue within our institution.
What are the other innovations you are introducing?
As part of efforts to consolidate the giant strides of the Akeredolu-led government, the governing board announced the formation of a N500 million endowment fund committee to be headed by our former first lady, Mrs. Olufunke Agagu. The endowment fund is to ensure that no talented and brilliant Ondo State indigene is denied the right to education on the account of inability to pay school fees at Rufus Giwa Polytechnic during the tenure of Akeredolu. We also have the potential of establishing microfinance bank, community radio to serve our host community and to a technology hub similar to the Silicon Valley in the United States for our students to demonstrate their talents and excellence in advanced science and technology tailored at improving the human condition. In achieving all these, we are determined to relate with our people. We will acknowledge and celebrate merit and innovation. Promotion and other privileges will be extended to people on the basis of what they have to offer to assist in the onerous task of moving the institution forward and raising sufficient revenue for the school.
Which other direction are you looking at?
We are in the era where practically almost everything in the world revolves around technology. As an institution well revered in our technical capabilities, we should be at the vanguard of pioneering several initiatives backed with cutting edge technology. This should not only be feasible in the quality and skills of graduates we produce every year but also in our activities and processes. In this light, the governing board, under my leadership, will be exploring several initiatives to digitalise many of our processes. This will help streamline our operational and educational activities, block leakage and improve efficiency. We will be partnering with telecommunication service providers to increase internet penetration on our campus. We will improve the functionalities of our school portal. All lectures notes will be centrally available and students will be able to access the notes thereby eliminating the need for handouts. Our students will be able to register for courses online and all relevant information on deadlines for submission of assignments will be on the portal to aid planning by our students. All tests and the dates for the tests will be on the portal and results for all academic assessments will be processed and published without delay. We will also shut out illegal students because they will not have access to the portals. Our students will have access to E-library and research work from world-class institutions.
Our students will also have access to advanced technology via visual training on how to fix and assemble cars, computer system, telephone, printing, electronic, painting, mechanised farming, home design, lift, home wiring and so on. Students and the principal officers will have the opportunity to appraise and access the quality of the lectures delivered by our lecturers and be able to provide developmental training. All our students will have equal opportunities to information just like their counterparts anywhere in the world. The system will check plagiarism and report cases of plagiarism by students on any research work to compel our students to work hard and provide the technological workforce for our nation. It is the dawn of a new era and I call on all our students and members of the polytechnic community to support the dreams of the governing board.
How do you intend deploying your corporate experience to the development of the polytechnic?
In the coming days, the board would be working with necessary departments to review the admission policy and processes with a view to aligning it with best practices across the globe. Our strategic objective in this regard would be aimed at upping our game to make the school attractive to best brains in the state by making us the first point of choice for smart brains and driving admission processes purely on merit. It is our aspiration to build an institution where the son of nobody from any corner of the state can be rest assured that, in as much as they work hard and succeed academically, admission is accessible to them regardless of their status in the society. This essentially will rekindle the spirit of competitiveness and excellence that Ondo State is known for and enable us to seek affiliation with other great schools in Nigeria and abroad.
We understand that at the centre of every great organisation is the role of the human resources. Accordingly, it is our aspiration to turn Rufus Giwa Polytechnic into one of the greatest places to work in the state. Consistent with Governor Akeredolu’s policy, welfare of our people would be at the forefront of our decisions as we move on. Salaries and allowances would be paid as at when due and in turn, we expect a corresponding level of work output from members of staff to justify our stand on welfare.