The Vice-Chancellor of the Lagos State University, Prof. Olanrewaju Fagbohun, talks about his plans for the university with TOBI AWORINDE
How did you receive your appointment as the Vice-Chancellor of the Lagos State University?
One afternoon, I was in the office at the University of Lagos and, out of the blue, I got a call from Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s Special Adviser on Education, Mr. Obafela Bank-Olemoh, saying His Excellency wanted to see me. I was curious, so I went there. When I got to the governor’s office, he was smiling. He then gave me a handshake and said, “Congratulations! You are the one that will be piloting the affairs of the university for the next five years.” Then he gave me a challenge. He said, “I am passionate about this university and I want you to give the kind of leadership that will take this university to a height.” I told him, “Your Excellency, you will be proud of us.”
Did you have any hint that you would be made the VC, prior to the appointment?
No. I knew I came first in the exercise, but I had no hint because, one must respect the fact that the discretion is that of His Excellency. They would send the names of the best three candidates and that was what they did. But the final discretion is that of His Excellency and you cannot question it. It is his prerogative, his discretion. So, I did not have any hint. I was just hopeful that if I am privileged to be the one, it would be an opportunity for me to be able to contribute my quota.
As an alumnus of LASU, what comparison can you make between the varsity’s past and present?
I am not really an alumnus of the school. But because I started off with LASU at a very early age, most of the people that I taught in the very first year that I joined the university were very close to my age. That is why I see myself as an old student of the school. I am very proud of the school because it has much potential.
I feel very good and comfortable with LASU. When you talk about comparing LASU with other institutions, I will tell you that LASU has achieved a lot. And why do I say that? You look at the way LASU has been carrying on since the time of its inception, you can make reference to its law graduates in the early years. They did so well; they distinguished themselves. Today, the story has not changed. I once made reference to the fact that the 26-year-old who became the youngest PhD holder in South Africa is from LASU.
There is another lady that has just finished from the Harvard Law School with a distinction; she is from LASU. I made reference to the fact that the deputy-governor of this great state also graduated from LASU. The Speaker of the state House of Assembly is from LASU. I showcased two of our students who designed the software for electronic voting that we are using simultaneously in our multi-campuses. I talked about one of our students who designed the intranet at LASU. So, you will see that LASU never departed from the path of excellence. Unfortunately, it had its challenges in terms of disagreements between the people working within without the appropriate mechanism for conflict resolution.
That was what degenerated into the negative branding that the university has been getting. But now, all of us have resolved, we will better manage our issues within the university. No longer will we go to the streets to manage our issues. Going further, we are all resolute that we will operate as one and I believe it will work.
What are your pressing plans for the university?
I would say that the VC of LASU, just like any other VC, is like working 25 hours out of 24 hours — it is very challenging and tasking! But it is exciting, particularly when you allow for inclusive governance, as I have done. Now, what are the things that are my own vision, in terms of expanding the frontiers of the university? One, to bring about an enduring peace for the university. As I stated, we want to be able to resolve our conflicts without going outside and without closing the institution down. The very first thing is bringing enduring peace to that university. A second thing is to bring high-level scholarships to the university and that is already ongoing. A third thing is, we want to consolidate on the gains of our past. A man who does not have a sense of history cannot get things right. We want to consolidate on our sense of history. A fourth thing is that we want to be able to attract grants and court the goodwill of members of the community so that they would be willing to support us. A final thing is, we want to be a valued partner to LASU; a valued partner to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and that is what we have started. One of the things we did, in terms of achieving excellence, is that we had a quality assurance retreat, which was focused on bringing best practices in teaching, bringing the best of practices in research and the best of practices in service delivery. Aside from the two-day retreat we had to put together the consensus of people, we are now doing a segmentation — segmentation in the context of, after the two-day retreat, we are now giving a focus to teaching, for the teaching personnel; research, for those who are involved in research; and service delivery, developing and deepening their activities in the area of service delivery. Those are the segmentation sections. And a lot of kudos must go to a former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, Prof. Peter Okebukola, and also Prof. Hamidu Sanni, because these are the lead facilitators.
Prof. Okebukola is the Chairman of our quality assurance project and Prof. Sanni is the Vice-Chairman of the quality assurance project. He is also going to be heading the directorate of the quality assurance for LASU, because at the end of the day, we want to be able to ‘quality-assure’ every aspect of the university’s activities in such a way that we can give effective delivery and better performance.
Does the newly instituted five-year tenure for the position of the LASU VC pose any challenge?
I see it as a progressive and positive thing. For me, as a VC of LASU, I believe that whatever I am not able to do in five years, I should allow another person to bring it in with a breath of fresh air. Why do I want to spend 10 years? The same way you have it at the federal universities, that is the kind of thing we have now at LASU. I want to spend my five years; that is why every day of the five years is important to me. I have already outlined the activities I have for every day of the five years so that at the end of the day, I do not have any day to waste. That is why I do not want people to dissipate their energy conflicts. I want people to use their energy in pushing the frontiers of activities in the university. I must say a big thank you to the media. The media has been very helpful because since I assumed office in the last two months, the media has been giving the appropriate projection to what is happening in LASU and I really thank you guys for that. I am deeply grateful for that.
Some professors are worried that the governor’s recent decision to increase the retirement age of professors from 65 to 70 will affect employment opportunities for younger academics. Do you share in that concern?
I do not see increasing the age of professors to 70 as a bad omen. You do not make professors overnight. A lot goes into making professors and by the time you retire a professor at the age of 65, you still see that there is so much energy in them. Take this evening for example; we had Prof. Afolabi Olumide, the pioneer Vice-Chancellor of LASU. From his gait, can you say that Prof. Olumide is tired? Far from it! So, if Prof. Olumide is 80 and he is this strong, you can imagine a lot of these professors when they are between 65 and 70. I think it is a good omen and it will not in any way affect employment opportunities because the universities are growing. Look at the population of Nigeria; we do not even have sufficient facilities to accommodate people.
So, you cannot say the universities have a problem. What we need to do is to deepen opportunities for funding so that when we have sufficient funds, the university can grow bigger and that is the kind of thing that I have tried to do to push the frontiers, i.e. we know government funds us but government cannot do it alone.
Apart from government, we are looking at the alumni. They should see themselves as the life, blood and strength of their university. We are looking at external stakeholders. They should come in and support the university. We are also looking at the university itself; we should make sure that we maximise the internally generated revenue that we are making and use it effectively such that there is no wastage. That way, we will be able to increase the fortunes of the university. We will be able to build the university and at the end of the day, we will be able to say for LASU, for instance, that we have achieved the goals of the founding fathers of the university.
What are your short-term, mid-term and long-term goals as the LASU VC?
The target I am setting for myself in the immediate term, first and foremost, is to achieve excellence in teaching, research and service delivery in every unit of the university. Part of the immediate goals is achieving enduring peace for the university. In the mid-term, we are looking at improving our facilities. In the long-term, of course, we want LASU to be a foremost runner that will be respected nationally and internationally.