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How we restored peace, credibility to LASU, by Fagbohun

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Olanrewaju Fagbohun

Deplores activities of “toxic few” bent on destabilising the system

On January 10, 2021, Prof Olanrewaju Fagbohun (SAN) would bow out as the eighth substantive Vice-Chancellor of Lagos State University (LASU) Ojo. For over two hours last week, Fagbohun stood before the university community to render an account of his stewardship, stating the challenges before he assumed office, successes recorded during his five-year tenure, and why his successor must sustain the peace in the institution.

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After several years of crisis, disagreements, and academic instability, the outgoing Vice-Chancellor of LASU, Prof. Olanrewaju Fagbohun told key stakeholders in the university community that the institution is back on the path of peace and global visibility.

Fagbohun, who lamented the level of rot and vices when he assumed office in 2016 said the story of LASU has changed from an institution of disenchantment to a university of global reckoning.

The Professor of Environmental Law noted that for LASU, the cost of several years of unending conflict and crisis stunted its growth and development. “This was why my administration was aggressive in decisively dealing with underlying issues of injustice, inequality, and exclusion within the system,” he stressed.

The outgoing Vice-Chancellor in his 85-page valedictory lecture titled: “LASU: My Stewardship – The Project, The People, The Transformation,” noted that the institution for years had been derailed by disunity, the incoherence of purpose, and the pursuit of mundane, primordial interests.

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He pointed out that his administration came up with five strategic imperatives, which he also described as “the therapies that turned the page of crisis and ensured the transformation of New LASU,” namely, restoring peace to the university; fostering high-level scholarship, and creating new knowledge; consolidating on previous gains; developing clear road-map for attracting funds; and making the institution a valued partner to the Lagos State government.

With the backing of the management, Fagbohun, who said he interacted and visited about 27 former Vice Chancellors for their counselling and mentorship, said they were able to share administrative tools and practical acts that are critical to building a celebrated academic institution.

While highlighting some of the problems addressed by his administration, Fagbohun cited the External degree programmes of the institution as one of his greatest challenges. According to him, about 70,500 students were trapped in the institution’s external programmes and were unable to graduate when he came on board in 2016.

He said some of these students had been in the system for close to nine years without a clue as to their status. However, leveraging technology, the VC said a task force was set up to work with the external system team and all the issues were fully resolved as every deserving student graduated.

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In the area of academics, Fagbohun said the non-promotion of staff, which had not only stagnated but also generated uneasiness and tension in the university for several years, was tackled headlong. He said between 2016 when he assumed office till date, about 445 were promoted in the senior cadre of Graduate Assistant to Senior Lecturers and Professorial, while in the non-academic staff junior cadre, 903 staff were promoted; while in the senior cadre, 1,346 staff were promoted.

“And for the first time in the history of LASU, the university had a seamless and stable academic calendar between 2016 and today, as the staff unions only went on strike for one day and a half to agitate for September 2020 payment of the minimum wage,” he stated.

The Senior Advocate of Nigeria hinted that the university-sponsored 266 academic and non-academic members to attend local and international conferences; 66 leading scholars benefitted from research grants from TETFund and other research funding opportunities; acquired 20,802 volumes of books (13,612 were purchased and 7,190 donated), and 3,978 volumes of journals; while Faculty members published over 3,225 articles and book chapters; wrote 273 Books (including co-authored and edited), and had 26 videos and film exhibitions.

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On infrastructural development, the outgoing VC noted that the goal of his administration was to re-brand the institution, aggressively revamp collapsed infrastructure, complete ongoing construction projects, and bring onboard new infrastructure.
 
“Thus, the university between 2016 and 2020, established the Directorate of Advancement; resuscitated all programmes that were already dead or yet to take-off such as the Pre-Degree Studies at Epe, the Sandwich Degree Programme at Ojo and also at Epe, and the LASU Foundation (Joint Universities Preliminary Examination Board – JUPEB) programme in Badagry; established and operationalised the LASU International School; gave a boost to security through the recruitment of a top-notch Chief Security Officer, purchased equipment and regular (internal and external) training of security operatives.

“ The LASU Ventures was restructured, while LASU Consult was also established to allow for seamless and effective operations of the two entities. The outgoing administration renovated, completed, and commenced various building projects inherited and executed new ones in line with the quest for infrastructural development of LASU, formerly tagged “a glorified secondary school.”
 
As part of the achievements of the university, Fagbohun told his audience that the World Bank, Association of African Universities, and the National Universities Commission (NUC), had certified LASU as an Africa Centre of Excellence for Innovative and Transformative STEM Education (ACEITSE).

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He added that the institution had not only recorded commendable performance in Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2021 (501 – 600 band out of 1527 institutions from 93 countries), it has been rated as the Second Best University in Nigeria.

To him, within the private sector, LASU is receiving extensive supportive partnerships with employers, corporate training organisations, professional mentors, and sponsors, while the products of the institution no longer suffer humiliation of rejection by private and public organisations.
 
However, despite efforts to galvanise the development of the system, the Vice-Chancellor deplored the activities of a few “disgruntled elements under the guise of unionism, whom he tagged as “toxic minority” in the system, who are bent on pulling down the university’s wheel of progress at all cost for their selfish reasons.
 
“It is disheartening that dislodged entrenched interests, who hitherto were benefitting from the instability and crisis that was LASU continued to aggressively seek ways to cripple the peace. This ‘toxic minority’ is still very much alive, and it is therefore of extreme importance that I sound this alarm so that we all can remain vigilant.”

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He reminded that the main function of staff unions is to ensure more favorable working conditions and other benefits for their members through collective bargaining, while that of the students’ union is to see to the welfare of the student body.

“They are not to protect bad workers or bad students. Thus, when union leaders seek to tele-guide every decision of university management, and the slightest opposition to their views, even in the maintenance of discipline is perceived as responsible for the future of our university in the face of the mischief of this minuscule minority who take pride and are adept in frustrating and distorting the vision of the majority.

“Should we allow ourselves to be dragged into needless conflicts that set back our standing and sorted us into factions and turned against one another, or recapture our perspective of common purpose, which is capable of propelling us forward?” Fagbohun queried.

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The outgoing VC reminded me that it was the symmetry of brilliant ideas and energy emanating from brilliant minds across the university’s academic and administrative landscape that produced the harmony of peace, progress, and development currently being witnessed in the school.

Fagbohun warned his successor that the upward trend must never be allowed to suffer any reversal.

He said: “The unity that has brought about the great transformation of this university is just the beginning. To move beyond where we are into the Entrepreneurial University of our dream, we must remain together. And it is when we continue to work together that our success will become sustainable.”

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