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‘How strong partnership between universities and industries can stimulate phenomenal development’

By Kabir Alabi Garba and Abiodun Fagbemi
06 July 2019   |   4:00 am
In the last 10 years, we have graduated seven sets of undergraduate students in different areas of human endeavours. Also, we have introduced programmes that no other university has done in different parts of the nation.

Prof. AbdulRasheed Na’Allah

Barely one month before the end of his tenure as the Vice-Chancellor of the Kwara State University (KWASU), PROFESSOR ABDULRASHEED NA’ALLAH got a new appointment as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Abuja, thereby consolidating a unique profile of being the longest serving helmsman in the the history of vice chancellorship of the Nigerian Universities. In this conversation, he bares his thoughts on various issues especially on running the KWASU in the last five years without receiving subventions from the state government, owner of the University. Besides, Na ‘Allah said Professors being the highest paid officials of University should be subjected to periodic verification exercise to ascertain their performances level towards justifying the continued payment of their huge emoluments. 

What are the imprints that define your tenure as the Vice-Chancellor of the Kwara State University (KWASU) in the last 10 years?
In the last 10 years, we have graduated seven sets of undergraduate students in different areas of human endeavours. Also, we have introduced programmes that no other university has done in different parts of the nation.Our aeronautical engineering school is the only one of its kind in Nigeria. I mean no other Nigerian University offers it as a course. We are ready to offer the needed assistance to university of like minds. However, one of the areas we can help the nation is in designing drones to fight the insurgents. For instance, one of our Dons few months ago won a grant of N21 million to help Nigeria over problems of incessant vandalisation of oil pipelines.

Besides, our institution prides itself in the area of training and churning out of graduates with adequate entrepreneurial acumen. The situation is such that when they graduated they would not depend on any entrepreneur for employment opportunities. They are not to be job seekers but job creators. Examples of such products of ours abound all over the world. 

At KWASU, we also have a school of Advanced Military Studies to help develop the nation’s intellectual ability in line with 21st century. Modern warfare has surpassed the era of gun duels and so on. Wars are now fought with more intellectual and articulate programmes. It is a Doctoral programme. Nigerian security agencies and their private counterparts are on the programme. We have a Board of Governing Council for the programme headed by a retired AirVice Marshall, Ndatsu Umoru.

We have also contributed our quota especially in the area of tourism management. It is not a common thing in the North Central geo political zone we belong to, but we have established a tourism strategy to give Nigeria the desired results in this regard. The mono economic drive we operate in Nigeria is not healthy for our economy. We must diversify in order to make our economy healthier. Very soon, Nigerians will see the manifestation of our efforts. We have synergies with other state governments within this geo political block. Even at present, we give admissions to foreign students without any discriminatory fees.

KWASU is known to have maintained a very stable academic calendar among the government-owned universities. How did you achieve this feat? 
We started the University with the population of 500 students some 10 years ago. In fact, I gave the first lecture at the University on December 17, 2009. It was on the Use of English Language. But today, with a population of 15,000 which may by next admission jump to 20,000, I think your question is very apt. We have academic calendars that are drawn ahead for the next four years. At KWASU, it is a norm for us to start First semester from August and end same in December, then comes second semester which is between January and May. Our convocation is usually in June. It is the resolve of all the stakeholders to sustain this stability. The unions, students, professors and non-teaching staff… all want the stability. So, we can celebrate it in an environment where strikes have become the order of the day.  We thank them all. This would not have happened without their cooperation.

How has funding contributed to this much cherished stable calendar?
Since five years ago, we had not received a single penny as subventions from the government yet we pay salaries as at when due. We are a University that is not running but flying. We believe that we could only catch up with others by flying. We depend mainly on our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) and partly on loans from financial institutions for survival. We are credit worthy, the main reason we don’t have any problem with our creditors. So subventions or otherwise, the factual thing is that we are poised for stability and that is our watchword. I could recollect how the then Governor of the state (Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed) had summoned the Bursar and I to the Government House for a discussion.

It was during that time that there was a serious slide in the global prices of crude oil. We were the only institution so summoned by the Governor then. I think the monthly allocations to the state from the Federal account before the recession then was N3.8 Billion. But suddenly, it dropped to about N1.8 Billion. This was at the point that the government said there would no longer be any subvention for us. We accepted the challenge and promptly mobilise to fine tune workable strategies. We clamoured for a little sum from the government to serve as a back up, but till date we got no money from them. We are grateful to God and all our dedicated staff that KWASU did not go down despite the paucity in funding. We have some private investors who are interested in some of our projects.

Besides, we take loans from financial institutions. But we have a clean record of not defaulting in repayment order. We are credit worthy. At KWASU we have developed a system that has helped us not to see problems as barriers but as opportunities. We want to appeal to the new government in the state to restore the subventions, as no University can in the real sense of it survive without the funds. We need this money to help develop the other two campues of the University at both ‘Osi’ and ‘Ilesha Baruba.’ 

What are the structures put in place to consolidate achievements, ensure continuity and stimulate improvement?
July 27, 2019 is going to be my last day as Vice-Chancellor of Kwara State University and someone else would carry on by the grace of God. What I have always done at the beginning is that it is not about me. It is about all of us, it is about the students, it is about the staff and all of us working together, it is about the government, it is about the community and that is why we have that slogan – the University for community development. So, when we say we are an entrepreneurial university and we emphasize on entrepreneurial development, we have a board, we have a team, we have people working everyday strategising and reviewing the process. What is next, where do we go next, what are doing next and allow them to ask questions too in ways that without me, things are assured in the sense that those structures in place and maintained via the committee system. We have a system in KWASU that enables everybody to contribute. Like I told you, in the last five years, we did not receive any money in terms of salary or anything, it is not the work that I did as an individual.

It is the work that all of us did together, all staff, teaching and non-teaching staff strategising to make sure that things worked. So, without me, the system continues as we have committees that are in charge of affairs in every aspect and life of the University.

What template will you recommend for universities in Nigeria to impact the larger society positively in the areas of policy formulation and execution for national development?
The universities should be prepared to make a change. People say there is no much money but what have you done with the little money that you have. Prove how effectively you have used the little that you have in terms of the facilities that you have on campus, in terms of the support you have for young people to do research, in terms of ensuring that products are coming out of it, in terms of the evaluation that you make of your staff to make sure that if they do not produce, you do not accept it, in terms of encouragement that you give them and in terms of the discipline and in the ways that will be beneficial to this nation. Our universities should be for learning and character.

If Vice-Chancellors, administrators and universities generally are able to take care of the two – learning and character, then they are ready to work with industries. What I hear is but they do not come to us and I say, why would the industry come to you? From my own background, I understand that it is the academic staff that goes to the industry. Every week, you choose a day that you will reach out to an industry, go and discuss your project with an industry and make them know that you will raise their profit from, for instance, one million naira to five million naira or 500 million naira.

Bring the industry to your campus to see what you are doing, display this to them which must be relevant to what they do, show them the next step they would want to go. They may not even know they need to take that next step but prove to them, this is my research and if you do this, this is the additional profit that will come to you. Many are fond of condemning the government. What you were given, what did you do with it?

The whole society must begin to ask questions, you send your young ones to a private university and you are spending millions in a year. Have you asked how that university has impacted in that community; is it just about certificate? It should not just be about obtaining a certificate. It should also be about the relevance of that university in making sure that your son or daughter is creating wealth; even while he/she is a student of that university and that university is making permanent impact at least in its environment. I am not saying that the whole university in Ilorin should be making something in Port-Harcourt. Let every university make major impact in their immediate community, then the 162 universities spread out would have combed the whole of the nation and ensured that some major things are happening everywhere then you have some of them that would reach out beyond their immediate shores, but what is important is that it is not just about certificate.

Certificate is okay as it is an evidence of your learning but that is not the end of the story. The real story is in the real action and in the real things that you are contributing to the society. Society must make sure university know that they are not ready to maintain the status quo as usual, creating parasites. Parents train their young ones from primary to secondary and then university level. After universities, they get married, yet their parents are still looking after them. People say government is not giving any jobs, what about the educationist, how has the university made you dependent or independent. Parents must be involved, religious societies must be involved, socio-cultural groups must be involved, our communities must be involved, challenge the universities. Tell universities – federal, state and private, we are not satisfied! Government must realise that if this nation must be great, they must be the right players with the right atmosphere.

If universities do their part of being accountable, focused on the development of their nation, ensuring that everyone does what he or she is expected to do – teaching and non-teaching, then the government must support the university with adequate funding. I do not know why every state has ministries, ministry of education, ministry of mineral resources, ministry of women affairs, ministry of transportation, how much has each of these ministries worked with universities. Every ministry should make available certain funds for competition among academia in your state. Let them compete, our state wants to become the hub of agriculture in West Africa. Challenge professors, bring us ideas, how do we make this happen? It is already a goal, tell us through your ideas how this is going to happen! If this is what we compel academia to do, they will do it! Ministry of foreign affairs, ministry of science and technology, ministry of mining and ministry of women affairs, all these ministries must have fund that is going to be targeted at achieving the goals and aspirations of that ministry for our nation and then, work with the universities, research institutions and see how development will be accelerated. If the 162 universities begin to use the best strategies and are firm about industry/university relationship and are firm about giving an exceptional 21st century experience, for example, KWASU promotes training in the foreign languages because we believe that we are training the students not just to be local champions, but global citizens. Pick the best strategy that works for you and stick to it and mobilise for it and make sure the students are happy in terms of what they get and their parents can affirm that this is a worthwhile education.

The issue of language is very germane in the field of international relations and  business expansion. Is there any policy at the University that tends towards this? 
Japanese language must now be taught and passed as a course under the General Studies at KWASU. The goal is to open up new horizons for our students. Japan as a country has no raw materials but they explore the option of human resources with high analytical skills. Even with the recent emergence of the Chinese as the Second most developed economy in the world,  Japan position is still very solid. So what we are doing here is to build bridges against language barrier. Already we have targetted how to impact such skills as Bio Mass Production Technology, Converting of Waste to Wealth and so on.  We had entered into different types of Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with some Japanese Universities and some companies in the country. We have thus opened the door for our students and staff alike. We have equally employed the services of a Chinese Professor on our campus. Besides,  nobody graduates from KWASU without first fulfilling the requirements of understanding the rudimentary knowledge of French language. University is a universal thing. We cannot do it alone. We are all working hard to fulfill this goal here. 

How do we make many of Nigerian Professors to be more committed to the ideals of a 21st century University?
At KWASU, all our full Professors are subjected to Peer Review and Evaluation every three years. The objective is to find out if or not they have done enough for the system, the community and the nation at large. We are the only public University in Nigeria till date doing this. We are therefore appealing to other public Universities in the country to join us in this regard. It is a cheat on the system if the Professors who are the highest paid staff in the University no longer contribute to the system. In fact I want to suggest to the relevant body or bodies in Nigeria to lift the sealing on the salaries of our Professors. Instead Professors should continue to enjoy unlimited increments in salaries based on their constant contributions to knowledge. That is the basic essence of a University. 

What will be your recommendations to government as necessary steps to take in order to halt the state of insecurity in Nigeria? 
Let me start with KWASU. We are very strict about the way our students move about. We don’t take security issue with levity hands at KWASU. At the National level however, kidnapping has not stopped. Vice Chancellors are even victims with their relatives paying high sum of ransom before being released by their kidnappers. We need to bring scholars all over the world into our country for research collaborations but they always write back to us citing insecurity in Nigeria. They often say sorry,  Nigeria is not secured.  This is a serious development that many people are taking for granted or playing political games with. Maybe the Universities have the greatest loss in this regard, intellectual loss and technology depletion.

If academics can no longer exchange research works then we are in for a big danger.  We agree that ‘Boko Haram’ had been moved backward a bit but we are not there yet where we can sing a victorious song. But here is a strong message to all our leaders at the states and Federal levels that we must stop appealing to our ethnics and religious sentiments. If we bring these into our security system, we will all be consumed by the insurgents. They bomb everywhere including churches mosques and even some Universities. This development is quite pathetic and calls for an urgent solution. They would not differentiate among Yorubas, Hausas and Igbo while bombing. So we need unity of purpose and great sense of oneness to put at bay these vampires if we must succeed as a nation.

BORN in 1962, the scholar obtained a BA in English from the University of Ilorin in 1988, with a thesis “Dadakuada: the trends in the development of Ilorin traditional oral poetry,” and received M.A. Literature in English from the same university in 1992. In 1999, he received his PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, and was subsequently professor and chair of African Studies at Western Illinois University before he became the Vice Chancellor of Kwara State University in Nigeria. He is the author and co-author of numerous books, but some books of his that are most recent are Globalization, Oral Performance, and African Traditional Poetry (Palgrave Macmillan, March 2018), African Discourse in Islam, Oral Traditions, and Performance (Routledge, 2010) and Africanity, Islamicity, and Performativity: Identity in the House of Ilorin (Bayreuth African Studies, 2009), and edited a poetry book, Obama-Mentum: An Anthology of Transformational Poetry.

Professor Na’Allah has been nominated for and received numerous awards, including the Gold Key Recognition Award, University of Alberta Student Union, 1998; the Graduate Student Service Award, GSA, University of Alberta; The Alberta Heritage Charles S. Noble Award for Student Leadership, 1998, the Province of Alberta, Canada; and the Black Achievements Award, Post-Secondary—Scholastic, 1998, the Black Achievement Awards Society of Alberta. Other books he coauthored with Ladan Sulaiman and Ahmad Sambo include Functional Literacy Primer in Hausa, sponsored by the European Economic Commission and Federal Government of Nigeria, 1992; Instructors’ Guide to Functional Literacy Primer in Hausa, 1992; coauthor with Bayo Ogunjimi, Introduction to African Oral Literature (Oral Prose), University of Ilorin Press, 1991; author, Introduction to African Oral Literature (1994); and Editor, Ogoni’s Agonies: Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Crisis in Nigeria (Africa World Press, 1998).

He wrote the article on Kwame Anthony Appiah for The Oxford Encyclopedia of African Thought.Looking forward to the expiration of the KWASU engagement, Prof. Na’Allah had hoped to reunite with his family in the United States as they still reside there all these years he has been presiding over the KWASU.

“This is incredibly a long time as I still have my family in the United States, but when you have your family far away, these are people who would always want to have the best of you. You cannot give them all the time and be close to them.” But the new appointment is also in sync with his consideration of some suggestions “to go to another university as I still have the passion to help the Nigerian higher education. I feel we have not done the best for our nation the way we run our education in this country and I feel the zeal and the love to make things happen.”