In 80’s, 90’s ASUU was very compelling and necessary, we’ve lost that originality — Soremekun
• Stormy Dimension To Academia In Nigerian Varsities By Unions Is Unhealthy
Professor Kayode Soremekun is the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University Oye Ekiti, which in the past two weeks has been dealing with serious internal matters. In this interview with AYODELE AFOLABI, the school administrator explained the dimensions of the situation at FUOYE and how he has dealt with them.
There seems to be perennial crises owing to activities of different unions in your university. Give us the dimensions?
Let me begin by saying that virtually every university in Nigeria, especially in the public universities, there is what you can call this constant faceoff between the unions on one hand and the management on the other hand. Perhaps, the exceptions are the private universities, which do not have this dynamics. In other words, what is happening in FUOYE is not really unique in the sense that every Vice Chancellor in the public universities has to contend with five unions i.e. ASUU, SSANU, NATT, NASU, and then the Student Union Government that is not even a union but a government. You can see the sense of overweening entitlement in all of these. To that extent, if you situate the Nigerian universities in that context you will begin to see that the university is very unique in the sense that if you compare us with others in the world, you don’t see this stormy dimension to academia.
In saying this, what it means is that if we seek to globalize our universities, if we have to internationalize, something has to be done about the relationship between the unions and the management. Given our own circumstances, during the perennial crises that afflict the public universities, what you see is that we cannot meaningfully fit into the global system of academia.
Let me give you an example. As I speak, we are hosting a Professor from Belgium and he just missed by whiskers, the drama of the current crisis, but he could see the aftermath in terms of a deserted campus. He asks what is happening, and I told him about the unfortunate incident.
In saying this, let me make a quick correction because the unions at a point in time, they were very relevant and necessary. Even now they are still relevant and necessary, but it is their modus operandi that I am having problem with. I am saying this because in the 80’s and 90’s when the compensation system was very poor, ASUU was very compelling and very necessary. I must say that in terms of shaping the internal information order on behalf of ASUU, I know some of the forces that were involved. But at the moment, there are some form of perennial faceoff between the unions on one hand and the management on the other hand and this is not good for the system. Moreover, some ASUU members think that they can just get away with anything in the name of ASUU activism. Whereas, the original members of the ASUU that we know stood for a fearless and honest interrogation of reality, but that is no longer the case. For me I am very sad because in my personal life, my wife and myself, my wife is what you can call a status quo person.
So in our constant engagement at home, she is always a management person, whereas, I am pro labour. Now I find that while conceding that labour has good reason, some people commit grievous offence in the name of activism and think they can get away with it. Sometimes, they even lower the quality of academia. For instance, you see members of local ASUU hustling for contract with the head of procurement; personally as ASUU member, because I am still an ASUU member, I feel humiliated that the head of procurement will chase out a prominent member of ASUU from his office. You find such cases and when things don’t happen, they turn to activism. Unfortunately, people at the national level of ASUU may not even be aware of this. This is the easiest way to kill a union, for a member of ASUU to embark on short-run personal reliefs.
How have you been able to manage all of these so far?
I want to commend you by your choice of words by saying managing the crisis. By the time you are managing a crisis in an intellectual environment, which means there are very little scope for the core competence in terms of teaching and research and community development, because you are always moving from one crisis to another. University is not structured to manage crisis, it has been structured to teach, conduct research and community services. In the Nigerian university system, we find out that you are ever moving from one crisis to the other, this is why we cannot grow.
Looking back, I can now see that all along, probably in my unconscious sense, I was aware of this reality and that in my active days as teacher and researcher, I was a bit insulated from Nigerian university system, insulated in the sense that, apart from my teachings, I am not always around. You will always find me moving from one part of the world to the other in search of fellowships. It was like I bolted with my feet long time ago. But now the reality has caught up with me at the peak of my career. I cannot bolt with my feet, I have to engage with my desk, and engage with human beings. To that extent, I now appreciate the Vice Chancellors; I appreciate what an average chancellor goes through. You see people who have no idea of the university idea.
The university idea is showing the light for the society, but it is no longer the case. It is worsening by the fact that we have interesting and uneven relationship with international system. In other words, if you are not promoting knowledge properly, there are social forces out there in the international systems that are ready to promote knowledge for you. In other words, what we have in our hand is a situation in which what goes for knowledge production is even being driven by external forces because we are busy bickering.
ASUU started on a brighter note of unionism, but since then other unions have keyed into what we can call simulated unionism. That is, adopt ASUU tactics without having ASUU deeper notions and philosophical concepts. Let me give you example; there is a prominent member of ASUU in my University, and I need to be personal here. I asked him if he knows Fasina. He said he has never heard of that name before. I said, my world! So, you don’t even know ASUU forebears. So, we have that kind of situation, those who just came into the struggle. As I am sitting here, I am thinking of Toye Olorode, Dipo Fasina, Assisi Azobie, Attahiru Jega. What they stood for was not mindless unionism.
They will not plagiarize; they will not steal TETFUND money in the name of activism, which is what we are seeing now. Intellectual culture comes with some things, but you won’t find that in Nigeria university system. You look at most CVs; you discover that the person has never been to the Murtala Mohammed International Airport. They are just hanging around Iworoko or Okokomaiko. You see scholars, who are bereft of global edge,
Despite these distractions, we hear about FUOYE still making remarkable progress in some areas. How do you achieve that?
Let me say that we have been able to make a decent contribution. As I speak, we have about 40 projects going on. I say to myself, do we really have a university in place? The universe in the city, the city in the universe; do we really have it? University teaching in those days used to come with commitment. They are regarded as a special breed but now what you find is probably those who did not get any job, go on for a master’s degree, do a lackluster PhD and end up in academic system. We have done a number of things. When I came here, the university didn’t even have a portal.
Rather, we are on the OAU portal. Some people even said it was impossible to have our own portal, and I said what is impossible there. We succeeded in having our own portal. We also discover that the students’ enrolment was very low, and I felt that one of the reasons why this University was established was to ensure that there was a link between education on one hand and matriculation on the other hand. What I mean is, there is a huge demand for university education, but as the economist would say, the effective demand is not there. In other words, a Federal university has one strength, which is that the fees are low compared to the private university. That means that the average Joe or Jane can send his or her child to the Federal university. I said 502 was too low, so I said we should increase our enrolment.
I never foresaw that when you increase enrolment, you also needed to increase the facilities, which we are doing at feverish pace. But at the same time, we are trying to be committed because buildings alone do not make a university. We also are trying to link up with what the university should be like, the culture of inaugurals. We have started postgraduate studies, which we think is a platform for generating knowledge and not just for teaching because we are not Oye high school. So those are the things we are trying to do. If you look around the campus, you will see that there are lots of projects going on such that by January, we would have put enough facilities in place for the 17,000 students. We are also trying to expand into other areas.
Last month I was in Canada and I paid a visit to the Commonwealth of learning, which is a major platform that promotes distance learning. I went there so that we can see how we can hook on to them. For a university that is less than 10 years, we are actively working towards a distance-learning programme. Professor Jegede is virtually on our payroll. He is going to be our consultant for the next five years. At the same time, we have already put in place the processes for the Faculty of Law. Already, the NUC has Okayed us; we are waiting for the Council for Legal Education. Similarly, there are active plans to put in place Faculty of Pharmacy.
How would you appraise the finances of the university system?
Apart from union matters, another problem we have is finance. On a selective basis, I have tried to key the university into the international system. Nigeria as a country has the largest network of tertiary education. Who is going to fund all of them? To that extent, there are severe limitations, whereas an average Vice Chancellor, if he were to key into international system, can draw a lot of funds into his university. This is why when I look at ASUU, in the past, ASUU has done very well. The original idea of TETFUND came from the ASUU hierarchy. They said to government if you can’t fund us; creatively extract funds from the private sector through this platform. We can see the kind of work the TETFUND is doing.
Other challenges to me are very personal, for instance, since I have been occupying this position, this is the first time I will be an object of identity marking. People now say I am from Ogun State. This has never occurred to me in my life because of the type of background that I have. I was trained to be first and foremost a Nigerian. In the Kings College that I attended, we were trained to be first and foremost Nigerians. But now the whisper I hear around here is that I am from Ogun State.
I say Ogun State; where is that coming from? Probably the reality of Nigeria is beginning to set in. That tells you the kind of problem we have in the country. What people don’t appreciate is that there is no end to an identity politics. Identity politics is an instrument in the hands of the elite. For me it is one of the saddest parts because now I have to come to terms with my primordial realty.
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