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Why senate should amend TETFund law, by Afe Babalola

By Joseph Onyekwere and Godwin Dunia
16 June 2017   |   4:14 am
The major problem is funding. Funding is the problem of both federal and state universities and to some extent private universities. However, the effect of poor funding is more pronounced with state universities.

Prof. Afe Babalola (SAN) is the founder of Afe Babalola University (ABUAD), Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State

Prof. Afe Babalola (SAN) is the founder of Afe Babalola University (ABUAD), Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State. In this interview with Joseph Onyekwere and Godwin Dunia, Babalola frowned at government’s insistence on exclusion of private varsities from benefitting from the TETFund, calling on the senate to amend the TETFund law, among other issues.

What do you think is the major problem of education in this country in terms of government policies?
The major problem is funding. Funding is the problem of both federal and state universities and to some extent private universities. However, the effect of poor funding is more pronounced with state universities. Here is a country where each successive government, for political reasons, promises free education and worse still recently promises free food. Honestly, no conscientious government would promise university free education in the present day Nigeria. Let us face the reality and inform the public that university education is an expensive enterprise.

Anybody who decides to raise a child ought to know that he has a duty to provide food and support the education of the child. There are different levels of education but when I talk of education, I mean quality and functional education in an institution with conducive environment for learning, modern equipment for learning, modern laboratories and trained and committed teachers. It is common knowledge that UNESCO had directed that every country should vote at least 26 per cent of its budget for education. The question is, how much does Nigeria vote for education? My research shows that in 2012, Nigeria ranked last in a survey carried out in 70 countries with only 8.4 per cent of the budget for education. Ghana was first with 31 per cent of the budget for education.

Secondly, the policy of government, which affects education, is its failure to make the people appreciate the need for all of us parents, guardians and philanthropists to donate to universities and other institutions, because government cannot alone fund quality education. This is the practice all over the world. How many Nigerians have endowed professorial chairs or endowed scholarships, classroom laboratories in the neighbourhood universities? Stanford University in the United States is a classic example of how the citizens donate to universities. Stanford is a university where the annual donation from public-spirited Americans is in trillions of dollars and is much more than what Nigeria government votes for universities, polytechnics and colleges of education in a year.

The other government policy, which affects education, is the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund). TETFund is money collected from taxes from public companies and is meant to fund development of education. It is tragic, to say the least, that in its wisdom, the government restricts the beneficiaries of the money to public institutions alone. After all, it was the government that called on public-spirited people to establish private universities to ease the burden on FG on access to university education. Philanthropists who can otherwise spend their money for the benefit of their families established private universities. The graduates they produce serve Nigeria and not the families of their founders. Despite numerous appeals to the FG to change the policy, the discriminatory policy remains. I call on the Senate to amend the law.

How did you conceive the idea of this institution, Afe Babalola University (ABUAD)?
ABUAD is both a child of circumstance and an act of faith. I never thought in my life that I would establish a primary school not to talk of a university. First of all, let me use this medium to thank Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who in 2001 decided in his wisdom to invite me to take over the post of Pro-Chancellor of the University of Lagos (UNILAG). I had earlier turned down his offer of Attorney General and Minister of Justice and similar before him.

At the material time, I was the Patron of Transparency International in Nigeria with Headquarters in Berlin. I agreed to take over the position of Pro-Chancellor of UNILAG. What I saw in the university was indescribable. Suffice it to say that the university was polarised and corrupt. There were glaring cases of nepotism, admission racket, cultism, drug, maladministration, strikes and many others. I thank the members of Council who worked with me particularly Senator Yinka Omilani, who like me donated his allowances to the university.

At the end of the fourth year, the National Universities Commission (NUC) gave me an award as the best Pro-Chancellor of the year. By the time I left in 2007, the university was rated number one in Nigeria; the vice chancellor then, Prof. Oye Ibidapo-Obe, was also rated the best vice chancellor in the country. It was the rot I saw and problems we encountered and the way I overcame them that prompted me to think of establishing a university which could be a benchmark, a model and a reference point in terms of structure, conducive environment, teaching equipment, modern laboratory equipment, learning and discipline needed for a 21st century university. Under NUC’s rules, a private university could be established in rented buildings and operate therein for five years when it must move to a permanent site.

To make a difference, which was my goal, I decided to first put up modern structures and equipment before applying to NUC. In October 2009, I invited the NUC to the university for verification. On inspection, the NUC Verification Team was awed by what they saw. They told me that they had never seen anything like that before anywhere. They described the university in writing as “a model, benchmark and reference point.” We have since surpassed our targets. UNESCO has described the university as “a world-class university”. Others including Olusegun Obsanjo, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, Prof. Jega, Bishop Kukah, Dr. Aicha Lalla Ben-Barkar, Prof. Cynthia Jackson-Hammond, Dr. Douglas William-Jackson have commended the university as a model to emulate and recently, the NUC described it as the “Pride of University System in Nigeria”.

How do you raise funds for the huge investments that you are making in ABUAD?
Well, I have been lucky with my legal practice. I think God has been very fair to me if not partial. My clients include the poor and the super rich, national and international conglomerates. They include Mobil, Shell, Pan-Ocean and other oil companies. Union Bank, Skye Bank, Wema Bank, Central Bank, World Bank, Pfizer, Julius Berger, NNPC, governors, senators, vice presidents and presidents, as well as numerous others. I have handled international and national arbitrations, land dispute, boundary disputes, chieftaincy and obaship matters and also divorce cases throughout the courts.

My Chambers charges in dollars with the option for clients to pay the naira equivalent at the time of payment. I recall that when president Obasanjo in 1999 invited me to Ota where he briefed me to take up the petition filed against him, I went with 12 of my lawyers. All of us were dressed in the traditional lawyer black and white suits. When it was our turn to see him in the huge lounge, where over 100 visitors were seated, in his characteristic manner, he said, “now I know why you charge in dollars”. I had invested in properties heavily in Ibadan, Abuja, Lagos and England. I invested in different companies and banks locally and overseas. I had a thriving shop in London which was “a must shop” for Africans and Asians. When I decided to establish this university, I emptied all my assets. Thank God I have surpassed my targets.

In the last Webometrics rating of Nigerian universities, ABUAD was rated as follows: Best Private University in Nigeria in Google Scholar (Transparent Ranking). Webometrics Openness Rank. Number three best public and private university in Nigeria in Google Scholar (Transparent Ranking). Webometrics Openness Rank. Number two best Private University in Nigeria in Repository Ranking. Number four best Public and Private University in Repository Ranking. Number two best Private University in Nigeria in Webometrics Ranking. Number 15 best Public/ Private University in Nigeria in Webometrics Ranking.

We are now in the era of human capacity development. To what extent is this institution committed to those?
We are absolutely committed to all of these and the best evidence is the retinue of awards we have been winning nationally and internationally. In 2015, our university came fourth in the global Imagine Cup competition in Seattle, United States of America. Last year, 2016 Olamide Popoola, a 2015 Petroleum Engineering graduate from ABUAD, led his team, “Team Nigeria” to win 2011 global edition of the Unilever Idea Trophy in category number one award for “Authentically on Brand, Relevant to target audience and drive Talkability and Shareability (A.R.T)”.

Our students in Nursing department scored 100 per cent, Medical Laboratory Science 100 per cent, Medicine 98 per cent, Accounting 100 per cent. In Nigerian Law School 2016 examinations, two of our students made first class and 16 made second class upper out of only 45 students we presented – a feat indeed! Before the year runs out, we are going to start our Research and Industrial Park, where students will work and practice what they have learnt in the classroom.

The older universities have failed Nigerians. University education should be functional and students are expected to come out of the university and be self-employed and create employment. Our Industrial Park is going to create opportunities for existing industries to work with ABUAD by using the vast engineering equipment we have, to produce the spare parts needed in factories and industries instead of ordering them from overseas. Through partnership with our researchers, we would all break new grounds.

As a philanthropist, how do you now juxtapose the amount of tuition students’ pay in this school with the poverty level in our society and the need to get our citizens educated?
I insist that good, quality, functional education cannot be free. And let me tell you, what you consider as high tuition fee if I may say, is certainly not enough to maintain each student in this university. I subsidise what every child pays. If you add together what Federal FG pays to maintain a student in federal universities, you will find that what we charge in private schools is much lower than what is paid to maintain each student in federal universities.

Again, if you compare what a student pays overseas with what students pay in Nigerian private universities, you will find that the founders of private universities are subsidising the school fees of the students in their universities. Mind you, secondary school students in Lagos, Ibadan, Abuja, Offa and Ilesha pay higher school fees than what students in this university pay. There are many good secondary schools in Nigeria where the school fees are between N3 and N4million yearly. In our university, the fees in most of the programme, especially in Social and Management Science courses is as low as N400,000. It is only in Law and Medicine that the school fee ranges between N1m and N2m.

We encourage students to study Agriculture by reducing the fee of N400,000 by 50 per cent bringing it to only N200,000. Tell me which university in Nigeria maintains 24-hour electricity, water services and or has the sophisticated 21st century equipment we have in ABUAD? It was for this reason that Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE) said that 40 per cent of our equipment are not available in any university in Nigeria and that ABUAD is “the Template for Engineering Education in Nigeria.” In spite of all these, our fee is less than what students pay in nearby Cotonou, Republic of Benin and Ghana and is 75 per cent cheaper than what is obtainable in USA or England.

How does the subsidy run here?
If you are a brilliant student, who has a Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of 5.0, you are entitled to N500, 000 that year. I know of a student in the College of Law who collected N500, 000 for four years consecutively. If you have a CGPA of 4.85 to 4.95, you collect N200, 000 per year and if you have 4.5 to 4.8 you collect N100, 000 per year. So, the choice is yours. A student who is focused and performs creditably is rewarded accordingly. We gave out N90.1 million as subsidy last year alone.

Do you have scholarship scheme for brilliant indigent students?
I didn’t have secondary and university education like I told you, but I do not want people to suffer what I suffered in my life. Our policy is that no student will be sent out or drop out of this university on account of his or her inability to pay school fees. There is a scheme on ground that peradventure the parent dies or the father is out of employment, the school will take over the payment of school fees.

Everybody deserves to have good education. The moment you find your way into ABUAD, you are assured that you will complete your course even if the parents die or are out of employment. We have scholarship schemes for the bright and the indigent. We also have some Nigerians who give scholarships to our students yearly.

With all the accolades, have you gotten to a point where you are now attracting foreign students and teachers?
Yes, particularly because of the recession, we have students from all parts of the world.

To what extent do you screen your new intakes?
We seldom admit students who are older than 18. This is the age when brilliant students are expected to leave secondary schools. We put much emphasis on discipline and character in our university. We believe that students who are between 16 and 18 can be tamed. Even if they had attended secondary schools where there was no emphasis on discipline and character, they can at that age still be changed.

The change that is permanent is the change that changes the mind. At that age, the mind is plastic. Such students can be changed and made to imbibe all the leadership training we give them. We check their West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and Unified Tertiary Education Examination (UTME) results, obtain references from their schools and their referees and we also check whether they are members of any cult. We also test students to find out whether or not they take drugs.

Both parents and students also sign undertakings to be of good behaviour throughout the time the students are in the university. University degrees are awarded on the basis of learning and character, but how many public universities worry about the character of students? The future of quality functional education with character indeed lies on private university in the country and ABUAD is the leader in that reformation of education in this country.