Kamil Omoteso… Akoka export blazing trail in UK Academic sphere
His childhood passion was to become an accountant. So, realising that dream actually defined the course of study for Professor Kamil Omoteso as he obtained his first and second degrees in Accounting and Management in 1994 and 1998 respectively, at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, Yaba, Lagos.
And before he ventured into teaching in 2001 at the Lagos State University (LASU), he had already garnered seven years’ working experience in different accounting and auditing positions in both public and private sectors.
But, hardly had he begun his academic career than the necessity to procure a PhD stirred in him. It was this search for further learning that took him to the United Kingdom in October 2001 and the relocation turned out to be his breakthrough academically.
Prof. Omoteso has continued to blossom ever since. Between 2003 and 2013, he held different academic positions including, Principal Lecturer and the Director of Postgraduate Programmes in Accounting at De Montfort University, Leicester.
During that period also, he led the University’s strategic growth and partnership in the West African region. He holds a professorial chair in Accounting and Governance and has published extensively in the areas of Accounting, Auditing, Accountability, Governance and Ethics. He serves on the Editorial Board of a number of Journals.
At present, Professor Omoteso is the Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of College of Business, Law and Social Sciences at the University of Derby.
As a Pro-Vice-Chancellor, he is part of the Vice Chancellor’s Executive Group that provides strategic leadership and direction on all matters related to the University. He also supports University-wide initiatives, programmes and projects such as leading the University’s strategic investment prioritisation group.
In his role as the Dean of the College of Business, Law and Social Sciences, he provides executive leadership for the College and is also responsible for driving change, growth, reputation and sustainability across the College and its component schools.
Prior to joining the University of Derby, Omoteso was the Head of the School of Economics, Finance and Accounting at Coventry University, where he led a number of strategic initiatives that drove change and growth.
He has extensive experience of Higher Education and has held institution-wide responsibilities for sustainability and academic partnership, just as he has undertaken Senior Management courses at both MIT and Harvard University.
Moreover, Prof. Omoteso is the Chair of the Educational Support Initiative for Africa, an NGO that has donated over 75,000 books and academic journals worth over £2.5m to more than 20 institutions of higher education across Africa. He is also the Chair of the Board of Trustees of Human Appeal, one of the largest UK-based international charities.
He was in Nigeria last week as the guest speaker at the Convocation Lecture of Crescent University, Abeokuta, which held on Friday, October 18. Also, before he returned to his base at Derby University on Sunday, October 20, a breakfast lecture was held in his honour by his former employer, Alhaji Rafiu Ebiti, who is the CEO of Istabaraqim Nigeria Limited.
The accountant-turned lecturer recalled how his flourishing career began: “Well, I have always wanted to be an accountant from secondary school, that was why I went to the university to study accounting. After graduation, I was posted to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry as an accountant where I did the mandatory one-year youth service.
“After my NYSC, I worked with Egypt Air as an accountant, then it was from Egypt Air that I joined Alhaji Rafiu Ebiti’s chains of company known as Istabaraqim Nigeria Limited and Adisa Ebiti and Co. I was actually working for both. I worked with him for five years, 1996 to 2001. I joined Lagos State University (LASU), where I worked as a lecturer.
“But what actually drove me out of LASU was that as a lecturer, it doesn’t matter whether you have master’s or you are professionally qualified, you needed a PhD to be able to make anything out of your career. And they were very clear and blunt to us.
“So, I had to look for opportunities to do a PhD. And I couldn’t find one in Nigeria because only UNILAG was doing PhD in accounting and as at that time, PhD admission was frozen because they hadn’t got enough people to supervise PhD students. That was how I turned to the United Kingdom in October 2001 and the rest is history.”
The consummate academic attributed his accomplishment as the first black professor at Coventry University to the grace bestowed on him by the Almighty. He stated: “God has been kind to me. But if you come to a human level, don’t ever think others wouldn’t notice what you are doing, even though you are not doing it for them. Earlier in my lecturing career, I spent 10 years of selfless service. I was doing everything. I was teaching, I was researching, I was doing international work for them, I was teaching professional ACCAC 1 because I was enjoying it. And that was how I knew that whatever you are doing, do your best. That was what earned me my second job as Deputy Head of Department (HoD). And within six months of becoming the HoD, I became Head of School at Coventry. And by that, I became the first black Professor in their university. When you attain that, headhunters are looking for people who are hard-working, who have achieved and who have something to offer. So that was how I became what I am now at Derby.”
Prof. Omoteso emphasised diligence and integrity as the hallmarks of elevation in the UK academic milieu. “It may interest you to know that I was the first black professor at Coventry University when I was appointed a few years ago. And as at that time, there were fewer than 100 black professors across the UK. So out of about 20,000, we had less than 100 black professors. But you have got to be focused, ensure that there is quality in whatever you are doing. Publications, entrepreneurship, your teaching quality and your impact on the profession, on the society.”
According to Omoteso, the award of professorship in UK requires a combination of many factors: “Unlike here, where you are appointed as a professor based on the number of publications you have, over there, publications alone would not earn you professorship.
“You have got to make an impact, produce PhD students and contribute to the younger generations of academic with evidence. You have got to contribute what we call cooperate citizenship; things that wouldn’t earn you money, but would help the university body, the profession in which you are.
“You must be able to attract research funding, which is very competitive. I delivered a lecture at the 11th convocation ceremony at Crescent University, Abeokuta, Ogun State last week and it were titled ‘Professional Ethics and Nation Building’. It has to be a complete system. Parents would have to play a role, teachers would play a role, those are the teachers who have no other business except to teach us. The government too has a role. Again, you ask yourself. Is government serious about education? Are there policies that celebrate academics? So, the value system has actually changed over the years. So the government would have to play its role and it is all integrated.”
He underscored the need for the parents to embrace their upbringing role conscientiously. “Parents will have to play a role. I specifically mentioned to my parents because I learnt from them a lot. They were even not educated. I was the 17th son of my parents and the last one. My mother couldn’t even read or write, but my father could read and write in Yoruba or Arabic language, and my father was a Cocoa merchant. But it is about hard work, integrity, doing the best you can. Although I was the last child, they never pampered me. They were strict with my upbringing and also your passion matters.
So, parents would play a role, your teachers as well. Parents would have to be upright because kids learn informally. They observe and learn, that is how they learn from parents. Also, teachers, I can’t thank my teachers enough. That I studied accounting, a teacher actually picked me up one day, called me to his office, asked me what I wanted to study, and I said maybe Business Administration. He objected and told me it was too wide, that he studied the same course and see where he was. He told me I’ll be better if studying accounting. I initially objected, with the excuse that I was not offering accounting as a subject at the secondary school level. But he said, I didn’t have to do accounting before I could study accounting at the university, that my economics and mathematics were good and I would be fine doing it.
So, teachers would play a role, those are the teachers who had no other business except to teach us. Think of teachers nowadays, most have become traders in the classroom. That is another angle to it. So, the value system had actually changed over the years. When we were in school, there was moral instruction. If you do well, they would celebrate it. If you go for debate, and win prices, on the assembly, they would celebrate you.
But nowadays, children are no longer seeing their teachers as role models. They are not being praised for good quality, or characters, hence there is an increase in the number of youth that takes to fraud and crime. This is because they want quick money and there is no job.
He suggests the creation of a reward mechanism that monitors, evaluates and motivates as a way of fostering excellent performance among employees. “In the UK for instance, they have an employee of the year, an employee of the month and they give them awards just to motivate them. And sometimes, it is not always about giving them cash, but about the recognition. Just meeting Queen Elizabeth ll or shaking her hand is worth more than money to the majority. So, it is a multifaceted approach that would work. I acquired all my education here in Nigeria before moving to the UK where I again blossomed by the help of God. Believe me, Nigeria’s education is still one of the best if the right policies are put in place. Therefore, all hands must be on deck. Parents cannot do it alone, teachers cannot do it alone, our government cannot do it alone, but we all have to be committed to making it happen.”
While acknowledging the solid foundation of the Nigerian education system, which was patterned along British orientation, he added: “Our education system initially was the legacy of the British colonialists. So, we patterned our educational system around theirs, and it had its quality. I had all my education here in Lagos State to be precise, up to masters. And I went there and was able to fit in and contribute. So, the standard was good. So, we just need to go back to the basics and raise the standard. Lecturers and teachers should be doing what they are supposed to do, and they are mobilised in terms of feeling proud to be teachers and committing to it 100 per cent. And then, we must do it sincerely. Our products are shining. In North America today, we have more than 5,000 doctors who did their medicine here in Nigeria and they are all thriving.”
On what the government can do to raise the standard and ensure that education continues to play a strategic role in our quest for national development, Prof. Omoteso says, “It is to put their money where their mouth is. They have to make teachers feel comfortable that this is a profession that is worth 100 per cent of their time. They have got to introduce forward-looking policies and follow them up with actions. Look at our educational budget. That is why I said they have to put their money where their mouth is. Sometimes ASUU and other educational bodies have to hold the government accountable. That is really important that they do what they ought to do and they do it well. The percentage budgeted for education in this country is unheard of because we misplace our priorities. We need to go back to the drawing board because there can’t be any development without education.
“Judges, doctors, engineers, journalists etc. who are going to produce these professionals if not teachers. So, if they have not been well moulded in that way when they go out, they may have the paper qualification, but the strength of character, diligence is not there. They want to cut corners and the nation would definitely pay a heavy price for that, which is what is currently going on in our education sector. So, we just have to go back and re-orientate our society and the leaders must demonstrate this diligence and integrity. In everything they do, they must be transparent.”
How did Prof Omoteso react to ‘sex for grades’ video involving his Alma Mater released by the BBC African Eye on October 7, 2019? “It was really disturbing, nauseating and very disgraceful. However, I was not at all surprised. We shouldn’t pretend as if we do not know things like this go on in our tertiary institutions and it has been like that for sometimes now. Cases like this have recently been covered by the media in recent times – Akoka, Ojo, Benin, Ekpoma, Ilorin, Ife, Nsukka, Kano among others. The issue is that if the Government had intervened with appropriate policies and regulation while holding institutions to account, this damaging BBC documentary would have been avoided.”
He differs from several interpretations attributed to the motive behind the video including the claim that it is a deliberate ploy to demarket Nigerian universities and thereby making universities in UK attractive to prospective admission seekers from Nigeria. “Look, everyone is entitled to their opinion. The issue is: the documentary covered not just Nigeria but Ghana as well. So, that argument will not stand. Besides, those who go to study in the UK or any other country for that matter go there for various reasons including academic, completion time, employability, international exposure and network etc. As such, I think issues such as immorality might be of secondary consideration if at all.”
“University campuses in the UK generally, are governed by decorum,” he explained further, “Lecturers have to act professionally at all times. Otherwise, they will face the music. Everyone understands the red lines and are held accountable for their actions.”
Personally, as a lecturer, humility remains his watchword. He is also passionate about his integrity. “You must ensure that your integrity is intact. Don’t soil your hands or bend rules. It has its own disadvantages because people can begin to call you names, but if you maintain your principles, it helps. A time would come when they would recognise it for you. That is who you are. Then, do it for a heavenly reward, not worldly recognition. I never dreamt of being recognised like this because I wasn’t doing it for that. I just want to be the best I can, and impact humanity the best way I could. So, if you do it that way, other things would naturally be added. In a nutshell, be good to others. What you would not like others to do to you, don’t do it to others. Then be steadfast in your principles. And above all, put God first. That means that you give to fulfil what God wants. It can be difficult, I would be honest, but if you remain steadfast, God would make it easy for you.”
Does being a Muslim have any influence on his academic exploits in the UK? “I would say that if you are fortunate to come from a home that moulds you in terms of character building, and you are fortunate to imbibe those principles in life, it really helps. So, at the primary and secondary school levels, you just carry on doing the best you are able to do.
“However, it is others that would be thinking, maybe, this is extraordinary, but you are only doing the normal thing you think is right.
Then, I would say being consistent is important; not being allowed to be swayed by societal or material influences.
“If you remain focused and resilient, then most probably you would attain your goal. Nothing good comes easy. It is through thick and thin. But if you are resilient, without compromising your ideas, you will get what you want with the help of God.”
What other passion does he have outside lecturing? “I am a family man. I enjoy interacting with my family and spending quality time with them. I do charity as well. I am the chairman of the second-largest Islamic charity organisation in the world, ‘Human Appeal’. So, I spend time on that and spend time in the community inspiring young folks, particularly from the ethnic minority groups in the UK. They need a role model and somebody that would guide them on the right path, so they can contribute to the community and achieve their dreams.”
If offered a lecturing appointment here in Nigeria, will Prof. Omoteso accept it? “It would depend on the terms. I have seen people who have come and they have not allowed them to work with their conscience. I would not take a job that wouldn’t afford me to make an impact, or that would spoil my image.
“So, there would be terms and conditions and if they are favourable, I would. I am not asking for anything, just allow me to do my work without interference. If they would allow you to do it, you would do well. We are doing it in the UK, so why can’t we do it here. And they appreciate hard work, and good effort when they see it. It doesn’t matter whether you are black or white, they would acknowledge that.”
For him, leisure entails watching news programmes, or reading newspapers or news online. “Then, I spend time with my friends. I have a group of friends in Leicester, and at least once in a week, we gather for two or three hours, to chill out or relax,” he said.