Prof. Nuhu Yakub
Prof. Nuhu Yakub is the Vice-Chancellor of Sokoto State University. In this interview with Mohammed Aminu, he bares his mind on the new university, challenges in the education sector and other issues. Excerpts
How would you rate the University of Abuja as at the time you left the institution?
When I was leaving office as Vice-Chancellor of University of Abuja (UNIABUJA), not less than 62 people applied to succeed me. I am not trying to be arrogant, I excelled in Abuja and I think it was on the basis of my performance that I was given a national honour by late President Umar Musa Yar’adua. When I came in as the Vice-chancellor of UNIABUJA, it was operating on its temporary site, which was originally meant for a primary school for 16 years. And within five years of my stay there, I created a new village, structures were there, roads, buildings, I created a road network of not less than 50 kilometres. The campus moved to the permanent site on May 5, 2009.
As the pioneer Vice-chancellor of Sokoto State University, what are the challenges you want to tackle?
I give thanks to God for my being selected and I appreciate Governor Aliyu Wamakko for setting up the university and for asking me to come and assist him to achieve his mission and vision. He wants to develop a world-class university. This has been my prayer from day one and by God’s grace, we will achieve that vision. I want to say that the structures at the permanent site are unique, very solid and a structure for future generations. I am sure that with the quality of structures in place, our quest and aspiration to recruit world-class lecturers will be met.
We will also admit students and make sure that lecturers show commitment by giving them knowledge. We will actually strive to make the university not only one of the best in Nigeria, but in Africa and the world. Wamakko wants to write his name in history as someone who came to govern and knew the needs and aspirations of his people. I always define a university as a place where people go to get empowered knowledge-wise, intellectually and skills to make their own contributions to the advancement of the society.
So, one of the things we want to make sure that we put in place is to have a university of manageable size, let there be such number of students in a class, that will have good interaction with the lecturers.
When I was an undergraduate in the 70’s, that was the golden era in Nigerian universities, student population was manageable. Lecturers were able to easily identify good students and were able to share with them on the basis of what their needs were and how these needs could be met. I appreciate that Nigerians need education and that explains the burgeoning population we have in our universities today. You go to a university, what you will see is a class of 400 and 500 students, I am not begrudging the students, it is a good thing, but I think there is a way the government can show responsibility by making sure that students are impacted upon by the university. And the university can do that in a situation where we have 400 students by providing enough lecturers. In fact, that huge number can be lectured by between five and10 lecturers teaching the same subjects. What they have to do is that everybody will come and take an aspect of the course that is being taught and they will teach these aspects competently.
Then the remaining nine lecturers will be in the class and make sure that students are also paying attention. If you have a class of 400 students with only a lecturer, it will be difficult for him to supervise. Then we can also make learning enjoyable because when the classrooms are crowded, there are no fans and air conditioners, you will be expecting magic for students to assimilate what they are being taught. So, I think structures should be made available, facilities should be provided, while students should be made as comfortable as possible. There are classes where you see students go and stand for two hours to receive lectures. But if they sit down comfortably and the lecturer is not stressed up while teaching, you will see that there would be fruitful and mutually beneficial interaction between them. So, this is the ideal thing that will make learning possible and beneficial and I think Sokoto State University should be unique in terms of making facilities available.
Like I said, the structures are fantastic and the governor engaged competent contractors. For the next three to five years, we will monitor the growth of the university, we are not starting until October 2013 and we will start with a maximum of 360 students. We are going to start with three faculties namely education, science and arts and social science. We will offer English Language, Arabic, Hausa, Islamic Studies, History and other humanities subjects. In the social sciences, we will have political science, economics, sociology, psychology. Faculty of Science will have mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and other aspects of science. This university should be able to produce requisite and qualified teachers for the state and country as time goes on. From experience, I discovered that the foundation is very weak and that is what makes students to have problems of assimilation in universities.
I know the critical role a teacher plays in the transmission of knowledge. So, one of the things we will do is to ensure that teachers are given enough encouragement, I mean the welfare of teachers must be uppermost and the state government is going to take over the emolument of teachers that federal universities also enjoy. We will try and see where we can improve so that we will get highly motivated staff. The plan is to build houses, a kind of accommodation for teachers to ensure that they are close to their work place so that there won’t be any excuse for late coming. We will lay emphasis on lecturers giving students tutorials that will enable them remember and assimilate, as well as recall and repeat what they learnt. By the time you have micro contact with the lecturer through tutorials, it helps students to remember. So, repetition is one sure way for students to assimilate.
What is your take on the directive that PhD should be the minimum requirement for teaching in the university?
It has to work. I think at the last count we have about 106 universities in the country, both federal and state. We have so many universities running post graduate programmes and it is now possible for us to recruit so many already made lecturers and researchers. We have the facilities and the lecturers are available. Some of us are getting retired, who will replace the aging ones. So, what I discovered is that if someone is not innately motivated to develop the passion for teaching, he will not come. There are people that are only looking for good incentives to come in; I think government should be encouraging those who aspire to be teachers. We have what it takes to reach the place where the likes of South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia are and make sure that the facilities will work.
What stops government from establishing institutions with adequate laboratories? The problem is corruption, we are hearing the scam of 2.6 trillion naira from the oil subsidy scam and nothing has been done. If it has been possible to channel such funds to education, you will see solid structures. Universities will keep on improving on infrastructure, not just to build an institution without making any improvement for the next 50 years. You have to develop physical structures and improve them. When I was the vice-chancellor of University of Abuja, the Chinese Embassy sponsored a two-week trip for me to China in 2004 to see how things are over there. I was really amazed to visit a university campus and saw state-of-the-art buildings.
One of the things that impressed me at the Department of Mass communication was the television studio, which was better than any television studio in this country. Just a department, so, if you think you have something which is okay why not think about developing it and taking it to the next level. So, our problem apart from corruption is the inability to think big. Nigerians don’t think big and I think if our leaders and elite who were opportuned to travel abroad are sincere to themselves, they will know that all what we are doing is so small, it is pedestrian. Why can’t we be creative, think big and put the ideas into action, the country will change for the better. I think when we have functional federalism, we will move forward. If we actually think big, we will create grand structures that will befit our status. I am convinced that we can actually progress like South Korea and Malaysia. Our weather is good, we have sunlight and can tap into it to make the country great.
What do you think should be done to develop education in the state?
Apart from the infrastructure that will be put in place, the students could be encouraged through scholarships. I remember when I attended secondary school in Kano in the 60’s, we were paid allowance. So, I will advise local government areas to sponsor their candidates. As far as I am concerned, the university gate is wide open; we have to absorb as many students from the state as possible. The main thing is that we will enhance educational opportunities for the people of the state. We will also try to provide a good library, which is very critical and internet facilities so that through the internet, students can get good books to read and do research. We will also enhance partnership with other universities overseas. By the time we start admitting students next year, we want to be a global player in university education.
What will you do to ensure that politics does not interfere in the running of the university?
The idea of setting up the university came from the governor, who is a front line politician in the country. So, we will expect that there could be political pressure or influence. But the governor had already said that he wants to develop a world-class university and needs somebody to help him achieve the vision. We will ensure the improvement of staff and admit good students. And for students who may not have the requisite qualification, we have School of Developmental Studies, which is part of the university to enhance their ability to enter the university.
So, if a highly placed individual in the judiciary or government approaches us, we will tell him that the university is an institution that has its own tradition and values, which must be respected. So, the School of Developmental Studies is there to take care of such matters and if a student is committed within a year, he/she will be admitted to the university. I know that in the 70’s the north was determined to close the education gap with the south, that is why the government decided to set up School of Basic Studies and one was set up at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Most of the people making waves in the country today went through the school, which qualified them to be admitted into the university. So, they should allow us run the university the way it is supposed to be, to the pride of everyone in the state and the country.
What efforts have been made to recruit lecturers for the university?
With regards to the number of professors, senior lecturers and others, the National Universities Commission (NUC) advised that we should have at least for a start, 153 teaching staff. I think on that ratio, professors will be about 40, senior lecturers and lecturer one will be about 35, and then the remaining 70 will comprise assistant lecturers and graduate assistants. We will not like to have teachers that don’t do anything, at the same time we will not like to have students that are not properly trained. So, we will have to make sure that we create a balance between the number of teachers and that of students. You have to also take cognizance that non-academic staff to academic staff will have to take the ratio of one to three teaching staff.
Can we know the institutions you attended?
I was born March 3, 1951 in Okene, Kogi State. I attended School for Arabic studies in Kano and graduated in 1971. I became a certified Grade Two teacher that same year. I went to Advanced College, Kano, where I obtained the National Certificate in Education (NCE). I made a first class in Political Science at Bayero University, Kano and proceeded to University of Toronto, Canada for my master’s degree and got my PhD from the University of Sussex, England. From 1981 till date, I have been a staff of Usmanu Danfodio University, Sokoto. I have been teaching all my life, except when I went on a sabbatical and served as Executive Director, Centre for Research and Documentation in Kano. I have been a teacher all my life and I am passionate about it.