Six months into his tenure as the current Vice-Chancellor of the Lagos State University, Professor Lanre Fagbohun said his administration is making steady progress on the five components of its vision to restore academic excellence in the institution. In this interview with Uchechukwu Nnaike, the Professor of Environmental Law also explained the moves he is making to maintain peace on campus and make a positive impact on the society. Excerpts:
What are your achievements six months after your appointment as the Vice-Chancellor of LASU?
If I look at the last six months, I will say that we are achieving positive incremental gains on what I will say were the five imperatives of my own vision. The first one is that there will be enduring peace at the university. Yes it is work in progress, but it is ongoing very well and for this I must thank my very distinguished colleagues in the university and our very dear students, they have been very supportive, they have all keyed into the vision and they are very supportive of the vision. I will also want to thank our unions for that, they have also been very supportive, and so we are making good progress in terms of ensuring that there is enduring peace in LASU.
A second thing that we are doing is that I had as a vision which we are also making very good progress on is ensuring that we heighten academic excellence. In this area, the flagship of our committee driving that is our quality assurance committee, the chairman of that committee is Prof. Peter Okebukola and one of the directors leading it with him is Prof. Amodu Sanni, of course there are other members of the committee. Then also we have about 32 other committees that are also involved in different ways in bringing to bear academic excellence.
The third part of the vision is to be able to attract funds for the running of the university because no longer is it possible to expect that the government will be able to fund the kind of activities that academic institutions are into and that is why we have to leverage on the private sector and so far so good we are achieving that. I must say that the interventions of the federal government by way of TETFund and NEEDS, these are critical things that are also very supportive and of course we have the passion of the governor of Lagos State for the university, that has also gone a long way, but we are making good progress in terms of attracting funds to the university.
The fourth one is consolidating on the previous gains of the university because if you don’t consolidate on your previous gains and you get new gains, you will waste them, so you must be able to consolidate on previous gains and then build it up with the new achievements and that is what we are doing. The final one is impacting on the society. We just don’t want to be an academic community pontificating and coming up with theories, whatever we do must be able to impact on our society and we are also doing a lot in that area. So I will say that incrementally, we are making progress on all these five imperatives that we have as a vision for the next five years.
How do you want to see research in this university and what are you doing to enhance it?
In times past, the language of the academic environment has always been teaching and research, but in recent years, the clear indication is that any university that is just talking about teaching and research cannot achieve much. You must be able to marry teaching and research in a way that will impact on the society, that is the nexus now and that is the exciting world of the academia now, being able to impact on the society with your teaching and research.
So if I am going to answer that question, I will say that where I want to see research for LASU is for research not to sit on the shelf. When our professors, scholars come up with the output of their research, these are things that we must be able to translate into innovation because the idea of research is for you to come out with innovation from it, something that you can market to the private sector or something that you can market to government. For instance one of the solutions that came out in the course of some of the things our students are doing is software for electronic voting, at the end of the day, by the time we perfect it very well, we can sell it out to government.
Again we are doing a lot of things now in the area of looking at how we can work on biofuel so that it can become something that will contribute to energy resources. There are a number of things that we are doing with the ministry of science and technology in Lagos and we have already submitted our research to them and they are looking at how to work with us to commercialise them.
If you go to Epe where we have the faculty of engineering, our department of polymer has been able to come up with a particular kind of paint that is unique to our environment and we are looking at the possibility of commercializing this, get it patented and at the not too distant future be able to sell such things. So that is where research should be going now, research should not just be done for the sake of doing research, it must result in something that can be of benefit to the society.
Do you have adequate facilities and are you putting facilities in place for this kind of research?
In terms of the facilities that we have, I will say that we are developing a lot of facilities that we are going to be leveraging on as we move forward in addition to current facilities. For example, we are going to be building a centre for entrepreneurship at Epe, this centre will be more like a skills acquisition centre, we will have a partnership with the industry, we will invite them to come and be a part of us in setting up this centre. We already have funds for it.
As a professor of law, how do you intend to make your impact felt in the Law Faculty of LASU?
First I will say that yes I am a professor of Law, I want to impact on the Faculty of Law, the same way I also want to impact on every other faculty whether within or outside Ojo Campus. In this regard I make reference to our College of Medicine; we want to make positive impact there, the Faculty of Engineering at Epe, the School of Agriculture at Epe and all the faculties. But in terms of where I think I can give leverage for the Faculty of Law, I believe the goodwill I have is such that I should be able to bring people who can assist the faculty in different areas where there are gaps and disconnects and that I have already started.
I have started talking to senior advocates of Nigeria, respected judges that I know can come on board to support the faculty, even our alumni who are interested in giving back. We are also trying to cultivate a relationship with them such that they can come back and be able to give back to the faculty. All of these we are looking at holistically to be able to assist the faculty. I know you are asking that question in the context of the fact that the Law Faculty of LASU for a long while has been the flagship of frontiers of law in Nigeria. We are getting back to that.
Regarding the enduring peace you mentioned how is your relationship with the staff unions and how did you resolve the issue of the withdrawal of the doctoral degree certificates of the ASUU chairman and others?
The issue of the withdrawn certificate was something that already engaged the attention of the governing council before my appointment and the governing council had a sub-committee that looked into it and came to a conclusion that the withdrawal ought not to have happened and all of that was corrected and that issue has been resolved.
Dr. Idris has already been issued his certificate, all of that has been sorted out. But beyond that, I want to say that the kind of understanding we have now is such that we meet regularly, as a matter of fact, I have meetings with all the unions every month; I also have meetings with all the students, the students representatives, I have meetings with them every month, this way, when issues come up, we are able to discuss them at these meetings so much so that by the time we discuss the issues, there is no more tension between the parties and we go away.
If there are issues in the course of that, we are always ready to engage with each other. I think the idea of regular engagement that we are having now has really reduced a lot of conflicts and reduced the kind of things that degenerate into friction in previous times. We have substantially reduced that and that is the mechanism we have been able to find to ensure that we have a very peaceful relationship between us.
On the issue of payment of backlog of arrears, which was one of the demands of the unions, how far have you gone?
That was a critical issue hitherto that the last administration confronted, but what we have done so far is when I came in I sat with the unions, I looked at what can we do immediately, we all agreed on what we will be able to do as an immediate thing and that was done, then they also are privy to the steps we are making in order to be able to pay the balance and that is why I said earlier that I really want to thank them for their understanding because they do understand that efforts are being made and they are ready to support the efforts to ensure that we are able to achieve our goals. Not too long ago, the Lagos State government increased our subvention so that we will be able to meet our personnel cost. Now that the government has done that for us, it will make it possible for us now to use our IGR to meet our obligations to our unions and other third parties.
The university had announced plans to construct hostels for students, how far have you gone with that and other developmental projects of the previous administration?
In terms of the projects that were being done under the previous administration, they are still ongoing. If you look at the senate building, it is nearing completion; the law library is also nearing completion and these are the areas where the state governor has been very benevolent because what the governor has done is to make sure that outstanding payments that stalled the progress of the buildings, have now been made.
In terms of the development of hostels, guest centres, conference centres, recreational facilities that we are looking at for members of staff and students, what we are doing is that we want to bring in private sector participation to use the private sector to aggressively develop them and we advertised an expression of interest, which was fully subscribed to, so we are hopeful that we will be able to work with one of the top notch accounting firms in Nigeria to shortlist because what we don’t want to do is to bring on board some one that will start a project and will not be able to finish it and will start giving excuses.
We want to do a thorough due diligence so much so that whoever we pick to embark on any project will be able to execute it to our satisfaction, we are going to be cost-conscious because whatever we want to develop must not be too expensive for students. Quality is also a critical component for us, then whatever we want to do, we want to green because at the end of the day, we are conscious of environmental issues. So these are the various things that we are doing and we are moving very quickly on all of them.
We are looking at a situation where in another 15-18 months, the skyline of the university will be different because we will have our hostels in place, instead of our students being accommodated in areas just around the university, they will be properly accommodated within their university. This will also increase the bonding between our students because when they live together they are able to appreciate each other better and they are able to maintain that network of friendship going forward in life.
Before you came on board, there was a prolonged strike, how did you cover lost grounds in terms of academics?
One of the things we did was we went back to senate with a revised time-table so that we will be able to make allowances for lost period, that was one critical thing we did. Another thing we did was, because we were able to make our people very happy everybody supported that vision; everybody saw the need to contribute their own quota to that vision, it galvanised the activities we wanted in the university. For instance hitherto they will say that LASU does not wake up until around 10 o’clock, but you find out that by 8-8:30, the university is full because everyone has keyed into that vision; everybody wants to play a role in making a success of this administration and that is very critical because at the end of the day, if a lecturer has a class for 9am and by nine o’clock he is there and all the assignments he needs to give students he is ready to give them and he is ready to further engage with the students, you can imagine the kind of positives you will get from it; so that has really assisted us to cover up for the lost times.
LASU used to be notorious for backlog of certificates, how is the situation now?
In relation to outstanding problems of results and certificates, it is peculiar to the LASU External System, not so much with the main campus. We see the LASU external system as an integral part of our university, but it was just unfortunate that when the problem started, we did not meet it on time. What we are now doing it that we have given it direct focus, we set up a task force that is focused on being able to account for every student of our external system and when we set the task force up, we told them they have a timeline of three months to work that three months will elapse by the end of August and by that time, we are very confident that we would have been able to cover a lot in terms of these outstanding certificates.
The unique things that happened as a result of the task force is that they set up a platform where students of the external system can go and check their profiles, if your profile is not online and you are not able to see it, there is another area there where you can lodge a complaints and let them know that you have check and cannot get your profile and members of the task force will respond and provide answers to such complaints.
Then, there will be a press conference by the task force chair and the director of the LASU external system, what they want to do is to brief members of the public on what they have done so far and they are going to do the briefing campus-by-campus so that students in the various campuses will know how far they have gone in relation to uploading their results, in relation to issues relating to their certificates. So it is not a case of playing the ostrich with this problem, we are confronting it such that by the end of August, we want to be able to say that we have done 70 per cent.
Don’t forget that where we are coming from was a situation where it was really bad. So if we are able to achieve 70 per cent by the end of August, we know we are on and by that time our students will even be able to know what is still keeping them and what they need to do to graduate. Another thing that is happening is that we want to quality assure every segment of our processes, the exams of the external campuses now will not be done in those campuses, the examinations will be done at the main campus in Ojo because we know that when you come into the main campus, there is security and we have all the facilities so we will be able to monitor the exam, properly invigilate the exam.
All these things that people are saying that maybe we have mercenary students, we will be able to clear the air to say that there is nothing like that because we will audit everybody that is coming for the exams. Two to three weeks before the exam, students will know their centres, on the day of the exam, they come in with only their writing materials, they will be properly accredited and they sit for the examinations in a very conducive atmosphere they will sit alone, they will not have the support of anybody to help them. It will be strictly monitored and senate has already approved of this. We are going to have the time-table out, we will sensitise our students about the exam so that they can prepare themselves for the exam because if they don’t do it well, they will face the consequences of it.
How is the university faring in terms of internally generated revenue?
I mentioned earlier that government cannot do it alone that we must look out and think outside the box to get the support of well-meaning Nigerians. In addition to that is this area of IGR. One of the things we have also done on our own, at the faculty level, we are encouraging our faculties; issues that are contemporary, we want them to look at how they can run certificate courses, short certificate courses on them because knowledge is power, knowledge is what results in innovation.
Nigerians are out there seeking knowledge, we can run the programmes that will give them the knowledge that they desire. So at the faculty level we are running programmes, different certificate programmes, one week programme, two weeks programme that people can come in for to get knowledge, this is one source. Another thing that we are doing, we have a programme that is running, the foundation programme in Badagry, the way the foundation programme is structured is that it is tied to the JUPEB programme.
The JUPEB programme is a joint university programme, UNILAG and a number of other institutions are in that team, that JUPEB programme, LASU has now been accredited as one of those that can run the programme. When you go in for that programme for one year and you do very well, you can apply to any university in Nigeria and they will accept that result from you to enter any of these universities, so you are not limited to LASU alone. And when you go into any of these universities, you are going in by way of direct entry, so you have not lost anything, so we have started that programme now, we expect that the students for that programme will resume by August 15.
Again when you look at our pre-degree studies at Epe, we have also resuscitated it, if you look at a situation where the number of students who applied to LASU alone this last UTME is about 180,000, what we can take in terms of our capacity is about 6,000, look at the disparity, so we must create other avenues and that is what other institutions are doing. We must create other avenues for our students to be properly engaged in what has quality because a critical thing for us is quality.
The pre-degree studies are looking at students with probably deficiencies in their school certificate results, maybe one or two subjects are lacking. We go through it with them, we take them through a period of tutelage training the for the subjects, by the time they are through with that they take an exam, we enroll them for the WAEC or NECO or GCE as the case may be and the moment they succeed they can use the result to apply to the university. What we want to do as much as possible is create opportunities for Nigerian youths who are interested in academics to have a place to go and do it well.
In addition to that, we have already started our international school, the secondary school for the university, but it is a stand-alone thing, insulated totally from the university so you are not going to have a situation where there is an issue in the university and the international school is not able to run. And the primary certificate for one to teach in the international school is a 2:1 so we are giving it a very high standard such that when students graduate from there, they will be able to stand their own and compete to go to any university either in the country or outside the country.
All off these programmes we are developing them in different ways. Again our school of agriculture we are going to go into organic agriculture because we have heard it, the federal government has stated it that agriculture is one of the critical things that we are looking at moving forward, the same thing the Lagos state government has mentioned and reiterated it that agriculture is a critical component of our development. So LASU with our school of agriculture we are not going to take a back seat, a critical component of what we are running with the school of agric is organic agriculture and we are starting up that immediately.
Where do you want to see LASU in the next five-10 years?
I want to see LASU as a citadel of excellence that will become a flagship and a place where everybody looks at as a benchmark to guide themselves in doing things. The products that have come out of LASU have defined themselves positively in different facets of life which means as at this point, LASU has a lot to contribute to discourse of national development. LASU has a lot to contribute to discourse of international development.
We have just finished a programme in the faculty of law and we were looking at migration, identity and development. And when you look at migration, identity and development, it is a contemporary issue, when Brexit came out, LASU was one of the foremost institutions that went into that discourse and came out with a communique in relation to it. That is the kind of thing I will want to see moving forward, not a situation where LASU is in the news for negative things. LASU must constantly, moving forward now, be in the news for positives and that is where I want to see the university, contributing to the discourse in terms of taking this country forward, in terms of shaping global engagements.