The Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), Professor Francis Eze is barely five months in office and his efforts to raise the bar has started yielding fruits. In this interview with Amby Uneze, he reveals his strategies to move the institution forward and explains why post-UTME should be allowed to continue, among other issues. Excerpts:
You recently became the vice-chancellor of this university and you had the first convocation ceremony under your leadership, what is your experience so far?
It has been a wonderful experience because I was deputy vice-chancellor administration and I thought I knew almost everything but I just discovered that I didn’t know the enormity of the problems we have. For over five months now I have been in the saddle, I feel the pinch and I weathered the storm but I carry everybody along. I feel that we are moving and people see us because we say it the way it is and we have the integrity, we are transparent enough in all our actions. We touch people. We have the human kindness to govern the people. So we are forging ahead and I want people to see us the way we are. So to that extent I am happy and I am not daunted by the enormity of the problems because I know that we will continue to confront them one after another. I know that by the grace of God we shall overcome.
In some universities it is like a norm that after appointing vice-chancellors, oppositions and internal wrangling ensue, but in your case it was not so. Were you a consensus candidate?
I have been here for the past 26 years having come in as a lecturer one, I grew through the ranks. I have been acting head of department; I have been a coordinator of a programme; I have been HOD; I have been dean
for two times; I have been a director; and I have been a DVC. So you can see many of those positions I held were by election and there was no election I contested in this university that I haven’t come up tops not just winning but coming number one. I was a member of the ninth governing council and my colleagues in the senate voted me and I came tops. For one the first time I defeated an incumbent dean, my colleagues voted me when I wasn’t in the senate and I said I wanted to represent the congregation and I got into the election and my colleagues voted me and I came tops, so it’s been like that because I feel a university is not a place you come for exploitation or for quick money. And I followed a top brace academic that made all sacrifices but they didn’t have the money. There is joy in academics. Primitive acquisition of wealth is not a good way to exist. If I look at people who have done that they are not happy. I think I am a very satisfied man and anytime I interact with my fellow human beings I win hearts. They believe me because I say the truth; I think that is the secret.
You just had the first convocation under your leadership, how did it go and what calibre of visitors did you host?
I think I am on top of the world. This is my first outing and you know when you do this type of thing you listen to others and they give you the report. All the reports I have been receiving are very excellent ones. I give kudos to my assistants, committee members (ceremonial), this committee has done a wonderful job to put things together. On our own part we also did our bit to ensure that everything went well. And FUTO is a brand name, all the people we invited came. We had two ministers, so many people from Abuja, so that tells you the extent of its success. Our students were so happy, we carry everybody along. At some point people asked me ‘are you going to be vindictive on those who opposed you’, and I said no. I can’t fight the battle. God fought for me. They are coming back because some of them have seen that there is no point doing what they are doing. Generally the campus is quiet, the students are happy, the staff are happy. All the unions are happy and whatever the misinformation they were getting some have even come to apologise to
me that they didn’t know. That is the truth.
Encroachment in universities by host communities is rampant, how has it been in this institution?
It is very unfortunate with what we are seeing here, the level of encroachment is unprecedented. Another flank was opened recently along the Port Harcourt road axis, precisely at Avu Junction. There is massive encroachment going on there. We have appealed to them, we have asked the press to help us. We have written to all the authorities: the federal, state governments and communities. We have admonished them but that is still going on. We have taken adverts in form of caveat emptor in newspapers to tell people that if they go and invest money in such dealings that they stand the risk of losing their money and that the best is to keep off but the place is a legally and duly acquired land. What we have achieved for these communities is so much and they shouldn’t distract us and I hope that the minister who represented the president said he wants to intervene. He thinks the federal government; the state government and the host communities should come together and iron out issues. So that is the way we have approached the issue but we feel this type of thing we can’t go there with force because if in the event somebody is killed and maybe such person may have very little knowledge about the land. So we are appealing to them and we will continue to do so.
Has there been any cordial relationship between the university and the host communities in the past?
Of course there has been because what you call corporate social responsibility, the university has always done her part. We have outreach programmes: our Optometry department embarks on an outreach programmes to examine their eyes and so on. We have our medical centre also opened for them, once a month they come there and get medical attention free of charge and then the schools are opened for them: the primary and secondary schools, all the small jobs we reserve for them, and by 10 am they finish and by the end of the month we still pay them N10,000 each. All the contracts are there for them for those who are qualified for these contracts, we give them. For minor work we give to them and for admission purpose we give them admission, the record are there. When permanent jobs come we also give them.
You know there is this misinformation going on about the power tussle between the town unions and the traditional rulers to the extent that during admissions, their town unions would bring their list, traditional rulers would bring their own list. The town unions don’t have confidence in the traditional rulers and the traditional rulers are the chief security officers in their communities, so that is the problem they usually have. However, I still believe that the traditional rulers themselves will continue talking to them. At times they would say they are not being carried along, these are also some misconceptions they usually have. The university cannot tar roads, we haven’t tarred the ones in our campus but if there are some palliative measures we can put for them. One of the traditional rulere came during the rainy season and complained of no road and we went and graded the road for them, now there is dry season when our equipment is put in order we can grade the roads for them. These are things we can do but if you ask us to do roads and put asphalt we don’t have the funds to do so. That is the situation. We are talking to them and we believe they will understand.
I understand that some students scored high grades in their final examination, how do you intend to maintain that tempo of excellence among students?
Actually I was part of the immediate past administration as the DVC administration. This journey started in 2011, though I wasn’t DVC then but I was a prominent member of that administration and we said the first quality assurance will come from the admission. If you admit good students, the results will show and we said if you as a student and for you to get admission you score a minimum of 180 in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) and a minimum of 180 in our post-UTME. In our post-UTME we make sure there won’t be any cheating of any sort, no impersonation and we put a lot of effort in it, and so today it has paid off. We have 39 first class results, the first in the history of this university. We have 782 second class upper division, we have never had it before because we have the right students and that is part of my mantra ‘to recruit, to nurture, to develop quality, uniquely, qualified students; and we want to also develop exceptional staff in science, engineering, technology and in innovation’.
This will sustain us for another five years and then FUTO would be an institution to beat. Initially, people may not like the policy because when we implemented that it took the pressure off to ourselves, and we insisted on that policy. It affected us, it affected our staff and we sustained it for five years and if we do that for another five years then we will be able to get there. And that is why we are appealing to the federal government that the post-UTME is a very important assessment criterion by universities for admission because if we do that the quality of students we admit will show and it will be nice for the system. We will continue to beg them to rescind that decision on the ban of post- UTME because we have the evidence to show that it is a very important assessment for admission in our universities.
Fayemi Attributes Crisis in Education to Irrelevant Curriculum
The Minister of Solid Minerals and former Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, has expressed concern over the apparent irrelevance of the education curriculum to life experience and the gulf between the classroom and the society. He blamed these for the crisis in the education sector.
Fayemi, who made this known while delivering the convocation lecture of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) titled, ‘Building a Successor-Generation: Reflections on Values and Knowledge in Nation Building’, said universities are meant to be breeding grounds for society’s elites and are supposed to be the sites of knowledge production where solutions to the challenges of development are produced.
“It is not misplaced for society to look to our universities to produce successive generation of elites that can fix our country and help us achieve our strategic national development priorities.”
He urged universities to embrace change, re-imagine possibilities and revitalise continuously, adding that in contemplating the challenges of leadership and development in the country, there is need to critically appraise educational institutions and make necessary interventions to ensure that they have adequate funding, world class physical structures and functional teaching equipment, as well as the right social environment that supports the education of the total man.
The minister also highlighted lessons that must be learnt in the university environment that promotes the inculcation of progressive values and the development of sound character in young people.
“If we are to improve the quality of our country’s human capital and invariably have better national development outcomes, we have to pay attention to the factory that produces the most important segment of our workforce that we expect to drive development in every sector, and which is the crop from which our future leaders will arise.”
He expressed concern about the high rate of unemployed or underemployed youths being produced by universities leading to a massive unemployment crisis that has calcified over the years, with grave socio-economic portents for the future.
“How are our universities addressing this and other strategic national priorities? Are we paying enough attention by ensuring that our graduates are well equipped to respond to this and other challenges of our time?”
He said the country also has the tragedy of academically sound graduates who have no idea of ethical awareness, locus of control or moral judgment in their beings.
The minster advised the students to learn how to learn, saying that since the university offers the opportunity for serious minded young people to acquire knowledge, their ability to prove that they have learnt what they ought to, in accordance with the curriculum, will be the criterion from level to level till graduation.
“Some people mistake passing exams for acquiring knowledge; they are two different things. As a student, you have to learn the principles behind actually acquiring knowledge. You also have to quit whining, we have a debilitating entitlement mentality that is common place among young people today. The earlier we realise that no one owes us anything, the better for us, and the more prepared we would be to face life’s challenges.”
The Chairman of the occasion, Major General Ike Nwachukwu (rtd.), stressed that youths should be allowed more into leadership positions, adding that they should be more active in the country’s politics.