RAHAMON BELLO

Interviewed by Funke Olaode

 

How did you avoid the banana peels throughout your tenure as Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos?
I became the Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos on 11th of November and will be quitting on 11th of November. University of Lagos is a peculiar tertiary institution because of its location in the city of Lagos and because of its size. We have over 75,000 students, over 5,000 members of staff and over 10,000 that besiege us on daily basis for one business or the other. You can imagine what it takes to run such an institution. One is faced with one challenge or the other but certain things are paramount such as infrastructure, funds, power, water and environment, as well as, salaries. With this, banana peels can run you over. The other one has to do with students’ unionism. I want to thank God that in the last five years, I overcame.

It seems the month of November is significant in your life…
It just happened that I was appointed on the 11th day of the 11th Month and fortunately, I happened to be the 11th Vice-Chancellor of the university and also my office is on the 11th floor of the Senate Building. And I would be exiting as Vice-Chancellor on the 11th day of November. On a lighter note, I think I would look at the number again and see what I can do with it. Unfortunately, I don’t gamble.

Looking back, are there things you would have loved to do differently?
It has to do with the infrastructure; the buildings we planned for the faculty of law and others. If the university had the autonomy and we were able to work around it, today, those projects would have become reality. The Post Graduate School and DLI are units of this school that can fund the buildings themselves based on arrangement if we can get a concession from developers and make arrangements to pay back over 10 to 15 years, we would do it successfully. Already, we have money earmarked for these buildings but the bureaucracy would not allow it come to reality. That is why the issue of financial autonomy is important because we can work with the private sector to execute it. We also have some roads that I would have loved to construct so that it would open up some areas and ease the problems we usually have. Those are some of the things I would have done.

There has been a clamour from your people in Ogun State to represent them. Are you planning to go for politics?
I have not been far away from my people. I am a community man and I have served them before in Ogun state as a commissioner. But you know I am not a partisan politician. I am a politician by fighting for the right of my people. I don’t intend to go into politics in the nearest future. I will work to ensure that one of my people emerges.

How would you consider your experience between your alma mater, University of Ife and University of Lagos?
I had my early life in Ife but I have spent over 40 years of most of my productive life in the University Lagos. That is where I belong to. Of course, I am not disputing my foundation which is very key for me. I appreciate the University of Ife for that.

What is your greatest regret?
My greatest regret is related to students’ crisis. Today, in the University of Lagos, any election into any students’ group is done through e-voting and on representative basis. There is no influence from cultic groups or other groups influencing the outcome of SUG elections in the University of Lagos. With the introduction of e-election, all the elections have been peaceful. We realized in 2016 that there are professionals in the student electoral system in Nigeria who move from one institution to another. And this is like a caucus. They move from Colleges of Education, to Polytechnics and even universities where they believe they can get control. If the leadership of union is taken care of by the students themselves, it would not go that way. But when an organization that is used to thuggery and violence cross over here that is where challenge come from.

Then how were you able to manage agitations from the labour unions?
As far as the issue of unionism is concerned, here in the University of Lagos, we have an organization that represents all the four staff unions: We have quarterly meetings with them. It is only issues that concerns a particular union that we take privately. I pray it will continue to work.

What does it take to run University of Lagos?
Ensure that you carry everybody along. Whatever your issues are, whatever your feelings are, you must put the university as the main objective of your activities and not yourself. Once you do that, everything would work out fine. That is the basis of any success we have achieved over the last five years.

How do you feel quitting the stage now?
It has been great. It has been fulfilling. I got elated being appointed as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos. At this point, I feel very relieved. My family can have me back and I can have myself back.