I Will Quit My Job before 70

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Professor Labode Popoola, an outstanding academic and Vice Chancellor of Osun State University, in this interview with Funke Olaode talks about his attainments as a teacher and administrator

Can we have an insight into your background?
I am a professor of Forest Economics and Sustainable Development at the University of Ibadan. I had a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in 1984 from the University of Ibadan, Master of Science in Forest Economics and Management in 1987 and Doctor of Philosophy in Forest Economics in 1990. I started teaching in UI as a graduate assistant since 1988. I was appointed Vice-Chancellor of Osun State University in November 2016. I hope to finish my tenure and go back to UI.

Leading a vibrant university to Uniosun to some people is like a career suicide. What influenced your decision to take up the appointment?
In our climate it is like embarking on a suicide mission but someone has to do the job. I have had the privilege of serving in all capacities in the university system except for Vice-Chancellorship. When the opportunity came I was also encouraged by people. I was invited for an interview and came first and the job started.

What makes it tick considering the fact that a lot of people don’t have confidence in state universities?
My own belief is that a university is a university all over the world. Even in the United States, a lot of state universities are stronger than the federal because everything depends on what you make out of it. Of course, the laws are not different from the federal university. All you need is that be principled and apply the rules. We have taken our students to competition with federal universities and we floored them. Yes. In terms of facilities they (federal universities) are well equipped, they are well funded, remuneration wise it is more regular than most state universities. In my university we don’t default in salary payment. Being a state a university doesn’t mean that things cannot work better there. Our sound academic records and quality of service speak for us. For instance, I presented 19 programmes for accreditation in November/December last year and thankfully all the 19 programmes were accredited.

How have you been able to nib the issue of strike in the bud?
They go on strike, particularly non-academic staff of the university, but we ensure that it doesn’t affect the calendar because we are running a university where the internally generated revenue is plough back into the system. Basically, we are using our resources efficiently and we are able to pay full salary as at when due.

Educational system in Nigeria is not the way it used to be. Where did we get it wrong?
Well, it is very difficult to say that the standard of education has fallen. The quantum of information available now is enormous and should be an added advantage to this generation. Although, there is a notion that policies are not being implemented. We still have institutions doing very well. For example, there are quite a number of private primary/secondary schools that are doing very well. But let me agree to the fact that supervision has actually reduced in most of public institutions and that is what is happening now and is affecting us. The curricular are not necessarily too bad and of course, they have to be reviewed from time to time.

What is your view on the clamour for vocational programmes in our tertiary institution?
That is the way to go because we live in a fast changing world. We live in a world where white collar job is not always available even if you ever get it. So people should have vocational training which would support them through life. I know that some family ensure that their children apart from formal education also learn some form of trades. So it would be good if it is integrated into our curriculum at all levels. And of course, many universities have introduced entrepreneurial programmes but the problem I have is that people believe when you produce candle, soap it is entrepreneurial skills. It is beyond using your hand but your mind set on how to add one plus one and get exactly what you want by thinking out of the box and do something that would be useful to yourself and the society.

A lot of people belief that state education is not affordable. How true?
All over the world education is an expensive venture. I am not very sure we have a state university where a student is paying up to N300, 000 in a whole year. If you want good education you must pay for it. If you divide it by 365 days you still have less than a N1, 000 per day. In this country we have people who pay 500 Naira per lesson per day. It is like we are deceiving ourselves. Education must be paid for by someone. It is either the family are ready to pay for it or a form of scholarship scheme. For instance, I know individuals that have scholarship scheme and a lot of students are benefitting from it. We want to introduce a formal one which the council is trying to put in place. A committee is being set up to fashion out way in which we can source for funds from may be other sources to grant scholarship to indigent brilliant students.

But what is your view on private universities as many are like a ‘glorified secondary school’?
We have to be careful because we have quite a number of them that are doing very well. We also have a regulatory body such as Nigerian University Commission (NUC). So the ones that are licensed it is difficult for us to sit down and start condemning them. It is the regulatory body that should tell the whole world about their activities whether they are good or not or whether they are doing it right or not.

As a Vice-Chancellor, do you have any success story to tell?
The issue of governance has been put in place to ensure that the university is running the way it should. Also, access road to the university was nothing to write home about. Right now, about 1.2 kilometer was constructed. We got an external person in Dr. Folorunso Alakija who funded it and now we have descent access road in the university. We had accreditation and all the programmes were accredited. Our students have excelled in their endeavours in competitions and they have brought laurels and we have also done capacity building for our staffs.

What would you like to be remembered for as a teacher?
Somehow, I have a sense of fulfilment when I see people that I have trained occupying positions and contributing to development all over the world. I have supervised 26 PhD students. About half of them are professors and they are doing well. This makes me very happy. By the grace of God I have played my role. Of course, it is still broad day light and not yet night. So I am still on and I will continue to work but not definitely till the age of 70 which is retirement age for professors in Nigeria. I would not stay till the age of 70 before I quit my job as a lecturer.