Prof. Kamil Omoteso was a practicing accountant cum lecturer in Nigeria before travelling to pursue his doctorate degree in the United Kingdom. He moved up the ladder to become the first black professor at Coventry University, UK and currently the Pro-Vice Chancellor and Dean, College of Business Law and Social Sciences, University of Derby, UK, where he currently lectures. Omoteso tells Sunday Ehigiator that Nigeria’s education remains one of the best if the right policies are put in place and implemented. Excerpts:
An accountant turned lecturer, how did it begin?
Well, I have always wanted to be an accountant from secondary school, that was why I went to the university to study accounting. After graduation, I was posted to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry as an accountant where I did the mandatory one year youth service. After my NYSC, I worked with Egypt Air as an accountant, then it was from Egypt Air that I joined Alhaji Rafiu Ebiti’s chains of company known as Istabaraqim Nigeria Limited and Adisa Ebiti and Co. I was actually working for both. I worked with him for five years, 1996 to 2001. I joined Lagos State University (LASU), where I worked as a lecturer.
But what actually drove me out of LASU was that as a lecturer, it doesn’t matter whether you have master’s or you are professionally qualified, you needed a PhD to be able to make anything out of your career. And they were very clear and blunt to us. So, I had to look for opportunities to do a PhD. And I couldn’t find one in Nigeria because only UNILAG was doing PhD in accounting and as at that time, PhD admission was frozen because they haven’t got enough people to supervise PhD students. That was how I turned to the United Kingdom in October 2001 and the rest is history.
You made history when you became the first black professor at Coventry University. How did you attain such a huge portfolio in a foreign country?
God has been kind to me. But if you come to human level, don’t ever think others wouldn’t notice what you are doing, even though you are not doing it for them. Earlier in my lecturing career, I spent 10 years for selfless service. I was doing everything. I was teaching, I was researching, I was doing international work for them, I was teaching professional ACCAC 1, because I was enjoying it. And that was how I knew that whatever you are doing, do your best. That was what earned me my second job as Deputy Head of Department (HOD). And within six months of becoming the HOD, I became Head of School at Coventry. And by that I became the first black Professor in their university. When you attain that, head hunters are looking for people who are hard working, who have achieved and who have something to offer. So that was how I became what I am now at Derby.
How can this perseverance be entrenched in our young generation?
It may interest you to know that I was the first black professor at Coventry University when I was appointed few years ago. And as at that time, there were fewer than 100 black professors across the UK. So out of about 20,000 we had less than a 100 black professors. But you have got to be focused, ensure that there is quality in whatever you are doing. Publications, entrepreneurship, your teaching quality and your impact on the profession, on the society.
Unlike here where you are appointed as a professor based on the number of publications you have, over there, publications alone would not earn you professorship. You have got to make impact, produce PhD students and contribute to the younger generations of academic with evidence. You have got to contribute what we call cooperate citizenship; things that wouldn’t earn you money but would help the university body, the profession in which you are.
You must be able to attract research funding, which are very competitive. I delivered a lecture at the 11th convocation ceremony at Crescent University, Abeokuta, Ogun State last week and it was titled ‘Professional Ethics and Nation Building’. It has to be a complete system. Parents would have to play a role, teachers would play a role, those are the teachers who have no other business except to teach us. The government too has a role. Again, you ask yourself. Is government serious about education? Are there policies that celebrate academics? So, the value system has actually changed over the years. So the government would have to play its role and it is all integrated.
In the UK for instance, they have employee of the year, employee of the month and they give them awards just to motivate them. And sometimes it is not always about giving them cash, but about the recognition. Just meeting Queen Elizabeth ll or shaking her hand is worth more than money to the majority. So it is a multifaceted approach that would work. I acquired all my education here in Nigeria before moving to the UK where I again blossomed by the help of God. Believe me, Nigeria’s education is still one of the best if right policies are put in place. Therefore, all hands must be on deck. Parents cannot do it alone, teachers cannot do it alone, our government cannot do it alone, but we all have to be committed to making it happen.
What difference can you point out between the Nigerian education system and that of the UK?
Well if you go down the memory lane, our education system initially was the legacy of the British colonialists. So we patterned our educational system around theirs, and it had its quality. I had all my education here in Lagos State to be precise, up to masters. And I went there and was able to fit in and contribute. So the standard was good. So we just need to go back to the basics and raise the standard. Lecturers and teachers should be doing what they are supposed to do, and they are mobilised in terms of feeling proud to be teachers and committing to it 100 per cent. And then we must do it sincerely. Our products are shining. In North America today, we have more than 5,000 doctors who did their medicine here in Nigeria and they are all thriving.
What do you think the government can do better in the Nigerian education sector as education plays a key role in national development?
It is simple. It is to put their money where their mouth is. They have to make teachers feel comfortable that this is a profession that is worth 100 per cent of their time. They have got to introduce forward looking policies and follow it up with actions. Look at our educational budget. That is why I said they have to put their money where their mouth is. Sometimes ASUU and other educational bodies have to hold the government accountable. That is really important that they do what they ought to do and they do it well. The percentage budgeted for education in this country is unheard of because we misplace our priorities. We need to go back to the drawing board because there can’t be any development without education, that is the summary.
Judges, doctors, teachers etc. who are going to produce these professionals if not teachers. So if they have not been well moulded in that way, when they go out, they may have the paper qualification, but the strength of character, diligence is not there. They want to cut corners and the nation would definitely pay a heavy price for that, which is what is currently going on in our education sector. So, we just have to go back and re-orientate our society and the leaders must demonstrate this diligence and integrity. In everything they do, they must be transparent.
What other passion do you have outside lecturing?
I am a family man. I enjoy interacting with my family and spending quality time with them. I do charity as well. I am the chairman of the second largest Islamic charity organisation in the world, ‘Human Appeal’. So I spend time on that and spend time in the community inspiring young folks particularly from the ethnic minority group in the UK because they need a role model and somebody that would guide them on the right path so they can contribute to the community and achieve their dreams.