‘Investment in Research across Disciplines is Imperative if Nigeria Must Grow’

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Professor Idowu Babatunde is the third Vice-Chancellor of Adegboyega University, Ogwa, Edo State. In this interview with Funmi Ogundare, the Professor of Zoology explained why government at all levels must invest heavily in research across all disciplines, saying that Nigeria can’t afford to be left behind in a knowledge-based world economy, among other issues. Excerpts:

How do you intend to complement the effort of your predecessor and ensure that the university is among leading private universities in the country?

When I applied as a vice- chancellor here, I had in mind what I wanted to do for the university. It is owned by the Apostolic Church Nigeria. So I considered my intention a call to serve God in another dimension if I was offered the job. Eventually, the job came and I was sworn in on January 6, 2020 to the glory of God. Even before I was sworn in, I had started some preliminary studies of the challenges confronting the school. Effectively, the handover files and my interactions with my predecessor, Professor Benard Aigbokhan brought me fully up to speed.

So I hit the ground running from day one. From the very beginning, I knew that I was going to build on what my predecessor planted and expand the ground for high activities which will put the university on a global map. The first thing my management team did was to put all the necessary things in place to secure approval from the National Universities Commission (NUC) and the Council of Legal Education (CLE) in order to start the College of Law. But for the current Covid-19 pandemic, the two bodies would have visited the university by now. Hopefully, as soon as this crisis is over, the bodies will visit our school and the programme will commence in September.

Apart from the Law programme, arrangement is on the way to commence Nursing Science, Security and Intelligence Studies, Architecture, Engineering and Education. Most importantly, we shall expand and rebrand existing undergraduate and postgraduate programmes to meet the current challenges and global competitiveness. Right now, the world is looking for innovative and solution driven academic programmes. Courses like Mechatronics, Software Engineering, etc are highly needed in the market. Therefore, some of the existing programmes have to be rebranded to take new names and dimensions. Another area I want to build on is agriculture.

When I came, I discovered that the university is sited in a unique location. Given my background in Zoology and experiences as a farmer, I knew that agriculture would be very viable here. We had several consultations and concluded that there was need to invest heavily in agriculture for two reasons. One, it will generate a lot of income for the university and expand her internally generated revenue base. Two, the host community and the entire state would benefit from our farming activities through extension services.

Immediately, I purchased over 4,000 cocoa and cashew seedlings and started a nursery farm. We also purchased pawpaw and oil palm seedlings. Very soon, we shall have them transplanted and more seedlings purchased. My goal is to make the university a cocoa and cashew destination. Most of these raw materials will be processed here. This explains why we are also planning the building of a heavy industrial park. This park will be a hub for several agricultural and other commercial activities.

Trust me, we shall produce chocolate bars here in Samuel Adegboyega University. We shall start our own bottle water company, bakery and all that. If you do a study of this community, you will understand that the indigenes are not investing so much in cash crops; we shall encourage them through our own activities. By the grace of God, the university will also go into full scale livestock farming. You and I know that agriculture will eventually become the main stay of the Nigerian economy. Expectedly, look at how oil prices are summersaulting.

Another important area that I have started building on is research. Universities all over the world are known for their research outputs. We are going to invest heavily in research. The university has the Centre for Research and Development of Esanland (CEDEL). That centre provides us with a unique opportunity to conduct serious research activities that will place us on a global map. At the moment, I am working seriously with the Director, Professor Bridget Inegbeboh to make the centre a UNESCO centre.

Through it, cutting edge studies will be concluded soon. The university also intends to attract global scholars who have won several grants. Already, I have held several meetings with academic staff within the last two months. The idea is to provoke their research interest. Fortunately for us, the university boasts of thorough academics. They represent the very best in their fields of endeavor. We shall therefore encourage them to undertake serious studies that will announce the university soon. In fact, most of such studies will be funded through grants.

We shall sponsor some of the staff to academic conferences and research workshops. This will enable them publish their research findings in high indexed journals abroad. This will surely give the university high visibility. One area I am passionate about is exchange programme. By the grace of God, the institution will establish exchange programmes with some international universities that will enable our students and staff spend some semesters abroad. When such arrangement is concluded, it will surely give us the needed rating.

Entrepreneurship is central to what we are doing right now. The last administration completed a building that will house the Centre for Entrepreneurship. Soon, we shall have it equipped and massive commercial activities will commence there. We want to produce graduates that can invest seriously in entrepreneurship. It is therefore on us to prepare them now. More so, the university has decided to step up its visibility through heavy publicity and rebranding.

This is why we are currently investing so much effort to ensure that there is reliable internet service for both staff and students. Apart from the fact that this will encourage research, it will also help in online and social media campaigns. In furtherance to this, we are working day and night to ensure that the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) gives the Department of Mass Communication licence to operate a campus radio. All the equipment needed have been purchased. We are just waiting for the licence to commence operation. When operational, it will surly help the publicity and educational need of the university.

How will you go about the rebranding effort?

It is simple, the first thing we did was to identify an academic space in the map. Now that we have done that, we shall occupy it. You see, in branding, one must identify a niche for himself through conscious positioning. We shall also learn to tell our own stories. If we don’t tell our story, nobody will do that for us. Again, we shall partner the media. They are our friends and we shall explore that.

As a Professor of Zoology, what wealth of experience are you bringing on board to impact students positively?

By the grace of God, I was until my appointment, the Dean of Student Affairs Division, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta. As the dean, I had first-hand knowledge of what students represent and how to engage with them. Now as a vice-chancellor, my experience will play a huge role here. The first thing I did upon assumption was to engage the students and their leadership. Their challenges were brought to the table and we are solving them as we speak. I knew that if I wanted to win their trust, the first thing was to listen to them. We did. However, it is a two way thing; we listened to them and they must listen to us.

Work has commenced on the ICT mast to have it extended to increase students’ and staff’s access to the internet. The internet will surely help them to do their studies and also to link up with reasonable friends outside the university. Apart from this, sports is central. Top on my agenda is to equip the sports unit and increase sporting activities of students. We shall work out scholarship programmes to attract sports talents who will boost our sports capacity.The university also places premium on discipline. As a faith-based institution, we shall never compromise our values. This will surely continue. This does not in any way diminish the fact that they are young people. We shall be fair but firm. The exchange programmes with other international universities will surely help them become better people.

In what ways will your administration bolster the institution’s research output and innovations for economic benefits?

Research is at the heart of any university activity. The first thing I did upon assumption was to engage the academic staff. Now that they have seen my resolve to invest in research, they are motivated to go into serious research activities that will be published in best journals abroad. I personally told many of them to start one or two research activities. The university will provide support where necessary. Grant winning is also our focus. Until staff in this university win several research grants, I will never be satisfied. Very soon, research workshops will hold in the university. Staff, will also attend academic conferences anywhere in the world. The Centre for Research and Development of Esanland is key in this effort. The centre provides us with key opportunities to develop cutting edge research.

It will attract research fellows also. Our science laboratories will be equipped with state-of-the-art facilities to enable faculties and students conduct research. Fortunately for us, the proprietors and other friends of the university have started donating learning materials that will boost research. Just recently, I was with a former president of this country, he donated several volumes of books to our library. Within the same month, a renowned lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who is a respected member of the Esan community, donated several volumes of books to our law library. He has equally promised to support the law programme.

How do you monitor the quality of teaching between lecturers and students that will make them globally competitive?

First, the recruitment process is stringent. We don’t just recruit anybody that has the requisite qualification; we look beyond certificate. We go extra miles to ensure that the best academics are recruited. With this, you will surely get quality. They are several ways to monitor the quality of teaching in every university. Our university has a quality control mechanism to ensure that the right teaching is provided for the students. We have a student feedback mechanism where academic staff are assessed through questionnaire at the end of every semester.

This provides students the opportunity to assess their lecturers and it gives us an idea of who is not doing well. Again, we ensure that all heads of departments and deans of colleges ensure quality control. They have the mandate to ensure that academic staff go to classes always and they also monitor the quality of what the staff are teaching. The Academic Planning Unit is managed by Professor May Ogbe, a renowned Professor of Biological Sciences. Her unit is doing very well. In fact, I recently approved the appointment of a sub-director for the unit to ensure academic planning activities there. I can assure, we are on track.

Are there plans by the university to partner with the private sector to ensure infrastructural development and enhanced facilities?

Of course. You have to understand that universities are designed to provide solutions for both public and private sectors. These sectors will in turn support research in the universities. That was the idea of our founding fathers. Under my watch, I will bring back that relationship. We shall ensure that the private sector plays central role in our research activities while we shall in turn provide them with relevant findings that will help the industry. For example, we want to start Theater Art and Film Studies. This department will bring celebrated film makers and Nollywood professionals to partner the university in film making. Through the Department of Mass Communication, we shall partner renowned journalists, public relations and advertising firms to improve on our teaching and research activities while we provide them with research findings. This shall be extended to the departments of Chemistry and Microbiology to see which of the research activities will attract the attention of production industries, research centers and hospitals. The Centre for Research and Development of Esanland will also bring in the private sector players who are from Esanland to play one or two roles.

Till date, how many of your programmes have been accredited by the NUC and what efforts are you making to ensure a resource assessment of other programmes?

As we speak, all our academic programmes across all our colleges are fully accredited by NUC. All our postgraduate programmes have secured approval from NUC as well. We are expecting NUC and Council of Legal Education to give us approval to start the law programme.

With the efforts being made by the government to contain Covid-19, how well do you think they can help boost the declining quality of education in Nigeria?

Well, one thing is clear; the current health crisis has revealed how unprepared we could be as a nation. It has also revealed the sorry state of our health sector. What you are seeing today is a product of several years of decay in the health and education sectors. Don’t get me wrong; I am not trying to diminish the efforts of the government in this direction. But we need to ask; where are the billions budgeted for the health sector all these years? Believe me, this crisis is just being managed by God. If not, we would have been in serious crisis by now.

The way forward is for government at all levels to start investing heavily in research across all disciplines. This is because, it is health crisis today, it may be social crisis tomorrow. The government must realise that every country on earth is pursuing a knowledge-based economy. We can’t be left out. There must be deliberate and unwavering efforts to invest in education to scale up our manpower. Let us learn from the experience of countries in the South East Asia. What they export today is knowledge. Just 10 years ago, the 10 leading companies in the world were multinational oil companies. Today, communication companies like Facebook, Microsoft, etc have all gone up to the ladder. Therefore, there must be continuous research activities in our universities. Government should stop playing with education in this country.