Prof. Amidu Sanni is the immediate-past Vice-Chancellor of Fountain University, Osogbo, Osun. In an interview with Uchechukwu Nnaike, he highlighted his achievements in the institution, how incessant strikes have continued to water down Nigeria’s educational system and the way forward
Have you always wanted to be in academia?
I will say yes because I have been lucky enough to be a good performer right from my primary education to the university level. I made a first class in Arabic Studies and Literature from the University of Ibadan where I graduated in 1980 and completed a PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies (London) in 1989. God continued that favour in my life winning several awards including the British Commonwealth Scholarship, the Alexander Von Humboldt Fellowship, the Leiden-Scaliger Fellowship and Chevening Fellowship at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. Prior to my appointment as vice-chancellor, I taught at the Lagos State University (LASU) from 1984-2018. With modesty, I have been able to enjoy these academic privileges by the grace of the almighty.
At what stage did you embrace academics fully?
Ironically, I started as a broadcaster , and destiny pushed me further. I was one of the pioneer presenters and producers with the Television Service of Oyo State when it was founded in the early eighties. But again, I had a role model and mentor in Prof Musa O. Abdul from Ijebu Ode, who advised me that as a first-class material, I would blossom as a teacher. I was doing my master’s degree at the University of Ibadan, then in Arabic and Islamic Studies. But my emphasis was more on Comparative Literature. So I quit broadcasting and moved to academics. When Lagos State University was founded in 1984, I happened to be one of the pioneer lecturers. And from there, I was the first to win the Commonwealth Scholarship of the school in the 1984/85 session. And that took me to the United Kingdom as a Commonwealth scholar. That feat enabled me to do my PhD at the University of London School for international studies. Incidentally, I was able to do some consultancy then, even as a student and became the first Nigerian member of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. So I became a fellow then and was happy to be the first African fellow of this society, even as a PhD student. So that one gave me a lot of opportunities and exposure to a number of top-rated academic libraries and fellowships. And I also finished my PhD in record time at the University of London. When I finished, I came back to LASU in 1989. Since then I have participated in international engagements and I have been involved in a lot of editorial consultancies, research, projects, publishing and so on.
With your international exposure, why did you return to Nigeria?
Thanks for that question. I used to tell people that unless you are given the scholarship to go and do a course in any of these European countries, it is not advisable to hang around. It is very expensive, and at a point, you will discover that you will become an unwanted material. Once they have taken the best of you, you won’t be able to come back home. You are not wanted there, and you just have to manage and struggle to live. So, Nigeria is a very gifted country if we have the right leadership and the right environment. One of my children is now a consultant in the UK as a doctor. He finished his medical studies here in Nigeria before moving to the UK. After his programme, he was employed. So, what I am saying is that if Nigerian materials are not good, they won’t be employing them in UK and US.
Aren’t you worried about the present educational problems?
Honestly I am worried because I wouldn’t imagine any reasonable, responsible and responsive government to allow the universities to be shut down for eight months as it happened last year. You know in those days, a third-class material from a Nigerian university could get automatic admission to Oxford or Cambridge but now our first class have to go through IELTS. In those days, students from other countries used to come to Nigeria for their education. People used to come to UCH for medical service. Most of the doctors over there passed from Nigeria here. So that is to tell you that if we have the right kind of leadership, the right environment, Nigerians can excel anywhere. And the greatest thing is that if all these nurses and doctors that are now being poached if they are not good, they won’t take them over there.
What is the way forward?
The way forward is to have a new thinking. The government should have its priority set aright by placing emphasis on education, education and education. Is to have education well-funded. Again, we have to face the fact that it is not possible for the government to fund education alone. So, this new idea of student loans should be well encouraged. It is very expensive to train a single doctor. It is a lot of money and government alone cannot have that kind of funding. There should be a new way of funding education and to make sure that a four years course does not go beyond four years.
You recently concluded your tenure as vice-chancellor at Fountain University. What would you consider your greatest achievements?
Let me put it this way, maybe the greatest thing I would share is first, the university was engrossed in land dispute with the donors of the land for almost 15 years in ligation in court. And I want to thank God that I was able to settle the land dispute with the ‘Omo onile’ and we were able to do that early this year. So I am happy that the issue of land dispute have been sorted out. The second thing I would say is that the kind of rapport I am able to establish with the local community, the king, the chiefs gave me joy. I was able to accommodate them and we became friends. So, they became the guardians of the university’s properties.
What does it take to be an outstanding administrator of an institution?
I think the starting point would be your ability to delegate and supervise. University has a very unique way of community system. If you delegate a job, you have to supervise. Don’t just give an assignment and go to bed. Create teamwork. You can’t be in every department. You can’t be in every college or faculty. You have to delegate and insist on standard. That is what it takes. I always insist on standard. Also, having autonomy and freedom to allow the university tradition to operate by the establishment improves administrative work.
How would you say your tenure has impacted the university positively?
The university now has two additional colleges: the College of Management Sciences and the Colleges of Natural and Applied Sciences. When I came on board, the university had the College of Law and the College of Basic Medical and Health Sciences. Then the College of Arts is taking off this September, where you have courses in French, English, Arabic and Chinese. Then the Post Graduate programme also increased during my tenure. And within the next few weeks, seven new programmes will be accredited by the National University Commission (NUC): three undergraduate and four postgraduates. We have also tried to widen our international networks. For example, the International Law Book Facilities in the UK is donating a whole library of law books to the university. And several other countries as well are coming on board. One has been able to utilize one’s international networks to attract a lot of assistance, and technical support to the university.
Can you throw more light on the proposed rehabilitation programme of the university?
The project is named Academic Rehabilitation Project. It is in progress because we feel if you concentrate on taking care of only the good students, what about the bad ones or those who are having challenges? Maybe not out of their own choice, maybe out of fear, those students who are engaged in substance abuse, bad behaviour and so on. So, I was able to convince the Aragbiji of Iragbiji, the Kabiyesi, who is a very good friend of mine. He donated some parcels of land to the university. So, the United Nations Office for Drug Control is assisting us along that line. I was with the NDLEA Chairman, Gen. Buba Marwa, the other time. I think they also tried to assist the project so that we can now engage people positively. If people are engaged positively, you are going to spend your time positively. You won’t have time to think of negative behaviours. If you don’t have access to drugs or weed, then you will engage yourself in innovative skill-building. So that is one area that I will say yes, I have been able to make some impact as well.
Life after Fountain University, what is next?
I went to Fountain University from Lagos State University on a leave of absence. And you know the Nigerian system allows you as a professor to be in service up to the age of 70. I still have two years more. So, I am returning to LASU now, but more important, I think I need a break. I need a break for myself, and one needs to get closer to God as well after all these marathon years of going up and down. I also need some time to do some research and mentor younger ones. This is very dear to my heart. If you want to replace yourself, you need to create time for mentorship. That is what I want to do now. And also spend more time with family.
What will you want to be remembered for?
I think what I want to be remembered for is bringing both human and infrastructural development to the institution. Then raising the bar or standard of both the student and the staff. I ensured that anybody that is going to be employed as a lecturer in the university also passes through some form of ‘demonstration lecturing’. If you want to lecture in Fountain University you have to pass through the rigorous test. So, the standard of recruitment, standard of promotion was rigorous, you have to earn it, it is not a right. You have to earn for you to work, and you have to earn for you to be promoted. People normally don’t like it, but at the end of the day it improves the system.