Professor Bamitale Omole is the immediate past Vice-Chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, where held sway between 2011-2016, and now the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council, Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti. In this chat with OLALEKAN OSIADE, the former INEC State Returning Officer for the 2014 governorship election in Osun State, spoke on sundry matters. Excerpts…
As someone in the university education system, what do you think is the solution to the rampant industrial actions by the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU)?
There is no scintilla of doubt that university education in Nigeria is grossly and abysmally underfunded by successive federal administrations. Let me quickly give you some statistics so you will not think it’s all about my imagination. In the 2018 budget, education was allocated seven percent of the total budget.
In 2019 it was 7.02 percent and in the 2020 budget it was reduced to 6.7 percent of the total budget. Whereas in Ghana for the same period, a country that is much poorer in terms of GDP, the allocation for education for three years consecutively was 12 percent of the total budget. And to think that the UNESCO average recommendation on education for developing countries is between 15 and 20 percent. Do you know that Kenya’s budgetary allocation for the education sector in 2019 at $4.95 billion was twice the combined allocation for the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Health and the Presidency? Whereas in Nigeria, the budgetary allocation in the 2020 Budget for the National Assembly was N128 billion plus another N37 billion for renovation!
You see, education in any serious nation is seen as the bedrock of development. A nation that prioritises the development of human capital via education is a nation on the road to overcoming basic human challenges and vicissitudes of existence. Without education, there would be no innovation, there’ll be no creativity, science will not develop, technology will be stunted and the whole landscape would be littered with ignoramuses and criminals who are dangerous to themselves and deadly to the society. Some might say there are other competing sectoral priorities.
Yes, but a serious nation must be able to identify and prioritize that one sector that can catalyse and dynamitise and pull other sectors from the bootstraps. Let me tell you, if not for the incessant interventions, interrogations and interposition of ASUU with recalcitrant and contumacious governments over the decades, education in Nigeria would have become a museum piece of the dark ages.
Isn’t that contrary to the notion that ASUU strikes are predicated on increase in salaries?
Most times when ASUU goes on strike, the issue of salary is just an item in the myriad of demands. The central plank of ASUU in all of these is to ensure that governments put necessary infrastructure in place in our universities for teaching and research, building of classrooms, lecture theatres, laboratories etc. So, to stymie the rate of academic disruptions occasion by strikes, government should prioritise the option of dialogue and fidelity to the agreement signed with ASUU. If and when it’s becoming difficult to fulfill all the items as agreed, it is then incumbent on the government to call for meetings and dialogue with a view to finding ways to resolve grey areas and not all these resort to brinkmanship, bluffing and blustering.
How about the current faceoff over the IPPIS and pension fund?
I have spent over three decades of my life in the university system and I know where the shoe pinches in the university system. I spent my entire life learning the ropes in the university system as a researcher, a teacher, a mentor to many students who today are excelling in different walks of life, of whom many are today professors.
I was at different times in my career Head of Department, Dean of Faculty, member of the university senate, two-term member of the University Governing Council before I became the VC. So what I am saying is that I understand the morphology, the sociology, the mores and the norms of the university topography in toto. IPPIS as it is designed is a scheme that is responsible for the payment of salaries and wages directly to government employees’ bank accounts with appropriate deductions and remittances of third party payment. All the MDAs are on the platform and it is conceived to eliminate ghost workers on the payroll thereby save government billions of naira. It’s been operational since 2007.
The trouble with ASUU and IPPIS started however in October 2019 when all public sector workers including ASUU were directed to register on IPPIS. All over the world, universities are meant to be mobile, fluid and responsive epicenters for intellectual ferment.
In its Latin origin, the university was rightly called ‘universitas magistrorum et scholarium’ meaning community of teachers and scholars. They are not civil servants. If I understand the narrative well, ASUU is not saying that government should not eliminate ghost workers nor is ASUU encouraging corruption in the university system. What ASUU is saying is that all over the world, universities are known for their flexible personnel recruitment and management. For example a Professor or Lecturer from Harvard or MIT or Oxford or Makerere University Uganda, University of Bordeaux, France, King’s College, London etc may want to come on an exchange programme as a visiting faculty to a particular university for a semester, for a session, even for a month etc.
ASUU is saying that there are peculiarities in the university system as an emporium of scholarship that should make it responsive and receptive to urgent and critical global and national academic demands given the speed, the rate and attrition of the knowledge economy and the mobility of its purveyors in the global intellectual market of the 21st century. ASUU is saying that given the rigidity and cumbersome nature of IPPIS, it is not adequate to respond to that demand. This was why ASUU came up with the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) as the alternative to IPPIS.
Government has virtually rejected this as ASUU members have been migrated willy-nilly to IPPIS. I am of the opinion that government should have allowed ASUU to stay on UTAS. After all, the objectives of government and ASUU are coterminous i.e. weed out ghost workers, save money for government, monitor the inflow and outflow of funds etc. And for ASUU, the UTAS will allow universities to participate effectively and speedily as credible interlocutors in a global intellectual market and attend to its peculiarities as a veritable centre of knowledge.
Corollarily, is the government saying that in countries where there are plurality of platforms for payment of personnel salaries, emoluments etc, is government saying it is ghosts and phantoms that work in those places? On the issue of Pension Fund Administration, I am aware that it has been resolved with the introduction of Nigerian University Pension Management Company (NUPEMCO).
What is your take on the Federal Government’s position on the resumption of schools and the WAEC examination?
Since the confirmation of the first index case of COVID-19 in Nigeria on February 27, 2020, the virus has proved to be virulent, lethal and deadly. It’s a virus that does not discriminate between the rich and the poor, the young and the old. It kills human beings as if they are chicken. So it is real. I believe the decision by the Minister of Education to postpone resumption of schools and the to disallow students from taking WASSCE was a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea.
No doubt it is always good to err on the side of caution, but the reality is that schools and universities cannot be closed forever. The threat by the Minister of Education to disallow students from taking the examinations should be balanced with the diplomatic hoopla and crises that it will cause. Nigeria is just a member of the organisation and as such any decision should be diplomatically and collectively agreed upon.
WAEC is an Anglophone transnational institution comprising Ghana, The Gambia, Sierra-Leone and Liberia. So any action that Nigeria wants to take must not be unilateral but in tandem with other member states. I think the Ministry of Education should be doing what the Aviation Ministry is doing; give guidelines for reopening of schools and start to test the waters gradually by taping in different categories of students and see how it pans out. We are in an uncharted and giddy terrain.
What measures are you putting in place to ensure that EKSU moves up the ladder as a university to be reckoned with?
As the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, our job is to set policy direction for the university. The Vice-Chancellor is in charge of the day to day running of the university as the Chief Executive. I know however that following our policy guideline for the university, the Vice- Chancellor, a capable and brilliant man with the relevant faculty members are introducing new and relevant courses in the university. You see, for any university to be worth the name, it has to be very good in research, teaching, training and fundraising. We are in a fast changing world of knowledge economy, any university that does not want to atrophy, wither and tail off, should innovate and mount new programmes, mount new curricula suited for a digital economy, rebrand and explore novel opportunities for funding and thinking without the box.
The age of thinking outside the box is gone because we are in a disruptive economy and virtual world where relevant educational programmes should be tailored towards this new and challenging world. So for our university, the Vice-Chancellor in collaboration with the faculties are introducing courses in Artificial Intelligence & Robotics, Big Data Analytics, Bioinformatics, Cyber Security, Nanotechnology, Cloud Computing Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality and Mechatronics. Beyond this is that COVID-19 has brought to the fore the need for online delivery of courses and increasing digitalisation of activities in the university environment. That’s where the world is going. We are in a new normal.
Ekiti State Government under Dr. Kayode Fayemi came up with the mantra, ‘restoring our values’. How well do you think the values have been restored?
Before I answer this question, let me make a caveat. I am a development expert, a technocrat and an academician in the public arena. However, given my background as a student of history, political science, sociology, International Relations, diplomacy and development, I have always been interested in power politics and the politics of power; what dynamatises it, what modulates it, what catalyses it and why do men behave the way they do in the political arena.
So any answer that I give on the government of Fayemi and his performance will be from the prism of my background as a development expert and as a social scientist who has a first hand experience of what is happening in Ekiti today in the area of development. As a development expert, I am interested in knowing what Fayemi said he would do if he becomes the governor.
That is, what was his agenda, how did he say he would achieve these objectives. I am talking about methodology and lastly what are the deliverables. I want to know for example, if Fayemi said that if I become the governor of Ekiti State, I will build an Eiffel Tower as in Paris, or he said I would construct a Walt Disney World Resort as in Florida, or he said I would build a Burj Khalifa Skyscraper in Dubai which is the tallest building in the world. To measure performance in a fair and scientific manner, leaders should be judged by what they said they would do and not by any imaginary, arbitrary or whimsical yardsticks that are mounted on nebulous matrix occasioned by political perfidy and succession duplicity.
When he came on board, Governor Fayemi set out five clear agenda/pillars on what he would do viz (i) governance (ii) social investment (iii) knowledge economy (IV) infrastructure & industrial development (V) agriculture and rural development. The question that arises is to find out his fidelity to this agenda. As far as I know, I can say that he is repositioning Ekiti and laying the fundamental bedrock for a better tomorrow. Historically Ekiti people are known for their decency, respect for values, hard work, firm principle and simplicity.
Ekiti people are not known to be hooligans, fraudsters and street urchins. But in the recent past in Ekiti, there was this unwholesome sub-cultural aberration that virtually became the guiding principle of state with its narcissistic and epicurean philosophy of “jęun soke” or the very demeaning and humiliating philosophy of “stomach infrastructure” which the French political scientist François Bayart referred to as “la politique du ventre” which is a post-colonial expression for politics of the belly, patrimonialism, clientelism, corruption and inanity of power in that nexus. Coming to Ekiti then was with trepidation as those values cherished by an average Ekiti man were missing, bastardised and thrown to the wind. Today, the values have changed for the better, and it’s all about leadership, provided by the man at the helms of affairs.
Today, you go about the streets in Ekiti without any fear of molestation or harassment. For example, when the governor goes about, it is without all the nauseating fanfare, gri-gri and gra-gra accompaniment of loud and lousy power. Power is not meant to oppress and suffocate the people, it is for service. I think he has a sense that power is ephemeral and that is why he has brought decency, moderation and self-restraint into governance.
Could you measure what Fayemi said he would do with what is happening now in Ekiti?
I think it’s important to underline the following; on his performance on infrastructural development especially on road construction and rehabilitation, which he said he would do, I am aware that constructions are going on on the New Ado-Iyin Road, Oyę-Iye-Ikun-Otun Road, Ilupeju-Ire-Igbemo-Ijan Road, Agbado-Ode-Isinbide-Omuo Road, Ado- Ilawe-Igbaraodo-Ibuji Road, Aramoko— Ęrinjiyan-Ikogosi Road. I am also aware that there is a massive Civic Centre that is nearly completed.
I read in a document that it will be ready by October 2020. Again, there is the Airport Project going on, there is the construction of new buildings in the State Secretariat Complex. On the provision of portable water rehabilitation work is ongoing on the Ęro Dam and a total of 170km HDPE water pipes have been laid in Ado-Ekiti. On education, it is important that I should mention that the College of Medicine in Ekiti State University was not accredited for 10 years and medical students were stranded given the nonchalance and neglect of the immediate past administration.
When our Governing Council came on board, getting accreditation for the College of Medicine became a priority for us and the governor. Being an academic himself, he understood the importance of getting the College accredited. He consequently assisted the university by allocating millions of naira for the purchase of medical equipment, construction and infrastructure. Today the College of Medicine has been granted full accreditation by the Nigerian Medical and Dental Council and the first set of medical students have graduated. I should add that a new College of Agriculture has been established in Isan. The Dairy Farm in Ikun abandoned for years has also been brought back to life. The social security scheme where the elderly and the vulnerable are paid some stipends every month is still in operation.
So, to be fair to Dr Fayemi, these five items were his magna carta, and I think he is faithful and has shown fidelity to their execution. These are the things I believe he should be judged on, not on any vacuous and hollow yardsticks. You know the social media is a great influencer and moulder of perceptions rightly or wrongly.
I observed that when there was a video trending of a cotton plant being commissioned in Nasarawa State, our people came up with all sorts of comments on the social media; “this is what Fayemi should be doing”. If it is a millet and sorghum factory being commissioned in Katsina State, some of our people would say Fayemi should be doing that. The question that arises is, do we grow cotton, sorghum, millet in Ekiti? Did Fayemi say he would do sorghum and millet factories? I believe that any commendation or criticism of the current administration in Ekiti, should be based on objectivity, measurability and quantifiability.
Are you saying that Fayemi’s critics are wrong in their opinion that there is no good governance in Ekiti and that the present administration is low on performance and positive impact on the populace?
You know Ekiti people are very well educated, enlightened and very well aware. Ekiti people are good people, but many of us are a set of inconsolable and acerbic critics. We easily forget the past. With the kind of projects going on in Ekiti in all the senatorial districts that I earlier enumerated, can that kind of government be described as underperforming? I believe that given what he said he would do when measured with what is on ground and is still doing, I think he is delivering on his agenda.
Are you implying that Fayemi’s performance and achievements are under reported in the media?
I am also in that school of thought that believes his achievements are under reported and understated. And it is that lacuna, that space and gap, that his adversaries are trying to occupy. Let me explain; anyone that knows Dr Fayemi will tell you that he is a very private person of little words who detests the braggadocio and ostentation of the average Nigerian politician. He is basically a thinker, strategist and an achiever. And this is a paradox in our political landscape. Do you know that there are many garrulous, non-performing and unscrupulous Nigerian politicians who court cheap populism and their activities whatever they are trend regularly on the social media! But is that governance? Did Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe of Africa, Ahmadu Bello, Kwame Nkrumah, the Osagyefo of Ghana do all those? Instead, they were stoic thinkers and strategists imbued with the development of their nations. Having said this, I should say that recently I have noticed that there is a better presence in the media about government activities in Ekiti and I think that is the way to go.
Looking at Fayemi’s involvements in many APC affairs, don’t you think that he is more focused on politics than governance?
Let me say this. I don’t know Dr Fayemi’s involvement in APC issues. And I don’t need to know. My own concern is Ekiti. I have often asked this question; which governance issues do people want him to attend to that he’s failing to do? You know Ekiti State is among the four poorest states in Nigeria by monthly allocation and revenue generation. But for the fortune of the state to improve, I think the governor should continue to leverage on the assistance of development partners like AfDB, DIFID, World Bank, UNDP, IFC etc. I don’t believe that he should sit down in Ekiti and think that heads of these institutions will come to him in Ado Ekiti. A man that is looking for assistance is the one that runs around for help.
How do you see the handling of the COVID- 19 pandemic by the federal and state governments?
I think the Federal Government missed the ball when this Coronavirus pandemic started. It woke up late to start doing the needful by way of preventive measures and mass education. By the time the Federal Government woke up, it had become a bridge too far. That’s what we are battling with today. You remember the first index case in Nigeria was an Italian who arrived Lagos airport on the 27th February 2020. A day or two after, the Federal Government should have closed all the borders; air, land and sea. Do you remember that Nigerian borders were not shut down until the 26th of March 2020? Those were vital four weeks that government should have acted, but as it’s usual of this leviathan and behemoth of a nation, those that should have taken action woke up late. By the time actions were taken, the cat was already out of the bag. However, I think now, there is more seriousness on the part of the Federal Government. Ekiti State was very proactive; it immediately shut down its entry points against interstate vehicular movements. And it worked. Today because of its proactiveness, Ekiti is the least affected state in the SouthWest.