Prof. Tolulope Akinbogun is a former Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA). In this interview, he speaks with BABATOPE OKEOWO about funding of university education, why private investors should take over the sub-sector, as well as the huge resources invested yearly on importation of ceramics, among other critical issues
As a former Deputy Vice-Chancellor, what reforms would you propose for the education sector?
Well, based on my opinion and not representing any group, my belief is that all over the world education is not cheap. Hence, if we will not continue to pay lip service to the education sector, let the people pay for what they desire.
Today, people are talking about the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo model of education, but to be frank, Chief Awolowo model will not be able to work presently because we have more people that are accessing education, compared with a few number of people that were accessing education back then. Right now, the country’s population has grown exceedingly and for the government to pay the workers is huge.
The last time the workers were paid in FUTA was in August 2020, and in many states workers are owed several months of salaries.
A situation where the government is paying between 50 and 70 per cent of salary to workers and the rest are being piled up as if nothing is happening is dangerous.
Are we not deceiving ourselves? Besides, corruption in the system is an issue; and again the workers do not trust the government as the money they release is going to the wrong hands. There is the need for proper accountability.
What is the way forward for the nation’s education sector?
In Nigeria today, what students pay as school fees are not enough to give or get the best. For instance, go and check the situation of toilets in most of our public universities.
What you will see is a sad story as most of them are not in good shape. In those days when we were in secondary school, attending private schools was not in vogue; we were all eager to attend public schools.
But now, the best of public schools cannot be compared to private schools because of poor infrastructure. Private secondary schools have taken over; private primary schools have taken over.
As a professor, if I tell you that my child is attending public secondary school, you might be tempted to ask if anything was wrong with me. But, let us not be hypocritical about it; that is the true state of things. Now that tertiary institutions are poorly funded, what happened to primary and secondary schools?
So, one of the ways to properly fund tertiary education is to speak to the heart of the people, the parents-teachers’ forum and make them realise that education is not cheap anywhere in the world, and so they should be ready to pay more.
The working class should be made to pay so that brilliant students, who are less-privileged, could be assisted with educational loans, while after graduation they are offered jobs so as to repay the loans. So, my submission is that people should be made to pay for what they enjoy.
Also, there should be availability of students’ loans and jobs opportunities after graduation so that they will be able to pay back. But, if there is no job, how then will they be able to pay back? Hence, obtaining the loans won’t be attractive to them. Let there be a paradigm mind-shift in people that education is not cheap, and the best practices all over the world is that education is to be paid for.
How will the inaugural lecture impact on the university community and the development of the nation?
Let me start by saying that inaugural lecture is a tradition in the uni versity system, which comes after one has been elevated as a Professor or to the professorial chair. But, it is not mandatory that the scholar must deliver the inaugural lecture immediately after being announced as a professor.
Again, inaugural lecture is an opportunity for professors to package all what they have done academically in the course of their career progression to the professorial chair.
That is, right from Graduate Assistant/Research Assistant, which entails work done, research carried out and papers published.
Thus, before the inaugural lecture, various papers published would have been addressing the numerous societal needs and challenges and which the society will benefit significantly from such research works.
So, right from the beginning, society has been benefiting tremendously from the academic work of scholars. Hence, by the time you become a professor, you are already seen as an authority in your respective field of research.
And, for inaugural lecture, as a professor, you are expected to package every work you have done, summarise and put them together to be pushed in the form of inaugural lecture. Inaugural lecture announces what one has done in the area of his academic endeavour as a professor, based on his research focus and recommendations for the future.
The avenue of paper publication is different from inaugural lecture. So, to that extent, we can say that the lecture is effective as it aims and speaks directly to people, who are able to take away new frontiers of knowledge from the lecture delivered.
You just delivered your inaugural lecture, but what does it set to achieve?
First and foremost, the lecture will address the immediate need of the society.
What I see as the thrust of the research work is that I was able to establish that whatever we put together, and if the society is hostile, it won’t yield any positive result. I further submit that the government at the centre and state level are paying lips service to the issue of security and they do not want to hear the truth.
No business can grow in such a difficult environment, not only in the ceramic industries sector, but also in other areas of the economy.
Again, if we fail to fix the security problems of the nation, and we go to China or other countries of the world to bring the best brains, we are merely deceiving ourselves without fixing the insecurity challenges first.
In fact, I can say that my inaugural lecture is needed to address the current unicurrent needs and challenges of the society. In the lecture, I stressed that the government is using a cold-room approach; which in my own coinage means that we are in a room in which we have no idea of what is going on there.
Can you expatiate on this “Coldroom” approach?
It means the government is not handling the security issue appropriately. In fact, it is grossly inadequate. The approach is not working. I think there is a disconnection somewhere.
Those who are supposed to tell the President the true state of things are not saying it as it is. At this my age, I still ask myself whether I am making the right decision to stay in this country. If I am a state civil servant I should be talking to my pension administrator now, but in academics our retirement age is 70 years.
If at this age, I am now looking for opportunity abroad, the question should be to do what; to do menial jobs in the streets of London if I cannot secure a job in the academic field?
Frankly speaking, the security architecture of this country is not properly addressed; at times I see people doing things with impunity, committing crime and getting away with it without appropriate sanction. The environment cannot help the growth of industries.
Then, can we say that Nigeria’s environment is stifling the growth of the ceramic industry?
The Bible says that if the foundation is destroyed, what can the righteous do? Why is it that our people go abroad and make it over there? The basic platform that is needed for high productivity is not here in the country. There are problems of erratic power supply, corruption and insecurity here.
So, the problem of Nigeria is monstrous, and it is affecting every sector of the economy. Now, in the ceramics industry, most of the equipment we use are energy driven. Ceramics in itself is a process of subjecting inorganic non-metallic materials forming them and subjecting them to heat that they become so hard and impermeable to water.
In those days during prehistoric time, people had ways of baking/firing their clay, but technology has improved everything as people now use kilns seamlessly.
All you have to do is to form your wares and put it inside an electric kiln and regulate it for within seven to eight hours depending on your specification, and it will automatically shut down itself and you will have your finished product. But, it is baffling that we do not even have power supply not to talk of having erratic supply. All these are problems that cannot be overemphasised.
Given the above scenario, how much has the country lost on importation of ceramics? It is a very difficult one, but I will try to provide the summary. Ceramics are of different materials and items that come together under the word ceramics. For instance, we have sanitary wares, art wares, table wares and traditional wares. So, looking at the importation of each one, they carry different weights.
In summary, in 2019 it was recorded that the country lost over $47 billion yearly to importation of ceramics to the country. The nation imports over $47 billion worth of ceramics into Nigeria every year.
Now, let us assume that we produce all we need in the country; it would have been a blessing. Besides, the materials will not be dormant and there will be employment because the chains of reactions that will follow through employment of unskilled labourers as packers, cleaners and sweepers will be great.
Of course, we really cannot fathom the multiple advantages embedded in producing what we need. It is worthy of note that since labour is cheap in this part of the world, we should therefore capitalise on this, and couple with the fact that there is abundant raw materials in the country.
So, allowing them to lie-fallow is not doing anyone any good. In terms of employment generation, we have many professionals, who have gone to study, but who have nowhere to practice.
Of what value then is training students and at the end of the day there is no place for them to practice, other than to pursue other trades entirely different from what they were trained. In all fairness, we cannot blame these graduates; the problem is that the industries are not readily available while the few available industries are owned by expatriates, who are out to take care of their interest first.
Let me add that most of those expatriates brought from their countries to work in their industries here are illiterates and semi-skilled labourers, who hold executive positions.
Of course, if, as researchers we go to the company on a research assignment, many things are being hidden from us. If we have graduates of Ceramics, who cannot get a ceramic company to work, is that not a slap on us, as a country?