Mr. Akin Kekere-Ekun, distinguished banker and business man, was the Lagos State University’s Pro Chancellor and Chairman of Council between 2004 and 2012 and remains the only one to serve for two terms back to back in the University’s history. He recounted his experience in an interview with The Intellectual and also suggested solutions to some problems facing the institution.
Sir, what did you meet on the ground when you took over as Pro Chancellor?
What I met on ground was not the best, but that was perhaps the best of what could be done at that time. At that time, cultism was thriving and the sessions were not regular. But we went in there and I was lucky to have the kind of committee put together by the former governor of Lagos state, Bola Tinubu in 2005. It was made of up of people who have excelled in their professions; people like Jim Ovia, Fola Adeola, Late Dayo Aderinokun, Tunde Folawiyo and a host of others.
These were people who were willing to give their time and we went to work. We wanted to run a university with good policy making mechanism, that would churn out products that would let the society know that they have come to play a role when they pass out.
We also wanted to have a situation whereby, when you come in, you know when you are going to graduate, not a situation, where people were graduating in seven years for a four-year course due to strikes and things like that.
Well, it was very difficult but we set out to achieve our objectives and thank God we were able to achieve a lot. Based on what we met on ground, I would say we were able to achieve a lot with the support of the state government of course.
I don’t know of any other university where at a go, a donation of a billion naira was made to it. The former governor (Tinubu) did that for us and we were able to support the Communication School, the Engineering School in Epe, and the university as a whole. You can see a building coming up which would likely be opened on the convocation day.
We were initially running a very stable outreach when we took over. The school was okay, learning was okay. When Prof Hussein came in, he was instilling discipline in the system. Of course, some did not like it, and those were the vocal few.
But the campus was running. The parking lot was changing from hosting tokunbo cars to nicer cars. The welfare of faculty and students was getting better; lectures were going on and we had convocation which took place rarely in the past. Students were getting better results, discipline was in place and lecturers were recruited.
During my term, I could make bold to say that, gradually, cultism faded out. That was a great achievement in Nigeria, we didn’t have cultism over the period that I was there. I also want to say that I am the first Pro Chancellor and Chairman of Council whose term was renewed since the creation of the Lagos State University. Nobody has ever had two terms. That showed continuity.
Most of the Council members that were part of my first term were retained (in the second term). Some didn’t come back because they were otherwise busy. But new members came in; people like Ibukun Awosika in particular. She’s a fantastic lady, she speaks her mind and she is of high integrity. I was lucky to have people who didn’t have time for rubbish.
Many Council members didn’t take their allowances. They gave their allowances back to the university and those who did had some other organizations they were giving their allowances to. We had people who were comfortable before being appointed; they were not there for contracts, although there were rumours that I got a N50 million contract. You know when they want to mess you up, they can say anything.
This situation in LASU exposed me to a lot of things. I mean, I cannot imagine saying somebody did something when clearly he or she didn’t do it, like saying that Vice Chancellor was a thief and all of that. But the same set of people that said that (accused Hussain of being a thief), when the man left, they started saying, “Hussain cannot steal a pen but we had to say that at that time.” How can you do that? It’s not fair!
You called this guy a thief, now, you are saying no, he wasn’t a thief, it was the people around him (that were stealing), he wasn’t the one. But all those stories had been published! They told journalists all these stories.
How did the Council under you cope with the unions?
When I got there with my team, we had a retreat wherein we identified the stakeholders, including the unions, to come and talk about how we were going to run the university. So, everybody was a party to it. There was a sense of belonging. Students, unions, lecturers, council members were all involved. That retreat brought everybody together and we told them the things we were doing.
Of course, they didn’t accept all that we did, but we stood by our decisions in most cases. Where they had superior argument, you could change your decision. There is nothing sacrosanct about succumbing to superior argument. In any sphere of life, anywhere you are, if you have an idea of a way something should be done and somebody else comes up with a superior idea, you better take it because that’s the way to go.
Right now, the unions are complaining about lack of promotion. They detest this “no-vacancy-no-promotion” hypothesis. Did any promotion take place during your tenure?
That’s the normal thing to do. If you want to promote a person, there must be a vacancy, otherwise, you would promote somebody to a position that doesn’t exist, and that doesn’t make sense.
Now, there are different kinds of promotion, according to the terms of the vacancy available. For the Professors, there is a way of promoting them. If you have stayed for a certain number of years, there is promotion in terms of hierarchy. For instance, you become a senior lecturer, then you become an Associate Professor, then you become a full Professor.
But there are certain requirements: you must have some papers, you would have done some research. You send all that to assessors, both internal and external. Everything goes through the Senate. Those processes must be followed and honestly, I think there has to be a vacancy before you promote someone, otherwise you will not have an organogram. The organogram is what guides you. It tells you the next step and there are mechanisms for these things. That is why you have the retirement age; when somebody goes, another person, who has not attained that age comes in. It works like that everywhere, not just the university alone.
How did you cope with the demand for increase in salaries and implementation of the Federal Government/Academic Staff Union of Universities’ (ASUU’s) agreement by the respective unions?
The ASUU agreement with federal government did not actually play a vital role when I was there, because Lagos State University lecturers, at that time, were being paid more than what the ASUU agreement with the federal government entailed. And in any case, ASUU’s agreement with the federal government is actually not binding on LASU. The university is not a federal government university. Some people know this, but they just want to cause trouble. And I personally feel very bad because, when these strikes occur, students suffer, and that is why instead of four years, they spend six to seven years.
This really has a lot of implications: not just that the students will not graduate when they should, but some parents cannot afford much in the first place, and when you now extend academic sessions by keeping students out of the campus, it’s a burden on the parents. When students are not meaningfully engaged, some of them tend towards things that they are not supposed to do, and there’ll be a lot of implications.
LASU’s critics tend to be harsh about its reputation. They label it as “crisis-ridden.” How would you describe LASU?
Having served as pro chancellor of LASU, I would say that overall, it is a good university. When you talk about crisis and you look at all the crises that have so far taken place, you would see that funding and finance top the agenda at the end of the day. Either the university lecturers or the non-academic staff are asking for benefits. So, at the end of the day, it comes to the issue of money.
If an office is well funded, the likelihood of crisis would be reduced. Most of these things that you see happening in universities tend to be about funding. Look at the federal and state universities. In all of them, It’s either one group or the other asking for some benefits. And what are those benefits? Benefits require funding, so, money is the root or the cause of most of the crises we have had in the university system.
However, I think the Lagos state government and other various state governments have tried, but they haven’t gone up to the recommendation of UNESCO, which says they should give 26 per cent of their budget to education. They have not been able to do that but I think what is given should be enhanced so that more things would be achieved.
But even if they give 100 per cent (of the budget to education), you know the leakages that are in the system and I think that was why we didn’t have much problems. We blocked the leakages. Prof Hussain also helped in blocking the leakages and that was what some people didn’t like.
How did you handle that attempt to blackmail you with the wild allegation that you got some contract?
That was not difficult. I knew I did not get any contract, so I wasn’t bothered. Of course, I was publicly called a thief, in Alausa, by people who were rioting but I could understand the mood of the crowd. They were just shouting, meanwhile, some of them don’t even know me or the person they are calling Kekere Ekun.
My own understanding of my role was to go there (LASU) for meetings, I didn’t want any office and I didn’t have any office, although I was offered, but I didn’t want any. I went there for meetings, we took decisions and I left.
I wasn’t socializing. When I have to go and see the Vice Chancellor, I went, we discussed. I wasn’t going to be involved those sort of things. Look, if they say you are a thief and you are not a thief, you won’t even feel it. It’s not going to affect you. When they said the Vice Chancellor gave me a contract of N50 million, what am I going to do with that? I am not even a contractor anyway.
Having occupied that office (pro chancellor), what advice do you have on how to keep LASU crisis-free?
I believe very strongly that the lecturers should understand what they are meant to do. What is actually the role of the lecturer? A lecturer should understand his or her role. Every individual in the system, who is a stakeholder, should know his or her role. Once you know your role and what you are meant to do and you accept your remuneration, I think crisis would be minimized.
But in a situation where somebody is paid X amount of money, and is seen spending X plus amount of money, where did that person get the so called extras? Let’s not be involved in leakages. The students must face their education.
I don’t agree with the fee they are paying, now because I happen to be involved in another university, I am the chairman of another university. I know the (LASU) fee has been reduced, but the bottom line is, how do you get good tertiary education with N25,000 and N35,000? Its too low, it’s not possible, it’s going to create problems in the future. It is just impossible!
A kindergarten pupil from these same students, some of them have children and they attend nursery schools. They pay over N200,000 per term! Students are now paying N25,000 and N35,000 (per session) for tertiary education?
I pity parents that cannot afford much, but those that can afford to pay should be willing to pay for their children to get good education. With only N25,000 and N35000 fees, there is going to be a lot of pressure on the state government.
And that university, from what I know today, can be sustained with what they have because a lot of people have encroached on their property and if that university insists on getting tenement rate from those people that have encroached, I am not talking of a small number of buildings, I am talking about 8,000 buildings. Get them to pay tenement rate to LASU, and university make about N10 billion naira on yearly basis. This will enable LASU to run itself. They (encroachers) have to be paying tenement rate to the university. Government cannot run that university with N25,000 and N35,000. I am sorry, but that is my own understanding because I know there are universities where students are paying a lot of money and they are getting very good education. And they are very well sought after. When they come in on a particular date, they know the date they are going to graduate.
What I am saying is that LASU is in a position to fund itself if certain steps are taken, and those steps are there to be taken. I want the best for LASU and I wish LASU the best.
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