By Mary Ogar
Only one thing could have been on the mind of Alhaji Lateef Jakande and his team when, in 1983, they decided to establish the Lagos State University (LASU): the desire to prepare Lagos state and its people for what the future holds. They knew, at that time, that without tertiary education of good quality, there could be no meaningful development.
LASU, thus, began with a lot of promise. Although the take-over of government by the Military in December 1983 changed the equation a little bit, the university still marched on nevertheless, with 55 academic and 37 senior administrative and technical staff. The journey also began with three faculties: Law, which the institution eventually became famous for; Humanities and Science. About 375 students were admitted.
Today, after 31 years, the institution has a lot to be thankful for. It has so far graduated over 100,000 students at the first degree level, many of whom are doing well in various fields across the globe. Programmes and faculties have expanded too. At the last count, there were seven faculties, a College of Medicine, two schools of communication and transport, and a postgraduate school. There are also four major campuses at Ikeja, Epe, Surulere and the main, Ojo.
New academic programmes, such as Aeronautic Engineering are being developed. A School of Agriculture is also in the process of being established at Epe. The plan to establish the School of Film and Cultural Studies has reached its final stages.
The university has also been lucky to have had nine eminent professors as vice chancellors and acting vice chancellors. They include Professors Folabi Olumide (1983-88); late Jadesola Akande (1989-93); Enitan Bababunmi (1993-96); Peter Okebukola (1996-97 in acting capacity); late Fatiu Akesode (1997-2001); Abisogun Leigh (2001-2005); Lateef Hussain (2005-2009); Prof. Ibiyemi Olatunji-Bello (2009-2011 in acting capacity), and the incumbent, John Oladapo Obafunwa (2011 to date).
The students have also been outstanding. One good example is the recent invention by Jubril Issa and Kolawole Majeed, 500 Level students of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who produced an electronic accreditation and voting process that was successfully used during last year’s Students’ Union election.
The state government has also been supportive. When Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was governor of Lagos State, he gave the institution a grant of N1billion. At the moment, the Babatunde Fashola administration is also spearheading the construction of a four-storey central library; buildings for the faculties of science and management sciences; students union arcade and a twin lecture theatre for the faculty of law.
In an interview with The Intellectual recently, Obafunwa listed several efforts being embarked upon to reposition the institution. He said: “First is the aspect of the infrastructural development, but many thanks to the state government. Two – is the aspect of examination results, which can be linked to registration and the fact that we can do a number of things online. I also feel happy about the fact that we have been able to change the payment system. We have cut expenses down drastically.
“Even within this short period, when I look back at the things I have been able to do, it gives me joy. I’m happy about our language laboratory and the fact that we have been able to strike a working relationship with IBM, with regard to some of the equipment they would use in the handling of computer science. Another thing I am happy about again, big thanks to the donor, Kessington Adebutu as well as the facilitatory role played by the government, and I am talking about the establishment of LASU radio.
“It was in the pipeline and I had to go to Abuja to pursue the license. But the question was that, with our dwindling resources, how do we get this thing done? But today, we now have LASU radio on campus.
“One thing I would have also loved for us to have achieved by now, is the students’ village, to accommodate students. A lot of work has gone into it and the governing council has helped to pursue the thing right down to the design and all the rest, and if we are lucky, we would get that started before the end of the year. Another thing, shortly after coming in, all our programmes were accredited and when some of them were due again, we got the accreditation. There are a few areas where we still need to improve and I am sure we would do that.”
Also in an interview with the magazine, Okebukola affirmed that overall, the university has been a major success. Hear him: “Having worked in LASU for the 31 years of its existence (I was employed as a Senior Lecturer when the University opened its doors in November 1984), I conclude that the university has earned an overall B+ in terms of meeting the objectives set by its founding fathers.”
On the achievements the university recorded when he served as acting vice chancellor, he said: “Some of the numerous giant strides of LASU during the period were internationalisation of the University, take-off of the Epe Campus, take-off of postgraduate programmes, increase in the subvention to the University by the Lagos State Government under General Buba Marwa and entrenchment of the culture of high-level scholarship.
“It was during the period that LASU stamped its feet on the global map of university education. We had LASU imprimatur in the United States, United Kingdom, Finland, Ghana and South Africa. We had staff and student exchange programmes that worked, not just on paper. We had LASU staff literally “shake the world” in international conferences, as staff were sponsored as a formidable block to international conferences.
“We also opened up the Epe Campus and started new programmes there. We had the LASU MBA take-off at such an enviable pace and quality that in a very short time, it became a threat to well-established programmes in other universities in Nigeria and Africa. The culture of scholarship took deep root and LASU academic staff were frequently cited in high-impact scholarly journals in various disciplines.”
Professor Olusegun Adeniji is the Dean, Faculty of Arts. He underscored LASU’s achievements this way: “I think what would be of primary importance is what has be achieved by way of the products we have graduated over the years, and I can tell you that, when I do a reflection of what we have achieved, I am somehow surprised that this faculty (Arts) has turned out so much, in terms of manpower development. I see our students everywhere. I see our ex-students in private organizations, government ministries, in non-governmental organisations. Some of them are even successful pastors. And I tell myself, there must have been some good things the faculty members have done to produce the calibre of students we are seeing in the industry.”
Prof Ayo Omotayo, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences said: “There was this time I was traveling and I met about four or five former LASU students in Zurich (Switzerland) and I discovered that all of them were very successful in their different fields. And what they all had to say was that it was the LASU experience that enabled them to survive other challenges we face in life.”
However LASU has also had its fair share of challenges, leading to the disruption of academic activities. Commenting on this challenge, the institution’s Bursar, Mr. Adetayo Hassan said: “The problem of LASU has to do with people having the feeling that, once you are under the aegis of a union, you can always hide under unionism and whatever you are able to do, you can get away with it.”
Interestingly, the students are now moving away from any acts capable of causing disruption of academic activities. The vice chancellor has never had it so good. “The students are more mature now,” he told the magazine. “They seem to have realized that crisis serves no useful purpose. I am happy that they are not allowing mischief makers to instigate them.”
On what type of LASU he wants to see in the next 20 years, Okebukola said: “The LASU of my dream in the next 20 years should have students of different nationalities – Americans, British, Chinese, Ghanaians, South Africans and others enrolled in different programmes; scholars of different nationalities live and work in LASU; office, laboratory and workshop facilities matching those of a 21-century university; at least 30 per cent of LASU staff publishing in the top-10 journals in the world in their disciplines (not in roadside online journals); a LASU staff nominated for a Nobel Prize in science, economics or literature; power supply is uninterrupted all day and all year round; safety of lives and property is guaranteed; and with LASU in the league of the top 100 universities in the world.
“These are not unattainable dreams. Examples are replete in the world where universities achieved the foregoing in 10 years.”