By Rotimi Lawrence Oyekanmi
A former vice chancellor of the University of Ilorin (UNILORIN), Prof. Ishaq Oloyede has challenged African political leaders to go beyond giving impressive speeches and act decisively to lift the continent’s Universities out of the woods.
Oloyede also expressed doubts about the ultimate survival of the new set of Centres of Excellence being established across selected African countries with the World Bank’s backing, describing the move as another form of distraction.
Besides, the former President of the Association of African Universities (AAU) rejected the notion by critics that the University of Ilorin’s decision to sack 49 lecturers after the 2001 national strike by the Academic Union of Universities (ASUU) was ill informed. To him, UNILORIN has been better off as a result of that decision.
In an exclusive interview with The Intellectual in Kigali, Rwanda during the recently concluded Conference of Rectors, Vice Chancellors and Presidents of African Universities (COREViP) organized by the AAU, Oloyede regretted that many African political leaders only mouth their commitment to higher education, but had never been serious about implementing their pledges.
Oloyede was among the AAU delegation, led by its president, Prof Olusola Oyewole that paid the Prime Minister of Rwanda, Mr. Anastase Murekezi a courtesy visit during COERViP. At an interaction with his visitors, Murekezi delivered a powerful speech on the need for all African governments to show more commitment to higher education, to the admiration of his visitors.
But after the Prime Minister’s speech, Oloyede openly expressed worry over the necessary follow-up needed to actualize Murekezi’s submission across the African continent.
On why most African political leaders do not act on what they say, Oloyede told the magazine: “It is because they (African political leaders) are not sincere. African governments are good in talking. I have watched them over the years. Talk of the best commitment in terms of speech, you’ll get them from Africa. Our governments will go to events and they would make profound statements about the importance and centrality of higher education; the commitment to higher education, but that’s where it ends.
“Look at the ARUSHA Convention. Before Europe woke up, our Organisation for African Unity (OAU) had thought about the transfer of credit, which they are now thinking about. They signed and ratified the agreement, but no government reported back to the universities, which were to implement it. That was why ARUSHA convention remained on the shelf.
“When I became Vice Chancellor in 2007, and when I became chairman, Committee of Vice Chancellors (CVC), I spoke about the ARUSHA convention and people were just looking at me, because the political leaders signed this agreement without transmitting it to the universities, which were supposed to implement the convention. I think they just signed it, they didn’t intend to implement. It was when we started talking about it that universities became aware of the convention.
“Look at what they did last December. They reviewed it, based on the pressure from the European Union and they now call it the ADDIS convention, which has not been made available today to any university, at least, I can say of Nigeria. No official copy of what our political leaders endorsed in Addis Ababa in December 2014 has been passed to the universities, which are the principal actors.
“If somebody wants to transfer from the University of Kenya to the University of Ilorin, he won’t go the Federal Ministry of Education (FME), and the National Universities Commission (NUC) is not part of the agreement. I am sure when the ministers were going for the meeting, they didn’t go with the NUC. Even if they went with the NUC, what can the NUC do? Senates of the universities approve their programmes. NUC is to give the benchmarks and general rules.
“So, the issue is that, there is dis-connectivity between operators and policy makers in Africa. I like those beautiful words of the Prime Minister. I was at a meeting in Mombasa. Every one of them stood up and made statements. But as they left Mombasa, there was a Professor, who was the Minister of Higher Education in South Africa. He was indeed the chairman of one of the panels. When I subsequently visited South Africa, I paid him a visit, and when I was talking about some of the proclamations he made, he himself had forgotten, because they didn’t mean it.”
Oloyede also criticized the World Bank’s approach to higher education issues in Africa, insisting that the approach, more often than not, had been faulty. He explained: “You see, I’m not really against the bank, but I am against our (African) governments. When the World Bank was mis-advising African governments against the funding of higher education, our voice was loud in saying that they (World Bank) were misleading our governments, but our governments in Africa did not listen us.
“So, after our governments had been misled into de-emphasising higher education, and when the higher education system in Africa had almost been brought to a halt, it was then they started asking questions.
“World Bank now said, sorry, we ought not to have given you that advice. Without higher education, primary education cannot be organized, because it is the higher education system that would organize and formulate curriculum and others for the lower levels.
“So, the World Bank, since about 2008, started changing gradually and now, they have openly come out to say that they were wrong and that they need to do this.
“But they have now come out with other policies that we also believe would be wrong. And we are telling our governments that look; this was how you were misled before the other apology. You need to look at these programmes, and I’ll give an example of the ACEs (African Centres of Excellence), which is one of them (policies).
“The governments in Africa, when they woke up, they decided to establish their Centre of Excellence, which they called Pan African University, and which they created in five regions of Africa. One of them is in Ibadan, Nigeria.
“After that, the World Bank now came up with the proposal of loan to them, that they want to create Centres of Excellence, 16 of them in West Africa. Instead of strengthening the ones African governments had already established, the World Bank is now asking them (African governments) to take a loan of $8 million per centre and they (African governments) are going that way.
“And our own position, which I continue to say is that look, this is a loan. These people, after you must have finished the money, there would be no sustainability for the programme. If they (World Bank) are really our friend, why can’t they invest this so called loans on strengthening the Pan African University? They felt that Pan African University would fail, that’s why they didn’t want to put their money there. But I also believe that if Pan African University would fail, one of the reasons for the failure will be this ACE that they are establishing, to divert attention and to spread the limited resources instead of concentrating them.
“So, you now have Centres of Excellence competing with Pan African University and neither of them would end up being Centres of Excellence. In my own view, Centres of Excellence are not created. They emerge. You see, Cambridge University, Oxford University, they didn’t tell anybody they were Centres of Excellence, but you recognize them as such. It is abnormal for a Centre to be created and called Centre of Excellence, when it has not even started.”
Asked if he had reconciled with ASUU, Oloyede’s facial expression was that of surprise. “I have no quarrel with ASUU,” he quickly responded. But what about the insinuation that he had instigated the UNILORIN saga, in which the university broke away from the national ASUU and refused to participate in national strikes?
Oloyede said: “If UNILORIN is better today, if UNILORIN is good today, and even if those 49 (sacked lecturers) prefer UNILORIN for their children and their spouses, because that’s one of the problems I had with some of them. If you felt UNILORIN was too harsh, why are you insisting that your children and spouses should be in UNILORIN? Why can you go elsewhere?
“When I was vice chancellor, one of our policies was, if you are a vice chancellor or deputy vice chancellor where you (your university) go on strike, you can’t bring your child to UNILORIN. We’ll block it. Where would you bring your child to UNILORIN where there are no strikes, and you’re unable to stop strikes where you are working. It is immoral.
“As far as I am concerned, it’s a phase. I think lessons would have been learnt across the board. For me, UNILORIN is better for it. I believe that most of them have also learnt their lessons. People can say anything, but when they are left alone with their conscience, they know the truth.
“Look, those of them who say things, I would say, let’s go for a public debate with you. We have been going for ASUU matters together and I know that some of them are more corrupt than the vice chancellors they were talking about, and I have critical evidence to prove it. Then, we were together, we knew what they were doing with ASUU’s resources. Within ASUU, I had been a radical and that was why, when I became vice chancellor, I told them, subject everything I do to scrutiny because I had nothing to hide.”
But how did UNILORIN cope with not having 49 lecturers at the time? Oloyede’s face lit up: “What do you mean by 49 lecturers, when we are talking about hundreds of thousands of students whose lives were involved? What are you talking about, when you have more than 540 lecturers? When 540 lecturers say they are going this way, and 49 say they are going that way, it is only logical that you will go with the 500 plus.
“The University reopened and we were doing our own thing because those who didn’t take part were convinced that what was going on was madness.
“We were not saying that government should not do what it was supposed to do, but we believed that disruption (of academic activities) was not the solution. And you know UNILORIN was notorious at that time. Aside from the national crisis, they would create internal crisis every month and so on, but now I believe everybody has learnt one lesson or the other. Even those who still go on strike, they are not as frequent as they used to do it because at least, one university has been able to say no, enough is enough.”
Oloyede also debunked the allegation that anybody who is not an indigene of Ilorin cannot be appointed as vice chancellor of UNILORIN.
He said: “How can that be possible? Now, let’s look at vice chancellors of the University of Ilorin. The first vice chancellor, apart from (Prof. Tekena) Tamuno, was Prof. Olujimi Akinkungbe. He is not from Ilorin. After him came Prof Akin Adesola and he is not from Ilorin. After him came Prof Afolabi Toye, and Toye is not from Ilorin. After him came Prof. Adeoye Adeniyi, who is also not from Ilorin. After him came the late Prof Oyinloye, who is not from Ilorin. The fist vice chancellor, who is of Ilorin origin, was Prof Abdulrahman Oba. He was the sixth vice chancellor, for five years.
“After him came somebody from Benue, Prof Shamsudeen Amali, who was also my predecessor. I am from Ogun state, my father, my mother, everybody in my family is from Ogun state. I have no blood relationship with Ilorin. Even my wife and her parents are all from Ogun state.
“But when people want to construct falsehood, they will create it and sell it to so many people who would believe it. UNILORIN will be 40 this year and this current vice chancellor (Prof. Abdulganiyu Ambali) is the second from Ilorin and he has just spent two years.
“But look at other universities, look at where the vice chancellors come from. Look at (University of) Ibadan, look at (Obafemi Awolowo University) Ife. Let them bring the states of origin of the vice chancellors of those universities. Are they not from the Southwest?”
On how African universities can key into the concept of internationalization, Oloyede said: “When I was Vice Chancellor and we established a Centre for International Education, it wasn’t easy. People didn’t know where we were going. They didn’t know that was where the whole world was going. At that time, it was a tug of war even at our Senate level. People were saying, what is this thing? If we were to start now, we would have been left behind.
“My own simple interpretation of internationalisation in a university is: key into the international global university system; be a party to it; be a player there; be a benefactor, beneficiary of the system. That is my understanding of it. It is not limited to mobility of students and staff. We have a large number of foreign staff and students at the University of Ilorin. But that’s not the end of internationlisation. Internationalisation has created an avenue where the Vice Chancellor of the University of Ilorin could talk to any Vice Chancellor in different parts of the world and say ooh, you have so and so equipment, can we use it? We also have this equipment.
“The University of Ilorin does not go into any agreement with anybody where the University will be a junior partner. We are always equal partners because we are not looking for donation. You bring what you have to the table, we also bring what we have and we are not looking for somebody to assist us.
“Internationalisation means linkages with other universities which are active players in the global university system, contributing and benefitting from such.
“So, you have students, staff, you have even your curriculum being influenced by the system. We have our staff members who are carrying out inter-disciplinary research with people from other parts of the world. That is part of internationalisation. And we have emphasised it at the University of Ilorin that the centre of our internationalisation is Africa. We interact with other people, but our mandate is Africa.
“That’s why you cannot go to any country; in Rwanda, you will find graduates of the University of Ilorin who are Rwandans because we had started it earlier on and we made deliberate efforts to bring staff and students from across the continent of Africa.
“My own prayer is that internationalisation should be contextualised and it is something that African universities should talk to one another about, across national boundaries.
He added: “UNILORIN has what you call U6, which means, six universities in Africa. CPUT in South Africa, Kenyatta University in Kenya, UCC in Ghana, they came together and established a Herbal Centre at the University of Ilorin, jointly owned. The Director would come from South Africa, residing and teaching in Ilorin.
“And UNILORIN in conjunction with the University of Lagos, is establishing a Centre for Law and Religion; to provide an interface between Law and Religion. There are crises now, people are talking of Boko Haram, but universities are not foresighted enough to look at an academic solution to the problem.
“But the Vice Chancellor of the University of Ilorin is already thinking and talking to the Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos, because the core issue is about Law and Religion. Once you create an interface between the two – where do you cross the boundary of Law; where do you cross the boundary of religion? What can we do to ensure that Law and Religion work together? And by the time others would wake up, you will see that the centre would have made some significant contributions to solving national problems.”
However, Oloyede regretted that no study has been carried out to measure the impact of the decisions reached at the last AAU summit held in Libreville, Gabon two years ago.
“I must admit that there is no follow-up study,” he said, “and Africa is such a complex place that you cannot even measure. I’ll give you an example. The International Association of Universities (IAU) did something on doctoral studies in Africa. The University of Ilorin was one of the institutions used. But immediately after the exercise, they followed up with a study that the University of Ilorin’s production of quality doctoral students increased radically between that time and now, because they gave us the lessons – these are things you’re doing wrong, they made an x-ray of the university, all the university’s professors went to a camp for about four days. By the time we came back, we took it to Senate and our doctoral studies were no longer the same.”