John Obafunwa, eminent Professor of Pathology has many things to be happy about. For the past four years, the Lagos State University has had both convocations and matriculations back to back. New buildings are springing up on campus, the general infrastructure are also improving. The relationship between the management and students has also improved.
In an exclusive interview with The Intellectual, Obafunwa lists current achievements and efforts being undertaken to take care of loose ends.
After taking over as Vice Chancellor, what did you decide to do first after looking at the existing order? And how did you begin your implementation?
Shortly after I settled down, I realized that there were loads and loads of wastages in the system. Some individuals tried to perfect ways of taking financial advantage of the system. Apart from the issue of infrastructural development, the issue of the external system was also there and that was why, in moving ahead, the first thing we decided to do was to try and take care of all those areas of wastages.
While blocking the area of wastages, I had to reduce spending in a justifiable manner, because I also had to take the matter to the governing council, and that was where this issue of imprest came into being.
I met a system where we had over 150 bank accounts in the external system and over 60 accounts on the inside. We had to shut down many of these accounts. In addition, we changed the payment system, by transferring the payment of school fees to the online platform, to make it difficult, if not impossible, for money to exchange hands.
I commissioned an audit of our financial situation in the university, with the approval of the governing council.
With regard to the School of Part Time Studies, I had to look for somebody who knew the system very well; who could take it head-on, having worked within the system before. I also wanted a fearless person. I identified him.
There was a lot of intimidation, of course, I knew I was dealing with the so-called LASU family network; everybody trying to cover up for everybody. It was in the process of trying to deal with some of the issues in the administration, registry and so on, that I discovered that many people in LASU had one thing or the other to do with the other person (family ties). In some situations, you have three generations. So, when you think you are dealing with a particular issue, you will discover that some other people are connected.
While settling down, I also discovered that a number of people believe in diabolical methods of dealing with situations. Of course, this has never bothered me. But it’s a shame that you have such things, not only among the junior staff, but also among the senior staff, even senior academic staff.
How easy or difficult has it been for you to implement your blueprint?
It’s not been easy because a number of people are there with their specific agenda. I had to push certain things aggressively. There are some people that you can count on. I also believe that we have won a large number of converts.
Vice Chancellors face many daunting challenges in the course of their respective duties. You also face yours. But in spite of this, when you look back, what are those things you have been able to achieve that make you happy?
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.
Now that the university has decided to refund the school fees collected from the students, how will it be able to cope with its financial challenges?
This is where the issue of LASU Consult comes in. There are so many things we can do through LASU Consult. But first, to do that, we need to acquire the driving force.
The first thing we did was to incorporate LASU Consult but unfortunately, the whole activity got suspended for reasons beyond our control.
However, we have already identified the seed money and once that kicks off, all the various avenues through which we could source for money or increase our internally generated revenue would be explored. We have compiled so many things that could be done by the faculties and by the different departments, and as new ones are also being discovered, the chief operating officer or managing director of LASU Consult would pick up those challenges.
What is your relationship with the students like at the moment?
I can describe them as probably more matured and understanding than before. Even though up till now, some elements among our staff are still trying to feed them with false information and get them to cause problems. But they are much wiser now. Again, when you remember the fact that, some of our staff have children in the school, I believe we have been able to forge a relationship.
Some of the stories that were circulated in the last four to five months would have been enough to create a lot of disharmony, but because the students are much wiser and they themselves appreciate the need to have an uninterrupted calendar, they have been very supportive.
What is the situation with accreditation of the university’s programmes?
We have always ensured that we meet with, at least, the minimum requirements or even more than that. We have motivated the staff themselves and some of them were quite supportive because they saw the place or those programmes as a personal thing, realizing that whatever they were doing, it’s not for Obafunwa, but the fact that it is the right thing to do for the department.
Bringing the departments or the programmes to the level that should be able to withstand the test of time is our overall responsibility. I must acknowledge also, the role played by one or two academics within the system, Prof Junaid and Prof Peter Okebukola. In also achieving the feat, I had to set up an accreditation committee that was chaired by Prof Okebukola, who also helped to conduct mock accreditation and helped in planning for the budget to deal with whatever. I think we can also say that, having with us someone with the experience as the former executive secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), knowing the requirements and what we should do, really helped. I took advantage of his expertise within the system and he has been very supportive; holding meetings regularly with the committee members which comprised of all the deans and various heads of departments.
Any regret so far?
No regrets, although, there were moments I asked myself, do I really need all this stress? It can be very, very demanding and everybody is calling you, asking for one thing or the other. Of course, I also recall a few occasions where some individuals would come insulting you, right down to even calling you a thief; or people showing outright disrespect. And I ask myself, would these people have done this if I was within my office at Ikeja? Again, like someone said, these are things that come with public office.