By Collins Ajibola
Prof. Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah is the Vice Chancellor of the Kwara State University, Molete. Since his assumption of office as the Vice Chancellor of the state tertiary institution, he has shown uncommon leadership prowess in the delivery of his mandate. He spoke in an interview with www.gongnews.net Deputy Editor, Collins Ajibola in Ilorin about his achievements and how he is surmounting challenges of his office. Excerpts.
As a Professor of English, comparative poetry and performance, with great writing on Alhaji Jaigbade Alao, Ken Saro Wiwa and such greats, will you say we are no more as productive in poetry and performance of the spoken art?
I think you are right to say performance in language is dwindling in our country. The reason is not far fetched. It is simply because of the quality we now have. The qualities we have from the onset have fallen in terms of standards. Another reason can be said to be because of technology. We are in the electronic age where people now use electronic languages instead of speaking in clear terms.
Anyway, this can all be attributed to the poor standard of the education sector which is a major issue. You will remember that during colonisation, language was so fundamental, especially the colonial language. I recall then, if you speak vernacular in school, you will pay for it. That really made people up and doing and trying to get English language right at the greatest level. Even if your pronunciation is not as good as the English person, you still try to speak very well, but today, that is no longer the case.
Sad you might want to say. In terms of performances, we started as an African culture that was rooted in oral performance and performance of daily life. But most of these have been affected in many ways. As a scholar of performance, I have noticed that something we tend to imitate things that we don’t understand. In a nutshell, we need to do a better job in terms of language, getting ourselves back through the use of language, excellent performance, both life as a performance and performance in the artistic profession.
We are the bed rock of artistic profession as Africans and as Nigerians. See how Nollywood is doing incredibly well. It is now the second largest in the world. Look at what Chief Hubert Ogunde and others have done and even before them. Wonderful artistic performances that could have been a huge source of revenue today especially now that, we are facing crisis in the oil sector. Some nations don’t have Oil, what they have is agriculture and culture and they are doing great with them.
Where exactly did we lose the issue of culture and family upbringing, talking about morals and discipline?
We lost it from home and school. The reason we lost it from home is that, parents have changed from the kind of tradition they uphold in those days. You now find parents who no longer speak their native language to their children. It is a disgrace. As an Igbo, Yoruba, Ibibio, Kanuri, Hausa, Tiv, Hausa, why on earth will you not speak your language to your children? That is what is happening today in Nigeria. You see many parents speaking English. The worst of it is that these parents cannot speak the perfect English themselves.
So the children start their life with broken English which is not even meaningful for them as they grow and in the larger sense of it. I think it is the parents that have given up somehow because of their understanding of the role of language in the development of their children. They think it is when their children speak English that they will become somebody in life, not realising that they are mortgaging the lives of those young children from the onset.
Secondly is that, even the parents too have lost morality. What you find today is a parent who is ready to give his child money to go to a village to write exams like NECO and WAEC. Why do they do this? It is because they want the child to cheat and pass such exams. Technically, the message to that child is that cheating is good and should be encouraged. If eventually such child now gets to school and joins bad peers and continues to cheat, such parent will now start acting as if he wasn’t the one who taught the child that cheating is good.
I understand that parents want their child to succeed, but not to the point of promoting immorality. Those days when we were young, we were always told that millions of successes without morality is nullity. There are a lot of sayings among other tribes that promote morality in the society. Then the schools that are supposed to be the custodian of morality and good teachings have also deviated from their primary duty of teaching good character. Every certificate from school is supposed to be in learning and character, but you will ask yourself, how has the school been a good example of character?
You now have some staffs being part or members of cults in schools, some abuse students and promote immorality. That is why I said it has to do with both school and the parents. If we want to re-examine, we must come back to our reality. I always say come back, because I know what we need is regeneration. We can develop and make things better, but we must first go back to those values and continue to develop and make them even better. If we continue the way we are, am sorry for our country, because, no amount of wealth can get us to where we want to go if we don’t have strong values and discipline, in terms of protecting each other, respecting each other, and protecting our names. So we need to understand as a nation that what is happening to us today is the laxity in our character, our values and our attitude to neglect discipline.
Where do you now place our educational system in general?
Talking about placing our education system in Nigeria, if you say on the scale of hundred percent, I will say 40%. I want to tell you that am saying this with serious pain. I have visited and interacted with people all over the world as a scholar. I have also lived in other places apart from Nigeria and I have been able to do some comparative analysis. It is really a shame that we have neglected education in Nigeria. Sadly to know that most parents instead of sending their children to public schools will rather send their children to private institutions even when most private institutions do not have qualified staff.
Because most of these private institutions is about making profits but they are regular. They will teach on time and then take the children home. So the parents know that their children will have regular timing in school. But what is happening to public institutions which I was produced from? Both in Nigeria and Canada I attended public institutions. Sadly today, the public institutions are where you don’t have chairs, tables for students and lecturers in classes, even when you have qualified teachers.
We have more qualified people in public schools and less in private schools, but the parents will rather send their children to private school, where they would have to spend additional money running into hundreds of thousands, that they should have used to provide other basics for their children and ensure they attend sound public school. I must tell you that we are in a mess as a nation when it comes to education, and to say that this is 21st century when education is stronger, where if you look at different nations of the world, they make sure education is given its priority.
Look at Singapore. Even America is wowed by their achievements in terms of technological innovations. But come to our country and see how we are lagging behind, young people teach themselves technology in Nigeria most often, not their school. They go to class and are better learned than their teachers. That is a tragedy. We must put our house in order if we want to be relevant among the comity of Nations. The fact is that the world is not slowing down. The world is moving faster.
Those days when something happens in other parts of the world, we probably wait for 24 hours or sometimes 48 hours before we get the information, but now we have news on the go. As it is happening you are seeing it and getting the information live. Now it is instant. There is no place for anybody to hide, and if we remain backward, there is nothing we can do to be competitive with others. I want to say that it will be very unfortunate considering the enormous wealth God has endowed this nation with. Nigeria should be leading and be comparable to the best nations of the world like the United Kingdom, USA, Brazil, and Singapore.
In fact, we should even be better than them, because there are places you go to in America that they cannot plant crops. They have to find some special kind of green house for planting because of snow. We don’t have all of these. We can plant from one end of the year to the other. We can dress well. We have wonderful sun, great soil, great human beings, but what have we made of it? Those places where they have earth quakes every now and then are even better in the way they plan their lives.
I am saying that Nigeria should be better than them and not we depending on them. Look at solar; we now have to go to US or China to get solar panels, whereas we are the one with sun all year round. It is our Universities that should be developing those areas. It is us that should be developing excellence in all kind of products that our mineral resources can give to us, our Agricultural products also, because we have great pastoral lands. And we also have great population of 170 million, what else do we want?
These all boils down to failure on the part of government’s policy implementation. Where are we getting it wrong?
I totally agree with you. We are people of great ideas. But unfortunately, that is where it ends. Once ideas come on the table, it ends there. It is turned into books and put in the shelves and nobody implement. It also therefore, goes down to the kind of leadership that we elect. This is because we are the one electing these leaders. So we need to ask ourselves, are we electing leaders that understand what they should do and how focused are they doing this and if four years they fail to do it, are we kicking them out and bringing other ones? So that we teach them a lesson that they are not the kind of leaders we want and that they have not done well.
We are not as rigorous as vigorous in picking our leaders and I think we better start doing that, because implementation is number one. You can have the best of ideas in the world, but if you cannot implement them, they are useless, and therefore, as we bring ideas in education, economy, technology and cultural, we must also know that implementation must be number one. This is also the time that people should form pressure groups, like teachers having theirs, Professors having their own lobbyists, farmers also having theirs and all insist that leaders must implement and moreso, be sharp in understanding the implementation needs that we have, so that when we approach our leaders we are clear with the kind of implementation that we demand and we insist it must happen.
And if the person fails to do it in four years, we should be ready to analyse and what they have done and if like we put Nigeria on the scale of 40, they too fall on that scale, we throw them out and tell them that they cannot continue to be our leader because they have not achieved anything. Most research works in the University nothing is happening to them; they just put them on the shelf. We don’t have good industries here, even when we produce, we send raw materials abroad, they now produce and send us finished products and we pay more. See our crude oil, we lift the crude oil like that and then they send products to us and we buy. It is a shame; I don’t see nations that are serious allowing this to continue.
You speak so glowingly about products of this university, is this mirage or reality? Tell us sir, of 140 ranked universities in Nigeria, you were ranked 15th. Given your age, does this not show some bias in the ranking, or do you truly feel so in quality of what you offer?
You can see for yourself and I know you will still be taken round the campus. We came with clarity of what a University should be in the 21st century. There was no ambiguity in what KWASU must be. We came with the understanding of the world as it is and understanding of our community Nigeria and we knew clearly that as a new university, we have opportunity to fill in the gap. The gap for development of Nigeria, the areas that Nigeria was at serious need. We knew standard of education was falling and it was very clearly for us to fill that gap, we cannot be another sub-standard university, it cannot happen, otherwise there is no need for establishing KWASU.
So it was very clear that we do our things in every way different from how it is done in any other university in Nigeria. Our process of admission and recruitment is unique, very rigorous and thorough. Secondly is our curriculum. We looked at where we had need in Nigeria, we knew Nigeria was already trying to go to space by sending satellite, they had to go to China, but there was no passion in Space research in Nigeria. So we set up to start a programme in Aeronautics and Astronautics here in KWASU. We also knew that there are resources in tourism, you know Nigeria have about 500 languages and diversity all over, so that should be bringing the world to Nigeria, so we knew that we must help our community develop tourism as some nations that don’t have oil depend and make so much from tourism.
That led us to start the department of Tourism and Hospitality, which is now school for Tourism and Event Management. We knew that Entrepreneurship was number one, because people roam the street, we didn’t want to be a university where people will be produced and roaming the street, we cannot be part of that otherwise no need for KWASU. So from 2009, we started the Centre for Entrepreneurship, we included it in the curriculum and mad it compulsory from 200 – 400 levels and insisted that students must register one business while they are in school and must manage it up to the time they finish, so that when they finish they already have something to do instead of waiting for government jobs.
We also know that our university must be about community development and our centre has been engaging in activities in helping communities across the state to develop and meeting their needs. For instance we provide water, skills and etc. We also made it compulsory for every academic staff to have an outreach anywhere in Nigeria to do community development. Without it you can never be promoted in KWASU.
The Community Development Centre will give you a grant to execute such product; by the way the Centre gets it money from all over the world. In fact the Senate of the school has also made it compulsory that as all our students earn degree, they should also earn certificate in Community Development, so that they have training in the art of volunteerism, selfless services. These are the kind of things we brought in from the beginning and not what we just started today. We want our students to be unique. We put them under intense pressure, for one week they start and finish exams and also for the lecturers, in one week or most two weeks, you must finish marking their scripts, so our students get their results when they finish one semester before starting another semester.
What is your vision for research in the school?
Thank you very much. We describe KWASU as a research intensive institution. That is the way we position ourselves. Because of that, we put a lot of money into research. But we also start from the scratch. First we have Centre for Undergraduate research and there students compete for centre grants. They submit proposals, it is reviewed and the ones with great ideas are funded. Our young people compete. They go back to their laboratory or work with their Professors and carry out this research.
Now, we have our students building surveillance drones. It is wonderful what our students are doing. What we do therefore is a lot of purpose in research. We are very big in energy research; in fact we have a UNESCO backing as we speak. In the area of culture, we are developing Nollywood centre also. We have started the Centre for Nollywood studies, which is a research centre and now we are working with the Molete film village, which we have created and has Joke Silva as the Managing Director.
What have been the challenges so far in managing this great university of your vision?
I have to say that funding is one very serious challenge we are having in KWASU. However, we must also commend the state government. But, I want to also tell you that we have decided from the beginning that government is not going to continue to fund KWASU, there is no way. The greatest universities in the world like Harvard and others get funds from government, but also device other means to get fund to run the administration and programmes of the school. There is nowhere in the world that government completely funds universities, but all the same it doesn’t mean government should not provide funds. KWASU is set up from the onset to look at different ways of getting funds to operate. The issue is that on the part of government, whatever they want to do should be regular.
For instance, if it is 40% that government wants to give to the institution, it should be regular, so that we can now look out around the world in terms of grants. For instance, we have Centre for Sponsored Projects in this university. What this Centre does is that, they mobilise staff to look for grants around the world. I can tell you that many staffs have already started bringing in money. We also have Centre for innovation in teaching and research, all these centers are looking at getting grants and they are also looking getting grants and training and helping academic staff. I want to add that we are also determined to create business ourselves, to go into business development ourselves, just like we have the Malete Film Village which is a business headed by Joke Silva.
We have also created another one based on our research in the energy sector; it is called Rana (Sun) Power Solar Manufacturing Company which will be manufacturing solar panels, solar plants and solar Farm. KWASU itself is developing solar farm because we want to make sure that electricity is 24 hours in our campus. This is just because to be an intensive resource research university, we must have 24 hours electricity in our laboratories for students to be constantly doing the right thing also.
We also have tours and travel businesses. We are working on the process of establishing a Foundation for KWASU which will be managed independently. It will be called Kwara State University Foundation which will be incorporated and managed by philanthropists who will decide on their own based on our strategic plans and p[priorities what they want to sponsor. They will be able to only sponsor research, infrastructural and development.
In the United States, we have established the American Friends of KWASU which is based in New York City. What this does is to allow people to support KWASU as charity organisation through what they call tax deductible. In the US their laws allow people to support charity and non-profit organisation and when they do that, they can now claim this money through their tax. That is why it is called tax deductible. And because universities are counted, especially public universities like our own, we were able to establish this. It is ready, up and doing in the US with an amazing American as the Chairman of the advisory board. They collect money and send it down to fund project that they can do. So as a public university government can never stop funding us. What they have to give us should be regular.