FUTA Is Championing Technological Advancement – Senator Waku
The pro-Chancellor, Federal University of Technology, Akure, Senator Joseph Kennedy Waku in this interview with DAILY ASSET Editors, says the time has come for Nigeria’s Tertiary Institutions to depend less on government subventions. He also speaks on the satellite launched by the university, the first of it’s kind in Africa and expresses optimism that FUTA will champion technological advancement in Africa.
We are going to work with several external universities to invest in our university. We will go into exchange programmes with universities in Russia, Brazil and Canada. So far, these are our interests in foreign universities.
You were appointed pro-Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA) about a year ago. What would you say are the challenges of the institution and how are you helping the institution tackle them?
I have just spent ten months and the challenges are enormous. When the appointment was announced, it came to me as a surprise.
I suddenly found myself, a politician, becoming an academic without going through the rudiments. The appointment was a reminder that as a manager, you can be called upon to play any managerial role so I took the challenge. Before I got there, the institution had been shut down for seven months and I realised that it was a no go area and I asked if my appointment was a test of my competence, patience and credibility.
So I came back and met the appointing authority and I said “why did you do this to me?” and they said, “look, we know you are a manager. Go and mould those children after your character” and I began to wonder if the young Nigerians would like to take after my character because my character has advantages and disadvantages. Will they like to be like me? It was on a lighter note and I take it as a challenge. Before the first Council meeting, I was faced with two major challenges.
What were the challenges?
The challenges were how to get the unions suspend the strikes, how to get everybody back to work and then I had a challenge of appointing a new Vice Chancellor. Doing all these was not easy So, I prayed to God. The Council was able to appoint a new Vixe Chancellor under my supervision without any rancour. 13 professors were invited for interaction. All of them according to their qualifications and conditionalities were qualified.
We now had to look for who to lead the team based on certain criteria and of course, one of them had advantages over the twelve others. Out of thirteen, it was only one person that did not scale through the shortlisted. When he appeared for interaction, he couldn’t withstand the criteria that was set before him so he excused himself, took a bow and left. That is the joy in interacting with people in the academic community, especially those that were shortlisted for interaction. So, we came out of that exercise and none of them like in other election processes, like in partisan politics, wrote a petition that he was cheated. There were no such assertions because of the transparent manner the whole thing was conducted.
I had challenges of what to say because that was the first time I was installing a Vice Chancellor of a University. I made sure that each of them that attended the interview was a part of the inauguration committee. Before the inauguration, I had face to face interactions with the warring union. The union was on strike for seven months, but the University was not shut down because they were non-academic staff.
When I was addressing the university community, I told them that I don’t want any form of sabotage and that if they had grievances, they shouldn’t have taken it too far and being on strike for seven months. I told them I was going to use former President Ibrahim Babangida’s theory that not every matter is resolved through judicial process, that there is also social justice other than the use of judicial or legal processes to deal with the situation. That was how we got the university back on stream.
So, within 10 months, students and lecturers are comfortable with what is going on and I know there are lots of challenges because you can imagine a university with a population of over 7,000 students or more, only 2,000 live on the campus. It is a task that I have to do for students to live on campus because the meaning of university is for students to live within the confines of the environment. The essence of university education is to raise people worthy in learning and character and if you are not living within the environment, you cannot achieve that and that is what I am working towards.
How is the university coping with funding challenges?
I thank the federal government for encouraging us to create our Internally generated revenue sources. We are going to work with several external universities to invest in our university. We will go into exchange programmes with universities in Russia, Brazil and Canada. So far, these are our interests in foreign universities.
Federal Universities of Technology appear not to be meeting technological advancement of the 21st century in Nigeria. What is your take on this?
One of the major setbacks of Federal Universities is funding. The federal government is not funding Federal Universities adequately and that is why we are working hard to ensure that we create our own internally generated revenue sources so that we can do the needful and move the university forward. The universities in the Western world get government grants but it is insignificant.
The universities create their own internally generated revenue programmes that make them carry out several activities that make it a community.
The issue of strike action in Nigeria’s universities seem to be affecting the quality of education. How can this be brought to an end?
Within few months of going to Akure, I was able to address that. When you go to Europe or America, when university workers disagree or have a demand, what do they do? They would pick a piece of paper, write their demands and place it on their chest for few hours and the media takes it over and they go back to their classes. They will spend few hours to make their point and it will now be left for the university authority to take it from there and the media would propagate their demands.
Sometimes, they would rite out their demands and put the demands at a major entry into the university and they also would have expressed their dissatisfaction with the university authority and not by shutting down the university, except there was disagreement among students themselves that has nothing to do with policies of that institution, but the institution had to be shut down to avert or control the situation and not as a labour strike as it is here in Nigeria. I think that gradually, we will get there.
It’s not the best. I told students when I made a special broadcast when non-teaching staff of universities were on strike nationwide to stop some non-teaching staff that were not part of their union like youth Corp members in the university clinics, in pharmaceutical departments, in water supply, on electricity and other essential services. They were going about beating those people and then I called the Commissioner of Police.
If anybody does that, he is going against the labour law. In labour law, if you disagree, when you come to the office, you sit. Don’t stop those who are not your members from working. Even your members who are working within essential areas, you don’t stop them.
Those in hospitals, those in water supply, but they were going about beating youth corp members who are not their members. At that point, I felt they were getting out of hand so I have to invite the Commissioner of Police, the Director of DSS and other security agents to protect federal property and human lives because such an act constituted indiscipline and criminal behaviour. This is the problem we are facing even within the institution of learning. In this University, such behaviour would not be tolerated.
What are activities your University will go into to generate revenue? We are a University of Technology, we can go into farming, we can go into manufacturing of equipment. There are so many things. We recently launched a satellite. How did you go into satellite, given the fact that it requires huge funding and no African University has done that?
It’s all about technological contact. By the grace of God, we could be manufacturing aircraft spare parts. Like I said before, we are in partnership with foreign universities in Russia, Canada and Brazil for so many things. We have vast land, we have advantages for them to bring money for our developmental efforts.
Can you throw more light on the satellite. How was it made possible?
It was done in conjunction with America. It’s not all about funding, but we work with technological cooperation. A University graduate is expected to be found worthy in character and learning thereby missing one core issue would result in inability to solve contemporary challenges. In Asia for instance, there is what they call thinking schools which they use to develop their continent technologically. Let me show you this fertiliser. We are going to develop this fertiliser. Gone are the days when you carried fertiliser in big bags.
You mix this fertiliser in 100kg of water before spraying it where you want to plant and in three months, your crop is ready. So we are not sitting down. There are good universities in Nigeria that I know that are not government funded. They are private universities and are doing very well, why can’t federal universities take a cue from them? Why can’t we partner with each other?
In fact, I have not taken this fertiliser to my Vice Chancellor yet. When I get to Akure, we are going to discuss in order to develop this. In Nigeria, we have ignored several factors to economic potentials. Nigeria has ignored development of solid minerals and concentrated on oil, thinking that it is the cheapest way of making money. There are a lot of innovations and an economy becomes distressed when a country’s dependent products tend to be depressed, then that nation should think of other factors.
On a large scale, we have a farm. We produce bread and we have a business development company. We have a Printing press and could ask you to print your newspapers in our printing press. We have ways of making money, but because only the federal government is saddled with the responsibility of providing money, nothing seems to be happening. Students’ school fees is not enough to develop infrastructure. So we have to think inwards.
How would Nigerians access the satellite launched by FUTA? For now, it is at the experimental level. When it is fully switched on, it would be made public and like what you are holding, when you are going to a place you don’t know, and you switch it on, it gives you direction of where you are going. You know what it means to own a satellite, when the time comes, it will be incorporated into a commercial venture.