The peaceful academic environment that has existed at the University of Ilorin for the past 16 years was recently threatened by the purported plan by some national leaders of the Academic Staff Union of Universities to install a new executive council for the institution’s chapter of the union. Hammed Shittu spoke with the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Abdulganiyu Ambali on the development and other issues affecting the university. Excerpts:
How will you react to the recent tension in the university over the plan to install new executive council of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in the university?
The University of Ilorin in the last 16 years or so has enjoyed peace on campus and it is a routine exercise that once we get a hint that the peace is about to be threatened, we beef up our security outfit in order to make sure that we maintain peace, so it was along that line that we beefed up our security because we learnt that some people were on their way to oversee some kind of election so to say, so we saw some security challenge along that line and beefed up the security in order to maintain law and order
The whole exercise was a bit confusing because all along for the past one year or so, I have been kept abreast of what has been happening with ASUU, both the national and the local. But I was made to understand a couple of years ago, almost 10 years ago, the UNILORIN ASUU was expelled from the national body and because of that there was little or no interaction between the national ASUU and this branch, and since then, the academic staff UNILORIN has been electing their own leaders and we have had about two or three executives that has championed the cause of academic staff on the campus. I am not aware officially that UNILORIN ASUU has been pardoned and has been assimilated into the national body. According to what I was briefed, there are still some court cases pending against the local ASUU that it wanted resolved before the election. I know that some elections took place about two months ago by the local ASUU; so this one now coming is strange and I am awaiting the official information from those that are involved. I have been saying it is a union matter, I am the chief executive of the university and all staff are my responsibility either academic or non-academic, everybody is welcome onboard to participate in what is going on either as an individual or as friends who have the same philosophy with the management in order to take UNILORIN to higher level.
Was there any letter sent to your office of the plan to hold another ASUU election, despite the inauguration of the executive council two months ago in the university?
They were just informing us. I am an academic staff of this university and a number of times they write me that they are going to organise election of ASUU, but I know very well that there is an election that was held but all the same, even the local branch whenever they want to have their election, they write me to inform me that election is coming up and these people sometimes gave us 24 hours or so notice before they come. Sometimes, they come quietly without even waiting for our response, that has been the problem, they were here about one-and-a-half years ago, they came in and I gave them audience, where they tabled their proposition in their effort to integrate the UNILORIN ASUU and I gave them all the necessary attention and assistance, I told them that I have good faith that if you want to integrate UNILORIN ASUU, I will advise you to meet all the stakeholders in ASUU and we gave them a good platform to do that and I think unfortunately, they didn’t come up with a decision that people deemed fair; it was not very fair because we all know in democracy that the minority will have their say but the majority will have their way, so that was it, they came up conditions that was not all encompassing, there were two groups, there is one that is made up of seven people and then you have the majority on the other hand, where you want to integrate, everybody should be made to feel that their position is well articulated, but unfortunately, where you intend to support minority over majority, then there are bound to be concerns and that is how that effort ended.
What kind of relationship exists between the management and other unions of the university?
The relationship has been cordial, we are on the same page in terms of moving the university higher, we have been dialoging with them, we have been exchanging views, we have been expressing either the interests or concern of their members to the management, and we have been addressing some of those things they have put forward as a concern to their members. The relationship is very cordial and that is why over the last 15 years, we have been understudying each other, we have been addressing our problems, we have been able to maintain a stable academic calendar with little or no interruption to the main job that brought all of us here.
What security arrangement is the management making to maintain law and order within and outside the campus?
We have a well laid down security outfit that is monitoring every one and I am sure they live up to the expectations and law and order will be maintained. I told them my doors are always open for dialogue and for mediation and to me the door is still open up till now, and once we come up with a very sound mind and not wanting to overrule the majority, and let sanity prevail, let commonsense be maintained and then as long as the 16 years of peace on campus is not threatened, then we are ready to help all of us to be on the same page. But this is an academic environment, it is very hard for all of us to be on the same page, but we can try and bring them closer, so diverse views are always welcomed as expected on campus, because of various groups of thought that exist here but shouldn’t threaten the peace that we have enjoyed over the last few years.
How will you describe the comments made by some ASUU members that invaded the campus recently, who said the university is not the only one enjoying academic stability in the country?
That is not true; the only university that has maintained stable academic calendar is UNILORIN. It is on record that the only university in Nigeria that has enjoyed stable academic calendar is University of Ilorin… If you look at the profile of all those that are here, they are people that have problems on their campuses and they want to now bring their problems to UNILORIN that has enjoyed peace over the last 16 years. It is on record and everywhere we go as a team of vice-chancellors from all universities, we have met quite a number of who-is-who in Nigeria and they have all advised them to go the Ilorin way for the sake of Nigerian children because what is happening in other universities is unwelcomed, un-academic, and is not what they have sent their children to go and do. That is a challenge to most of them and that is another challenge even to the umbrella organisation, as I said, I am not a unionist, I am just the leader of UNILORIN team trying to create a conducive atmosphere for academic exercise. None of them can come and boast that they have had stable academic calendar on their campuses, I know all the universities, I know all the vice-chancellors, we meet we compare notes, even professors in all those universities are sending their children to UNILORIN. I want a clear and honest statement that is where we can talk and be on the same page, but where people want to rule by deceit by falsehood and misrepresentation of facts then it’s a problem and we cannot accept that kind of management or administration on our campus. As a person, I am sure they are entitled to their opinion… to serve this nation with all honesty, because any move to challenge the peace that UNILORIN is enjoying will be resisted. I have been told several times that we at the University of Ilorin are the people saving the face of education in Nigeria, we are the people rescuing and improving the image of education in Nigeria; if anybody wants to challenge that and abort that effort then that person is left with his conscience.
Which of the ASUU groups will your management recognise in view of the current crisis within the union in the university?
I will wait until they bring it before me. When it comes, management will come together to look at the nitty gritty, how each group came on board, the circumstances surrounding it and all other protocols if observed then we take our decision. But if I should tell you anything, that is VC’s view not the management of the university’s view.
Looking at the small faction of the people that are claiming to be on board, the university has been monitoring them, they have been meeting to strategise and it is on record that they have never been more than 11, or 13 of them in all the congresses that have been holding on campus. For the other people that on ground, sometimes more than one thousand members meet to take a decision. Now if both groups present something to you which one will you take knowing that you are the father to all of them? So the majority of those that are part of the group that may look large are not UNILORIN staff they are staff of other universities. I have been in the university business for over 30 years and I have been participating quietly watching the way things are done as far as ASUU is concerned, I have never seen a situation where if a congress is about to hold, about 20 universities will be participating.
But as I said, if whatever they decide come to me, we at the management level will look at the facts on the table and take appropriate decision that will affect the majority positively. You don’t have to be an executive of any association be it ASUU, NASU or SSANU before you can contribute to the development of UNILORIN. If as an individual, if you are employed today and you have a positive thought that the university can embark on to move forward I will listen to you because before you can be a staff you must have good head and they said two good heads are better than one.
So let us refocus our attention. Don’t let us take the institution 20 years backwards because we have come so far and that is why we are better by far.
What is your message to the factional group of ASUU on campus in view of the recent development?
I beg all of us to put our heads together because if all the good heads can come together, we can solve Nigeria’s problem. The government is aware that we have the backlog of the famous ASUU 49 and seven of them are still within the system and they are still looking for their mandate of 20 years ago. If they want to leave the local ASUU they have the write to do so. If the majority of academic staff that we have feel that they what you to leave them so be it. Every ASUU staff here is my staff I have no bias against anybody but it is whoever the majority decide to lead them that I feel we should support.
The management is insisting that whoever is emerging, irrespective of his philosophy, if he is able to convince his followers that this is what he wants to do for them and they vote for him and you know in democracy the majority will always have their way. If the majority vote for them and they give me evidence that the majority voted for them then I will listen to them. I used to tell all the union that come to me that I am the chairman of all chairmen. Because while ASUU is fighting for the welfare of its members, SSANU and NASU will be requesting different things, my responsibility is to all of them. They all have different needs and I try to attend to them. I may not give them one hundred per cent but what we are giving them is acceptable to them.
What are your efforts in the area of infrastructure since you assumed leadership of the university three-and-a-half years ago?
When I came in about three-and-a-half years ago, I made a promise that I am going to leave UNILORIN better than I inherited it. And if you look at the campus now, it is far from what I inherited it in terms of infrastructure, staff development, staff welfare, students’ comfort, and in terms of academics and a range of programmes now available for students.
So, as far as I am concerned, we are doing our best and we are making impact in education in Nigeria. I have also told the people that anyone no matter who that has anything positive to contribute to what we are doing is welcome no matter where he belongs. He should convince me that I want this in my department or office because it will advance the course of our work, and I will look at it. People have been coming. All I beg from those that have been coming in that you should please give me the liberty either to take or leave whatever suggestion. Everyone is free either in writing or in person to express whatever they feel is needed to be done.
What is your advice to the people of the university community?
I am pleading with everybody to let us come together and put our hands together to make sure the university is better than what is it. Our slogan is ‘University of Ilorin, Better by Far’ and that cuts across all spheres/disciplines. Irrespective of whom you are, if you have any positive idea be it in the mode of our teaching, in research or community development, bring it forward and we will look at it. Challenging from the road side or grumbling will not solve our problems but I have invited a number of people including senior professors and I initiated a platform some time ago for people to interact with me and that platform is still open. If you have any idea that will benefit UNILORIN or the nation at large bring it forward and we will look at it.
The management is planning to sign a MoU with foreign partners on power development for the university, what is the latest development on that?
In the last one month or so, the university has embarked on a laudable project and we have invited an American/Caribbean company and we are about to sign a MoU. This MoU is going to affect positively not only the, but Nigeria as a whole because it is going to be on solar power. And it is going to contribute to the energy need of the country. So in an atmosphere of peace the sky will be the beginning. But all other challenges will just derail us unnecessarily because doing things the way they used to be done 20 years back is like turning the hand of the door backwards and Nigeria has had enough of that kind of approach. If we have to be among the top universities in the world, we don’t have to engage in this kind of derailing approach.
Look at the campus now, faculties now have more classrooms, they now have more lecture theaters, more staff, we are training more staff both locally and internationally. We have also increased our research output, we are gaining more research grants. That shows that our staff are now being redirected towards positive thinking and actions that will eventually lead to better lifestyles of our people because people now want to contribute to their immediate environment; they want to contribute to what is going on at the national level.
Look at our epileptic power supply, on campus we have injected and embarked on dedicated power line, now we enjoy more than 22 hours of power every day. If we don’t have light on campus it means the whole Kwara State is in darkness. But we are seeing this as a temporary achievement and that is why we are embarking on solar power. This solar power is going to give us more than what the university needs and the rest will go to the nation. I don’t want to be telling you the number of megawatts that will be generated through this solar power because we are signing the MoU soon. The people are coming from the US and the project is worth billions of dollars and you can imagine the effect of that project not only on university, but the nation at large because of the number of employment it will generate. It will expose our students to solar energy skills and they will go out to be entrepreneurs that will create jobs. That is what the university is concentrating on and before you know it come October our target is to commission the project. Investors are interested in UNILORIN because of our stable academic calendar. They know that when they invest in the institution, they will reap their benefit.
What is the perception of students about your administration?
The students are now thinking positively. They don’t think of derailing the system. They are thinking on how they can contribute to the system and we as management are happy that the students are performing well. They go for debates and other challenges and they come tops. UNILORIN is the most subscribed university in Nigeria today. In the last three years we have been consistent. Parents and students want UNILORIN because they know that they will graduate. Anything that will make life meaningful, consistence, comfortable for academic pursuant of students and research pursuit of our staff, I am on for it irrespective of who is bringing it. But if you have to be thinking the way we use to think 20 years ago, we are not going to get to anywhere; education in the country will be threatened further. If we have one university that everybody is looking up to both nationally and internationally and they see UNILORIN as a place to invest, the best thing for all of us is to support that university because we are not doing it for the sake of the university, we are doing it for the nation.
Because we protect our students wherever they are and because our degrees are awarded based on character and learning, anyone found with questionable character is eased out as a student, any staff that is found wanting and threatening the character moulding of any student is disciplined according to our rules and regulations, so we don’t tolerate any form of vices on campus.