Professor Dapo Asaju is the Vice-Chancellor of Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo. He has been in the saddle for about two and a half years, during which the institution has gone through unusual transformation in physical and academic development.
In this interview, he speaks about challenges on the job, the expectations of the public, the perceived decline in general quality of education, amongst other issues.
You’re a Professor and at the same time a Bishop. Which addresses you better?
It’s Right Reverend. It has to be God first.
In practical term, which came first?
I was a lecturer before I became a clergyman. Academics is my first call. My being called into the ministry happened later on.
At what stage did the pulpit come in?
I became ordained into a Pentecostal ministry in 1996 and rose to become the General Overseer. But I left to start my ministry in the Anglican Church. I’m an Anglican. I grew up an Anglican. My past generations are Anglicans. I was ordained in the Anglican Church by Archbishop Abiodun Adetiloye, then primate, in 1998. I rose to become a Canon, then Archdeacon in the Lagos West Diocese. I was consecrated Bishop in 2010. I’m Bishop Theologian of the Church of Nigeria. That means I am the Bishop in charge of Theology, Doctrine and theological education. I supervise all the Anglican seminaries. I am the voice of the church on theological issues globally and internally. So, I combine both the academic and religious.
What was the pull to the classroom?
I just grew into it. I started lecturing at the University of Ilorin in 1983. I was their best student and so was retained by my department. So, naturally, I just grew into academics. I moved to Lagos State University, Ojo as a pioneer staff in 1984. I have been in LASU till this moment. I’m on leave of absence. I rose to be deputy vice-chancellor (Academic) at LASU. I was ASUU chairman in Attahiru Jega’s days. From 1984 till now, that must be some 34 years that I have put into LASU.
How did you manage the transition from cosmopolitan LASU to semi-urban life in old Oyo?
Your proper breeding would require that you must have grown up in the rural area at one point or the other. Working in the urban area is simply a coincidence of where you work. It has nothing to do with your identity as a person. So, for me, whether I go to Sokoto, Enugu or Birnin Kebbi, it makes no difference. Wherever you’re working, you work. So, coming to old Oyo did not present any shock. This place used to be St. Andrew’s, the first Teachers’ College in Nigeria that started training people since 1897. So, coming to a very serene area, there was no shock for me. It was just a natural habitat.
What were the initial challenges you had to contend with when you mounted the saddle and how did you deal with them?
The first two VCs before me did their best to pioneer this university. The only challenge was underfunding, which is not peculiar to us. It’s common to many other institutions. Even many federal universities cannot pay full salaries now because they say they’re not getting enough from government. Everybody is looking for IGR. The challenge is simply serious underfunding.
Our only source of income is the tuition fees that we collect from the students. There’s no other source of income. We have benefactions in terms of buildings that were donated by the Alakija family who donated the Faculty of Law which is arguably the best equipped Law Faculty in Nigeria today; Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), our Pro-Chancellor/Chairman, Governing Council, whose family donated the VC’s lodge; Chief Florence Ajimobi, wife of Oyo State Governor who donated the ICT centre. Some years back, the T.Y. Danjuma Library was donated by retired General T.Y. Danjuma, in appreciation of the teacher who gave him a good education in primary school. Because the teacher was an Andrian (old student of St. Andrew’s Teachers College, Oyo), he decided to remember him. So, the only challenge is financial. But as we have more students, we would overcome that.
What has been your experience, especially with people complaining about fees?
The Anglican Church owns this school, but the Anglican Church does not fund it. We fund it through the fees we charge students. We’re one of the lowest fees-charging private universities in the country. We probably charge the lowest fees.
There’s nothing like overcharging. As far as we’re concerned, we have allowed Anglicans to be given 10 per cent rebate in their fees. We also allow everybody, whether you are Anglican or not, to pay their fees in three equal installments. That means with a little over a N100, 000, you can come in and start your studies. So, I don’t think we’re overcharging.
People must understand that this university was approved by government. It is regulated by government agencies like the National Universities Commission (NUC.) There are minimum number of professors, doctors, lecturers and non-academic staff you must have. These people have to be paid salaries that are paid in federal universities and other universities. So, if these people must teach your students, then they have to be paid competitive salaries. Where would the money come from? We have no grant from government, no access to Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), not benefiting anything from government, yet we in the private sector fund the TETFUND that they use to fund the other universities. It’s exploitative.
However, anybody who has common sense would understand that the fact you’re an Anglican does not mean you’re going to walk into an Anglican school and get cheap education. Today, people pay higher amount of fees for their children in privately-owned secondary schools than they pay in the university. So, I don’t think anybody should be talking about highfees.
As a VC, do you feel ripped off that you don’t get aid from TETFUND?
I think it’s just very wrong of TETFUND and the policy of the government to maintain that position not to extend TETFUND to privately-owned universities. It doesn’t make any sense at all, because this money comes from the private sector and the private universities are part of the sector that funds the agency.
Again, when we train people, we train them for the global market. All of them are going to the same market. So, when you use TETFUND to train some people to get PhDs or to go for international conferences like TETFUND does, then you’re building capacities to train people for the society. When you deprive us of that opportunity, you’re denying us of the right to contribute to the building of society. So, we should be allowed to access TETFUND. But they’re saying it’s a matter of legislation. They are using that technical ground to deprive us of benefiting from the fund. To deprive us of the opportunity to enjoy TETFUND is immoral and uncalled for. So, moves are on to seek amendment to the Act. Private universities are making efforts to get government to change its position. Bills are already before the National Assembly. I know that the Committee of Vice Chancellors of private universities has been able to sponsor a bill and are lobbying. The amendment we’re seeking to the TETFUND Act will soon be out.
You came in with a specific vision. Midway into your tenure, are you satisfied with what you have achieved?
I think substantially, the vision I came in with has been largely met. The university has been transformed, to the glory of God, physically and in terms of academic programmes. We have introduced new faculties and programmes. We have become more attractive, more reputable. The university has been able to commence postgraduate studies and school of part-time studies. We have renovated many buildings and constructed new ones. The road network in the university has been asphalted. We have instilled discipline in our students. There are major successes in the area of agriculture. We’re already doing a lot in the area of IGR by establishing business ventures that could generate funds. Our entrepreneurial programme is developing very fast. Our students acquire other skills beyond their disciplines such that they can employ themselves on graduation. Generally, the quality of education is of high standard. And discipline and spirituality have been greatly enhanced. The university has been totally overhauled.
You spent over three decades in public varsities. Now, you’re leading a private university.What are the similarities and differences?
The university system is the same. There is no difference in the modus operandi of universities in Nigeria. If you are in one, you can function anywhere. The only difference is that while I was at LASU, funding was coming from government. You didn’t have to lose your head or sleep about how to get money. But here, you have to go the extra mile to manage resources.You have to think of where your next salary would come from. But I make bold to say that despite the stress, we’ve never owed salaries for one day. We’ve been paying our salaries despite the fact that the wage bill is getting higher.
Our average running cost every month is about N70 million. Wage bill alone is N55 million, yet not a kobo comes from any of the proprietors.
So, how do you run the university?
I run this place not as a VC. I see them (students) as my sheep. I am their pastor. I see them as my students and I am their headmaster. So, it’s a father-student approach.
There’s the notion that to become a VC requires a lot of lobbying. How much of that did you do?
I was offered the position in 2010, but I turned it down. I told them I wasn’t interested. They appealed to me to take it up, but I turned it down. I wasn’t just interested. I’m not an ambitious person. Being a VC is a disturbance. It is a distraction to my lifestyle. I like to stay in my department, do my work and go preaching my messages or sit in my house, read and write my books. That was why they appointed my predecessor then. So, they came again five years after to headhunt me. Not to make it seem as if I was making myself unavailable to serve the church, I had to accept to come. And once my tenure is concluded, I am gone. Not long ago, they were considering giving me a second term because of the good work they thought we are doing, but I told them it would never happen. One minute beyond my tenure, I am out.
Where do you intend to go from here?
I would return to my department in LASU as a lecturer. I don’t want positions. Even when I was DVC of LASU, I left before my time. I was fed up. I just told the VC, take your job, I want to go back to the classroom. I don’t run after positions, because I feel I am better off if I am just left alone to just do my normal teaching. I love a simple lifestyle. I have never contested for any election. Even as ASUU chairman at LASU in 1988, they invited and appealed to me. So, it’s not a question of me wanting anything. I adapt to any situation.
As a person who has invested all his life in teaching, how do you feel when you hear such statements that present day graduates lack quality and capacity?
It’s true that capacity is dropping. But what is not true is the generalisation.
I want to say that the tragedy that’s going on in the country, which people are not thinking about is the brain-drain. It is happening at a very high and fast rate. You train 10 medical doctors today, eight would want to go to Europe and the US within the next two years. So, you’re training for the international market and people here are bound to be affected. Our hospitals are collapsing but we’re helping those who are there (abroad) to continue. So, in terms of standards, when anybody we train goes abroad, he has to be retrained because their technology rate is so high. So, you can’t begin to blame us that the standard is not there. Government is not interested in education. The percentage of money we allocate to education is nothing to be proud of. Even the little that is given is misappropriated. When they say standards are falling in the university, do not also forget that in every age, you always have that situation. The university allows individual to come in to run their own track and go with the degree they merit. It’s not like the secondary school where you have first, second and third positions.
No. If you qualify for 2:2, you get it.
So, if you go and see a product of a university who is a Third Class, he’s still a graduate, but if you use him as a measuring standard of that university, you’re making a mistake. So, why don’t you look for the First Class that was produced and compare them? Some of them are better than what they have outside the country.
I am an international scholar. I have been a visiting professor to universities outside this country. Just recently, I was in Birmingham University (UK) where I was a professor in 2003. I have produced three PhDs in Birmingham alone. I know the standards. Nigerians are very outstandingly brilliant. So, when you’re talking of standards, don’t look at the bad products, look at the very good ones. We still have standard people and they still shine. Nigerians are still doing very well.
How would you want to be remembered 20 years after your tenure at Ajayi Crowther? What type of legacies do you intend to bequeath?
There are legacies already on ground. There’s a rebranding of the university. That’s a legacy. The image of the university is far better than it used to be. We’re now more attractive. All our programmes have been accredited by the NUC, which speaks so much about our standard. There are fantastic professors and lecturers that have been attracted. We’ve had 11 inaugural lectures; we never had any before I came.
Special lectures have been taking place. Our academic rating is higher. Two convocations ago, we had 133 Third Class students. The last one, we had only nine. The next one coming, we’re not likely to have any. So, we’re moving. Academic standards have improved. Social standards have improved. The spiritual standard, discipline and everything about this university has changed. During my tenure, the structure we’ve constructed is over 30 new buildings. We have been very prudent in managing funds.