Some FUNAAB Dons have added their voice to the continued relevance of specialised universities in the country, saying they are doing enough to justify their mandate. The Dons, who expressed their opinion on the matter, however, called on the Federal Government to strengthen the universities to enable them, deliver their best.
According to Professor Kolawole Adebayo, an expert in Rural Development Communication, Department of Agricultural Extension and Rural Development, College of Agricultural Management and Rural Development (COLAMRUD), who also doubles as the Director, Grants Management of the University, specialised universities were established with clear mandates in which most of them have performed excellently. Using FUNAAB as an example, he said that the University, in meeting with its tripartite mandate of teaching, research and extension, had produced high-level manpower to service the human resource requirements of Nigeria in agricultural and related sectors, with its research outputs among the best in the world, while the local relevance of its mandate is taken out to communities through the agricultural extension centre.
He stated that knowledge generation and acquisition was one of the key elements required for development and made a case for Nigeria to float a framework to convert available knowledge to action. According to him, this is not a task for universities alone; stressing the need for the government and private sector to weave the body of available knowledge into actionable businesses that would keep youths gainfully employed and generate revenue for the government. Explaining further on FUNAAB's achievements and contributions to human capital that could be leveraged upon in the period of critical need, the Don enumerated various impacts the University has had within and outside the coast of the country.
According to Professor Adebayo, "The list is long. Professor Funmilayo Adebambo's work in improving the genetics of indigenous chicken is groundbreaking and leading human thought across the world. Many of our students are carrying the knowledge acquired in this work with them in the livestock sector. Professor Lateef Sanni and I have made huge incursions into developing the cassava sector in Nigeria beyond traditional foods. I have taken the message beyond Nigeria to Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda. Our colleagues in these countries and other cassava-growing nations look up to us at FUNAAB for leadership in this field. Dr. Enoch Dare, in Chemistry Department, had been working on Nanotechnology. This is a technology, whose application in industry and medicine is providing countries with the right framework for transiting between knowledge-generation and utilisation of the leadership in these sectors. The team, led by Dr. Akinola Popoola in our College of Plant Sciences and Crop Production (COLPLANT), have been dominating knowledge development in tomato over the last decade. Their work is breaking the barriers to tomato production in humid tropical climate. Professor Toyin Arowolo and Dr. Olusoji Olujimi in our College of Environmental Resources Management (COLERM), have made huge contributions to the efforts of the Lagos State Government to maintain a clean environment, particularly, in the areas around landfill sites. This is one of the very few examples, where government actually asked a university to provide a solution to a problem it has. The list is numerous and I can provide an epistle on this."
Professor Bolanle Akeredolu-Ale, Chairperson, Committee of Deans and Directors (CODAD), added that FUNAAB has definitely achieved it objectives in terms of teaching, research and extension with regards to capital development. She, however, advised that at this point, FUNAAB should concentrate on commercial element for self-reliance.
Professor Lateef Sanni, Professor of Food Science and Technology, Department of Food Science and Technology and Dean, College of Food Science and Human Ecology (COLFHEC), also disagreed with the position that specialised universities had not justified their establishment, noting that the major constraining factors hindering most specialised universities were hinged on timely release of funds, engagement in project planning, implementation and appropriate recognition of specialised universities and their innovations. Professor Sanni said that "FUNAAB is well experienced in human capital development from basic and applied researches on agricultural and technological innovations with national, regional and international partnerships using funds from various donors such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, United Kingdom-Department for International Development (DfID), Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), Association of African Union (AAU) and European Union, among others.
Professor Akin Omotayo, Director, Institute of Food Security, Environmental Resources and Agricultural Research (IFSERAR), also disagreed with the assertion, describing FUNAAB as running "very excellent programme of training and relevant experiential opportunities for our students on paper. However, we are much constrained by inadequate financial resources to implement the programmes as designed", he added. Professor Omotayo berated lack of relevant tools for on-the-farm practicals for students because "we do not have the practical equipment, the funds and other technical facilities to develop commercial farms for the purpose of providing optimal training for our students. We need more government commitment in terms of funding, provision of modern technical facilities and field equipment to prepare our students properly as commercial farmers".
On the contrary, Professor Akeredolu-Ale, also the Dean, College of Agricultural Management and Rural Development (COLAMRUD), observed that "with the state of things, especially food supply, food security and technological growth; there is no doubt that it is justifiable to agree with the summation that the universities of agriculture and technology are not performing to their optimal expectation. For example, in the production of chicken and eggs, one would have expected that even if all the catchment areas have not been captured, the city of Abeokuta ought to be swimming in chicken meat and eggs". She further added that, "granted the mandate of the University is to teach, to undertake research and extension, there is no doubt that the University could have been self-reliant and sufficient, in terms of resources in its over 25 years of existence, if an aggressive commercial element has been taken into consideration by successive administrations".
Also, Professor Sanni added that FUNAAB “has contributed to the Cassava Value Chain Development project in West Africa, covering Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Benin Republic and other food, nutrition, agriculture and health activities with other partners. Our university is proud to be associated with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan in two major landmarks. First, was the soybean research and the second was the cassava flash-dryer development. Our scientists had also excellently served as the Project Coordinator, Cassava Value Chain Development project in West Africa, covering Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Benin Republic; a three-year project, sponsored by the Common Fund for Commodities from August 2008 to March 2012 and implemented by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan, Nigeria. The University, recently trained large number of postgraduate students, fabricators, operators, farmers and processors in West Africa. FUNAAB introduced four flash dryers to Ghana, Benin Republic and Sierra Leone while their fabricators were also trained. The University also sits as the Scientific and Technical Committee Member of the Council for Agricultural Forum in West and Central Africa; as well as the Steering Committee Member of the Africa Women in Agriculture Research and Development.
Professor Omotayo opined that FUNAAB “had been producing very competent graduates, who have either become notable leaders in government agencies or outstanding entrepreneurs and business leaders, within the available resources. Many of them are in agricultural businesses in different states of the federation. Some have taken up positions with international organisations such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Children Education (UNICEF), Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the World Bank and others", he added.
Professor Adebayo called for consultation and a clear definition of the problem beyond political statements. He said, "We need to answer the questions around where our strength lies now that we have neglected all others sectors of our economy for decades. What foundations do we need to lay before even commencing the diversification project? These shouldn't be a 4-year plan of this current government. It should be a long term (say 10 years) plan for Nigeria. It needs to be implementable irrespective of the political party in power and take into consideration the fact that the interest of Nigeria, not that of the government in power, is important”.
Professor Sanni, however, called "for the need to convoke an agriculture and technology innovation platform in partnership with private players, development partners and relevant parastatals, facilitate techno-investment fora, with commercialisable research outcomes that would crowd finances to sustain the drive, organise critical strategic Human Capital Schemes for Youth Entrepreneurs, frontline Directors of all related agencies that would enhance agricultural productivity".
Professor Akeredolu-Ale said that “institutions like FUNAAB should not wait for the government to consult them. Rather, they should come up with ideas that could be presented to the government as its contribution to the development of agriculture in the country”. According to her, "schools like FUNAAB have been relegated to the background in terms of funding and attention. This can be blamed on the fact that successive governments have concentrated their focus of income revenue on crude oil. Now that the stark reality is dawning on the government, attention is being concentrated on agricultural and technological development". She charged the University to always seize the opportunity to act when the need arises, like “spreading the good news on the cure of the virus that devastated the tomato production some months ago, which was an opportunity for FUNAAB to showcase all the research outputs instead of just letting them rot on library shelves”.
Agreeing with Professor Akeredolu-Ale, Professor Omotayo emphasised the “need to let government to know what they are doing and what can be done to submit proposals to government and key into the frame or scheme of things as they evolve".