Nigerian Researchers are Rising Up to Challenges - VC

As various challenges continue to affect the nation’s agricultural sector with the resultant effect of scarcity of farm produce, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Olusola Oyewole, has lauded the efforts of Nigerian researchers in making food production to be continuous.
 The Vice-Chancellor, who is also the President, Association of African Universities (AAU), said that he would not agree with the impression that Nigerian lecturers were not doing enough research to avert hunger, added that the problems being experienced in agriculture needed research to solve, as one of such was that of tomatoes that was widely felt by all in the country. According to him, “I believe that Nigerian researchers are rising up to the challenges”.  He noted that the Nigerian university system was currently facing ‘massification’, which implies  that large number of students exist, comparable to few researchers and lecturers, stressing that most of the lecturers now spend more of their time attending to teaching rather than research. “We are in an environment where the culture of research is not being encouraged. How many research grants are available for researchers in Nigeria?”, he asked. Professor Oyewole noted that many researchers still depended on foreign research agencies to get support for their work, adding that the facilities in Nigeria were not up to date. He described the issues of electricity, water, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as some of the greatest impediments to research in the country, noting that there was a limit to the type of research that one could do in the country. He, therefore, called for conducive atmosphere for research in the country if Nigeria would compete in research with other countries.

 Shedding light on the operations of the Treasury Single Account (TSA), vis-a-vis impeding research and infrastructure development in universities, Professor Oyewole attested to the fact that the TSA was impeding research and academic activities in Nigerian universities. According to him, “You can imagine the shock that our universities have, waking up one day to find out that our funds have been moved away from the commercial banks to an account that we can’t even identify”?. Speaking about TSA’s operations within the university setting, the Professor of Food Microbiology stated that “As I am talking to you now, there are funds of this University that have been moved away and are yet to be located in any system within the Central Bank of Nigeria. More worrisome is the fact that there are some external research grants, which have also been moved away”. He added that the situation was a barrier to the success of the various researches being carried out, saying that those researchers cannot continue with the work. “The whereabout of the funds cannot be located right now and it is creating a bad image for our university system. The international funding agencies are discouraged by the development connected with TSA. It is not easy to convince them that when they bring money to support research in Nigeria, they should go to the Central Bank of Nigeria and then the means of accessing the money is also a problem. The Cassava Adding Value for Africa (CAVA) project is a typical example”, he added.
 He described, for example, CAVA a Bill & Melinda Gates project that is championed by Nigeria, through FUNAAB, in five different countries, saying that over $2 million had been moved away from CAVA account, almost a year after the commencement of TSA. He added that the University was yet to locate where the fund was, stressing that the danger was that the CAVA project was now a big challenge as it was in the process of being moved away from Nigeria to the United Kingdom. He, however, attributed the challenges of higher education in Nigeria to inadequate funding and the operations of TSA, adding that part of its effect was the constraints of not having the required environment that is conducive to research. He, therefore, suggested that  universities should be excluded from the TSA system, adding that funds generated from universities should go into TSA while research funds coming from outside the country should be allowed to come directly into the university accounts and operated in the commercial banks.
 On Nigerian ivory towers not being ranked among the first 1,000 universities in the world, the Vice-Chancellor said that he was worried about the poor ranking, stating that as a country “I would be proud to find Nigerian universities among the first 100 and or even 50 in the world, but one is not disturbed in that we are competing with some other universities that have been in existence for hundreds of years”. According to him, what is important was not the ranking, but the concern should be, the relevance of these universities to Nigeria’s development.  “How are the universities in Nigeria responding to the needs and challenges of Nigerians? If we are relevant to our people? If Nigerian universities are contributing to the development of Nigeria? I think that is more important than competing for ranking positions. Nevertheless, I would be proud and glad if Nigerian universities are in the forefront in the ranking system”, he noted.
 Throwing his weight behind the idea of Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), in trying to assist private universities, Professor Oyewole described TETFund’s money as the contribution of companies operating in Nigeria for the development of education in the country, adding that it was not government money alone that is involved, saying private universities should benefit from it. He stressed that private companies are the ones contributing into TETFund to enhance the building of capacity of Nigerians as well as enhance educational development in Nigeria, noting that there was nothing wrong in making the fund to go round all universities - whether public or private.
 On the stoppage of the Post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination tests in universities, as infringing on the university autonomy, the Vice-Chancellor said that the Federal Universities belong to the Federal Government, adding that the person putting down the money should have control over what was happening. He, however, stated that inspite of this, the universities should still be given the free hand to decide on the quality of the students they would admit in their system. “I still feel that the current unitary system, whereby we depend only on the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board scores may not really be reliable in determining the good quality of students that should come into the system. We need the Post-UTME to be sustained or look for some other means of ensuring that those who, I mean, the students who are coming in through the JAMB, are students who are really qualified and who have sat for the examination. We are not sure that JAMB has got the foolproof solution to the problems that they have before now”.
 Highlighting the challenges being faced as Vice-Chancellor, Professor Oyewole, whose tenure would end mid next year, said that Nigerian Vice-Chancellors face different environment from their counterparts outside of country. According to him, “If you are a Vice-Chancellor in a place like the United Kingdom or anywhere in Europe, you don’t need to be concerned about electricity. You don’t need to be concerned about water. You face research and administer research. But in Nigeria, you are like a Local Government Chairperson or Governor of a State, where you need to think about so many things that state governors would need to think about”.
 He noted that the system of higher education in Nigeria is so politicised, adding that there were challenges of trade unions, which every Vice-Chancellor would need to contend with. I think that one can explain such because we are in a country, where we are facing a lot of challenges. Our country is stressed up. The average person on the streets is facing so many problems. There is unemployment on the streets. The students and graduates that we are taking out, many of them have no hope of getting jobs. I think the society is under stress and the universities are, affected by it”, he stated.
 Speaking about the legacy he hoped to leave behind when his tenure ends as the fifth Vice-Chancellor of the University, he stated that he had come, done his best to improve the quality in the life of the University, noting that “I have tried my best to be fair to the system and to the people that I work with and to see that I put a legacy that, no matter the challenges we face as a University and as a country, we need to keep moving onto greater heights”.