‘Government has no business doing business’
‘It’s only quality education that can bring about quality people, it is education that can change the people effectively. Developing one person educationally, you are changing a family, you are changing a society.
I’m changing a society. After all His Lordship, our Lord Jesus Christ rose from humble citizenry beginning like me, today he has over 7 billion people following him, I know God has made me to be the crusader for change and I believe with you, me and all those who believe in what we are doing at ABUAD, we will also be the biggest agents of the change which I am trying to bring.’
By Neta Nwosu
Wednesday April 11 , 2012
Photo: Sun News Publishing
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In almost every state of the federation you have federal universities, you have state universities and inclusive of ABUAD you have about 44 private universities, what do you want to achieve by setting up ABUAD, what is it that you want to offer to undergraduates that you think they cannot get from especially established institutions.
A cursory look at the history of university education in Nigeria shows that they were first established by the government, the first set of universities were patterned after the University of London and they were of high standards. They were funded by the Federal Government and that was a wrong way to start a university.
Ever since universities have grown in numbers and people still expect the government to continue to fund education but the government cannot do. As universities grow in number, the government expenses in other areas of the economy continues to grow, therefore, they are no longer able to fund education properly, this perhaps explains why education has dwindled dangerously.
When I was in the University of Lagos, we did an exercise on how and what we need to maintain the university, the original laboratory equipment, library and other facilities were decaying, if they have not in fact decayed, because the amount coming into the university was too small to maintain the university which was growing in number, the students were growing in number. Government is no longer able to fund education satisfactorily, that was why in that university, first of all, I had to put up a building because I believe doing things by example, showing by example is the best method of impacting knowledge not merely talking to the world to build a university, so I put up a building and I asked people to come and donate to us and they did.
We raised N3billion, apart from big clients like Julius Berger, Shell, Mobil etc donating big money to us and putting up building for us. Now the exercise revealed that what we need to maintain even the students in Arts subjects was not less than N240,000 a year, while for Medicine and Engineering, it rose to about N500,000 and yet, what we were receiving was just less that N150,000 per child; the lesson one must learn from this is that in other countries, missionaries, well- -to- do individuals and philanthropists are the mainstay of education in other countries.
We started wrongly, we think it was government and government, if you look at the Ivy League in USA, all of them including all the first 10 best universities in the world are all private universities, take some of them like Harvard University, Yale University, Stanford University, they are all private universities, so that is the first reason.
The second reason is that the Federal Government today is the owner of federal universities, the state universities are owned by state governments, you know too well that government has no business doing business. And every business they have embarked upon are poorly run, the visitors to the universities which I have mentioned, federal or states, are the Presidents or Governors, if you have a tomato factory for instance, you are going to make sure it succeeds, a bread factory , you must visit the place, how many times can the Head of State visit over 70 universities? That is why private universities succeed because the owners, founders have vision, have mission and goals to attain, they are there physically and directing affairs for the purpose they started the universities. So, you can see the difference between private universities and government-owned universities as regards to funding and also the running of the institutions.
There are times I leave here at 1.30a.m supervising night projects, no government can do that and the Vice Chancellors who are of course, the representatives of government cannot do that either, moreso, that they file many application to become Vice Chancellors for reasons only God knows.
Let’s come to your vision. You had a vision, you put up goals before setting up ABUAD, I want to know what the vision is and what the goals are and so far, have they have been realized?
My goal is to establish an ideal university, a model university with good environment, aesthetic buildings, very good modern teaching equipment and selected quality teachers. These to a large extent have been achieved in the sense that within eight months of my coming here physically I put up most of the buildings you see here which are very , very modern and beautiful , and we established this university in an environment which is very ideal. On arrival at the university gate , you know that you are entering into an academic environment, your physique changes, you feel different from what you are in your individual homes unlike universities which are rented secondary schools, or abandoned secondary schools, or rented houses, that do not create a university environment.
Let us go by this analogy, if you enter a cathedral and you are the only one, you are awed immediately, you know God is already there himself and you are praying to God there. When you go to a university environment, you ought to know that it is a quiet and solemn place for education and that is what we have achieved here. I’m not surprised because when others come here, they say this is magic, when the National University Commission (NUC) came here in September 2009, Prof. Aliu who led the team said this is magic and miracle combined, and what makes me happy more than anything is that it was recommended that our university shall be a reference point for other universities and with all respect to Prof. Julius Okogie, the Executive Secretary of NUC, he now tells anybody who wants to start a University to go first to Afe Babalola university to take a cue.
What I will want government to do and to achieve my goal eventually is for government also to follow what NUC has said, that this is a reference point, let them make this institution the example of what a university should be. One, to be established in a good environment; two, good buildings for education, infrastructure, equipment before giving any approval to any university or asking the board to have any approval to start a university, that is the only thing I’m asking government to do. All those who learn from us, those who appreciate what we are doing have established universities similar to our university. A good number of universities are learning from us. There is a university I won’t mention it’s name, it had no university anthem when they heard about our anthem, they made one; there is a university without walls, there are so many of them, when they saw what we were doing they decided to put up fences to ensure security and many others have come here with their councils but they lamented the fact that they had no money to do what we are doing here, somehow they are impressed and gradually they begin to do exactly what we are doing here.
I think to large extent I have achieved my goal. As far as our university is concerned, when you study a course like Accountancy, we want to ensure that by the time you leave here, you do not go for a professional course, you combine them, the second year our student came second in West Africa in Accountancy, a female student was the best in Engineering in the country, we are doing very well, we combine other courses which will make students capable of becoming personally employed, we teach for instance, Chinese, French and Spanish in this institution, no matter what you are studying and we also try to improve on the English language which is taught throughout the course semester even if you are in Medicine or Engineering. At the end of the day, our students are going to turn out the best. My goal is virtually being achieved.
Sir, I’m taking you back. How is ABUAD different from every other university in Nigeria? Is education in ABUAD comparable to education anywhere in Nigeria?
Firstly, this is the first university where we hold workshops on teaching method, the last one was held two months ago. In the first year we brought someone from Harvard who taught our teachers how to employ the modern method of teaching. We have modified it and we now call it ‘ABUAD Method of Teaching’. Like I said the fact that you have PhD does not mean you are a good teacher, the fact that you want to teach does not mean you can be a good teacher, there are many qualities you require to be a good teacher, so in the teaching area, we ensure we have the right teachers and we also teach them the best method of teaching.
Secondly, ABUAD is different from others because it is a non-profit institution registered as a guarantee. I have no shares in ABUAD, none of my family members have a single share here, its different from other universities in this aspect; then it’s different from most universities by the fact that when you look at the environment, its very ideal, its not like some universities built in the cities and so on, its outside the city life, like the Greek and Roman universities, and many other foreign universities.
Now more importantly, we have very stringent rules about who to teach here; then we have rules and regulations about dressing, every student and teacher must dress corporately in this institution, again, that is different from most universities. I remember there was a teacher, the first day I saw him, he was passing by and he introduced himself as a teacher, and I said ‘no, you couldn’t have been a teacher here’, I later said to him ‘you must be well-shaven and your hair must be well-cut,’. The students are not allowed to wear just any type of dress otherwise they will be turned back from school, they don’t use telephone between the hours of 8am and 5pm, and in the evening they must go back to class, we have assignments which are compulsory by teachers and for students and marked.
And then every student writes a report on his teacher at the end of every semester, the teachers also evaluate their students, both groups evaluate themselves and the management makes use of all these materials at the end of the every session. As a result of these evaluations, we have sent some teachers away. So, it’s quite different from others in that way and people are getting used to it. Everybody who comes here says our students are well-behaved, we teach them the native way of respect, respect they learn here and of course, it will be permeate in their lives and make them better people.
Why did you decide to build ABUAD in l Ado-Ekiti instead of big cities like Lagos, Ibadan, Port Harcourt or Abuja?
It is a very good question, Ado-Ekiti is 1,500 ft above sea level, apart from Jos, this place enjoys temperate climate than in any other part of this country. If you were here between December to January, you will not be able to drink water from the tap because it is very cold, everybody wears sweater then. Moreso, it is an ideal place for learning and this is really responsible for the fact that years back, Christ’s School, Ado-Ekiti, a secondary school used to lead most of all other West African secondary schools with the number of credits and A’s which they scored at that time, I think the climate is ideal.
Secondly, if you really want to learn, you do not want to live in the cities with all the problems there. Thirdly, I want to make it fully residential and that is very important, that is why we brought this university to a secure place at least, though I know the problems of parents coming from different parts of the country to this place but very soon, we will all get used to it, people are getting used to it.
At a time we started with only 240 students but now one year, nine months after, we are already 2,000, we could not cope with the number of people who wanted to come here last September; people appreciate quality, Nigerians like quality things, they will go anywhere for quality, people travel overseas for quality things, it is better to come here where it is cheaper and you still get the same result.
There is a perception out there that the reason behind the establishment of private universities differs from that of the public institutions because they are seen as profit-oriented and self-funded. There is another view that most of the courses in private universities are either religious-inclined or have commercial consideration but most worrisome was when industry watchers came up with an opinion that most of these universities shy away from certain courses because of the enormous capital investment that accrue from establishment of infrastructure. I would like you to explain how you are able to balance the need for profit making and the need for sustenance of standards of quality.
Before I started this university I had made 22 donations of quality buildings to universities and to other bodies, if I wanted to make profit I wouldn’t be doing all that, secondly, as I said earlier, the university was deliberately registered under guarantee section of the Law, so it’s a non-profit institution different from others. I appreciate the fact that most people fear that private universities are for profit that was why they quickly registered it as non-profit one, it is a charitable one; like what John Harvard did when he started Harvard University. Now that answers the question of profit; every money we earn here will go back into the university, even if there is any excess from whatever we have it will go back to the university, that is why Harvard today has 52.8 billion dollars in endowment and other donations.
Last year, a young man I have forgotten the name now in Yale University donated 50million dollars, he was a student. So, we will clean the attitude of people to the establishment of university as not being for profit, we will lead others and let people know that this country needs philanthropists and that government alone cannot do it. As to how we can effectively carry out our mission in spite of the enormous financial requirement, the Ewi of Ado-Ekiti asked me that at my age if I could still establish such a university and with almost everything I had, having been spent on different donations, I assured him God will do it.
Virtually all my properties in England, Lagos, Ibadan had been sold but in the process, we have got to a stage where even overseas universities and other philanthropists are eyeing this university. Only yesterday, Prof. Wil Goodheer from Oxford who is going to deliver a lecture today told me of an arrangement they are making to get partners to assist us in this university. In the meantime, we deliberately lowered the fees, we charge here to only about N500,000 per course and we need about N1million to maintain any child here, in spite of the fact that we supply electricity and water by ourselves, we know how much we spend on generator a day, we spend over N3.5million every week on diesel alone, so as time goes on, the fees will normally rise but even when it rises, it will still be better than sending your child to England.
Rich people, corporate people send their children to good secondary schools in Nigeria where they pay between one and two million naira like Olashore in Oloko- Ijesha which is very close to us here. You also have one in Offa which is very close to us here and many other places. If we charge N500,000, it is not up to what they charge in quality secondary schools, so by the time we get to the stage of what those secondary schools charge, we will have enough money, I don’t think we are going to have problems. We pay better salary than any federal university to our teachers and every teacher receives his salary on the 23rd of every month, we have so many programs which make teachers comfortable, insurance, pension, etc, so they are comfortable and we have no problem.
According to NUC, the recommendation is that for a lecturer to be qualified to teach in the university he must have obtained a PhD, in most private universities you find this particular feature where some of the lecturers are those on either sabbatical leave, or those employed on part-time from other public universities, I will like to have your comments, sir?
Well, it is not fully correct that you must have Ph.D before you can teach, in University College London, where I had the opportunity of reading for a few months, all the professors there have First Class degrees and now they teach, then they rise as professors without going further. I do not agree that you must have a PhD before you can become a good teacher, what you require is to have a First Class degree with the undergraduate course that is when you discover who is a talented person. Masters and PhD are narrowed areas of specialization; people have even described PhD as copying from books nobody ever reads. However, since that is the law we comply with the law, we have enough and sufficient professors here to comply with the regulations, we have enough people with PhD, we have enough people with B.Sc and Masters degree who are appointed Lecturer 1, Lecturer 2 and so on and so forth. We have people who want to do sabbatical here but we have no room for them, we have people who want to do part-time here, but we have no room for them, we have enough qualified lecturers. There are applications in my file from Singapore, England, Denmark, Australia, Canada, who want to come and teach here, but we have more than enough. You see people want quality and once they are convinced this is a quality institution they want to be a part of it, on our part we have no problem.
What do think of the future of tertiary institution in Nigeria?
The future lies in the quality private institutions, government cannot do it. We are going to overtake everybody within a short time the way we are going and I would urge the Federal Government to encourage private institutions, to encourage well- to- do people to establish universities patterned on what we are doing here. In other words, they should not be profit-making institutions, they should be non-profit institutions before they grant them licence; two, they should have the permanent site and start there and not allow them start private universities in borrowed houses, hoping that in the future they will develop a permanent site even government itself should not do it anymore, we have Jos University, Abuja University, federal universities that are almost 30 years today are still operating from temporary site.
These things are wrong and this is what I want to correct, you can see the way we are developing rapidly, why should a federal university or a private university be in a temporary site for 30 years? The way we started private university was wrong, they allowed people in 1999 to start private university in temporary site on the ground that after five years or so they will relocate to a permanent site, they never go and the law has not been applied till date, that is the basis of the problem of private universities in this country, if the government had made it clear that a private university must be one, nonprofit ; two, have a permanent site; three, have permanent buildings ,structures and equipments before they start, we would have had a different result today, we are here to change that trend, we are here to transform education, we are here to make this university the example of what an ideal modern university should be.
You are an icon within the law profession, how did you switch into education?
It is a difficult question to answer; I would only say that I started as a farm boy, and I enjoyed farming , I come from a polygamous family with large compound of four brothers and uncles, none went to school, when a missionary convinced my father to send me to school I was very sad. What I wanted to do with my life, what I hoped for and prayed for was to inherit part of my father’s cutlasses, hoes and all of his lands but when I went to school reluctantly, I found that God had a mission for me.
I was clearly one of the best in my class and when we took the standard six examinations for the whole of Ondo- Lokoja axis I came second, I was given admission into a secondary School, Christ School, Ado Ekiti to start class three instead of class one but I couldn’t go because we couldn’t afford the six pounds for the year.
So I started as a school teacher, I ordered tuition from overseas, Wilson Hall, Oxford and read my books and had my grades at home, passed my B.SC Economics at home, passed through my Law courses at home, I eventually decided to practise Law and I succeeded so well that I had so much money and as far back as about 30 years ago, I have been donating buildings to support education because of what I got from education. Nobody would have known me but for education, so I developed intense interest in education and as God would have it, Obasanjo for whom I was once his lawyer asked me to come and be a minister I refused, he then asked me to go to University of Lagos where there was a lot of corruption. The university was polarized and when I saw the rot in that place I shed tears and I made up my mind that I was going to give all I have to education, after all, it was the quality education I had in standard six that made me to be able to study and graduate the way I did, if there was no quality education I would not be where I am, so I made up my mind that quality education must be established. How am I going to establish it? I did it in University of Lagos, I won the award as the best Pro-Chancellor, there was order, there was discipline and I know that discipline is the greatest problem of the country. So, I thought if I establish a university that will be the ideal thing.
That was how I developed intense interest in education; one, because it has changed my life and above all I made enough money which I donated to enhance the quality of education in my country. Now mere philanthropic donations cannot change the people, it’s only quality education that can bring about quality people; it is education that can change the people. Developing one person educationally, you are changing a family, you are changing a society, now I’m changing a society after all His Lordship, our Lord, Jesus Christ rose from humble citizenry beginning like me today he has over 7 billion people following him, I know God has made me to be the crusader for change and I believe with you and me and all those who believe in what we are doing, we will also be the biggest agents of the change which I am trying to bring.
Do you believe in branding and is ABUAD a brand?
Yes, I do, I believe in branding, I do. For instance, whenever I travel to certain places, there are particular places that I live because of the brand name, many people buy certain shirts because of the name. The hallmark of me as a person can be found in my determination to succeed in spite of all odds; two, in my industry; three, in my generosity and kindness; four, above all in faith. You see when you have faith in what you are going to do, it energizes you, it stimulates you, it makes you do more; because of the goal you set you are never tired, so these are the things which we are bringing here. As part of the names which we put in this university, so many names, Med University, Model university no, because when I write a letter and give to anybody from my chambers, to help me place appointment, my name is working magic everywhere, so knowing what I have done in University of Lagos, knowing what people think about me in my practice, most people believe that If I have a university, it will be an ideal one, in fact, a student from Ilorin, a law student when he came here wrote the reason why I’m studying law is you, and that was the only sentence he wrote and if people say they are sending their children here because of me I believe that will change the whole of education.
Is ABUAD a brand?
A brand, yes Afe Babalola University is.
Why is it a brand? And what are the features?
The features, they are embedded in the anthem; Afe Babalola was established by a man who believes in determination, in industry and so on and so forth in quality, that is ABUAD.
Do you have the anthem?
No, I don’t.
Ok I will give you one. The anthem not only describes ABUAD as a brand, but also states the features.