EDITORIAL : 21 years old? No admission for you here

Besides the agricultural and academic revolution that the Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti is spearheading, SEGUN OLUGBILE, who visited the institution on Friday, reveals more unique traits

Universities anywhere in the world come in different shapes and sizes. But they usually have similar missions, which include promotion of learning, research and community development.

While the story is not different in Nigeria, many of its universities have their own principles. They have rules and regulations that, they believe, can help in making them achieve their missions. As is noticeable in several other private institutions,  the Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State serves this example. For one, its authorities say it is not a business venture.

What does its founder, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN), mean by this?  “I did not set up this university to make money, because I don’t believe that education should be a business concern. Rather, it is a social service.”

Babalola, however, adds that even if profit comes, it will be ploughed back into the system.  Yet, what defines the institution is far larger than that.

When our correspondent visited ABUAD last Friday, it was discovered that the institution is on a mission to revolutionise academic and agricultural business in the country. Located in a purely agrarian setting, the university has a set of rules that some could variously consider discriminatory, anti-labour, strict or good for the production of disciplined and focused graduates — depending on the individual’s beliefs or ideologies.

For instance, if you are above 21, don’t bother to seek admission into the university. ABUAD law forbids offer of admission to a candidate that is older than this age. The university also does not admit students of other Nigerian universities seeking a transfer.

Skimpy dresses, ragged jeans, sagging, ‘spaghetti’ and any other type of dress that exposes parts of the body that are supposed to be covered  are outlawed. Though the over 3, 500 students of the institution are allowed to use phones, BlackBerry or any other phone that could enable them to access the Internet are not allowed. In fact, Nokia 5030,  which has a torchlight, is the official phone of the university.

Well, far from being a fashion arena, bead wearing and use of flamboyant jewelery are also forbidden.

The fully residential university also mandates students and lecturers, who are called ‘teachers’,  to sign attendance register by 8am and at 5pm of every working day. The university does not also have a general wage regime for its lecturers. It operates what the founder calls the Personalised Salary Scale, whereby each lecturer negotiates his or her pay with the governing council at the point of entry. Promotion is not based on number of years but on productivity and contribution to knowledge, learning and development of the university.

“Here, a lecturer must get published at least twice per session in international journals to earn promotion. So, you can join us this year and in three years you can be earning much more than your colleague who started with us earlier,” Babalola says.

Besides, unionism is outlawed for students, lecturers and other cadres of staff members.

Yet, whoever thinks the university is just about rules misses the point. When our correspondent visited the institution’s farm, it was discovered that the management has taken full advantage of the agrarian environment. Arguably, the farm could be the largest university farm in the country.

With 276 functional fish ponds — and another three yet  to become operational — hundreds of hectares of maize plantation, over two and a half miles of mango tree plantation,  over 1,000 hectares of tick and moringatress and a feed mill,  ABUAD’s farm is poised to be the one to beat.

The institution also boasts a tourist centre which doubles as a training centre for students undergoing degree programmes in hospitality and event management. A professor at the university, Israel Orubuloye, explains that the centre also serves as a relaxation centre for lecturers and members of staff. But students are only allowed there for educational purposes.

“This university is not just about agricultural development, though we have a bulldozer, eight tractors, harvesters, planters, a feed mill and all the machinery required to run a mechanised farm for our students’ use. Our colleges of law, sciences and engineering are also equipped with state-of-the-art facilities,” he says.

A visit to the institution’s colleges of law and engineering proved Orubuloye right. Facilities there are of what can be described as international standard. The moot court is like the typical court, and it is ICT-driven. The physical library is equipped with relevant volumes, while the e-library, which enables students to access foreign universities’ libraries, is exceptional.

Power generation, which,  Babalola says,  costs the university N15m per week, is efficient. A female Law student,  Taiwo Adekanbi, explains that though she has been to other Law faculties in some first generation universities in the country, she has never seen one that could beat ABUAD’s in terms of aesthetic, good e-library, provision of relevant books and quality of lecturers.

“Even the proprietor teaches us. He’s been a wonderful role model like most of our lecturers,”  she says.

The facilities at the Law college and those at the Engineering complex are also fascinating.

“The engineering college complex will be completed in September. But equipment for the laboratories and workshops have been acquired. However, the challenge we first faced was that almost all our lecturers could not handle them and in order to resolve this, we brought in experts from Germany to train them. So, they have been trained and engineering programmes,  including Mechatronic Engineering,  will start in earnest,” Orubuloye says.

Chatting with our correspondent after a visit to the university farm, Babalola explains that the urge to change the face of university education in Nigeria, with the view to producing highly skilled and socially relevant graduates, who are capable of applying scientific knowledge for the resolution of social problems,  informed his decision to set up the university.

But what impact has the institution made on the host community? Babalola says it has so much impacted not just the host community but also the state, such that it has become the highest employer of labour and highest tax paying institution in Ekiti State.

“Apart from all that, we have impacted the way our people farm. We have agricultural extension services where people come to learn new methods of farming, fishery, and agricultural business in general. We give scholarships to the poor members of the host community,” he notes.

Babalola, who argues that private university remains the only hope of the country in terms of education delivery, adds that inept leadership and corruption have combined to ruin government-owned businesses and even tertiary institutions.

“That is why we have rules here and they are sacrosanct. The problem with Nigeria is lack of good leadership in public institutions and indiscipline. You will not see these vices in private universities. That is why private universities remain the hope of this country,” he says.

Now, Babalola is 84. His university became operational in 2010. Why did it take him so long before he started the university? He says lack of enabling law and his belief that institution of scholarships for the poor, endowment of chairs and donation of physical infrastructural facilities to tertiary institutions prevented him from starting earlier than now.

But his experience at the University of  Lagos, where he served as the pro-chancellor and chairman of council and won the Best Pro-Chancellor  Award of the National Universities Commission twice, motivated him to start the university.

“I just wanted to put my ideas about university education into practice because I believe that education is a social service and not a business concern. I believe that nobody should be denied education because of lack of fund. The rich should fund the education of the poor. And that is what we are doing here; we give scholarships on an annual basis to those who cannot afford education,” he explains.

He adds that most of the university rules and regulations for students and lecturers are designed to promote excellence, productivity and efficiency.

“We don’t admit candidates who are older than 21, or take transfer-seeking students because we don’t want them to pollute the students we are teaching good character. We also pay personalised salaries because we believe that productivity should be the major factor for promotion, unlike in many public universities where indolence is celebrated,” he says.

On how he hopes to sustain the institution, considering his age, Babalola reveals that his children are not very keen to join him to run the university.  But he says he has a master plan for this.

“We discuss that a lot. My children are successful in their chosen careers and they are not interested in the university, but I cannot force them. However, sustaining this institution will not be a problem. Look at Joe Harvard, the reverend gentleman that created Harvard University. I don’t think he even had any child, but Harvard is still standing and thriving up till today. So, what I plan to do is not to do a Will because, from my experience as a lawyer of 50 years’ experience, Will doesn’t solve any problem. What I’ll do is to set up a foundation and incorporate everything into it. ABUAD will never die. It will grow and produce world changers. So, there is no problem about sustainability at all,” he enthuses.

Asked to react to the criticism that mismanagement of fund is the bane of public university system in the country and not inadequate funding, Babalola  says no.

“I disagree. I have been there and I can tell you that public universities in the country are ill-funded, grossly underfunded and inadequately catered for. Look at this year’s budget: only N425bn was earmarked for education. Don’t forget that this amount is to cater for all the federal universities, federal polytechnics, colleges of education and other agencies. How far can that go? Then compare that to the University of California, a single institution that has a budget of $4.4bn or about N670bn and $1.2bn for research for a year. So, how can public university system in the country grow to compete in the world?

“So, if we are serious, we should do more for education. Old products of these institutions should help by contributing towards their development —  like Harvard that has an endowment fund of about $520bn,” he says

Source : Punch NG

Ahmed Ogundimu

Ahmed Ogundimu is a Web Designer and Developer, Digital Marketing Expert and SEO Manager. I enjoy finding solutions to problems and sharing same, hence the reason for creating www.ngscholars.com and some other websites I own. I work as a web developer at Sigmanox NG and also as the web administrator/editor at NGScholars. Follow me on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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