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What President Buhari must do to permanently end incessant ASUU strike – Prof. Fasakin, ile-Oluji Rector

Prof. Emmanuel Adedayo Fasakin is the Rector, Federal Polytechnic, Ile-Oluji (FEDPOLEL), Ondo State. In this interview with select journalists, he shed light on his stewardship, challenges and the allegations of financial misappropriation leveled against him among other sundry issues. Fresh Insight’s Publisher Abdulrasheed Akogun and Ofem Kobeseobase were there. Excerpts.

How has been the experience coming from the University system where you were an Acting Vice-Chancellor to serve as the pioneer Rector of FEDPOLEL?

It has been very challenging. Every pioneering work is very herculean and challenging. It has to do with determination and focus. I created for myself a focus of what we wanted to achieve, like a milestone. In fact, in the first two years, it seemed like the dream would be difficult to achieve, like a mirage. When you have a dream and you couldn’t actualize it. Because in the first two years, we had no physical structure to show for all our efforts. When we first came in, we didn’t even have seats!

I met an empty space. Everything was void and of no shape. There was virtually nothing. We had to start from the scratch. And that was a very big challenge we needed to surmount. I thank God because for us to get to this present height, it took a whole lot of sacrifice, perseverance and dedication, especially in the first seven months when myself and staff didn’t get any salary.

How were you able to cope and keep staff motivated and dedicated for the first seven months without remuneration?

We just saw it as a task and a challenge that we needed to overcome. One of the things that motivated us was the need to ride the tide of ridicule that was coming from our places of first appointment. You know, we all came from somewhere. Like me, I was on leave of absence form FUTA. And we brought in some people too. And when they were leaving their places of work for here, people were making jest of them, that “the school that is not in good standing, that does not have infrastructure, the school that they’re going to scrap”.

 

You know, our institution was founded at the twilight of the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, the administration of President Buhari was just about taking over the reins of power.

So, it was very rife in the air that the Polytechnic would not survive, that when APC come on board, it would be scrapped. So many people were skeptical. Another thing was that when we, the Principal Officers came, when we were asking for the money we were going to start with, we found out that the budget had been concluded and signed, and that our institution was not captured in the budget. So, there was nothing for us to start with. Though Government announced a take-off grant of one billion naira for the Polytechnic, it was not forthcoming.
In fact, when we got to TETfund which had the mandate to release the money, they said we should have a letter of approval from Government. And it was a herculean task to get that letter. And when we eventually secured the letter, we immediately set out to assemble the projects we wanted to take off with and got the necessary documentations including the designs and Bills of Quantities. By the time we had complied with the necessary process for the award of contracts, including advertising, receiving the bids and opening them, analyzing and doing all other stuff, the Government had sacked the Executive Secretary of TETfund and the Board was more or less dissolved.

 

So, there was nothing.
We had to wait for a very long time. During that time, I was using my personal vehicle, and I was shuttling from our base in Ile Oluji to Kaduna frequently to get directives because the headquarters of our main regulatory agency, National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) is in Kaduna.

So we had to take our time. I was doing this job as if it was my own job. I had to self-finance many things those hard periods, because I wouldn’t like a situation where the school would be scrapped. When we got here, there was virtually nothing in terms of facilities and a place to take-off. A portion of the Secondary School, Gboluji Grammar School, was ceded to us. And the first Governing Council looked at it and said it was not acceptable. Officials came from Federal Ministry of Education, Abuja and from NBTE and they too said that the place designated as the take off site wasn’t acceptable to them.

 

They said that we could not be sharing facilities with a secondary school. That was a very tough time. So, we had to find a way of getting 14 flats of two bedrooms each from Ile Oluji/Okeigbo Local Government, and that was where we took off from. The Local Government had wanted to use the facility for housing. Some of the buildings were not completed. After securing the facility, we had to fix the office of the Rector and those of other Principal Officers to enable us settle down to the business.

We sought the assistance of the then Government of Ondo State under the leadership of Dr. Mimiko and they gave us some little assistance of five million naira initially, and seven million naira thereafter. We had to do the perimeter fence. We also bought some sets of office furniture, and after that we had to struggle to have accreditation to recruit staff and kick-started the process that would enable us admit students. Eventually, NBTE approved that we employ 56 non-academic staff but we thought what were we going to be doing with 56 non-academic Staff? That means that we would have to be in limbo for a very long time. So we had to get approval to incur expenditure, that is, AIE. We got that after seven months. And it took us a long time to go through all the processes. And from there, we were able to secure some funds to recruit staff and perfect the process for the admission of our first set of students.

How do you react to allegations of financial mismanagement and highhandedness leveled against you by some of your staffs?

All I know is that, there is no way one can satisfy everybody in the system. Even in a family, it is not everybody in your house that will want to speak well of you. Some people will still have dissenting opinions. Now, project that into a large environment like an institution where people come from different backgrounds. Everybody has their own opinion.

We all have different missions and orientations. I am the chief carrier and the executor of the vision of the school. Some people are only after what they’re going to take home. But for me, I want to leave a legacy and when I came here, I told them what I wanted to do.

No doubt, some people may be interested in sharing money, but I have said it several times to myself, and this personal, a covenant I have with God that I will never demand for kickbacks from anybody, either directly or through a proxy. My second covenant with God is that I will never negotiate bribe for anything. So, my own principle may be in conflict with some of the people I am bound to work with, and in a situation like that, it’s natural for them to come after my person and attempt to soil my hard earned integrity.

I have been fortunate to travel wide; I have seen what a school is all about. When I took this job, I took it as a challenge, that yes, what I have seen, I could translate it here. I have the opportunity to translate or to do what I know is important for a 21st century institution.

So, when you are in this position, you cannot rule out intrigues. You know there are laws and there are rules and regulations. There is no way, you will not step on toes in order to maintain order and achieve your aim. If individuals are not willing to abide by the norms, the onus is on me to apply the rules. There was somebody we employed, and he was not coming to work. And when he came, he would not even respect his Head of Department, you know, respect constituted authority. Should that sort of individual be allowed in the system unchecked? Should he not be investigated and be dealt with in accordance to the guiding rules?

You can’t be working in another place and be using this place as a second place. it’s not going to happen. It’s only an incompetent administrator that will allow that. And it is easy for such individuals to have some associates. Or you consider someone who has not got the right qualifications, even when you advise them they have to do it? Period!
So, these are the issues, and there’s no way one would look at the other side while lawlessness pervades the system. Now, we are building a school, and there’s no way we will start with rotten eggs, with people that are not ready to function? No, it’s not going to happen! Another issue is that as we have projects coming up, some people think they can just sit in their various homes and get contracts. Here we abide with the tenets of the enabling laws guarding the award of contracts.
We advertise, we strictly follow the procurement guidelines. You cannot just get things you’re not qualified for. If someone doesn’t get a contract, he’ll say the Rector has not given him a contract because I’m his enemy.

 

Somebody that is not due for promotion, especially in academics because he doesn’t have the publications, he wants to be progressing just because he is spending many years. But the fact is if you have not fulfilled the conditions, you cannot be promoted. So, these are some of the bitterness.

You know, the problem with us is that people are selfish. People are not thinking about the school. You as a leader, you must have a focus. I have a focus. I have a blueprint that this is what we want to achieve. People could not believe how much we spent in putting up our projects. I have always been firm in telling people when they have not done what they should and if I have not stood my ground, we wouldn’t be here when everybody is celebrating the quality of the work on ground.
Now, if we have one contract, about 10, 50 or more vendors will apply for it, but it is only one that will get it. And some who don’t get it through the due process will try to bring whoever is at the top down. But you know, it’s not me, it’s God, I can not do anything. I cannot defend illegality. I don’t want to get involved in such a thing.

One of the major allegations against you is that, your tenure was illegally renewed for a second term of 4 years against extant laws (cuts in)

You see, when I hear things like this, I usually laugh. My first tenure was 4 years, and the letter renewing my appointment for a second term of another 4 years was dated November 5th, 2018. Now I think where those making these allegations got it wrong is that they are either ignorant of the situation or they are intentionally trying to be mischievous. The renewal of my appointment relied on the extant law which was in practice before the amendment of the Federal Polytechnics Act in June 2019, which now stipulates a single non-renewable term of 4 years for rectors in Federal Polytechnics was introduced. Now, this law came clearly 6 after months after my reappointment.

5 years down the line, you’ve been able to pilot the affairs of the institution to relative stability. Where do you see the school in the next 5 years?

I will make sure that we complete those things we have not finished, as enunciated in our strategic plan for the school. My focus since inception has been on infrastructural development because we must have a house before we think of other things. We must have equipment so that we don’t get stranded along the line. Staff must be provided with good office accommodation. My focus in the first four to five years was on infrastructural development and we got off to achieving those ones late. But from where we are and what you have seen too, we are happy that we have the infrastructures that could last us for 10 years or more.
We have already got a befitting administrative building and also have buildings for School of Engineering, School of Management, School of Applied Sciences, School of Agric. and Environmental Sciences. My focus now is going to be on content development. You know, a snail has a shell and the content is inside the shell. So, if you have a snail and you don’t have the content inside, it amounts to nothing.
So, I only want to lay a legacy. We want to lay a foundation so that people will know our institution for something. This place must be a center of excellence, and to get that, it means that we have to focus on content. And to achieve that, we must have the required human resources.
We have to look at our recruitment pattern, so that we can get the right people who can do research, and be engaged in community development and teaching. We have to look at International best practices. We must be 21st century compliant. We have the basic facilities and infrastructures already. We also have some of the required personnel resources. All we need to do is to work on them. We must also harp on rigorous staff training as we have already started. Some of our staff are abroad on various trainings, and when they return we expect them to add value.
Thereafter, the whole thing would combine with infrastructure, side by side, with our local and International collaborations, we will expand our linkages with other institutions.
We have signed some memoranda of understanding (MoU) with some universities in US, to exchange staff and students. And because of this, we are making these infrastructures to be the best we can have here.

Corruption and corrupt practices have crept into the Academia, with mismanagement of grants, contract inflation flying around against Tertiary Institution Management. How do you feel about that?

In the first instance, I find it difficult to believe that somebody can embezzle such moneys, because there are laid down rules and regulations. The problem we have in this country is that we don’t execute prescribed sanctions. When people run against the law, they go scot-free without paying for their actions and inactions. In advance countries, those who run foul of laws go to prison, irrespective of their status. There are rooms for virtually all categories of people who steal Public funds, regardless of their societal status. Over there, once you do something wrong and you are caught, you are sanctioned. What I don’t understand is how we allow lawlessness to fester in our country.
For us in this institution, the process is so transparent. For instance, the person who built this administrative block, I didn’t know him until he got his letter of award. When he came to my office and my Secretary said somebody wanted to see me, I said she should let him in. When he came in, he prostrated and I asked, “Who are you?”

He introduced himself. It was then I said you’re the one that got this contract and he said yes. And God can bear me witness, there are so many of them like that. He couldn’t believe that people can get contracts without knowing the helmsman. The man got the contract because we saw that he fulfilled all the requirements listed in our procurement brochure and had the capacity.

We ran background checks to see where a contractor is coming from and his antecedents. Before, we award contract to anybody, I usually ask officers to investigate where contractors have worked before. We brought one guy to construct a road for us here. After the bid, the officers did the ranking and they ranked him first. And I asked the officers to show me where he had worked, because when they were doing the ranking at the level of evaluation committee, I naturally couldn’t be there.

When they brought the papers, I asked them have you visited this person and they said yes. And I asked, what of the person that came last, have you also visited him? So, they couldn’t answer, and I said okay, go there and check to confirm whether this person has equipment. This was because our site was a forest and it would be difficult to bulldoze, and I don’t want any abandoned project here. It wasn’t the type of job that somebody would go and hire a bulldozer that would break down after three days, and couldn’t continue. The background check proved worthy because it was discovered that the man did not own the equipment he claimed he had, and the contract was given to the man who ranked next to him but had all the necessary equipment.

I have heard people say, with all these buildings, the Rector must have made a lot of money. They don’t even ask how much we used in doing the construction. To them, the Rector is a millionaire. And it’s a wrong perception. They believe that all of us are thieves. I am not a thief because I will follow the right procedure of doing things.

Do you think the Polytechnic system has kept the spirit of its founding fathers with most of its graduates on paid job hunting?

There are factors to consider before one should proffer an opinion on this, especially when you’re comparing two things. And then also, we must be able to juxtapose our situation with those of people abroad. People like me are privileged in that went to school when things were functioning. You see, when inputs are not the same, you can not get the same output. Those facilities that were there then, they are no longer available. Look, I feel sorry for our students, we don’t even have facilities to teach them, but people learn on the job. Government has made provision for SIWES—but when we take our students for industrial attachment, where do they go?

Where are they going to learn the job? Where are the factories? That is why they only know one-third of what they’re taught. They have to learn on the job. See, the quality of human beings here is not bad, but the input constitute a major challenge to them.

B.Sc Chemistry in Nigeria is supposed to be the same with B.Sc. Chemistry in UK. If you are in US, it’s still the same, but the students studying to acquire B.Sc Chemistry in Nigeria do not have access to the same inputs as those in either UK or US. While those in the advanced countries have access to all the funding and facilities, our students at home here lack those things. So, how do we expect to get the same result?

You can never get the same result because the situations are not the same. Until we are either the same or similar to them, we will continue in our own way of garbage in, garbage out.
You see here, teachers can decide to go on strike anytime. It’s a problem. Do we have electricity? You want to do an experiment and there is no electricity. Do you want to run on generator? You see now, our institution is running on generator because there is no electricity. These are the inputs! And scientific breakthrough, are we getting them? This is a school without hostels, and government says it is not interested in all constructing hostels in schools. We don’t even have a playing ground. The truth of the matter is that we have distorted the educational curriculum and that is why we are not getting things right. The system of education we run in this nation is a caricature. So, we can’t compare ourselves with those in Europe and other serious continent and that is the gap. Have you noticed that when our students graduate here and go to these countries, they thrive? This is because the problem is not with them but with the unhealthy system they’re face with here.

Do you agree with analysts who opined that incessant industrial actions by ASUU, SSANU, ASUP etc is the major bane of Tertiary education in Nigeria?

It’s neither here nor there. A person does not just delight in running for no reason. If nothing is pursuing that individual, he’s pursuing something. And as a teacher, I’m part of them. For a very long time now, we have not had strike. Teaching is relegated to the extreme background of social life. In Nigeria system, we make noise before we are heard, and that is what they want. If you do your work quietly, nobody will hear you. But when you have people who are suppressing and oppressing you, what do you do? You run, you shout.

That is the thing, if government is doing well and every 5 years they review, there would be no fight. You know, we are practitioners and we know what is going on in the educational sector. Just look at the budgetary allocations to education in the country, and one will expect us to be like those advanced countries? Can we ever be like them? There will always be agitations.
There was a University Teachers’ Association in those days and there was peace. When things started going out of hand, agitation started. The truth is that we must sit down to know what we want. If education is the life of every country, then ours is zero. So, the unions have to shout because if they don’t, nobody will hear them.
If there is a synergy between government and unions, and remunerations are improved, then, we won’t have a problem, because in the past, we don’t have this type of problem. And the question we should be asking ourselves is why is it happening now? Something must be wrong. And government must have a way to address unions’ grievances. It’s very important. But unions too must be reasonable, they must understand what government is grappling with.

You see, during my days in the UK, I witnessed first-hand how government responded to similar issues like we have here. In Nigeria, students will remain at home for a very long time, and government will not do anything to address issues that lead to lecturers embarking on strikes. I have people in the UK who have completed their session during this Covid 19 period through virtual learning, and in Nigeria, schools have remained shut down and academic activities have remained at almost zero level in most of our institutions.

This is what we are talking about, because this is the new normal. We must learn how to do things right. But do we have facilities that will enable us replicate what they are doing in these countries? We have been teaching our students online since the closure of schools caused by COVID-19 but some of them cannot cope. While some of them don’t even have data, some of them complain that they have poor network because of their locations. We administer short tests to them online, some of them would not submit because of data. So, are we saying that those ones will fail when there are no provisions? Is it their fault?

 

With the endlessly falling standard of education in Nigeria, if you are to advise the President, how will you advise him?

Number one, we need to prioritize all the things that we do, and education should be given its pride of place. Very important. Then we have people who are not educated… That is a dead country, we need technology, because anything you can think about, emanate from education. For instance, if not because of education, you won’t be sitting in front of me. Perhaps, you would’ve been tapping wine in your village or something.

It’s education that liberated you. With education you can go anywhere, in fact, I can go anywhere in the world. The first day I gave a lecture to a white coloured audience, I was thrilled. And I thanked my dad, that he was able to give me education. I have traveled, and I have seen that human beings are all the same irrespective of the colour pigmentation of the skin.

We must give education the priority it deserves, not because I’m there, but that is the basis. Though other inputs are very necessary as I have told you, and they must come together—we just need to work harder and improve on our educational standard. For me, education is my own industry, and we have trained students. When they go abroad, you see that they are doing well and this will make one proud, but why are we not doing well at home? It’s the environment—even when you sing in the Church choir and you are doing well, with time, you will want to establish your band. We are lagging behind in technology. We need to improve on that. As I shared with some of my staff here, that all those reading medicine, with time, there would be no jobs for them, because in some countries they have started developing some chips that would be attached in the human body, and through that diagnose sicknesses and prescribe drugs to precision. My point is that nations in the world are intensifying the development of technology but Nigeria is not. Nigeria needs to begin to invest heavily in technology. Otherwise, we will be left behind.

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