Outgoing Vice-Chancellor of the Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo, Professor Olanrewaju Fagbohun, in this exclusive interview by Tunbosun Ogundare, speaks on how the university, for the first time in history, ran a crisis-free five-year academic sessions ; what its second best ranking status in Nigeria has brought to the table and why he has no favourite among professors competing to succeed him. Excerpts:
How much power have you been wielding as the VC while running the affairs of LASU?
Well, I won’t say I have no power as the vice-chancellor. But in LASU and under my leadership, we make decisions at committee levels. Even if the vice-chancellor has an idea, the university is the priority. LASU takes precedence over any other interests. So, ideas from any officer and even students will be sold to relevant committee within the system for deliberation and funding. We ensure we get at least the majority to show the direction to go. By the time an idea becomes a policy, it will certainly be acceptable to the university community. And this system has become rooted in LASU such that if another person comes in as the vice-chancellor and wants to change the narrative, people will ask questions.
Ask questions about what, and why? Please, shed more light on this.
The questions are countless, but let me cite simple ones, starting with my office. Nobody can just bring any document to me to sign without inputs from the appropriate quarters concerning issues at stake. They will first review and give their opinions before I give the go-ahead. That is why we don’t go to senate with a set mind on a particular decision. We subject our agenda to robust discussions to make informed decisions.
Another example is about the university anthem. It is not that the vice- chancellor imposed the anthem, but a committee invited interested members of the university to make presentations for consideration. We had many submissions from which the committee shortlisted a few and an enlarged body picked the most suitable one via voting after listening to them in the school main auditorium. It was not as if LASU didn’t have any anthem before, but it was not in use because it wasn’t popular. People were not comfortable with it because they felt it was a product of plagiarism. It was a church song that the composer only changed the lyrics and the school adopted it as an anthem. So, people believed the anthem was not binding them together. But now, we sing the current anthem as if we are going to war. We feel attached to the university through the anthem.
Yet, another example which is very recent was when we elected representatives to the selection team for the appointment of who would succeed me. Prior to then, news was doing the rounds in the media, that as the vice-chancellor was being dictatorial, vice-chancellor wants to impose a candidate. They even said the vice-chancellor had already targeted one professor at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) for the post. They named the professor and his faculty, and even said that was the man. I didn’t want to say anything initially, but I called the said person later and I was stunned when he told me he didn’t even apply for the job. So, you can see the extent some people can go. When we nominated 10 professors, it became very clear that doing permutation for who to become a new vice-chancellor becomes very difficult. How do you do permutation among 10 professors? I told them we would do our election electronically as our students had been doing e-voting to elect their leaders in the last six years. So, we had the election and the best three emerged and surprisingly to many of us, they were not popular candidates.
So, does this imply you are not interested in whoever succeeds you?
Why not? I am interested in somebody who will perform better than I did. But I don’t know who that person will be among them. For one, nobody influenced my appointment because I was nobody’s candidate when I applied. And I think my appointment would be the first time that the best on the list of three shortlisted candidates became LASU vice-chancellor. It had always been either number two or number three person on the list. And I believe if such process worked for me, why should I have to go contrary.
What do you see as the benefits of LASU’s recent ranking as the second best university in Nigeria?
There are many benefits. The rating encourages me and my colleagues that we are doing things right and also instill in us the spirit of ‘we can do it.’ Because prior then, the university was not ranked globally, except for crisis. But we are able to sustain peace for five years for the first time in LASU history. I do recall then when I told my colleagues repeatedly that we would be within the first five in Nigeria without long, they would all laugh. But today, both staff and students see us as world class. It can only be where management is doing the things right.
So, our ranking gives us a sense of pride. It also gives our Visitor and the state governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu a sense of pride. Because I remember a day we were doing a virtual meeting with him, and he told us that some of his colleagues at governors’ meeting congratulated him on the achievement, that his university is now number two in Nigeria. You can imagine the sense of pride and feeling such remark would have on him. But we want to move to number one by next year.
It is God that would decide that. But I won’t want to stay back in LASU though I haven’t reached the statutory retirement age as a professor.