INFORMATION MANAGEMENT AND EFFECTIVE GOVERNANCE OF TERTIARY INSTITUTION
By DARE BABARINSA
Chairman & Editor-in-Chief, Gaskia Media Ltd
Being the 11th Registry Annual Lecture of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, held on Thursday, September 23, 2021, at the University Auditorium.
I thank the great Federal University of Technology for the privilege of appearing before you. You are going to bear with me for we journalists love to tell stories.
Besides, I am also what my late boss, Mr. Dele Giwa, the first Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch magazine called, the In-House Historian.
Therefore, I am both a journalist and a student of history. Words are the raw materials of both vocations and you should not be too surprised that you will be made to hear stories.
I thank the authorities of this university under the leadership of Professor Fuwape for the privilege of being here today before this distinguished audience. I am also indebted to my friend, the Registrar, Mr. Richard Adeyinka Arifalo and my colleague during my days in TELL, Mr. Adegbenro Adebanjo, who is our ambassador here. It is also satisfying to know that one of the distinguished lecturers on this podium was Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, former acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, who was also my old colleague at TELL. If the truth must be told, I appreciate this honour.
I am familiar with this premises. When I was posted to Akure in 1983 as the Chief Correspondent of the Concord Press of Nigeria, the place where we now have FUTA use to be the campus of the Federal Polytechnic, Akure.
The Federal Government under General Olusegun Obasanjo had earlier transferred the Federal Polytechnic, Jos to Akure in 1977 and the Ondo State government provided this extensive land for the institution with the help of Akure community.
However, when party politics came, there was a big struggle for the hearts of Ondo State people between the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, controlling the Ondo State Government and the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, controlling the Federal Government. At stake was the then forthcoming 1983 general elections.
Some of the leaders of the NPN, were advocating for more Federal Government presence in Ondo State. A group led by legal titan, Chief Afe Babalola, proposed to President Shehu Shagari to establish a Federal university in Ado Ekiti which was then part of the old Ondo State. Therefore, Chief Meredith Adisa Akinloye, then the national chairman of the NPN, visited Ado-Ekiti with his team where he announced at the palace of the Ewi of Ado, Oba Aladesanmi Anirare on October 15, 1980, that the Federal University of Technology would be opened in Ado-Ekiti by October 1981.
The reaction of Governor Adekunle Ajasin to this news was immediate. The Ondo State government quickly announced that it would also establish a university in Ado-Ekiti, the capital of the old Ekiti Division of the former Western Region. Governor Ajasin later got in touch with President Shagari, stating that Federal universities were normally sited in the state capitals. Shagari agreed with him that the proposed federal university would be sited in Akure, the state capital.
Thus the old Ondo State was blessed with two universities at the same period. Ajasin established the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ado-Ekiti, a multi-campus institution with eight campuses spread across the old Ondo State. After different transmutations, the OAU, Ado-Ekiti, is now known as the Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti. The Federal Government also ordered the Federal Polytechnic, Akure, be transferred to Ado-Ekiti and its premises be given to the new Federal University of Technology, Akure, FUTA. Here we are now!
This campus is decidedly different from the one I met when I first arrived in Akure in 1983. At that time, this campus was a huge construction site with machines and construction equipment dominating the scene. I made many friends here including my egbon, Professor Idowu Odeyemi, the famous geologist and babalawo and my aburo, Professor Adebiyi Daramola, the immediate past Vice-Chancellor of this great institution.
Without any doubt, this institution has confirmed itself as a true Citadel of Learning. It is an institution of national consequence and universal relevance. The Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language defines Citadel as “a fortress protecting or dominating a town.” It defines it further as “a place of refuge; a defensive stronghold.”
Therefore, FUTA is a stronghold for the storage and nourishment of knowledge. It is a special nursery bed for ideas which can in turn be transplanted into the general community for the betterment of mankind. It has succeeded substantially in fulfilling its role and that is why it continued to be reckoned with in the comity of Nigerian universities.
We should not forget what the Founding Fathers of this institution set out to achieve. The founders stated that the vision of FUTA is “to be a world-class university of technology and a centre of excellence in training, research and service delivery.”
In the year 2020, FUTA was ranked eighth among Nigerian universities, including the private ones by the Webometrics ranking agency. This shows that it is indeed in the big league in Nigeria. However, on the universal setting Webometrics ranked FUTA as Number 2172. This ranking shows that FUTA might be big in Nigeria, but on the universal scale, it still has a long way to go. This shows that on the world scale, Africa is not doing too well in university ranking.
The university is a living entity. It must manage its information within its various interest groups and the larger society.
It must defend itself and its reputation against assault from within and without. The university cannot escape its environment, but must try to dominate it and influence it positively. In some instances, some university fully dominate their environment to the extent that they become synonymous with it.
Thus when you talk in academic circles, Ibadan means the University of Ibadan, Ife means the Obafemi Awolowo University, Makerere means the University in Kampala, Uganda. The same is applicable to universities in Cambridge, Oxford, Legon and other places.
Knowledge is a universal product and every wise person is in search of it. The university is expected to domesticate knowledge, seek to own it and help the world to apply it. And we know also that knowledge is power. During the Second World War, the British Empire was in a titanic struggle against the might of Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler. The British were looking for every weapon to beat back the Germans.
A team of top British spies and scientists were sent to Ile-Ife to meet the then Ooni of Ife, Oba Adesoji Tadeniawo Aderemi. The team wanted a special knowledge in the hands of the Yoruba which they said they have heard about. They wanted aferi, the Yoruba charm that can make its wearer invisible.
The Ooni agreed that it would indeed be good if British spies could be armed with such charms. He gave them a date. When they returned, Kabiyesi said the owners of the knowledge of aferi said they would prefer not to share it.
But there is no aferi that would cover the errors of a university administration in the dissemination and management of information.
I would like dwell on one case study that happened at the Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, Zaria. ABU is one of the first generation universities in Nigeria. It was founded by Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, the first and last Premier of the defunct Northern Region. Bello was also a great grandson of Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo, the great revolutionary of the 19th Century who founded the Sokoto Caliphate that dominated Northern Nigeria for most of the 19th Century and early 20th Century before the advent of colonial rule.
It was not surprising therefore that Bello decided to name the university founded by the Northern regional government after himself. Even now, more than 50 years after his death, Ahmadu Bello remains an iconic figure in Nigeria and his reputation looms large over the affairs of our country.
In 1986, I was sent by my editors in Newswatch to cover the sitting of the General Emmanuel Abisoye Panel over a recent disturbance at ABU. Early 1986, Professor Ango Abdullahi, the Vice-Chancellor of ABU, gave a directive banning male students from visiting Amina Hall, the female hostel. The students, both male and female, disagreed. As you may know, ABU was and still is, the intellectual power-house of the old North dominated by conservative elements who are mostly Muslims. Abudullahi felt allowing male students to visit female hostel may be injurious to Islamic sensitivity.
This was a period when conservative Islam, exemplified by the Izala Movement and a resurgent Muslim Students Society, MSS, was in the ascendancy. Abdullahi’s directive was passed to the university community. No serious attempt was made to discuss with the students’ leadership and get their buy-in. The management of that information was faulty and ultimately disastrous and far-reaching.
The Students Union Government, SUG, decided to call a congress to take a decision on the matter. On April 21, 1986, the congress of all students met at the sport centre and decided there and then to stage a protest-walk into Amina Hall. Everyone was happy. The female students were cheering the male students and there was joy all around. The V.C, seeing the flagrant disobedience of the students, was angry.
The SUG, when they got wind that the V.C was unhappy, decided to write him a letter of apology. They stated in their letter: “The entire students of Ahmadu Bello University, as well as the Caretaker Committee, regret the April 21 procession into Amina Hall. This was a collective decision of the congress that could not have been forestalled by the six-member caretaker committee.”
The students also wrote to prominent citizens of the North, including the then Military Governor of Kaduna State, Colonel Abubakar Umar. With this information that the students have become remorseful, yet there was no attempt by the university authorities to reach out to them and make them part of the process. Instead, the university decided to apply the big stick.
On May 19, the university expelled the president of the Students Union and gave his deputy one session suspension. The students were angry at this punishment and decided to demonstrate against it. On Thursday May 22, 1986, the students staged a rowdy demonstration round the campus, besieged the Senate building where the V.C was holding a management meeting, and forbade anyone to leave until they were flushed out by a contingent of mobile policemen. A simple matter that could have been resolved through negotiations and proper communication between the students and the authorities had been allowed to become a raging storm. No one was sure what was next.
After the V.C was rescued at about 6 p.m., a contingent of 72 policemen were left on the campus. They tried to disperse the students who were still milling round the Senate Building. When the students fled, the police pursued and finally ended up inside Amina Hall where they unleashed terror.
The encounter was brutal and violent and by the time the policemen retreated 8.30 p.m., many students have been wounded. Four vehicles were burnt allegedly by the students who countered that they were set ablaze by the indiscriminate firing of the policemen. No one was killed. Even at that crucial period, the university authorities refused to communicate with the students. After the policemen left, the students, both male and female, gathered in groups discussing their fate.
At dawn the following morning, armed policemen invaded the campus, claiming they have come to enforce the directive of the vice-chancellor to flush out the students. They said the V.C had given order to close down the university. It appeared the policemen have special interest in the much-talked about Amina Hall. That place became the centre of their operation. At the end of the operation that day, four students were killed on that day. When the students fled into the adjourning Samaru village, the police pursued them.
Some people were also killed in Samaru. It was a huge price to pay for the simple routine directive of curtailing male students from visiting the female hostel. It shows that communication breakdown between the university authorities and its audience can be very expensive and sometimes fatal if handled carelessly.
I was at the Kongo Conference Hotel, Samaru where General Abisoye presided for two weeks listening to the evidence of the university community including the embattled vice-chancellor. One of the members of the Abisoye Panel was our former president in the National Union of Nigerian Students, NUNS, Chief Segun Okeowo, who was now a school principal in Ogun State. Okeowo led the nationwide students protest of 1978 against the hike in the feeding fees in Nigerian tertiary institutions from 50 kobo per day to one naira and fifty kobo! Now that looks like ancient story!
The modern reality we have to deal with is that information has become the product of the proletariats, thanks to the internet and its democratization of access to information. Since the dawn of the Information Age, rumour has taken on a new scientific meaning. Therefore, tertiary institutions, especially the frontline ones like our own FUTA, cannot afford to allow any falsehood go without being refuted.
Those who are managing the system must be vigilant to the antics of mischief makers and even those who are out with malicious intent to score personal scores. The truth must be pursued with vigour and relentlessness.
We should also know that information is an instrument of warfare.
During the Nigerian Civil War, the Biafran forces under the command of Colonel Victor Banjo invaded the then Mid-Western State. The attack came suddenly because the people of the Mid-West and the Western State were reluctant to allow their territories to be used for hostility against Biafra. Therefore, federal troops had to cross to Biafra from the North from the then Benue-Plateau State. So it was easy to overrun the Mid-West and the military governor, Colonel David Ejoor, fled.
The Biafran therefore were able to occupy the Mid-West and the federal forces fell before them. Lagos was in panic for the Federal high command knew that the Biafran would be heading for Lagos. Therefore, soldiers of the Nigerian Army Engineering Corps were sent to Ore, the border town between the West and Mid-West, to blow up the bridge there and halt the Biafran advance.
The Federal Government then put out the news that the Biafran forces had destroyed the bridge at Ore though it was the federal troops that destroyed the bridge! They said once the bridge is repaired, the Biafran would be halted and then chased out of the Mid-West.
The destruction of the bridge delayed the Biafran advance and it allowed the Federal Government to rally troops of the 2nd Division under the command of Colonel Murtala Muhammed from Lagos and troops of the Ibadan Garrison Organization under the command of Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo, to pin down the Biafran forces at Ore and inflict on them a devastating defeat.
Yet it was the Federal forces who destroyed the Ore bridge which they then blamed on the Biafran. After that incident, the Biafran information service became adept at tackling the federal information service to the extent that Biafran Radio, noted for its propaganda, became very popular in the rest of Nigeria.
We have seen therefore that in the prosecution of war, information management is crucial.
Though it is not at war, the university system cannot afford to be outflanked in the management of its information. It should not hoard information about activities of its faculties and news that required explanation in the public realm.
At FUTA, there are many positive news to share with the public. These are news that confirm that this institution is indeed, a citadel of excellence and learning. FUTA is indeed an institution of global relevance.
Many members of faculties and alumnus are putting this great institution on the world map through commendable researches and global honours. Many alumni of this institution are carrying the banner very high. Among them are John Olawale Olukunle, who is now a professor of Engineering, Ekekwe Ndubuisi, an inventor, author, entrepreneur and professor of engineering as well as hip-hop singer, Kayode Gbenga Opeyemi with the stage name, Pepenazi.
It is also noteworthy that Professor Mrs. Ibiyinka Fuwape, formerly of FUTA, was the winner of the African Union Kwame Nkrumah Regional Award for Scientific Excellence. Mrs. Fuwape was the dean of the School of Sciences at FUTA. She is now the Vice-Chancellor of the Michael and Cecilia Ibru University in Delta State. Our Vice-Chancellor here in FUTA, Professor Joseph Fuwape, is the only vice-chancellor I know in Nigeria, or indeed anywhere else, who is married to another vice-chancellor!
It also gladdens the heart that His Excellency, Ambassador Godknows Igali is now the Chairman of the Governing Council of FUTA. Igali is my friend and he is a man of intellectual solidity, gifted with great capacity to offer necessary advice and guidance to this great institution. His experience as an author, former ambassador, retired permanent secretary, former Secretary to the Bayelsa State Government and former Deputy Chief of Staff to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan would be brought to bear in his service to this institution.
We expect Dr Igali to lead the university to live up to the vision of its Founding Fathers to enrich the society with the products of knowledge and research. Nigeria, nay Africa, is waiting for its universities to become the centre of a new Africa where poverty and curable diseases would be a thing of the past. We are facing challenges on almost all fronts. We have shortage of housing and Africans are the greatest consumers of second-hand clothes in the world.
We have a ravaging epidemic of unemployment and the attendant result of poverty and insecurity. We cannot solve all these problems all at once, but we expect solutions from our universities.
One area in which FUTA can help us find a solution is in the housing crisis. We have not been able to device a system where the cost of building houses would be affordable for an average man or woman. Why can’t we find cheaper materials to build houses like the clay that were used to build African cities in the past? Why do we have to spend so much money to reinforce multi-storey building that would consume so much cement and other materials? FUTA should lead the way to find better and cheaper ways to build houses for the common people.
We have also realized that plastic bottles, sachets and other containers have become a serious environmental problem for us in Nigeria and the rest of the continent. Everywhere you go in this country, there is an empty plastic bottle starring at you. We need to find a way to convert this problem into our own advantage. Let FUTA points the way forward.
One thing that is overshadowing the reputation of most public universities is the annual festival of strikes and industrial disputes. This has led to serious disruption in the lives of students and the expectations of parents. Some students, in the wake of these serious disruptions, may end up spending eight years for a four-year course. I am sure this may not be the intention of those who are declaring industrial dispute. Some of these strikes are direct assault on the concept of university autonomy.
If a university is not having a dispute with its workers, why should the workers go on strike because the employees of another university has a dispute with its workers? I sure the issue may be more complicated than this simple illustration. Nonetheless, let the wise ones in this citadel ponder on this within the theory and practice of university autonomy.
In conclusion, a university ultimate fate depends on its reputation. It can only acquire this reputation by working not only through the works of members of its faculties and the collective endeavours of its alumnus, but ultimately on the quality of information it transmits to its public.
This university has managed its reputation with consummate skill and excellent result. It has given Akure a good reputation. The challenge of the future is to stay on the straight and narrow path. If there is an information that may be of public interest, the university should not hesitate to give it out. It is by building a reputation for honesty and openness that the university would continue to maintain its good standing with its host community, Nigeria and the world.
I thank you for your attention.