Mahfouz Adedimeji, a Professor of Pragmatics and Applied Linguistics, is the Vice-Chancellor of Ahman Pategi University, Pategi, Kwara State. In this interview, he speaks with KAYODE OLANREWAJU about his experience as a pioneer vice-chancellor of the private university, challenges and vision
How has it been to be a pioneer Vice- Chancellor, especially of a private university?
Well, being a Vice-Chancellor at all is a great honour, but being a pioneer Vice- Chancellor is a magnificent honour indeed. It is also a unique honour because a university will definitely have many Vice-Chancellors but it cannot have two pioneer Vice-Chancellors in its entire history.
So, I count being a pioneer Vice-Chancellor a special blessing, for which I am grateful to God and to man.
It was John Wooden, who said: “Talent is God-given, be humble. Fame is man- given, be grateful. Conceit is self-given, be careful.” No one can make oneself any- thing even if there is talent. So, for anyone who is anything anywhere at any time, the watchwords are to be humble, grateful and careful.
However, on how the journey has been, I would say it has been tough and you know when the going gets tough, only the tough get going. No conscionable person as a pioneer would expect to find a bed of roses, naturally. Who would have laid it for him? But the enormity of the challenges can be overwhelming to the lily-livered and the faint-hearted. Life is exactly jus like that; it is challenging but the interesting thing about it is that it goes on.
It is only striking that the work of a pioneer, like the foundation of a gigantic building, is often invisible to the eyes. It is buried deep in the terra firma to sustain the superstructure that will be built after- wards. People often see the building, they don’t see the foundation. It is common for non-pioneers to question what pioneers have done as only those with the third eye can see their work.
Nevertheless, I would say that the private university terrain is a different ball game entirely. But you know, part of what makes us human beings is adaptation. I have colleagues who have thrown in the towel because of some peculiarities of the terrain but part of my philosophy of life is anchored on three Ps – planning, Prayers and Patience. Abuja, not just Rome, and was not built in a day. Developing a new private university could be taxing and challenging.
How has it been in terms of revenue generation (IGR), students’ enrolment and infrastructural development, among others?
Yes, it is absolutely taxing. It takes only people of great vision to establish universities and that is why I acknowledge the vision of my proprietor, Hon. Aliyu Ahman-Pategi. There is no amount of revenue that can be generated in the first decade of a university that can be sufficient to meet its needs in terms of capital and recurrent expenditure.
That’s why only visionary people dab- ble into it. Confucius said: “If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for ten years, plant trees. If your plan is for 100 years, educate children.” You must be planning for future gains, not immediate, in a university. Confucius talked of plan- ning for a year. Some people may not even have the patience to plan for a year; they plan for three months and plant corn.
A new university is like a baby that is utterly dependent: you change diapers, you bathe the baby, you buy specialised food, you immunise the child and do all sorts of things that require money that adults may not require. A new university is like a baby requiring investment to guarantee his healthy and successful future. It is unlike a primary or secondary school where you can use the salaries of two professors to pay many teachers.
The student enrolment has been fair but we are still doing more work in that regard by penetrating some communities and trying to get the world to know what we are doing. With about 500 students at degree and pre-degree levels, within the past one and a half years that academic activities started, we appreciate that it is not a poor outing, comparatively, but we cannot rest on our laurels. We still need to do more and more.
The infrastructural development of the University is also going steadily. It is not a one-off phenomenon but the proprietor and my team are seriously commit- ted to making the university one of the best in Nigeria in terms of facilities and infrastructure.
By God’s grace, the efforts that are being planted now will result in big harvests in the nearest future.
In the area of linkage and collaboration to internationalise the university, how has the university fared in the last two years?
There is a Yoruba proverb that says you learn to sit before stretching your legs. You won’t stretch your leg without having sat first. Basically, a university has to be on ground first in the real sense of it before you think of collaboration because every- one wants to associate or relate with success.
Nevertheless, as charity begins at home, we are collaborating more with Nigerian universities, starting from the universities in Kwara State, the host state. We formed the consortium of eight Kwara universities (KU8) under the chairman- ship of the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin (UNILORIN), Prof. Wahab Egbewole (SAN) just recently. The net- work created by the Consortium is proving very useful.
We are in talks with two Indian universities and a French university in collabo- ration. We are also partnering organisations for sustainable service delivery in the crucial area of peace research, scholarship and development.
As a vice Chancellor and scholar, I strongly believe in globalization; from local, you go global. We are deepening collaboration with sister Nigerian universities first and foremost, and subsequently we shall go full-swing to the international ready been established. It only requires activating at the T-time when we graduate to each stage.
What is the area of strength of the university and what efforts have been put in place to actualise the vision of the university?
The vision of the university is to pro- vide high quality education and promote relevant research to impact the community, both in its micro and macro forms.
The mandate is remarkably embedded in that vision: “Providing effective teaching and learning, which quality education is about, engaging in ground-breaking research and translating both to the development of the community.”
Our strength is that we are passionately pursuing this vision with a deep sense of mission. We have a crop of highly dedicated lecturers, who are doing their best in making and ensuring that the students have unforgettable learning experiences.
We prioritise research and it is gratifying that within less than two years that academic activities started, we have recorded a number of national and international publications bearing the name of the university, including Routledge and Elsevier.
Ahman Pategi University is the youngest of the universities working together to produce a major publication in honour of an academic Titan and foremost diplomat, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari. The book is to be unveiled this month in Abuja. There are a few others like that.
The University has also impacted positively on the hosting community as a major player in its socio-economic and human capacity development. The university has opened up more space for the educational development of those who would have been complacent about university education especially now that it is within their reach.
In more concrete terms, what are the challenges facing your administration in the area of funding, academic freedom, student discipline and accreditation of courses, among others?
Almost all universities have funding challenges. We have 220 universities in Nigeria today out of which 109 are public, with 50 owned by the Federal Government and 59 owned by state governments. A major issue of contention in the public university sub- system is under-funding which has been the grouse of the campus trade unions. And for private universities, which are 111 today, where resources are more limited, the challenge is given and it can be daunting. My university is not radically different, it has its own funding challenges that we are struggling and brainstorming to overcome.
Meanwhile, as academic freedom is basically the scholars’ freedom to express their views and ideas without risk of official interference or retribution, the culture is being entrenched and I lead in that regard.
I express my views publicly as a public affairs commentator and I speak my mind on sundry issues, political, educational, social and otherwise. Whose ox is gored is not my business as long as one is on the truth. Freedom of thought and expression is guaranteed with every sense of responsibility in any university that is worth its name like mine. On student discipline, our students are generally well-behaved. They are not in thousands yet. It is quite unnatural to have a population of about 500 people without at least a person or two being problematic, but I emphasise that, like the motto of the university: “Wise Minds, Skilled Hands,” it is unwise to lack discipline because without it there is nothing left.
So, we in still in our students the values of self-discipline, academic discipline, moral discipline, financial discipline and social discipline.
The university is a training ground and we continue to train students to be the best possible versions of themselves. My students are generally well behaved and curious to learn. They are aware they are pacesetters and touch-bearers.
There are minor issues that one often encounters in large families, but it is good that by and large, all is well and there is no cause for alarm.
The university is preparing for accreditation as well as resource verification visits by the National Universities Commission (NUC) to our proposed academic programmes. We are hopeful that everything will be all right especially after fulfilling our part of the bargain on adequate preparations. In everything, to fail to prepare is to prepare to fail, and we anticipate get- ting all the support that engenders proper preparation.