In this interview with journalists on the sideline of the Second Lagos State University, LASU, Research Fair, the Vice Chancellor, LASU, Prof. Olanrewaju Fagbohun, SAN, speaks on some issues. Excerpts.
By Adesina Wahab
YOUR tenure as the VC of LASU will soon come to an end. What is your plan for the nearest future? And how would you describe your tenure?
I think I may have to go and rest for at least one and a half years. This is simply because I need to rest. I have offers from a number of places and even I can still stay and work here, but if that is going to be the case, I have to stay out of the scene for over a year. That is necessary because whoever is taking over from me must be given the opportunity to consolidate and stabilise. I don’t want whoever that may be to live in my shadow.
I appreciate the media for keeping us on our toes. Their support I really cherish. Since we came on board, we have institutionalised everything we do. We have been able to strengthen the institution and not personalities and individuals. We carry people along in what we do. Take the case of our school anthem. Before we came on board, the school had an anthem, but the stakeholders, staff, students and others could not really and fully identify with it. So, we called for submission of a new anthem and the submissions were thoroughly screened. The last three were chosen. We called the university community and experts to our big auditorium and they were played for all and the best was chosen by all. Now, whenever that anthem is played, you can see how both staff and students are charged like soldiers going to war. The people chose it and are ready to identify with it.
While we are not saying we are perfect, but we have put a lot of things in place that may be difficult to change. Our Committee System is robust. 10 professors were nominated for the three slots in the Vice Chancellor Selection Committee and some people asked if I had any preferred candidate and I said no. If we allow merit to be used, we will achieve more. My selection as the VC was the first time the candidate that came first was picked. May the best candidate win. I don’t have a single paper as hand over note. Everything has been done. The person coming in will have a file. We have put in place a system that does not revolve around the VC or any single individual that could mean if the person is not around, things would stagnate. The institutions are made to work seamlessly.
If the person taking over from you seeks your advice on the running of the university, would you oblige?
If my successor requests any idea, I will share, but we have templates on ground. The Committee System is there and has come to stay. The monthly breakfast meeting with the leadership of the Student Union Government and bi-monthly meetings with staff unions where we rub minds and the sides open up to each other, are there. Our Annual Report, approved by the Governing Council, has come to stay. The system put in place does not require the VC to be physically present before things are done. For the sake of continuity, we staggered the election of deputy vice chancellors so that the management team would not time out at the same time.
How do you feel at the recent rating of LASU as the second best university in Nigeria?
It encouraged me and my colleagues. It gave us the feeling of saying so we can do it. I used to tell my colleagues that we will be among the first five and some were sceptical, but now we have made it. When I started calling our students world class students, some of them felt flattered. You may not blame them going by the reputation the school had before we came in. But I told them we can achieve it and we did.
It has put us on a race, if we are number two, we cannot afford to go down. We took a lot of steps to make things better. For instance, we changed assessing papers to online thing. We created our own application and even our non-academic staff, including the junior ones, do many things online now. Over 2000 of them are now using LASU email address online. Don’t underestimate people, believe in them.
How have you handled the welfare of staff and students?
We must give kudos to the Lagos State Government, the owners of the university, for their support. The fees paid by our students are not prohibitive. The government also takes care of the staff and that shows in the results we are recording. For nearly five years now, the university did not open for just one and a half days during the recent agitation for the payment of new minimum wage and Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu promptly addressed the issue. We thank various corporate bodies and individuals too numerous to mention for their support. When they saw that we have changed the narrative in LASU, they rallied round us. On our part too, the welfare of staff and students is top priority. When people are happy, they will make magic happen.
How did the university cope with the COVID-19 crisis?
Thank God that we have gone virtual in almost everything we do. Our management meetings are done virtually. We have upgraded our facilities and that allowed for the students to resume. They are now writing their examinations. Our Quality Assurance team goes round to monitor what we do. I told the chairman that I don’t want to know your members, just go about to do your work discreetly.