By Agboola Odesanya
Beyond doubt, the year 2020 was a very challenging one for all of humanity, particularly due to the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic, sickness from which, just like the flu, may remain with us.
It can be recalled that, in what has become an annual ritual that many people look forward to in Nigeria, some overjoyed claimants had ‘misread’ the year as one to herald many good things that included ‘double-double blessings’ for all. But the year turned out to be that of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), clearly one in a litany of simple things that evaded all the ‘microscopes’ used to ‘see’ into a year that later ended on a tragic note – with millions of us killed by coronavirus. Rather surprisingly, the disease is not a threat to common fruit bats harbouring the virus unshaken and with no signs of infection, as small as they are. Talk of different strokes for different hosts!
Although it cannot yet be compared to the Spanish flu – arguably the deadliest pandemic in our human history as it killed between 20 and 50 million people in multiple waves from 1918 to 1919 – scientists trusting in the promises of modern medicine doubt that COVID-19 will surpass the lethal capacities of some past pandemic outbreaks. This is especially given the amazing promises of modern medicine. One clear instance of such amazing promises of modern medicine has got to be the record time in which a retinue of vaccines emerged from the laboratories. Many thanks to the many scientists working their hearts out in countries where the funding of universities for public-spirited goals is hardly a perennial contest, nor where agreements reached with academic unions and researchers take decades to implement.
Interestingly too, whenever the same year 2020 is remembered in the coming ages, the case of Lagos State University (LASU) will be somewhat different. In fact, 2020 will go down in the varsity’s history as the year in which it got elevated above scores of its peers, both in Nigeria and beyond. Yes, because the globally renowned Times Higher Education (THE), for the very first time since its 2004 launch, ranked LASU among the world’s top 500-600 universities, clearly a feat for which the varsity’s alumni can proudly puff out and beat their chests for many years!
However, how long they will proudly puff out and strongly beat their chests depends on what happens long afterwards, and particularly on what whoever becomes the ninth Vice Chancellor makes of the ranking feather to LASU’s cap. While cynics within and outside the varsity may scoff at it, the ranking has made LASU a clearly better national option for varying classes of intending students that continue to gravitate towards it, like bees to honey. But on a very serious note, and beyond the euphoria, where does LASU wish to go from its current ranking threshold of the world’s 501-600? Forwards? Backwards? The same spot? What does LASU intend to make of a ranking glory that remains the dream of several other varsities in Nigeria, apart from being also a potential source of their envy?
With the process seeking to appoint the ninth LASU VC already re-launched after an acrimonious first attempt, this personal intervention has become necessary. It is coming not least because I am a LASU employee, but because I am involved t’apa t’itan, as an alumnus of an institution that has right under its metropolitan nose all the resources it needs to become a truly world-class academic stage. Accordingly, official responses to the questions raised in the preceding paragraph have got to be very business-minded, will significantly draw on what the incoming VC makes of LASU’s rise to global limelight. Thus, it is entirely up to LASU, under a new leadership, to smartly leverage on that glory, manage it well or totally damage same! Frankly, LASU cannot afford to approach the global table to sit with peers, figuratively draped in rags, bowl in hand and on shaky feet!
It is also worth stating that already thrust upon LASU is a potential greatness, an unspoken craving of varsities in states not as economically blessed as Lagos. For instance, it is beyond argument that Lagos State remains the commercial nucleus of Africa’s largest economy, if I may rely on The Economist of March 26, 2020. Interestingly too, LASU, a varsity it owns, operates within this nucleus of commercial activities. Further, the metropolis is equally home to some rivals – the University of Lagos at Akoka, Pan Atlantic University at Lekki, Caleb University at Imota near Ikorodu. While there are others, they pale in significance to four listed. In essence, the four are the only universities that people wishing to study and remain in Lagos may attend, the most expensive of the pack being the one at Lekki, and charges millions of Naira for tuition. Next in this regard is Caleb University, whose fees are still many times higher than what LASU or UNILAG can charge, being publicly owned varsities running on subventions, a financial advantage over their private counterparts. What this means is that education that is affordable, in the welfarist sense of the word at least, can more easily be sourced from Ojo and Akoka by those unable to financially embrace Lekki and Imota. This is where some great hope rises for LASU, especially from specially created user-tailored offerings that can match those offered elsewhere, with even far less tuition! But how will these run without reliable access to the Internet for instance?
That LASU’s metropolitan location is one huge advantage on which it must fully leverage under the next VC is beyond debating. This it could do well looking inwards more frankly. UNILAG comes to mind here, especially for its perennial ability to generate much of the revenue it may need, consistently sourced from clearly defined business ventures that even employ students on short term contracts. This is in addition to its fast-widening array of diploma, undergraduate, postgraduate and other certificate programmes. Many of these are user-tailored, an example being its well-known Diploma/Advanced Diploma offerings to Nigeria’s private and public security outfits and personnel. Proceeds from these programmes can almost conveniently support its infrastructural desires. Not only that, staff members of departments within which such programmes are domiciled are said to regularly smile home, promptly remunerated for their extra efforts. And who says there cannot be other holdings and investments floated through such proceeds for even more proceeds, beyond the confines of a varsity? Proceeds that can seriously shame all shades of institutional poverty, except such are wilful. Sugbon, ta n’ise wu? Which varsity wilfully desires poverty?
Clearly, with top positions like that of a VC come great responsibilities, but these must not surpass the person’s abilities. Inevitably, many such responsibilities will fall on the shoulders of LASU’s ninth VC, whose quality of thoughts will in many ways be hugely tasked. Therefore, a lot will depend on what quality of thoughts is brought to bear to ensure stability on a metropolitan campus. It must be stated that the excellence we all desire cannot be achieved amid unnecessary strife or chaos. More seriously this time, it will gladden all to see that quality of thoughts lead to the emergence of user-tailored certificate, diploma, degree and postgraduate programmes that not only address the gaps left by LASU’s higher-charging rivals, but also satisfy the cravings of the millions of people needing education in Lagos State and beyond. Besides, well-managed and resourced hostel facilities remain a goldmine for varsities; they attract students from far and near. It will be interesting to see how we swim with the tide of modernity and global best practices in university administration to seize the countless opportunities often ignored, whether they be jointly ventured or lonely pursued.
Once and for all, that quality of thoughts – and it cannot be too much for the world to expect – should also end the perennial narrative that LASU is broke! Really, one can understand it if universities in states like Ekiti, Osun, Kebbi, Zamfara, Kogi, Yobe, Adamawa – or some others deemed not viable within Nigeria’s current and burdensome complex structure – are broke. But not a varsity that operates in Lagos State. And certainly not one that is owned by Nigeria’s tax-richest state! For instance, LASU’s underutilised expanse of land can host facilities like cinemas, events centres, shopping malls for varying commercial interests, all of which could be accessed via Iba Road as well as rear gates linking the campus. Income from such ventures and several other thinkable sources, can substantially improve the fortunes of LASU, a university rich enough to have right under its nose all that it needs to thrive, especially when this is propelled by a workforce that is happy, motivated and supported with all the tools required to deliver. In this regard, access to the Internet is an inevitability, an area of need for our students and staff, and requires urgent attention from our next VC. One will not be wrong to note that, without seamless Internet access for staff and students on our campus, there can be no serious claims to being world-class in the current century.
Perhaps a think tank will have to sit to, quite frankly and odourlessly, investigate these concerns and other potential sources of wealth for our now well-ranked varsity, which equally spots a fascinating greenery that can further be enhanced through planting plenty more trees as a way of greening up our world-class LASU! With the support of all, great successes are possible. May my alma mater find all that it desires in the next five years and beyond. Again, whether those years will put smiles on our faces certainly depends on the quality of thoughts brought to bear in all areas needing serious attention. I wish our new VC the best of times.
Agboola Odesanya, an environmental communication researcher at the University of Leicester, United Kingdom, is of the School of Communication, Lagos State University, Ojo.