Mr Emmanuel Obafemi is the Registrar of the University of Ilorin (UNILORIN) and Chairman of the Association of Registrars of Nigerian University (ARNU). In this interview with ABDUSSALAM AMOO, he highlights the challenges of administering the university and maintaining a stable academic calendar over the years.
Why are registrars described as the life wire of institutions?
Any institution without registry is not an institution. The registrar is just that individual driving the registry. I can tell you clearly that if you bring a million lecturers on board without the registry, there is hardly anything they can do. It is the registry that keeps both academic and administrative records. It is also the registry that mans the units and departments not statutorily manned by academics staff.
A registrar is also the Secretary to Governing Council, Secretary to Senate, Convocation and Congregation, and these are major policy-making organs in the university system. If the registrar is not there, then there is no coordination.
But our academic institutions in the recent times have been plagued by many challenges leading to poor global ranking, decayed infrastructure, among others. So, if registrars are such important, what have they not gotten right?
Well, there are so many parameters to ranking universities. Some of the many things considered include course accreditation, publications, discoveries and invention patenting, visitors that hit website, staff and student mix, among others. These are some of the important things we have neglected.
For instance, many lecturers only publish because of promotion without caring to discover new things. Yet, if you don’t discover you are not known. So, ranking is just the output of the lecturers.
The Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC) has just raised the alarm that the universities’ administrators are corrupt, and that some vice-chancellors are earning as much as N5 million as furniture allowance. Yet, the registrars are there. Why is this so?
In the university system, we have various strata of administrators; there is the academic administrator, there are the normal administrators. So, when they say the administration is corrupt, the vice-chancellor is an administrator, Deans, Heads of Departments (HODs) are also some.
We understand that some of our colleagues connive to perpetrate fraud. And if the NUC Executive Secretary has raised that, he must have his reasons, and he would know which administrator is corrupt. And indeed, one would have expected the Executive Secretary to come out openly and name the corrupt institutions instead of generalising such corruption issue.
However, he has said it; he knows it and should then move out to curb the corruption.
Do you think Nigerian university administrators are deploying relevant technology to achieve smooth administration?
This is a very critical issue in the university administration. We are currently experiencing problems in getting our colleagues to be Information Communication Technology (ICT)-compliant.
In fact, some of them are allergic to it. But unfortunately today, you cannot be successful in whatever you do without adopting technology. I had the opportunity of interviewing deputy registrars for the position of a registrar and we had to ensure that the occupant of that office must be computer literate. And even administrative assistants must be computer literate. For instance, in UNILORIN, my university, everything we do now is paperless.
The way out is that we must ensure that anyone we employ into the system is ICT compliant. Part of the sessions we will be having at this ongoing retreat is on human resources management and the core area is IT.
In the recent times, UNILORIN has become popular for not embarking on strike. But when Federal Government meets the demands of striking lecturers, do you think it is just for UNILORIN to benefit?
Why should UNILORIN not benefit? What we believe in UNILORIN is openness and there is no committee apart from Council and Senate that students are not represented. I was a student many years ago; workers did not use to go on strike, only students did during protests. But, we have been able to let the students realize the consequences of disruption of academic calendar because it leads to delay.
And to assure them of openness, we make them members of almost all the committees. In fact, we allow them to observe at Senate meetings. And as for staff, in year 2000, workers’ strike almost destroyed the university. It was so terrible that as soon as we survived it, UNILORIN staff, students and management decided that the university would no longer be closed down based on either strike or students’ protest except the Federal Government itself decided to close down the university for other reasons.
The Federal Government has also realised that UNILORIN is doing the right thing. Even when people shout that we should not benefit from the proceeds of strike, the Federal Government does not see it that way. So, I believe there are crises in many universities today because they still run semi-closed door policies. They don’t want both staff and students to know what is going on.
Recently, there are allegations of corruption and maladministration leveled against the UNILORIN management especially in terms of salaries allegedly being paid the incumbent JAMB Registrar even after he exited the university. How true are these?
Of course, these are very funny allegations. There are still some splinters, who believe they are ASUU activists and who must be going on strike. They refer to themselves as ASUU and are recognised by the national leadership of ASUU, and that the ASUU recognised by the UNILORIN management is not ASUU. And of course, academic staff of UNILORIN must organise themselves. Even though the national ASUU claims they have been expelled, that is not our concern.
But unfortunately for the ASUU national body, those they claim have been expelled by them are doing very well and are constructive in their criticisms. If I tell you their achievements in the university you would be surprised. They have built a secretariat for themselves, they have built hostels that they rent out and they are now building chalets for themselves within the campus. They are using the money, which in the past, someone would have embezzled, to do all these.
Before now, ASUU had no single vehicle in UNILORIN, today they have four and commercialised two. The national body of ASUU needs to visit UNILORIN ASUU to see what they are doing. In fact, if lecturers from other universities visit them they will have a rethink about what their own unions are doing wrongly. And members of this splinter ASUU group are not more than 12 and are insisting they must be embarking on strike. And when that is not working, they will resort to writing all sorts of allegations in the newspapers.
For God’s sake how can Prof. Oloyede, who Nigerians have seen as the face of war against corruption, be out of UNILORIN and still be drawing salary? That is just not possible. This man finished from UNILORIN, he had sabbatical and had to go. During his tenure as Vice-Chancellor, he did not go on leave for one day and had accumulated leave. Every money Prof. Oloyede got when he was no longer the Vice-Chancellor was genuine. If you are on sabbatical or accumulated leave, you are entitled to your salary. And as soon as he finished all these and was appointed to JAMB he stopped being our staffer. He applied for leave of absence and I was the one that signed it. He could not be on leave of absence and take double salaries. It is not possible. Those allegations are just meant to malign him.
Now the leadership of ASUU has said UNILORIN lecturer will no longer be allowed to visit other public universities either as external supervisor or on sabbatical. What is your reaction?
But, those making that noise, whenever we invite lecturers from their universities as external examiners they come. It is an empty threat. They are doing this because they no longer receive check-off dues from UNILORIN ASUU. And how do you expect people you claim you have expelled to be paying check-off dues? They have expelled UNILORIN ASUU, so what is their problem. If they want UNILORIN ASUU back in their fold they should do the needful and not resort to threat.
Our lecturers are participating in all activities across the Nigerian universities. Let me tell you that the noise about UNILORIN is simply because we run smooth academic calendar. In fact, those ASUU members from other universities have their children in UNILORIN, but they won’t tell you. They won’t enrol them in their own institutions because they are eager to shut them down.
But, what is your reaction to ASUU’s description of UNILORIN as a ‘terrorist’ university?
I don’t know what they meant by that. Those describing UNILORIN as a terrorist university have forgotten that those who want to mess up the university are more of terrorists than Boko-Haram. They said this because two members of the splinter group of ASUU in the university flouted established laws and they were disciplined. The two people affected, who call themselves President and Secretary of the splinter ASUU will not go for lectures and they travel without permission. Students have written several petitions against them and have been queried many times.
The law says if you are going 30 kilometres away from the university, you are expected to fill exit form, but they would not. Yet, when they are queried they will claim it is because they are ASUU members. When we ask them to answer queries, they will say ASUU should answer? Did UNILORIN employ them or ASUU? I was the secretary of the disciplinary committee and when we read their charges to them, they said ASUU will respond. I was chairman of SSANU in UNILORIN for four years and during my tenure, SSANU became most disciplined. If you break the law as a SSANU member, I would not protect you but that is not the case with them today. They believe in impunity.