Professor Hussein Oloyede is the pioneer Vice Chancellor, Fountain University, Osogbo,Osun State, the private University owned by Nasirul-ul-Lahi-Lifathi (NASFAT) of Nigeria. In this chat with SEFIU AYANBIMPE, he bares his mind on the issues affecting education generally, the state of private universities in Nigeria, the mission of Fountain University, Osogbo, and other related issues.
Looking at the state of education in general in the country, what is your assessment?
Education is the bedrock of any development and, therefore, it should be an area that governments, parents, and all other stakeholders should be fully involved in.
Before independence, the issue of education was taken very seriously and, just about when we got independence, few people that governed the country, people like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Dr Nnamdi Azikwe, took education very seriously, particularly Chief Obafemi Awolowo, when he was the premier of the Western Region.
Other regions also copied him. The gesture gave me the opportunity to go to secondary school then, to enter any school then. It was purely based on merit even for those from the core northern area in Kwara State. You don’t need to know anybody during the time.
At that time, to demonstrate the seriousness, Sardana would be visiting the secondary school to identify the areas of need of the teachers. So the funding of education was very well taken care of. When the military came in, they started to follow the footsteps but eventually derailed, particularly in the area university education, and gradually they brought the problem down to the primary school level.
If we are talking about education, the important level of education is primary schools, because it is the foundation of every education system. All other levels are very important, but when the foundation is not well built, then you are in trouble. The neglect of primary school by the government spurred parents to look for alternatives and bought about the springing up of private nursery and primary schools.
At the time Awolowo was premier, his own children were going to the same school with others, and so he was able to have first-hand information about the school at that time, but as soon as there was deterioration in primary education, people started moving their children from public to private schools.
The facilities are no longer there, the teachers that are supposed to teach can only give what they have. We have primary schools which are empty in terms of teachers, facilities, and then this graduated to all levels of education.
Although, on paper, they will say they are planning, but then in terms of the actual release of fund, they may not even release up to 50 percent what they actually budgeted for; the remaining amount falls into the hands of whoever or those people that were governing the system. Because of this, the people also started moving out the tertiary education system and so began the decay of that level of education.
I must not forget to say that the teachers of those days were committed and dedicated till the time the first set of politicians left the stage of governance.
There is no discipline again; salary is nothing to write home about, therefore, those who have the opportunity to govern the country know the decay in the country’s education system, but they started send their children abroad to acquire education.
They will be doing as if they actually wanted to address the problem, if they did, they should allow their own children to go to the same public schools in Nigeria. People are yearning for university education, but then there is no money to meet up because they (leaders) are not really interested in the poor masses.
Then private individual came into the university education system, which I see as good development and fantastic decision, because the tertiary institutions funded by the government were not adequately funded. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) started to fight the government because we have institutions without functioning laboratories, libraries and classrooms.
To me, the primary causes of these are lack of conscience, greed, dishonesty on the part of the leaders. There are so many countries that are not as blessed like Nigeria. Even with our population, what we need is just a leader that will be committed to say ‘I am ready to die for this country.’ But we don’t have committed leader; that is why the funding of education in this country is not adequate.
What is the state of private universities in Nigeria?
Presently, we have about 50 or 52 private universities. Private Universities have come to solve the problem as a way to meet up with the yearnings and aspirations of the children who had suffered for government’s neglect. In that wise, we have some private universities in Nigeria with high tuition fees, some are in the middle while some are lower; it is left for the prospective student to select the one he or she can go and that is good for the country.
The higher ones have their own customers, the middle and lower ones have theirs, too. Fountain University is meant to take care of the children of the poor. In all this while, our tuition is the lowest in the country because we recognise that people we want to serve are poor people that may not be able to afford higher school fees.
In addition to that, even with the school fees, what we do is to offer scholarship so as to be able to take good care of the downtrodden masses. Scholarship for that fresher, for even those who are already in the university, depends upon performance.
So, for me, what I can say about private universities is that the establishment is well placed and it allows many children to have university education. In terms of choice, you have your choice - you can decide which one you want to go, but parents also need to get out of the illusion that they are not going to pay for university education; gone are those days.
Now, no matter how small, you have to pay for all levels of education. Nothing is too much to be spent on children to be able to acquire university education.
On this note, what is the cardinal objective of Fountain University?
Fountain University is a pace setting institution in terms of learning, character building and service to humanity. We want to be able to say that we not only give you knowledge, we want you to graduate from this University and fear Allah. We want you to be able to say if you are a Biochemist, you are not only a biochemist but with fear of Allah.
Any position you occupy, by the time you are doing your work, you must think about fear of Allah. So, for Fountain University, we are learning spiritual, moral character and management.
In years to come, what are the things members of the public should expect from Fountain University?
In fact, it has already started. We want to see our graduates occupying top positions in this country, and leading and demonstrating that they have acquired knowledge but, in addition, if they are accountants, they will not embezzle money. They know they must not get involved in corruption, and anything short of that will not be the dream of Fountain University.
What are the challenges facing the institution since inception in the last three years?
Of course, if I say there are no challenges, I am not helping the matter. We are facing challenges just like any other institution in the country. Funding can never be sufficient; we are always aspiring for more. The proprietor is working very hard to addressing this issue, but we still need more money to able to do more in the university.
Secondly, electricity is another problem facing us. We cannot sufficiently power the school and we pay so much money on electricity. It is another area which we believed we need to solve permanently. The government also should come to the aid of the entire nation on this matter.
Again too, because the children come from different homes, they have different backgrounds in terms of Allah’s beliefs, Allah’s consciousness. This is a problem, too, but we are working very hard to put it under control. Some children, when you tell them to come and pray, they will not pray because even at home, maybe their parents do not pray.
When he comes here and you call him for prayer, he will start looking at you. It takes sometime before you can inculcate that virtue into the children. For us, we are solving the problem. We also face the problem of land owners who have not fully released the land to us.
It seems the university is not growing like its Christian counterparts in the nation; what is hindering its progress?
I don’t know what you actually mean by growing. At Fountain University, we started with two colleges for easy administration.Also, depending on the structures on ground, we are moving at the pace we believe it will convenient for us and you don’t need to have colleges.
In fact, the university is growing. Now, you need to have specialised universities, and even if it is only one college you can do with, do it and let the people know you with that area of specialisation. Based on the available funding to us, we are going at that pace. You can talk about other universities growing better, but it depends on their own vision.
Our own vision is that we are concentrating on a particular area. Presently, we have two colleges and it is our hope that, by next session, we add one college to it and that will increase the number of students that will be around. So, we are moving at the pace approved for us by the National Universities Commission (NUC).
How many courses have been accredited by the NUC for the university?
We have about nine programmes in the College of Natural and Applied Sciences. In the College of Business and Social Sciences, we have about six. In the first accreditation, we presented only 10 programmes and as at that time, we have six courses fully accredited and four courses partially accredited.
What about other courses?
Recently, we had another accreditation exercise and are still awaiting the result. We are very hopeful that, Insha-Allahu, all the courses will be accredited fully by the regulatory body.
University education in Nigeria as a capital intensive project; how is the university being funding?
The proprietor, Nasirul-lahi-LiFathi of Nigeria (NASFAT), is responsible for funding and they gave initial grant for the construction of structures and other facilities, and every year they release money apart from tuitution fees we generate.
Then we are also expected the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) through our business centre. We are trying to have farms so as to generate fund from there, and these funds are put together to run the institution.
Looking at the moral and religious education in Nigeria, what is your view?
There is no education that you call education that is not having moral teaching. The devil had knowledge but he became one of the worst because he was arrogant and, because of that, Allah cursed him.
That is why in Nigeria, today, we have our leaders acquiring materials gain; they don’t have the fear of Allah. If they have fear of Allah, the will know that one day they will die and Allah will ask them how they acquired their wealth. What are they going to say to Allah? Therefore, moral teaching is very important.
Many homes in the country are not inculcating religious teaching to the children, they don’t pray with their children. In university today, the Vice Chancellor preaches to their students that they should not steal, and should not do this and that. The students will just tell themselves: do not mind that Vice Chancellor, don’t you see that my daddy is making it. He has a fleet of cars’.
Everything is contradictory for the child. The child does not know what he is supposed to do. He will like follow his father that is making it. It is very important that no matter the small level of the education, we must not forget moral teaching; whether we are succeeding with that is another thing entirely.
Nigerian students are confused; they are opting for hopeless things, and they are not looking at the good examples because the good examples they are seeing, as far as they are concerned, tare not the people that are making it.
Look at the billions of naira they are talking about at the House of Representatives on fuel subsidy, and pension fraud; for the child, when there is no punitive measure, tomorrow the child will want to join them because some people did it and got away with it.
What of religious education?
Religious education is good, too, but no matter the religious education, the practical aspect of it is moral practice. For the religion, the punishments are so clear, but who is going to implement it. Before the report of oil subsidy comes out, they said they will engage the services of lawyers to fight it out; no shame again in the land. Allah will judge us better.
What I am saying is that good example is the best. Imams and Pastor do a lot of talking but, in the actual sense, are they practising what they are saying? We have so many mosques and churches; if it is number, Nigeria should not find itself in this type of situation, but go to Britain, how many people go to the churches and mosques but they have those things that religions preach.
They believe you are a human being, and must respect you. They know that you need to eat, you need to have shelter and they take money from the well-to-do to spend on those who are not well-to-do. That is why the security is there; they do not need to run about because the poor are given a sense of belonging, unlike Nigeria which is only the rich are enjoying the resources of the country.
Therefore, when the well-to-do is sleeping in the night, the poor start moving around. They will not sleep because they have not catered for the poor.
What’s the purpose of your visit to some foreign universities?
For linkage with the universities in the area of academic exchange, students exchange and staff exchange.
Who is Professor Hussein Oloyede?
I attended Government College, Keffi. After graduation, I moved to Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, where I studied Biochemistry. I joined the services of University of Ilorin and, from there, I had to proceed to ABU, Zaria, for a Masters in Biochemistry.
On completion, the opportunity came my way to leave the shores of Nigeria to Glasgow University where I did my PhD in Biochemistry. I became a professor in 1995 and head of Biochemistry Department at the University of Ilorin. I have been a member of several committees at the University of Ilorin, particularly in the institution’s Senate, twice being a member of the panel that will choose a vice chancellor for the University of Ilorin.
I have also been a member of the committee charged with the responsibility of appointing principal officers of the university. I was former Dean of Faculty of Science and I was yet to complete my first term in office as Dean when I had an opportunity to come to Fountain University as pioneer vice chancellor.