Professor Felix Kolawole Salako, a Fellow of the Soil Science Society of Nigeria, currently serves as the sixth substantive vice chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB). He speaks to MODUPE GEORGE about his appointment with IITA, his achievements in office, among other related issues. Excerpts:
You clocked 60 recently, how does that make you feel?
The experience made me to realise that in life, we must make people happy; the people around you, your community and family. Making them happy does not mean you have to lower standards, but to recognise and treat everyone as a human being. To me, once a human being is created, he or she has been given a space and that must be respected.
Recently, you were appointed as one of the members of the BoT of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), is this a dream come true for you?
The appointment is predicated on the fact that I’m the vice chancellor of FUNAAB and it is my turn to be on the board. The immediate past board member was the late vice chancellor of Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike. So, naturally, I have to take over from him. The IITA happens to be a place that I’m familiar with. I did my masters in collaboration with a scientist in IITA between 1984 and 1986 and this brought about my familiarity with the institute. Then I went back there to work between 1989 and 2000 as a research associate and a national staff. It was like a homecoming experience for me.
The issues of underfunding of the education sector and neglect of federal universities have been inundated, what do you think is the bane of the sector and the way forward?
I will always address this issue of funding this way, are we really getting anything from the Federal Government? Yes, we are. What have we done with what the Federal Government has given us? To really address these issues we need to look at individual university. Another question is, will the fund ever be enough? It has never been enough at any point in time. Funds have never been enough in any university in the world. The pertinent question we should ask is, the little you have got, what have you done with it?
This is one of the reasons why I said fund can never be enough. For instance, this university started with a target of about 5,000 students, today we are talking in terms about 50,000 students. We need more hostels that can accommodate all the students. We are building more lecture theatres because COVID-19 has spelt it out to us that we need more space, so we need more funds.
There is this level of financial freedom that most universities now enjoy through the internally-generated revenue (IGR) to do some of those things you are talking about. What is the situation like in FUNAAB?
First and foremost, there are financial regulations which every institution must abide with. Also, there are statutory laws that must be followed and you cannot operate outside that. On the issue of IGR, people believe that universities are actually generating money, they don’t! People mix up internally generated revenue with what we call the third party fund.
However, we make efforts to generate some income, but it’s not a large amount of money. We cannot shift from the daily responsibilities of teaching and research of a university to go fully into production. So, we have an aspect of internally-generated revenue and by law, we should remit an aspect or a fraction of it to the Federal Government. We generate money from some of our agricultural products because we need to show to the public that we are capable of translating what we research on into some value-added products.
Some of our products have been commercialised; we call them small scale enterprises. For instance, the idea of products like odourless Fufu came from this university and virtually everybody is making odourless Fufu now. Quite a number of our cassavas have been taken outside; people are using them to make garri, cassava bread and so on. The amount of money we generate from such things is not so huge the way people talk about it. The amount of money that we call large here belongs to the third party fund. People pay for services and we must just provide the services for them.
It has been argued that research outcomes should be commercialised and not just documented for the benefit of both the town and gown, what is your university doing to ensure compliance?
This institution was founded on three pedestals, that is, teaching, research and agricultural extension which we call community development. These three we have carried out efficiently from the outset. Our agricultural extension unit, Agriculture Media Resources and Extension Center (AMREC) was established in 1991. I was a director of the centre for three years, so I know the dynamics. As an institution, we make a lot of impact on extension through community development in terms of popularisation, establishment of plantations in villages for farmers as well as working with farmers apart from teaching them. We train secondary school students in fisheries and the rest of them. Beyond all that, we established community-based farming scheme through which we take our students to villages to practise agriculture usually for a year. We were at Iwoyeketu, Isagaorile, Odogbolu and Ode Remo. It was a result of the work that I did at these communities that made them to decide that, ‘we must honour this man.’ I was going to reject them, but it appeared it was going to be an insult and that made me accepted the honour. So, they gave me chieftaincy titles of the Bobatolu of Isagaorile and Asoludero of Iwoye Ketu. It was all about the impact of this university.
Talking about researches going on, we have what we called FUNAAB Alpha Chickens. These are breeds of chickens being discovered and produced by a professor of this university; Professor (Mrs) Olufunmilayo Ayoka Adebambo. She spent decades to improve on the indigenous chickens in terms of meat and egg production. The effort is now being sustained by a hub established by her and we are still maintaining it. So, we made the chicks available for people who are interested in buying. The FUNAAB Alpha Chickens is already a registered research output for the university. So, this is one of our research outputs. There are other areas in terms of crop production. Just last year, we made our impact felt during the lock down; we distributed palliatives to all the communities around us and these palliatives were not things we purchased in the market, they were products of the university, such as pineapples, garri, fufu, palm oil, bread and so on.
Apart from that, we are making money from those products. People come around to buy them. We have our agro market, where the staff also buy from and it’s equally open to everyone.
The Federal Government keeps proliferating universities, while many are waiting to also be licensed, but education stakeholders are saying, why not expand the existing ones and fund them properly. What is your take on this?
We need to be careful about quality. There are many private universities all over the world now that cannot really be referred to as such. Setting up a university goes beyond having large buildings,;you need intellectuals to teach. The question is, how many universities in Nigeria have the full complement of academic staff for teaching? How many of these universities can attract good human resources for teaching? So, it behooves the Federal Government in terms of establishing new universities to ensure that the existing universities maintain quality. Recently, the National Universities Commission (NUC) raised the alarm about some universities in neighbouring West African states graduating students within two years. We need to be careful.
You have been charting the course of the institution for the past three and a half years now, what are the things you have done differently?
My mission statement was entitled ‘Excellence cannot be compromised’. This philosophical position has been driving me and I have been working with the same mindset. Recently, we were talking about our achievements in office and by the time we counted the progress we have made in terms of buildings and equipment, we had counted about 165. I made a statement not quite long that we are going to have a central laboratory. I felt there is no point having 47 departments possessing the same equipment when they could have a synergy and strengthen themselves with just one or two to make them more efficient and be able to administer in terms of resources, energy, human resources and all. By God’s grace, we have been able to establish the central laboratory. We have state-of-the-art equipment to enable our researchers to do what ordinarily they would have gone to South Africa or Europe to do. The veterinary teaching hospital has been built and equipped adequately. We have virtually touched every aspect in terms of provision of facilities, colleges, sport centres, health services and so on.
One of the qualities of a good university is to have relationship with foreign academics and students. What is the situation like here?
We have partnership with foreigners; they come here to do one thing or the other, particularly in area of research collaborations. It would be difficult for a foreigner to engage with a university without support from the home country, but we don’t have that kind of money to pay. That does not remove the issue of collaborations such as the one we have with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. We have other projects that involve quite a number of foreigners in the area of agronomy, food processing and all that.
Also, we have quite a number of universities collaborating with us in UK. And again, at our centre of excellence here, have quite a number of foreign students.
Everywhere seems calm even with the presence of unionism on your campus. What is your relationship with students and other labour unions like?
Earlier, I mentioned something about respect for every individual; respecting the fact that every human being has the right to live. If you come with that background, you will want to listen to others over what the problem is? How can we solve it? Where problems come with the union is when the people on the other side personalise issues. But even at that, we recognise the rules and regulations, by maintaining constant dialogue with union leaders.
The students union is not underrated in my administration, we maintain constant dialogue. There are times we would not agree, but with time, we will agree affirming the fact that we are guided by rules and regulations.
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