Professor Mahfouz Adedimeji is the pioneer Vice Chancellor of the newly approved Ahman Pategi University(APU), Kwara State. In this interview with Hammed Shittu, he emphasised on its vision and mission of the institution, which is to get highly competitive researchers that will be able to attract funds to the university, among other issues. Excerpt:
When does the university intends to take off?
The take-off time is April 5, 2021. That is what we have in our plan, and we are starting with 100 level students, as well as pre-degree classes (remedial students). We have already interfaced with the JAMB and now on its portal. We are going to admit students, who were not admitted in their schools of first choice. As long as those people are qualified and they approach us as we are appealing to them to do, we are going to consider them for admission. Everything we do now is just to create awareness and let people know that there is one university to beat in Pategi. When you get to the institution, you will appreciate the vision of the proprietor in terms of the physical facilities that we have on ground that are even more than some well established universities.
What academic programmes do you intend to run?
When the university develops fully, we hope that the vision will not be an illusion. We are going to have as many as 20 faculties. But for now and in line with the extant rules of the regulatory body, we are starting with two faculties and 15 academic programmes. We have the Faculty of Humanities, Social and Management Sciences and Faculty of Sciences and Computer. We have programmes in Accounting, Computer Science, Cyber Security, Economics, English, Entrepreneurship, Forensic Science, Industrial Chemistry, International Relations, Mass Communication, Microbiology, Plant and Biotechnology, Software Engineering, Physics with Electronics and a programme in Taxation. We are going to start with full blast, because we want to get the best in the field to come and lay a solid academic foundation for our students.
Considering the economic situation in the country, how affordable would the tuition be for the students so that the aim of making APU community, can be achieved?
We are conscious of the harsh reality the national economy is impacting on lives and livelihood. As we said that the university will be a university for the community, the idea is to make it one of the most affordable universities around. We already have a programme of creating discounts for all the courses. There are some courses in which we have a discount of 20 per cent and others like that just to make education accessible and affordable, and then to develop the human capacity of Kwara North, the entire Kwara State, the north central geopolitical zone, Nigeria and Africa at large.
What is your vision for the institution while coming on board?
As I articulated to the governing council members at the inaugural meeting that we held, my vision is what I called ‘Vision 5-25-50-500. The vision is to within the next five years of my tenure, make APU one of the best 25 universities in Nigeria, one of the best 50 Africa and one of the best 500 in the world. There are thousands of universities in the world, but our vision now is to activate strategies towards making the new university stand out among its peers. That is the general framework of which I am having. In order to unbundle this vision, we want to make Ahman Pategi University, a university with a difference. Universities all over the world are established for three main reasons; teaching, research and community development. Every other thing is ancillary.
In terms of teaching, we want to focus on using the latest inventory in modern technology, and that is why our teaching will be different. Now people know the reality with the advent of Coronavirus. We are going to recruit the best. We are already in talks with some of our colleagues in North America, mainly the US and Canada. They will be in Pategi and our lecturers will be teaching our students all over the world apart from those that are going to be on ground. So, we have the physical as well as the virtual components of the teaching that we want, so that our students will be well prepared for the world of work. At the level of research, we just want to be a hub of research activities.
The location of the university is very strategic. Kwara North happens to be a place where such a university is needed, and then we want to be like a magnet that will be able to attract the local and international talents to the university, so that we will be able to galvanise the abundant resources that we have for the benefit of humanity. When we talk in terms of community development, it is not going to be a university that will be the classical ivory tower in which people will just be looking at it from afar. It will be a university for the community and the community will also be part of the university. Because we believe that it is high time that universities impacted on the communities in which they are existing. So, our vision is that APU will transform not only the immediate community in Pategi, but the entire landscape of Kwara North through our engagement with the community and participation in socio-economic activities that the university will bring to bear on the community.
Where do you draw your inspiration and role models in terms of what you really want to achieve in the university ?
Somebody said that I’m able to see beyond my peers because I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. I think that is what really applies to me. I have been fortunate in my career to interact and interface with people at the highest level of university management. I was part of the management team of the University of Ilorin at the time the university was ranked one of the best 20 in Africa and the best in Nigeria during the tenure of Professor Is-haq Oloyede and the successive administrations that have also been improving on what was on ground. I also have as a mentor, the current Executive Secretary of National Universities Commission (NUC), Professor Abubakar Rasheed, who has also succeeded tremendously as a Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano. Based on my ability to understudy these two professors and eminent administrators, and through my interaction with people like Emeritus Professor Michael Omolewa and Professor Peter Okebukola, these are people with whom I have been able to engage at various levels.
I know what it really takes to take the university to the highest level. Dr. Jamil Salmi wrote a book in 2009 titled ‘Challenges of World Class Universities’ and since we want to be world class, he identified three factors that can make any university in the world to be world class. He used to be the director of tertiary education at the World Bank. The first factor he identified was concentration of talents. This is to have quality academic staff and attracting quality students that will be the university alumni. If you are able to do that, you are on your way towards being a world class university. The other one that he mentioned was abundant resources. When the resources are abundant, forget it. It wouldn’t be that the internet is not really working. We do not have this and that.
Though we know as private university, even public universities too are complaining of poor funding and some other things like that, we are still going to leverage on our goodwill to be able to attract the funding and resources that we need that will make the vision fly. The third factor he mentioned was favourable governance to make the university operate the way it should. When these three factors are established, there is no doubt that a university is on its way to the top. So, being acquainted with some of these things, we believe that this is not going to be a tea party since it is something we are starting afresh. We are going to build on nothing, because as a pioneer vice-chancellor, we know that the challenges will be there, but we are prepared with the support of the Governing Council, Board of Trustees and Founder, Aliyu Ahman Pategi. We believe that it is achievable. Whatever a person can conceive and believe, he can as well achieve it.
Your appointment as VC came barely two years after your elevation to the professorial rank at the University of Ilorin, would you say it was accidental or coincidental?
Everything in this life is either a lesson or a blessing. And life itself is not all about how long it is, but it is a quality of life that really matters. That is why you have people becoming president or governors before the age of 40 and then you have some other people at the age of 70 or 80 still struggling to become local government chairman. So what is fundamental is capacity to deliver, ability, integrity, goodwill and competence that would be brought to bear into the service. To be honest with you, I was not expecting it the way it came, but when it came, I said definitely they (appointing authority) did their own research and fortunately enough, when I was engaging with the stakeholders the day I was invited, what everybody was telling me was that we have read much about you.
We have googled and we believed that you have all the qualities that are needed including the youthful energy, experience, research profile and integrity. I think these were the factors that they put into consideration and everybody was just telling me that you are the type of person that we needed to make this university bright. I think it is instructive to other forthcoming universities that we are in a period that we say it is time of the youth. I believe if the idea of ‘Not too Young to Run’ is also injected into the university, it will really be wonderful. Because at the end of the day, it is just about what have you been able to achieve as an academic regardless of the number of years that you are putting into the career. I think those are the decisive factors.
There has been a call for federal government to support private universities in the area of physical structures through TETfund as done in public universities. What is your view on this?
I think TETfund as a government interventionist programme, has made its own position known, the lobby will still continue. But what is available now is still manageable. It is said that if the desirable is not available, you make the available desirable. TETfund does not discriminate in terms of research grant. It is only intervening in physical structures in public universities. That is noted for now. But we are going to key into the research intervention of TETfund, because anybody, regardless of ownership, can actually write to get grants with proposals and then you will be able to attract research funding from TETfund regardless of your ownership. Maybe, a time will come in future when TETfund will be intervening in terms of erecting physical structures. For now, what we have is still manageable, and that is why for us, what we want to get is highly competitive researchers that will be able to even attract funds to the university. We have a lot of money with funders. It is only that if you are not competitive enough, you will not be able to attract the funds.
In public universities, the number of years of attainment of professorship among other things, is usually considered for the appointment of VC, do you think ‘Not too Young to Run’ is applicable in this too?
That one has to do with the situation in which we find ourselves. It is just a way of reducing the competition. Quite a large number of candidates competed to be VC of the University of Ibadan. There was a time that we didn’t need Post-UTME. But a time came when it was needed to fill gap. Maybe it is good within the context of public universities, because you are dealing with the universities that have been established 40 years ago. And then we have people that want to reach the peak of their careers. I think each institution, ultimately and in line with the university autonomy, should be in the position to determine what is the best for it based on its peculiarities.
It is believed that Kwara North is disadvantaged educationally, have you factored in quota system in the allocation of admission for prospective students?
The quota system is an arrangement of the federal government. It is not actually obtainable in the context of private university system. But we are conscious of the fact that it is a university for the community and it is a university for the world. A university is actually a universal city. That is why you talk of the concept of the universe in the university. We considered the North Central geopolitical zone to be our primary constituency. Definitely, we are going to pay attention to Kwara State, Benue, Plateau, Abuja, Kogi, Niger and Nasarawa. Those ones will be our priority. But that does not really mean that we are not spreading our tentacles to all parts of Nigeria, all parts of Africa and all over the world. All classes of people are being attracted to the university to make it truly universal.
In terms of town and gown relationship, what are your immediate plans?
I can say that we have about five plans for the immediate community. The first one has to do with the area of agriculture. Agriculture is going to be very crucial in our focus knowing that the members of the immediate community are mainly into agriculture, especially in the area of animal husbandry, farming and fishing. So, the university will be strong in agriculture, knowing that there is no way that we want to focus on agriculture without benefitting the immediate community. Number two, the university will also benefit the immediate community in terms of IT infrastructure that the university will be bringing. We are already interacting with the relevant stakeholders with a view to giving the university a very strong IT backbone. It is only for the university itself, but the immediate community can also benefit.
Let me tell you. How many people know Oxford? It is the university that makes Oxford. By the time you remove Oxford University, your conception of Oxford will be different. The same thing is applicable to Cambridge and other universities. Our intention is to brand the community with the university so that what people associate with the university will be brought to bear on the community. Another area of intervention that we believe we will be able to impact on the community is improving what is on ground. Pategi is a very good community and so it is going to be a tourist attraction. The Pategi Regatta has been in existence since early 50s, and then you have River Niger very close by. This should be money spinning ventures that people will be coming from far and near, have a cruise on River Niger, cross to the other side to Niger State and then proceed to Abuja.
So, at the level of tourism, we are also going to intervene by making Pategi to be a tourist hub, drawing people to the community. Then, we are also talking in terms of socio-economic development. We want to see ourselves contributing to the economic development of the community through our staff and researchers that will be coming to live in the community, engage in buying and selling, buying land and developing structures. That is at the level of socioeconomic development. The last component that we are dealing with, is at the level of cultural development. We are in an era where everybody seems to be lost in the sea of globalization. We believe in glocalisation. Without being local, you cannot actually be global. So, we want to be part of the cultural life of the Pategi community. And one of the courses that we will be focusing on is Performing Arts. We will develop the local culture so that everybody will be willing to identify with practices and cultures of the community. Those are the five areas I believe we are going to be relevant to the Pategi community.