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I Abandoned Paediatrics Because Babies Couldn’t Talk To Me —Professor Adewole, UI VC
Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan (UI), Professor Folorunsho Isaac Adewole, who was once the President of the then National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), in this interview with KUNLE ODEREMI, X-rays issues affecting the progress of the country. Excerpts:
How would you compare your childhood days to realities in the country over time?
I was born in Ilesa, Osun State. I was raised in a peaceful and serene environment, not really urban, but also not rural. Ilesa is one of the traditional places that Nigerians should be proud of, a wetland. You could hardly find traffic in those days.
Electricity was stable. We had water. I think one could look back and smile, that those were the good days. Sometimes, I have that aspiration that we restore those privileges that we took for granted in those days. I wish we could have them now.
What do you mean by ‘those good days’ and their inherent privileges?
We had good teachers. Books were given to us in school. The classrooms were perfect. The laboratories could almost pass for what you have in the universities today. This is not to say that the standard has been sustained. I visited the (Ilesa secondary) school a couple of months ago and I wasn’t too happy with what I met and I then decide to support the school. For now, I’m paying the salary of one of the teachers.
You must have had a good time all through, coming from a privileged home?
Privileged, in the sense that my father believed in education. He would do anything to send me to school. Privileged, in the sense that my father would do anything to pay school fees and for books. But I was not privileged enough to afford the luxury that people would think of now. Of course, maybe there were no privileges then; we did not have satellite television and there were no computers.
What were the striking requirements for enrolment into a primary school then?
I started primary school when I was six years old. In those days, you had to do the physical test, you had to raise your hand above your head and then touch your alternate ear lobe. If you could touch your left ear lobe with your right hand, you were mature enough. But we know, scientifically, that that is also a function of your height. That might not be a true reflection of your maturity, but it was used. So, if you could not do that, you were not ready. I am not sure many people would cheat in those days. Obeying rules and regulations was the norm. Integrity was high. So, no one would want to send a four-year-old to school as is done now.
What kind of pranks were you involved in then?
I told a friend of mine, I think it was at a meeting a couple of days ago, that I could remember whenever we went to buy food and if you did not have enough money to also buy meat, the first thing you would ask the food seller was, ‘Mama, what do you have’? And she would say, ‘I have eba, amala and pounded yam’. The next thing you would ask was, ‘what kind of meat do you have’? Then, mama would say, ‘I have beef’, and then you would ask, ‘don’t you have liver and kidney’? And when the woman says, ‘sorry, we don’t have liver and kidney’, then, you would keep quiet and say, ‘give me eba for two kobo and put one kidney and one liver. The woman would now say again, ‘I don’t have kidney or liver’. Then, you would say, ‘it’s okay, I will take only the eba’. That was a popular thing. But we were truly committed to school. Occasionally, some of us would come to school late and would wait because the authorities were strict on matters of discipline. Sometimes, it was better to arrive very late than to arrive a little bit late. If you arrived at the school gate at 8.00 a.m., you were in trouble because you would be caught by the prefects, whereas by 9.00 a.m., the prefects would have left the gate. That was an observation we took advantage of.
How was your relationship with teachers in those days?
Oh! It was so excellent. We had committed teachers. In those days, the schools were truly international. We had a Canadian teaching us Physics. We had an Indian teaching Chemistry. We also had an Indian teaching Biology. We had young bright graduates from the University of Ibadan also co-teaching Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics and Geography. They saw us as their younger brothers and sisters. I remember one of them, Mrs Matthew, an Indian. She did not believe in ‘I do not know it’. If you told her you did not know something, Mrs Matthew would take you to her house, read you the textbook and then ask you questions. Of course, after the whole exercise, you would have known what you initially said you didn’t know.
She would now say, ‘can you now see? He who reads it, knows it’. That was Mrs Matthew’s philosophy. An excellent teacher!
We also had an excellent Chemistry teacher, Mrs Frederick. She died while we were still in school. So, I think the level of dedication to education then was unparallelled.
How do you relax?
I love reading and I love watching African movies and football. Just last Saturday, I enjoyed the Champions League final between Chelsea and Bayern Munich. Sometimes, when I travel, I read novels, visit university libraries to relax. But then, I think that anybody who aspires to be a vice chancellor should not think of a serious relaxation. He is going to relax after his tenure. That will be my advice. The vice chancellor has to be a magician.
Was it by accident you took to the medical profession?
My plan to be a doctor was probably divinely inspired. My uncles and parents actually told me that when I was young I would enclose myself in my father’s shop and run an imaginary clinic. I would be asking people to come forward for their cards and take injection. I became a gynaecologist even as I had the best prize in paediatrics. One of my teachers actually wanted me to be a paediatrician, but by some curious coincidence, I did not enjoy my pre-registration housemanship training in paediatrics. I thought it was too stressful and I also didn’t like the idea that I could not talk to my patients. You are dealing with children that you couldn’t talk to. But the situation was different in gynaecology. I also love the teachers; they were well-dressed and looked okay and I said, look, ‘I would rather be here’. So, that moved me from paediatrics to gynaecology.
But I can also tell you that I never planned to be a vice-chancellor.
Did you have time for girls as a youngster?
(laughs) People have asked me before. We all have a way. When we were young, without even appreciating what love meant, we had relationships. Some of them are now well-to-do and we still relate. Having a girlfriend in those days was entirely different from what we have today. In those days, we would only share notes and novels; we never saw it as an opportunity to get someone pregnant or do other crazing things.
How would you like to be remembered as a professional?
What gives me joy every day is to see myself make others happy. When people around me are not happy, I’m not happy. I derive joy in making others happy. And as vice chancellor, I want to be one of those who took UI to greater heights.
What turns you off?
I hate people who are incompetent in their positions and I hate people who tell lies.
Why are Nigerian universities not among the top 10 in the world?
Many things are responsible. One, the government passed an Indigenisation Decree. We have regulations that says you cannot appoint international staffers, when there are qualified Nigerians. Yet, some of the indicators are, how many international staff do you have; how many international students do you have? The security situation in the country is also a factor. You want to engage people from outside, but they are scared to come, even to international conferences in Nigeria. Then, our infrastructure have not really been upgraded.
The education sector requires a Marshall Plan similar to what the United States did to reconstruct Hiroshima after World War II. We should declare the education sector a disaster area. I want to see a situation where the government would invest about N20 billion in each of the universities. Let’s have an agenda where the ministry of works would handle works and ministry of water resources would handle water in UI. Vice chancellors spend a lot of time maintaining water and electricity. The VC at Havard is not even thinking about water and electricity.
Then, at what stage did such an ideal system begin to collapse?
I think the advent of the military created some challenges. The oil boom created challenges. I think it started from the Udoji award. Materialism came into being; civil servants started buying cars, radiograms, etc, things we previously never thought of.
It was as if we did not plan for that sudden wealth. To me, that was the problem. And because we did not plan for it, we could not use it well. Till today, it looks as if we are not planning for the wealth.
How do you mean?
I still cannot see a strategic agenda for our national wealth. The Federal Government is asking for a sovereign wealth fund, the state governments are saying, ‘we must share everything’. To me, that’s unfortunate. The ideal thing is to have a sovereign wealth, a pool that you can use for investment, for developing national infrastructure. The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) governors would not trust the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governors or the PDP Federal Government or the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). There is much distrust in the country, which has precluded us from having a strategic agenda for national development.
What should the country do towards evolving such agenda?
What we need to do is to sit down and talk, and I am one of those who believe that we should have a conference. I would drop the word ‘sovereign’, which has become controversial, but we need to have a national conference. We need to have an agenda for national development. We need to invest massively in infrastructure: road, electricity and water. It is not negotiable. If we can get it right with electricity, this country will be back on track.
Isn’t the country’s problem more about leadership?
It’s a mistake to say that the problem is leadership. A general without committed troops or officers cannot realise an objective.
Leadership derives from followership. When you blame the leadership, you must also blame the followership. The leadership did not come from heaven; it came from within. This country has a way of engineering a malleable leadership. When you really want it, you won’t get it. That is what I have discovered. If you don’t want it, they put it there. That is the irony of Nigeria. I am yet to see a Nigerian who truly aspired to be our leader and got there. I think the only exception to this is General Ibrahim Babangida, and that was through the barrel of the gun. Of all our leaders, I think IBB was the only one who planned to get there and got there. The others got there by accident. You can look at the list. General Olusegun Obasanjo did not aspire to be there; Major General Muhammadu Buhari did not aspire to be there. Tafawa Balewa did not plan to be there.
Alhaji Shehu Shagari wanted to be a senator. So, invariably, we have had leaders who did not plan to get there. And when you look round the entire world, leadership position is not something you get to and perform overnight. You need to plan for it; you need to have an agenda. We need to broaden the base of democracy. We need to allow our best hands to be there. We also need to de-emphasis ethnicity and balancing, and emphasise merit. In the Nigerian context, merit has different meanings to different people. Merit to those from the North is different from those in the West, or East, or South-South. Merit to those from the South-South is like, ‘we have been producing the oil, we must control it’. Merit to someone from the North is that you must rotate power; that we have not spent our eight years, so, we must have the remaining four. It (merit) has many connotations.
But have we ever had leaders, who actually planned to lead the country but were not given the opportunity?
Certainly, we have many of them. Chief Obafemi Awolowo planned to lead the country. He had an agenda. He planned to govern the country. Both national and international conspiracies did not allow that dream to materialise. So, we have this singular misfortune of talking about leaders we truly did not have. Why must we have a leader who we know ought not to be there? I was in the United Kingdom when Awolowo died in 1987 and either the British Guardian or Times newspaper said Awo would have made a first class prime minister in UK or a first class president in the United States. But he never got the opportunity to lead Nigeria. Chief Audu Ogbeh is a fantastic man. He has a lot upstairs. Ambassador Maitama Sule is excellent.
If we want it, we will get it. I have interacted with Donald Duke, the former governor of Cross River State. He is a first class material.
Isn’t the present political system, including the constitution, responsible for some of these inadequacies?
Maybe it also has to do with us as a people. We conspire and put in place the leadership we want, not necessarily the leadership that will take us to the Promised Land. What can we do? One, I do not think we can do it at a go. Some people often advocate a bloody revolution. I don’t think the country is cut out for a bloody revolution. We had uprisings, but then, these have to be sustained. We are a timid society. We had the NLC strike and for the first time in the history of the country, I saw a strike that was well-managed, but it did not last long. The NLC leadership suddenly melted away and gave up. I was shocked to see them address a press conference and say it was over. I couldn’t believe it. That would not happen in Egypt.
That would not happen in other places where we had uprisings. We (Nigerians) are cowards. We could not sustain the June 12 action. We need to be able to sustain it. That’s why I think that maybe those who are detonating bombs are not Nigerians.
The true Nigerian would not detonate bombs. He has so much to lose. But then, I believe that the antidote to revolution should be investment in food security, education for all and employment, because those who will create problems are those who have nothing to lose.
You witnessed the country’s attainment of independence from Britain in 1960. How would you recall the memories of the time?
I was very young. The only thing I can remember was the march past. We had flags. The post-independence period was also beautiful. I was in primary school. We were given exercise books and our desks were well designed. We had inkwells and pens; we had everything. It was as if the state invested in education. I’m not sure that our generation is investing in education in a similar manner. There is a yawning gap. With the way we are spending our national money, there is so much gap between the leaders and the led to such an extent that those who are led are also saying, ‘just give more money for my pocket’. You are not saying put more money in development, because you cannot trust the leadership to develop the society. The largest chunk of our budget is going into personnel cost. No nation can develop under that condition. In our universities, over 90 per cent of our funds go into overhead. You can’t develop. But then, you cannot tell the staff that you do not get more money because they don’t trust the system. They (the staff) believe that if they don’t take it, they (the leaders) would steal it.
There must be a way for the leadership to engender trust. With the little you have, develop and then, you can negotiate.
Some critics say the country failed to invest in some of those critical sectors owing to lack of vision on the part of a section of the political elite?
I am not sure it is lack of vision. The military intervention came rather too early. But there are also those who believe that we were not mature before we got independence. The entire country was not operating at the same wavelength. The West was ahead of the other three regions, yet, the leadership came from the North. That kind of leadership was not ready for independence. Secondly, the military interrupted that learning process rather too early. And it was a military without a vision or agenda. It didn’t even know what to do with power. They ruled us for so many years that even the ivory tower compromised.
We started chasing political offices; they started dismissing vice chancellors. The ivory tower became politicised. The military took over everything and they, by training, believe in a unified command. They do not tolerate dissence, and where there is no dissenting view, there cannot be development.
How is the journey so far as vice chancellor?
I was fully prepared for this position. My appointment was announced three months before I assumed office. So, that gave me the opportunity to develop what you call the strategic plan approved by Senate and Council, and we have been implementing that agenda. We have four main thrusts: one is to develop the human resource base of the university, because we believe that the human capital is the most important structure for development. If you develop the human resource, every other thing would fall in place, both the concentration on the welfare of staff and students; to ensure that salaries are paid regularly, paying attention to promotion, which will now be regular and we are also looking into academic areas: how can we improve teaching allowance. We are improving on other sectors and the entire process of governance in the university.
The university functions on an extensive system of committees and we are promoting it. We are also looking at how to improve on revenue generation. We are investing in areas that would generate money for the future, not necessarily for my tenure, but those who would take over I would have left office.
The other major challenge, which we seem to have underestimated is electricity. I knew it was that bad when I addressed a community forum before the interview on the entire process was finalized. I told them that we would address the power problem within six months, which to me was an underestimation of the seriousness of the problem, because immediately, we got there, we invited private companies to operate what we called the Public Private Partnership for power generation. We visited the Redemption Camp to look at the model, but when we did the analysis, none of them was cheap. In fact, the cheapest would cost us about N79 million every month to generate power. And yet when we look at what we have for electricity in our budget, it is about N20 million. If you work on even N60 million a month, that would be about N720 million per year. So that is huge. So we said to ourselves, what can we do to boost internal power generation. We have five old generators purchased in 1970 no longer functioning. Fortunately, my predecessor bought two in 2009 and all I did was to say if we could buy two more. I thought we could get it from the shelves, but I was told it would take six months to get them ready.
We are also rehabilitating an entire 33kv injunction substation inside the university. That is also down. We have assurances from the Ibarapa Distribution Company that by the end of the month, we would be hooked onto Ibadan North, which will essentially stabilise the power situation. So, we are improving on the power generation of the university.