Prof Chinedum Babalola is the Vice-ChancellorChrisland University, Abeokuta, Ogun State. The professor of pharmacokinetics/pharmaceutical chemistry, who is the first female pharmacist vice-chancellor in Nigeria, speaks with MUDIAGA AFFE on the nation’s education system among other issues
What are your responsibilities as the Vice-Chancellor of Chrisland University?
As the Chief Executive Officer of this university, I oversee both the administrative and academic activities of the institution. A private university like this is made up of a Board of Trustees, Governing Council and management. In terms of the management, I head the team; so, I have to see to the day-to-day activities of the university administratively as well as academically. I have to oversee the activities of the students and I chair all the administrative committees as much as possible and I chair the Senate. I am answerable to the Board of Trustees and the Governing Council.
What are some of the challenges associated with your office?
It is difficult to manage human beings, even in the home, because no two persons are the same. So, as a vice chancellor, one has to be a manager of men and resources. Some of the challenges for me is in managing the human resources as well as being able to attract more funding so that we do not depend on the founders (of the school) all the time. In trying to do that, I had already set up my mission and vision before I took the job. I had my strategic plans and the goals I wanted to achieve within my first tenure of five years. One cannot do it alone; one will need to use men and women to achieve those goals, no matter how good they look. So, some of my challenges are having the right calibre of men and women that would run with me in achieving this vision, in both academic and non-academic. Granted, we are still young, and we really do not have the retinue of staff that we need; so, to me, that is a challenge. For instance, I like proper documentation but I have not been able to get the calibre of people that can document for me, such as a public relations officer who can outline what we are doing. Again, I have tried with my team to publicise the university. We recently held a marketing meeting to look at our record in the last one year and I saw that the staff and I, and even the students, did a lot to market this university. But at the end of the day, we did not harvest the number of students that we wanted to attract. To me, populating this university is one of my greatest challenges. Similarly, mentoring the staff, both academically and non-academically, is very important. We have started it and for the academic aspect, putting round pegs in round holes is still a challenge which we are working on.
Within the short period that you have been at the helm in this school, have you had moments of breakthroughs?
When I came here in 2017, I met 57 students, and coming from the University of Ibadan, that was quite challenging. I told myself that we needed to do something about it. We now have over 160 students. The number is still not much, but at least, we have increased it. Our students have participated in some competitions. Somehow, we got noticed by the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, which runs some international programmes, and they try to involve this university. So, our first outing was on African policy and our students were applauded. That led to other programmes where we have been shinning. We also recently had a workshop on capacity training for our staff. It was an intensive two-day training programme for all our lecturers. We also recently allowed the students to choose their officers, not Students’ Union Government, but students’ representatives and it was neatly done through e-voting. This is to allow them start preparing themselves for leadership positions. Another breakthrough is that by the time I took over, we did not have NUC accreditation. In October/November last year, we went through the NUC accreditation process for all our nine programmes where we had students. It was one of the toughest challenges you could imagine because we had a thin population of both staff and students. We had to do a lot with the support of the founders of the institution, council and board of trustees, and at the end of it, we recorded 100 per cent. All our programmes were accredited and that made us believe that we can do it. Don’t forget that if you have nine programmes, it means you would have nine teams, professors from different parts of the country and the NUC team, visiting the school at different times. All of them praised us very well. They applauded our facilities, the environment, its serenity, the orderliness and everything positive. We also went through what NUC calls facility visit because originally, the university was given provisional licence to practise. So, we went through that and we scaled through. By April this year, we got full licence from the Federal Government. I think these are the greatest breakthroughs we have had and it gives us confidence that Chrisland University has come to stay in the eyes of the people, government and the regulatory bodies. So, we have started and we can run with our statement and mission.
What is the mission of Chrisland University?
We want to become a world-class university renowned for its intellectual and ethical standards, research, community service and outstanding training of a new generation of good leaders. Our mission is to create a learning environment that nurtures a sound moral and intellectual culture. Apart from the programmes that we are currently running in the university, we are going to have new ones very soon. They are going to be professionally based. Already we have Computer Science, Accounting, but come September, we would be starting programmes such as Nursing, Public Health, Physiotherapy, Bio-technology and some basic medical courses as a stepping stone to our College of Medicine. We would soon start Law and later Engineering. We have a pedigree of Chrisland Group of Schools which has been operating for over 40 years.
Is the proliferation of private universities necessary?
I am of the school of thought that believes we should put a stop to it. Right now, I think we can make do with what we have. Imagine a situation where we have 177 universities and about 50 per cent are private universities. Meanwhile, of the annual intake of students in the country, all the private universities account for only five per cent of students admitted. So, I will say at the moment, we are not really solving the problem of access. Private universities are set up to solve the problem of access but at the moment, we are not. I believe we will with time. Just like how people began to patronise private nursery, primary and secondary schools; with time, the same would happen with private universities. If you take the statistics now, there are more students in private nursery, primary and secondary schools than in public schools. Gradually, it will be that way at the university level. However, that also has to do with the resources available. Are the people able to pay for private universities? Some may think that it is too expensive but coming here, I realised that it is not expensive. It is just because people have not thought about it. If they think about how much they spend in public universities where resources are limited, you will find out that the private universities are actually cheap. In many public universities, you may just have accommodation for one or two years; the other years, you fend for yourself. You pay utility bills, you probably will pay for transport to go to the school, you probably would pay for one form of assignment or the other, you will have to pay for the extension of time due to strikes, but people do not monetise those things. When you do, I think the private universities are not that expensive. For a private university to break even, the students need to pay a minimum of N800,000 as fees, but only very few can charge that – not up to five in the country. So, people should begin to think about it. For instance, if you pay your fees here, an average of N500,000, it covers tuition, health and accommodation. In this university, you may not buy books because the library has e-books that will be downloaded for the students. There is free Wi-Fi for students, all infrastructural facilities are available and we run the regular calendar. So, with time, the private universities will be able to break even, but for now, they have not. I recently took a team on a visit to Covenant University, Ota (Ogun State) and we discovered that even though they have broken even in terms of population in the last 16 years, they have not started making profit. So, it is actually a philanthropic business, not money making business. If you want to make money, please go and start a primary or secondary school. Chrisland University is run by Chrisland Schools in Lagos. They have the population.
What is the potential of private universities to succeed ?
When you look at the private universities from outside, you may have the wrong mindset. Coming in here, I have realised that first class is first class anywhere. For some private universities that have broken even like Covenant and Babcock universities, check where their graduates are. The best employable graduates today are from private universities. Ask any employer of labour today; they will tell you that. So, they have a lot of prospects. In private universities, most times, morals are key. We monitor the students closely, and there are lots of assessments for the students. In many of the private universities, you clock in; they are run like private enterprises. So, people are made to obey rules and sanctions are meted out to staff and students. Granted, a lot of the high scorers in JAMB will go to public universities, but when you expose those who come to private universities to good training, they will come out excellent.
Interest in quality research in Nigerian universities appears to be declining. What is responsible for this?
I think this issue of ‘publish or perish’ is a problem. All of a sudden, there is the craze for published articles and people are now publishing in what we call predatory journals that are not of standard and where peer review is either nil or limited. I do not know why there is suddenly that craze for promotion. If you pick up a Curriculum Vitae these days, you are likely to see someone who has taught in four or five universities. They move from Assistant Lecturer to Lecturer 2, Senior Lecturer and professor within a short time. You are now likely to see professors who have not stepped out of the shores of Nigeria to do quality research because they have jumped from one university to another within Nigeria. They are full-time lecturers somewhere and adjunct in other places without going to any standard university to do research. That is part of the reasons for the dwindling interest in quality research. I think the problem of craze for promotion is making people to do research that is sub-standard. I think it is a matter of choice because when you look around, we do have fellowship programmes that will encourage people to travel out. Everybody blames government for one thing or the other but what government has done is to set up what we call TETFUND which is meant to fund research. It funds people to travel out. It may not be perfect but at least it’s been set up, although it only covers public universities. I think we should continue to set up standards to measure what kind of research people are doing. I recently came back from Kenya where we had done a review on Evidence Research – that is making government to adopt work on research. Sometimes, good researches are done but they end up as academic exercises. So, we are looking at how to engage government to take it up and how to do meaningful research that the government can take up. Government and the researchers must have a way of collaborating. Government should tell us what it needs. We need to come together to get it done.
Do you think TETFund should be extended to private universities?
We have asked the question a couple of times and we were told that the law establishing it covers only public universities and that it was ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Universities) that fought for it. So, we would need to convince ASUU and government to change the rule so that it can cover private universities. But my own take is that how do you judge us when the regulatory bodies – NUC (National Universities Commission) and government – use the same standard and tools to judge. If you hear about NUC accreditation, it is the same tools used in Chrisland that will be used in University of Ibadan, or University of Port Harcourt. So, you expect us to have this standard. There are some lecturers in private universities who do not have their PhD. How do I send them abroad for further studies so that they can teach better? Do not forget that they are also teaching Nigerians. If we are all going to face the same test, then we should be given the same enabling environment because we are producing graduates for Nigeria. Again, the private institutions pay more taxes yearly. Private institutions contribute to the generation of funds for TETFund. So, why should they not benefit from it?
As a pharmacist, what do you think is responsible for drug abuse among students?
Most of it is due to peer pressure. We underrate influence. If adults can be influenced, how much more the younger ones whose minds are so tender? They test run so many things and unfortunately, drugs abuse react with brain cells, the central nervous system, and sometimes, cause irreversible reactions. The drugs are chemicals and when they react with the CNS, damage is done. Except there is a miracle, it never fully reverses. Some of these students indulge in drugs to be able to do certain things. For instance, some will take it to be able to face a girl or do XYZ. Eighty per cent of crimes lately are committed under the influence of drugs. For people to be able to kidnap, rape and rob, they are mostly under the influence of one substance or the other. That is why I tell people that when they are driving on the road, do not struggle with other drivers because a lot of the people you see on the road are on drugs. To curb this menace, we must create more awareness and have more rehabilitation centres.
The problem of sex-for-marks is becoming a recurring decimal in Nigerian institutions of higher learning. How can we tackle it?
This sex-for-marks syndrome has always been there. It is only coming out now because of improved communication gadgets. When you cough these days, it goes on social media. Sexual immorality between staff and students in higher institutions has always been there. I recall how I narrowly escaped it in 100 Level at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). We already knew about it before I entered the university but I had to run for my dear life when I discovered that two lecturers taking Physics and Chemistry had focused on me. I recall at a time one of my close friends had a problem too that we had to go as a group of students to beg the lecturer to release her. It has always been there but it is very wrong. Now that we have more gadgets and resources to track this immoral act, students should be empowered to know how to expose such things. You can see that society condemns it and government does too. So, if people are caught and punished, they will sit up. We need to empower students to know how to report these incidents.
What stirred your interest in education?
My mother did. She personally trained five of us by ensuring that we studied hard. From kindergarten till we left her house, we did not have any option. By the time I was in primary school, I told myself I was going to study Mathematics because she had pumped enough of it into my head. There was zero tolerance for failure in our house. So, I worked towards that. By the time I was finishing in the then University of Ife, pharmacy was thriving then; at least, I would have been a millionaire, but something told me to go into the academia.
Can you recall where you first worked?
That was at the University of Ife; the university will always keep their best. So, we were kept to actually start work immediately. I started my internship in OAU as a graduate assistant. I registered for my Master immediately. We were under the tutelage of our lecturers and we were helping the undergraduates with their practicals, helping to grade them, and we went to the hospital sometimes. The experience was good.
How did you meet your husband?
While I was in Ife, I got born again. In those days, when you say you are born again, you are truly born again. After that encounter, everything about me changed. My life became God’s will. I said, “Lord, whatever you want me to do that I will do.” Being the first born, I would not have gone into academics because my parents were waiting for me to come out as a pharmacist to set up a big pharmacy, but that all changed because God was directing me. I told God that when it comes to marriage, I will marry His choice for me, whoever it is. I was not tribalistic in that area; I was open minded. Prayerfully, we (my husband and I) met in the fellowship in Ife. The fellowship was called Evangelical Christian Union. Interestingly, I was in the final year and he was in year one when he came to propose. I prayed about it and I got a conviction. That was in 1983.
What challenges did you struggle with the early years of your marriage?
We did not get married until five years after he proposed to me (1988). I knew he was going to be a full-time minister of the gospel. He has always worked for God. Our early challenges were mainly financial because I was a postgraduate student, married and having children, though working.
Can you recall some fond memories of your childhood?
I enjoyed school. I attended the Federal Government College, Enugu. It was a mixed school. I had fun with good friends from all over the country. We had a lot of activities. Being in drama and dance groups was my best life. My father was a retired lecturer and my mum was a headmistress. We also had some fun in the house.
How do you balance your work and family life?
It is a busy life for me. It has always been so because a great part of my life is also spent in the ministry as a minister’s wife and I do not joke with it. A great part of my time is spent on my husband; another part on the children and another great part on the job. None must suffer. I think I do not sleep, even till now. There are days I work from night till morning to be able to catch up. What keeps me going is God. I depend on Him a lot for strength and good health. I work hard. I do not want anything I am doing to suffer.
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy listening and singing along to gospel music. I started singing when I was two years old. Now that I do not have much time, I listen to Christian music. If I am in church, the best aspect of my worship life is praise and worship.
How do you relax?
I do not think I relax. Sometimes, I jog around my house in the morning. I occasionally watch the television. These days, I am not happy listening to the news. I love music and listen to it.
What kind of dressing do you like?
I like to dress simply, and sometimes, formal, depending on where I am going. I hate to wear long sleeves. For church, it is formal. I must wear a hat.
What is your beauty regime like?
Because I always rush to catch up with my schedules, I usually have my make-up kit, and I apply a little of it. I do not use lipstick, just brown powder. I use an eyeliner and lip-gloss. I think I am moderate.
Culled from The Punch