Professor AbdulRasheed Na’Allah is the pioneer Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, Kwara State University (KWASU), Malete. In this interview, he speaks extensively on how the Institution is making a difference in Nigeria within seven years of its existence. Excerpts:
How far has the University gone since its takeoff in 2009?
The University is seven years old now. Classes started on December 17, 2009. If you count from that date till today, it tells you that we are seven years old. In seven years, we thank God Almighty, it’s been an interesting story. On campus here, I would say we do not walk, we do not run, but we fly. We fly not because we are too proud but because we realise that Nigeria cannot afford to run, we have to fly because where we must be yesterday, we are still struggling to be there today and KWASU has come to fill that gap. I remember the State Government made it very clear from the very beginning that if it was just about starting another university, there would not be any need for KWASU, because the UNILORIN is there, likewise so many other universities. KWASU is not going to be just another university; it has to be a University with a difference.
We want to be a University that makes a major impact on our society by creating wealth for our state and by giving quality education to our students, in such a way that they cannot roam the streets like you have in typical Nigerian universities. Many are being produced every year but what do they do? They roam the streets of Nigeria. So, KWASU started, understanding that clarity about its existence.
In seven years now, the University has graduated four sets of students. All our students, without exception, are trained in entrepreneurship, in the sense that they create wealth even before they leave campus. Many of them have businesses incorporated through the CAC (Corporate Affairs Commission). In fact, CAC wrote to us recently that we have the highest number of businesses of any group in Nigeria… That is why I tell parents that if a KWASU student graduates and you take his/her CV running around looking for job, you are doing a disservice to the University. And we tell our students, ‘if you roam the streets looking for employment, we will disown you; you are not a KWASU student.’ Because a KWASU student is being equipped and many of them started learning businesses before they leave campus. It doesn’t matter what their specialisation is. We teach them also that agriculture is a viable business for survival in Nigeria.
We have what we call Farm to Wealth, as part of our entrepreneurship in which every student is meant to go through, number one, understanding the wealth of Kwara State because Kwara has Agric Development Plan. We ensure that our students understand the wealth and the resources in Kwara State agriculture and we therefore prepare them to go into agric business as an option. We are not just talking about farming, we are talking about processing, and many other things, including import and export.
As a University, we have to fill the gap to make a difference. So, we are constantly asking ourselves where is the gap for Nigeria? We saw that aerospace is a gap. This is a nation that is sending satellite through China’s space. This is a nation that had its satellite crashed and is going back to the same China to say ‘help us out’. We think it’s a shame. It is a nation that must empower its young people to understand that this is another vision for our country. Develop Nigerians with passion and create passion in them for satellite and for space research. KWASU is the only University in Nigeria today that has Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering. We are the one that have worked with NUC (National Universities Commission) to create a benchmark. We are the one that have the laboratory, the equipment and everything and are working very closely with the International Aviation College here in Ilorin. We are training our young people from all over Nigeria in this area. Today, if you want to repair aircraft, create a new aircraft or work on surveillance drones, our young people, undergraduates, less than 20 years old, are doing it right here on KWASU campus! They are working very closely with the Nigerian Air Force. We do very important things together. They call us when they have issues or research to do and they come here too. Very soon, we are going to be establishing a major Space Research Centre on this campus. This is a need for Nigeria looking into the future.
Again, we are the leading University in Entrepreneurship Education. We are the only University in Nigeria that is doing a Degree Programme in Entrepreneurship Education, which is teaching young people to become teachers. This is because the Federal Government has made it compulsory for all schools in Nigeria, elementary and secondary schools in particular, to teach Entrepreneurship to young people, to catch them young. But nobody is producing teachers in that area. What you do in Nigeria is that you just pick a teacher of English, Mathematics, Economics or Commerce to come and teach Entrepreneurship. However, Entrepreneurship Education is neither English language, nor is it Mathematics. It is not even Economics or Commerce, as it deals with how do you plan business; how do you do survey; how do you identify a company doing business that can give you money; how do you find resources because you need money to invest. It is uniquely special and we realise that we must produce teachers in that field, if Nigeria must get it right. We are the only University today that is doing it and we are already working with the NUC to create a benchmark. I can go on and on.
Nigeria is in dire need of resources. Oil is gone. If anybody tells you oil is coming back, he is a liar. Oil is gone forever. But we have resources. Look at the enormous resources in Nigeria. Tourism is one of the ways and this is the only University in North Central Nigeria that has a Degree in Tourism, Hospitality and Events Management. I am just taking a few but that is the characteristic of Kwara State University. We are looking at those areas with gaps; we want to create wealth for Kwara State. If you ask me, therefore, what is your achievement? I will say our achievement is in our ability to fill those gaps, our ability to produce students with quality, our ability to ensure that we do not waste time. We fill those gaps in ways that Nigeria can be competitive in the comity of nations.
I believe that the State Government has been exceptionally committed to this University. From the word go, they told us this is the kind of foundation we must set and they are totally in support of this. So, we do not look back, we keep looking forward. We also have the help of Almighty Allah. I always tell people this is a destiny for KWASU. This University is destined to be great and there is no doubt nobody can draw us back. It is our destiny.
What is your take on the research efforts at KWASU?
We are a University with a difference. The purpose of a University is community development. It is to do research that are relevant to the growth of the University and to collaborate with industry, such that they can start new things, in terms of creativity, in terms of new product and so on and so forth. Having understood this from the very beginning, we know that we must put our fund in those areas. Let me tell you what we are doing in terms of research.We are supporting our undergraduate students to do aggressive research under the supervision of academic staff.We have a Centre for Undergraduate Research, the only University in Nigeria with such a Centre. Just tell me another university that has it. We are the only one. We are giving money competitively;our undergraduate students have to submit proposals and we give them grants to go and do research. We fund them and so they are able to identify different areas of research.
When I told you about drones being done, these are our Aeronautics students who are already doing surveillance camera, sending it to the space right here from our campus. We put a lot of money into research and every semester,we have what we call Undergraduate Research Day, in which we invite people from all over to come to our campus. The undergraduate students do exhibition to show what research areas they are working on, what they have found, and what new products will come out of it. They find some industries that are ready to collaborate with them. And on that Undergraduate Research Day,new researchers who have submitted applications will find results, whether they get new grant or not.
We also have for our staff, University Research Council that constantly gives research money to academic staff to do their own research. Again, if you say define KWASU, what kind of a University is it? I would tell you that Kwara State University is a Research Intensive University. That is the only way you can describe us. That is our category. Therefore, to us, research and collaboration with industry is important. I will give you an example.When we started in 2009, one of the gaps for Nigeria was electricity. This is a nation that is regularly irregular when it comes to electricity. We now said okay, how can we resolve this? Asa University, we have to research. We identified the alternative energy and said we do have so many; biogas, solar, and different other areas. We, therefore, submitted an application with UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) to place a UNESCO Chair in KWASU. I am happy to tell you that we are the only University in Nigeria with a UNESCO Chair in Alternative Energy… What we have done is research, which is ongoing…
What they are doing in Materials Science and Engineering Department is incredible. I can’t even begin to tell you some of the new things they are trying to form, new ideas that they are bringing out, and new products that they are creating. But this is where I’m going; we realise that we cannot be doing research alone because we are in a hurry to get Nigeria to benefit. We have to create an industry that will begin to manufacture products that will get to the public. So, we started Rana Power Solar Energy Manufacturing Company. We have that company incorporated and that company has got a Chinese partner, which is the Chinaland Solar Energy Company, with about 43 per cent share. We have our factory and the good news is that this company is already working on the campus to create solar farm. We have to start it from here. Our library has to be 24 hours, our laboratories have to be 24 hours, our classrooms, the same. So, we are first and foremost building a solar farm on campus.
The first set of solar energy is already being installed… This is where we are going and we now have a company that will begin, by the grace of God, to manufacture as a result of our own research. Where we are going is that even though we are starting with a technology that is foreign coming from Chinaland Solar Energy Company, we are starting with importing materials from abroad. Our commitment, based on the first MoU we had, is to replace any foreign element with local element. We will continue to do research to find indigenous resources that will replace anything being imported into Nigeria. That is number one.
Number two is that a lot of money must continue from this company to flow into research, which will be looking at a new technology that will be Africa-based. When you are bringing a foreign technology, their technology will fit into their own country. We have so much dust in Nigeria. They do not have dust in the US. If you create a solar panel for US market, if you bring it into Nigeria, it does not take into consideration that dust reality. Maintenance culture is low in Nigeria but high in the United States. So, if you create a panel that is meant for America or China, where they have maintenance culture, it may not survive in Nigeria. When you go around and say solar panels are not working, it is because research has not informed their creation; they just imported them and installed them. Our own is not going to be like that. We are going to create panels that are relevant to our nation. I am just giving you that as an example because we have really done a lot.
We have created Malate Film Village.This is another company, headed by Joke Silva, which will be providing places to produce a film from beginning to end; casting, editing, and everything from beginning to end. We also collaborate with our School of Visual and Performing Arts to train actor son acting, dramatic writing, some composition, and different elements.The Nollywood today is the second largest film industry in the world but we have to shape it in ways that when it goes all over the world, is going to be better than what it is today and people would respect it. That is where KWASU is coming in. Again, we are the only University in Nigeria doing this.
How do you describe the impact ofyour community development efforts and what the University is doing to attract best minds?
To start with, a university with mediocre staff is nothing but a mediocre university. You cannot be research intensive, you cannot be after excellence and bring low level academic brains.It is not going to work. That is why in KWASU, we are very thorough in the processes of our recruitment. People have to present their research, and so many have to listen. There is a process of assessment; everybody present must fill out evaluation. These are professors in attendance. Other scholars will also listen and fill out evaluation. They will go through department and college processes and at the end of the day,they still have to meet with me one-on-one.As many as my staff are, especially academic staff, I have to meet with them one-on-one, because we have to let you know our vision. You come here ready to hit the ground, understanding that our aim is to be world-class University,in terms of standard, contribution to community, and the quality of delivery.So, you must know that is what we do.Therefore, we are very anxious and very eager and constantly looking for the best scholars. That is why we have recruited from all over the world. We have recruited from Europe, America,Nigeria, the best of the best brains.
We have not stopped at that; we have set up the Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Research that is constantly doing workshops and seminars, to improve staff in teaching and the use of technology. How do you bring the latest technology into your classroom? How do you connect to the world? You are teaching, maybe,currency devaluation and exchange,can you connect to Wall Street at that moment you are teaching in your classroom, to let your students know what you are talking about, so that they can see how it goes back and forth, even in the Wall Street or somewhere else in the world? This is an electronic age and it must inform what you teach and that is what we are doing in KWASU. But, again, it is important for us to ensure that those who teach in KWASU must first and foremost have a 2:1, if they don’t have a PhD. If you have 2:2 and so, we don’t accept you into KWASU to teach. That is just a beginning; you still have to go through that rigorous confirmation process.
Having said that, we look at our community development as a platform for this University because everything is about the development of our community and we do have a Centre for Community Development. This Centre is an Award Winning Centre. It gets money from all over Nigeria. In fact, KWASU does not fund this Centre in most cases. They use money they get from around the world, including Nigeria. The Centre has its own programme which is all over. They go and find communities without water. They started with Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and now they have moved to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). So, they are attacking poverty, illiteracy, HIV, different kinds of issues. They have Mobile Health Programme, in which people go on bike to places where motor cannot go. They reach out to young people and women and give them health care. They have saved many lives not only in the immediate community, but all around. They have provided water to places where, for more than 200 years, they never had drinking water. They were using streams and other sources. They have gone to schools to provide furniture materials, educational materials, and different kinds of things. They have a loan programme similar to the Bangladeshi project that was done, in which they look at market women especially, men also, in rural areas who need only N20,000 to do business. They give them this money to do business and these people pay back and they are able to give others. And they have so many people that are benefiting from this project.
What I am saying is that this is just a little from what that Centre does. But, more importantly, this University has the requirement of every academic staff, whether you are a Professor or Graduate Assistant or Lecturer, to do what we call Community Outreach anywhere in Nigeria. What it means is that you must go out there to use your knowledge and expertise to do an outreach solving problems for that community in which you do not take a kobo... It is just your own contribution to community development and it must be successful. And so we will say they must have a successful record of Community Outreach. If you are a researcher, you are outstanding, you are an excellent teacher but you do not have community outreach programme, you can never be promoted in KWASU. That has made it compulsory for all our staff and they are going all over Nigeria doing different kinds of projects. The Centre for Community Development gives them money. They call it Action Research Grant to support these people and once they take this money, they use it anywhere and sometimes they use it as seed money, so that they later get external grant to do their project. They can work with a Local Government where there is an infection, a Local Government where they have water problem and different kinds of problems. You find individual lecturers now establishing projects in which they are the directors serving their own people.
To cap it all, Senate decided that every student of KWASU must take a Certificate in Community Development, in addition to their degree. We have started implementing this now. It is exciting what our students are doing. What we are trying to instill in them is volunteerism; the idea that you can volunteer to your community without asking for a kobo. That if you are rich in whatever you do in future,community is important, go back and do something for them. Find out how to help the community and not by imposing your own desire on them but by listening to them to know what support they need,to see what problem they have and work with them to resolve it, so that you empower them in the process.For example, when they go to do borehole for community, they teach the community on how to maintain it, because after they have gone, the community still need to keep this borehole alive and if they do not teach them, if they do not empower them, after a little time, there could be a problem and the borehole would not be useful again. So, we empower them and we ask our students and staff to use the same method in their community development project.