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‘FUNAAB achieved 100% accreditation under my leadership’

‘FUNAAB achieved 100% accreditation under my leadership’

Felix Kolawole Salako, is a professor of Soil Science, the sixth substantive vice chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB) and a fellow of the Soil Science Society of Nigeria (FSSSN). Between 2011 and 2015, he spent two-terms of two years each, as deputy vice chancellor (Development). In this interview with our Education Editor, MARK MAYAH, he stated that a major key to apply to reduce unemployment in the country is to diversify into modern agriculture, saying, agriculture has many facets that can accommodate different professionals. He also bares his mind on major problems of public tertiary institutions, saying there is a need for ethical revolution in Nigeria such that core positive values are imbibed by Nigerians, including stakeholders in the University and other salient issues. Excerpts:

Three years down the lane, how has FUNAAB fared under your leadership as vice chancellor?
When I applied to be the sixth substantive Vice-Chancellor of Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), I developed a template to guide my actions. One was on my own vision and mission, titled “Excellence cannot be compromised”` I stated as core values the following: Respect for humanity and society; integrity; Justice and fair play; Productivity; and Harmony without compromising discipline. In this document I also stated my 12-point agenda, which I have followed religiously.

On Academic Standard and Quality Assurance, I am glad to inform you that the University achieved 100% accreditation. Out of 19 programmes due for accreditation in 2019, eighteen had “Full Accreditation” while one had “Interim Accreditation. Full Accreditation implies we
do not need to carry out accreditation exercises for those programmes until after five years. Interim accreditation is valid for two years, and this is with respect to Mechatronics Engineering. Other Engineering Programmes have full accreditation. So also, Agricultural Programmes, Veterinary Medicine and Science
Our University is the first public university to obtain international accreditation for our Centre of Excellence in Agricultural Development and Sustainable Environment (CEADESE). This was carried out by the Board of the Agency for Quality Assurance System (AQAS) in Germany in 2019. Four Postgraduate Programmes were accredited. The Centre had international students from Benin republic, Liberia and Gambia
Our students have shone well in professional exams conducted by Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), Chartered Institute of Bankers (CIBN) etc. In Engineering competition nationwide one of our students was the best in a Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN)-regulated competition.

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On Staff Development, so far, we have 217 staff who have benefitted in terms of capacity building, supported by TETFund. The trainings included local, international academic postgraduate degree. These trainings were largely supported by TETFund and NEEDS Assessment, postgraduate trainings for academic were supported under TETFund. Staff were also allowed to carry out part-time studies.
On promotion of Research and Scholarship, we built a Central Laboratory with state-of-the-art equipment while forging ahead to equip colleges for peculiar needs in their laboratories. Field activities were enhanced with machineries and other equipment. A retired Professor of Animal Breeding, Prof. (Mrs) Adebambo left a legacy by breeding what we call FUNAAB Alpha and got it registered National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NACGRAB). Some of our lecturers are involved in researches supported by grants, sourced locally and international. This is possible because of the support and encouragement given to them by our administration. Eleven Research groups benefited this year from TETFund-supported National Research Fund (NRF)

On Teaching and Learning Environment, there is infrastructural development at a massive scale, featuring classrooms with furniture, teaching facilities such as interactive electronic gadgets for lecture theatre. Old auditoria have been refurbished. Also, massive rehabilitation is on-going in two hostels: one male the other female. The Student Union Building has also been rehabilitated. Among the infrastructure being provided now are four new undergraduate hostels and two new postgraduate hostels. In a quick response to the issue of Lassa fever, we fumigated our hostels twice immediately students vacated them in February 2020, only to be confronted by COVID-19. We responded to this by making sanitizers in our Biotechnology Laboratory at a large scale for all stakeholders in the University. We have also responded to post-COVID-19 effect by increasing the acreage we planted to crops.
On Entrepreneurship, we have equipped our Centre for Entrepreneurship better than we met it. Also, the ace Cinematographer, Tunde Kelani, CEO of Mainframe Production, is with us as a Fellow and has added quality to our convocation ceremonies, virtual training during the COVID-19 lockdown. He is expected to do more.
Community Development has been upscaled from students practicing agriculture in various villages or our Extension Staff going to impart knowledge on farmers in their villages. Our administration was responsible for re-surfacing Camp-Alabata Road in 2019, and we are still extending the distance covered to our third gate. Unfortunately, the heavy trucks plying the road to load at a quarry site toward Alabata keep damaging the road. Intra-Campus roads are also re-surfaced. The University graded two rural roads, one opposite our University to link Odeda, the other from Imeko to Iwoye-Ketu, in 2019.

On infrastructural development, many thanks to the Federal Government for provision of Capital Funds, NEEDS Assessment Fund and Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund). Under capital allocation, we have so far carried out 16 projects, which include purchase of farm machinery, road rehabilitation, improvement of internet facilities etc. We have a list of 32 projects so far under TETFund-supported projects. NEEDS Assessment Projects are 32 in number so far. A revitalization fund provided by the FG has supported 12 projects. There are 14 projects listed for World Bank (CEADESE) projects, and these include the Central Laboratory mentioned earlier with state-of-the-Art equipment. A common string for infrastructural development has been on the principle that we do not just erect buildings; we must equip them with necessary facilities. The University administrations relates effectively with Community leaders, such as traditional rulers
On health services, there are two National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), projects under which we have maternity and X-ray rooms. This is on-going. We support staff who require special health-related needs.
We had challenges with private hostels opposite the campus but the University vision to build Harmony Police Station has assisted in curbing anti-social behaviour in the environ. The Police Station was supported and commissioned by our administration. Suffice to say that we found out that most of the people involved in anti-social behaviours were not our students. We also facilitated allocation of patrol vehicle purchased by the Ogun State Government to the Police Station.
On Staff and Student Unions, we often seek dialogue. The principle has been “harmony without compromising discipline.”

Income generation has been enhanced with the upgrading of facilities in our Industrial Park Unit. Such include cassava processing equipment, bakery, confectionary unit etc. Our bottled/sachet water factory has also been expanded. Cashew processing factory was upgraded while there is an on-going project for improvement of palm oil processing.
We have also been receiving endowment for agricultural development. The alumni association has been supportive in terms of provision of funds targeted at certain units of the University, particularly Exams and Records Unit. One of them, Mr. Ayopo Somefun, planted about 2000 seedlings of citrus on the University farm, free of charge. He is also large-hearted enough to accommodate our undergraduates and alumni for training on his commercial farm. Some of them have their own farms now. Chief Desmond Majekodunmi recently gave us about 2000 set of tree seedlings.

In view of inadequate budgetary allocation going to tertiary institutions in the annual budget, what are your sources of IGR in meeting infrastructure, overhead and other needs of the University?
In most cases, what people call IGR in public Universities are third-party funds, paid by students for certain services. Our IGR is lean because our food factories were established, mainly for training and research. The little we get is expended on things like diesel since electricity supply is not guaranteed. Also, cleaning of the environment and security are paramount.

Which would you consider the most challenging decision you ever took as Vice-Chancellor of FUNAAB?
This would relate to disciplinary measures or academic regulations that led to termination of job or expulsion of students.

What should the nation expect of FUNAAB in the remaining years of your tenure as VC in the area of sustainable energy?
I stated earlier that we have been improving our laboratory equipment and research facilities, since this administration started on November 1, 2017. There are academic staff in science and engineering who are inclined to generation of sustainable energy. Also, FUNAAB is being considered for generation of energy through solar panels at a large scale. I believe that with an enabling environment, which we are creating now, FUNAAB will be in the forefront to contribute its quota in this respect to national development. Some of our resources have shown interest in biogas productivity over the years.

How is FUNAAB to be less dependent on subventions from Federal Government?
Some of us conducted our researches with grants provided by international donors. This is why I encourage our researchers to always source for grants. For each of these grants, value would have been added to the University through the equipment and facilities purchased. The FUNAAB-Alpha mentioned earlier was partially supported by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The facilities which include a hatchery are now properties of FUNAAB. Cassava-Adding Value for Africa (C:AVA) was supported by various donors for more than a decade and this led to the improvement of our cassava-processing factory, bakery as well as other products such as palm wine and honey. African Cassava Agronomy Initiative (ACAI) in which I am involved since 2016 is a Bill & Melinda Gates /International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) sponsored projects. The facilities provided are in our laboratories or available for field work. There are quite a number of our lecturers who have added value to the University. Also, capacity building and community development are areas donors have helped the University. There is African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) through which the University has reached out to women in and outside Nigeria We are working assiduously to strengthen our Endowment Unit for us to improve our funding through donors.

Do we expect FUNAAB serve as a laboratory for commercialising creative and innovative breakthrough from within and outside the University system?
Our University started doing this from inception. The odourless fufu produced in our cassava factory is a product of research in FUNAAB and many small and medium enterprises are producing it now, at a commercial level, same for high quality cassava flour. Our palm wine is a product of research and it is being sourced from far and near. The FUNAAB-Alpha chicken is an improvement of our local chicken and it is being marketed for the benefit of communities.

VC sir, looking back, did you actually go all out to study soil science or some circumstances conditioned you to do so?
I attended the Apostolic Church Grammar School, Orishigun where Agriculture was taught at O’Level, but I did not register for the subject. I proceeded to Igbobi College for Higher School Certificate (HSC), offering Physics, Chemistry and Biology. The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), examination started in 1977. I applied to study Agriculture at University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) I think my adventurous mind must have directed me to choose UNN. Since I did not state my preference in Agriculture; UNN helped me to choose Soil Science. I remain grateful to those who did because I have never regretted studying Soil Science.

What would you consider as the major problems of public tertiary institutions?
We cannot divorce societal problems from problems of tertiary institutions. Our tertiary institutions now mirror the society to the point of not knowing the threshold at which we must apply the brake. If our country can provide basic amenities taken for granted in Universities located in well-endowed countries, most of the problems in the University system would have been solved. There is a need for ethical revolution in Nigeria such that core positive values are imbibed by Nigerians, including stakeholders in the University.

One of the biggest problems facing this country is the issue of unemployment. What is your candid advice to the authority?
For the umpteenth time, I want to re-state that a major key to apply to reduce unemployment is to diversify into modern agriculture. Agriculture has many facets that can accommodate different professionals. For instance, ACAI, which I mentioned above, is about agronomy and development of Apps to meet agronomic needs. Implicitly, non-agronomists with flair for IT development have a role there. The project C: AVA was driven mainly by non-agronomists with success in value addition. The point I am making is that many areas of specialization have relevance in agriculture. Engineers, IT experts, Logistics firms, Insurance firms, etc. have roles to play in Agriculture. This is why; we as a specialised University are expected to be different from conventional Faculties of Agriculture. Knowledge development in a University like ours is expected to be tailored toward Agriculture. In any case, minimum level of facilities must be provided for youths to practice agriculture in rural areas, e.g. motorable road, electricity, water etc. We need to shift our mindsets from the get-rich-quickly syndrome pervading our society now.