Wanted Urgently: A Paradigm Shift for our Tertiary Institutions

It is my pleasure to address this Convocation.

I congratulate the class of 2014/2015 for successfully completing their undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. The University is proud of you and so are we all gathered here today. Congratulations too, and many thanks to your families and friends who laboured and sacrificed to make this day a reality.

I am pleased to know that the certificates and transcripts are ready for collection. That is as it should be. The management of all Government- owned tertiary institutions have been mandated to ensure that certificates and transcripts of all graduating students are ready for collection immediately after convocation ceremonies. That is what makes the day meaningful and fulfilling for the graduating students. As Governor, I shall not attend the Convocation of any school where this is not the case.

To our graduands, I will like to share a few thoughts with you as you begin your journey in the University of Life. Specifically, I wish to talk to you on becoming the leader that Nigeria needs. We are in an era that requires a new generation of leaders a new breed without greed. The country is in dire need of men and women of integrity, honour and strong ethics in this uncertain, difficult and turbulent period.

In general terms, leadership has been defined as the process of influencing people towards accomplishing a specific, common goal. Thus, a leader is a visionary with strong capacity for creativity, innovation and inspiration. The 21st century leader is a dynamic thinker, a risk taker, and quick to adapt to changing situations. To be the leader that Nigeria needs you must bear the following in mind:

First, you must be adept at turning problems into opportunities. A 21st century leader does not see problems; he sees opportunities. Whatever problems there are he sees as stepping stones to success. As you graduate today, there is not much to cheer about the Nigerian situation. The economy is lacklustre, companies are sacking workers, industries are shutting down and the army of the unemployed is swelling on a daily basis. It is very easy to despair in the face of the bleak economic situation that currently confronts us. But that will not do justice to the education you have received. You must be ready to exert the mental rigour necessary to turn problems into opportunities. As the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.

There is no better evidence of this maxim than Japan. Japan is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world today. But it was not always so. The industrial Japan arose out of the ashes of the Second World War. The war decimated the economy of Japan and left the country in ruins. To compound matters, Japan had very limited land and natural resources. But the people were unbowed. Instead of throwing up their hands in despair, the Japanese were forced to look inwards and unleashed their creative acumen that saw them producing state-of-the-art automobiles that captured the imagination of the world. Today, Japan is a leading producer of cars in the world.

What is the morale in this? Do not see problems as threats; see them as opportunities to put your knowledge into action and effect societal change. There is a saying that when you hit a rough patch in life don’t say ‘WHY ME?’, just say ‘TRY ME’. Remember, fortune favours the brave.

Secondly, in addition to your degree get a skill. The greatest undoing of our current educational system is that it produces graduates who depend on paid employment for survival. With few successful companies and limited space in the public sector, most of the graduates end up roaming the streets for years in search of employment. Worse still, a large percentage of them are actually unemployable because they lack the requisite skills to function effectively in the 21stcentury workplace.

My advice to you today is to acquire a vocational skill as soon as possible and think of creating a job for yourself. The truth is that the average person can do more than two things in life. Discover your gifts and deploy them for the benefit of mankind and yourself.

Thirdly, have a vision that is bigger than yourself. A vision that is all about making money is self-limiting, and undermines the quest for national rebirth and renewal. Think of impacting a sphere of the society with your knowledge and skills. The famous admonition by John F Kennedy readily comes to mind here: Ask not what the country can do for you- ask what you can do for your country.

That may sound idealistic to many of us given our penchant for self- survival and preservation. But if we are really serious about building a truly great nation, it is an ideal we must all aspire to. Nigeria desperately needs social entrepreneurs who will devise creative and technological solutions to the various issues of underdevelopment bedevilling it. This is exactly how the advanced countries of the world were built.

Let me also add that your vision must be complemented with a clear- cut strategy. A vision without a plan is nothing but wishful thinking. So, develop a plan. Write it down. Pursue after it. Periodically evaluate your progress. Seek counsel and help where necessary. You will succeed.

To the Governing Council, Vice-Chancellor and Management team of Delta State University, I say thank you for your untiring efforts to build a reputable University established on academic excellence and a culture of good corporate governance. I am particularly impressed with your commitment to prudent management whilst not compromising your efforts to achieve set goals, enforce discipline and attain high academic standards in line with the expectations of the government.

The times we live in require a paradigm shift in the running of our tertiary institutions. To start with, it is no longer feasible for government to be wholly responsible for the running of these schools, which have immense capacity for internal revenue generation. The institutions themselves must augment whatever funding they get with their internally generated revenue.

This administration has decided that henceforth all internally generated revenue in our tertiary institutions must be properly budgeted and accounted for. It is unrealistic and unacceptable under the new policy thrust of this administration for institutions to generate billions of naira in internal revenue and still expect government to fund all their operations.

Another issue that requires urgent attention is the issue of staffing and course accreditation. In the tertiary institutions of the State that I have visited, one common complaint is that of shortage of academic staff. While I sympathise with the schools and note the genuineness of their request, I am also bothered by what I perceive to be poor planning. It appears to me that our tertiary institutions have taken on more than we can handle. It is improper for any institution to introduce a new course without first of all seeking and obtaining the consent of government, so as to enable her begin to plan and budget for the anticipated salary increase since new lecturers will be employed. To do otherwise would be unfair and unjust on the government that will eventually shoulder the burden of the increased wage bill.

There is a compelling need for every school to take on programmes that their resources can cope with at any point in time. Going forward, it is our expectation, for instance, that each institution should be responsible for handling the accreditation needs/logistics for a new course introduced. This will engender strategic planning and help foster a culture of fiscal discipline, accountability and visionary leadership.

I also need to see our tertiary institutions correct the imbalance and discrepancy in the teaching staff. We must ensure a fair distribution of the various cadres of teaching staff in our departments and faculties, in line with the prescription of the National Universities Commission (NUC). I will like to see a situation where these schools can enlist some of our bright and promising young graduates and chart a career path for them to ensure stability and sustainability. With good planning in place, we will rely less on Visiting Lecturers.

We must play by the rules, and staff must not be promoted arbitrarily. It is important that I stress that promotion is earned; it is not a right.

Promotion is reward for hard work, not an entitlement. So, for any staff to qualify for promotion they must prove their worth, not simply because they have been in the system for long or are connected to people in high places.

As you may be aware, the issue of ghost workers is a recurring decimal in the State. With over 60,000 workforce, an exorbitant wage bill of N7.5b, and monthly revenue hovering around N7b, we are confronted with a dilemma. Consequently, to fish out ghost workers, we have introduced a new regime of checks and balance in our tertiary institutions.

In preparing the monthly returns/updates for the payment of salaries, I have directed that they are to be, first, compiled by the school bursar who will take it to the registrar to sign off on it. The list will then be countersigned by the Vice-Chancellor. In doing so, both the Registrar and Vice-Chancellor are taking full responsibility for the updates, and would be answerable for any anomalies. This administration has zero tolerance for the ghost-worker syndrome.

I will now briefly touch on the relationship between the Governing Councils and the Management of the tertiary institutions. It bears restating here that the Governing Councils have been put in place to have oversight over the vision, mission and strategic direction of these institutions, while the Management handles the day-to-day running of the schools. I urge Council Members to abide by the code of conduct guiding their appointments, which is in line with the law establishing our tertiary institutions.

On their part, Management must recognise that it is the duty of the Councils to check their budgetary priorities and demand compliance with legal and government policy requirements. It is their added responsibility to monitor and evaluate the curriculum and academic performance of the institutions they are overseeing, and ensure they are in line with the overall policy direction of the administration. In summary, the principle of mutual submission needs to be embraced by all for the benefit of the student community, the schools, and the government.

In concluding this address, I wish to reiterate that it is time as a people we rethink the concept of higher education in the country. As a developing country, the main focus of our tertiary institutions should be to raise entrepreneurial leaders and change agents in the society, not job seekers. We have been doing a lot of this in our flagship Job and Wealth Creation Scheme geared at producing entrepreneurs, managers and leaders who will drive the economic diversification of the State.

I am of the considered view that there is the need for a painstaking review of the curricula of our tertiary institutions with strong emphasis on skills acquisition, not certificate acquisition, and leadership development as against rote learning. A situation where billions of naira is spent by companies and government in retraining graduates from our universities is no longer acceptable.

Our universities must also adopt applied multidisciplinary research targeted at solving specific needs in the society. We need innovative solutions to the endemic problems of widespread poverty, chaotic public transportation, inadequate housing, epileptic power supply, infant mortality, urban blight and environmental hazards.

The solutions to these problems are not going to come from abroad or outer space. They are going to come from Nigerians. And our universities should provide the template for these solutions, leading to technological breakthroughs and sustainable national economic growth.

Naturally, for higher institutions to be able to meet these standards and fulfil their roles in the society as envisioned above, they must be adequately funded. Research is capital intensive and, at the moment, our universities are faced with chronic funding gaps. This problem will remain with us until we face the reality that government alone cannot fund tertiary education. We must stop living in denial. Until we do that, these institutions will continue to struggle. We must, therefore, look inwards for solutions.

I urge our tertiary institutions to intensify creative efforts to establish endowment funds that will boost research in our universities and polytechnics. I am confident that with the right attitude and determination on the part of the government and the various stakeholders, the tertiary education sector in Delta will experience a quantum leap within the shortest possible time.

  • Address at the 10th Convocation Ceremony of Delta State University at the Convocation Arena, Main Campus, Abraka.

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