INTERVIEW WITH PROF. EGBOKHARE
UI IS TOO DECENTRALIZED
In this interview with the former director of Distance Learning Centre and a one-time youngest professor in the University of Ibadan, Professor Francis Egbokhare speaks on his achievements while in DLC, politics in the University of Ibadan and many other mind bothering issues.
I am Francis Egbokhare, born on September 22nd, 1962. I’m from Akube in Edo State. I’m basically a village boy. I grew up attending village schools. My dad was a school principal; my mum was a primary school teacher. I’m from a family of nine children (8 boys and 1 girl). The girl is the last born. I attended University of Benin for my first degree; I had a B.A in linguistics, did my M.A. here at the University of Ibadan in 1984/1985 and also had my PhD here. Since I came here in 1984, I’ve been stopped by challenges. I’ve basically spent the rest of my life here in Ibadan.
Compare the U.I of 1984 to the U.I of now
If you had asked me this question maybe about three years ago, my answer would have been negative but I would say that when I came in here in 1984, it was a shock because before then I had heard about the university and I had heard about Ibadan as the largest city in West African. I had a funny experience which I only just remembered because I am preparing my inaugural speech. I was in challenge for almost two hours waiting for a taxi to take me to U.I. and a good Samaritan noted that I had waited for so long and asked me where I was going. I told him my destination and he asked why I didn’t take a taxi. I told him there has been no taxi; that I had been waiting for two hours. He said the vehicles that have been passing are taxis. I asked with amazement: “These are taxis?” because I was totally shocked to see the kind of ramshackle vehicle plying Ibadan as taxis. My familiarity of Ibadan with the poem of J.P. Clark did not prepare me with the kind of things I saw. I was also foolish to believe that the taxi drivers in Ibadan had a uniform because everybody I saw was wearing a kind of checkered shirt. However, U.I. was beat up, totally run-down if compared to UNIBEN which was brand new at that time. Every building in UNIBEN was still new at that time and I came to U.I and it did not just have the shine UNIBEN had at that time. I think time, basically, have equalized all of these universities. But in the last three years, I would say that we have seen a lot of physical changes but I must tell you that the classrooms situation was very different; it was a very interesting and challenging one, you know, interacting with the lecturers. One particular young lecturer at that time, Dr. Akin Akinlabi would challenge me and I think that was a stabilizing factor in that one year that I spent as a Masters students. What I wanted to do then was to take a Masters and leave; I did not plan to come and live in Ibadan so I had minimal interaction; I live in Agbowo, I had no girlfriend, I just wanted to finish my Masters and leave this University.
What later changed your mind?
Well, let me just say circumstances. I applied for a job in UNIBEN but I was rejected because I wasn’t from a particular sub-ethnic group, you known the issue of discrimination are everywhere. I am from Edo State but the Head of Department is Benin and he wants Benin people and I wasn’t in Benin at that point in time, so he said I could not be given a job and people were beginning to appeal because I was their best student but the University of Ibadan just said: “Look, you did very well in your masters, you should start teaching”. So when they heard that I applied to UNIBEN, my department did not want me to go and they said I should just go ahead to start teaching. That was one way to stop me from leaving and that was U.I at that point in time; it was like a typical American university where they did not care about where people came from, they harvest the best around.
On U.I global ranking and possible solution
You know, one of the things about ranking is that ranking has its own purpose; there are methods that were used to rank. If you are concerned about ranking, you play by the rules. You cannot just be ranked because you are doing good work because obviously, in Nigeria there is no university you can compare to U.I. I’ve been around and I can tell you that there is no place where you can say you have the kind of human capital, the quality of students and the kind of things that happen here. The webometic ranking is not even the true ranking because it is not all that goes on the institution that is online but we need to improve over ICT. Part of the problem is that U.I is a decentralized place; departments and faculties have their websites, they are not centralized and so you don’t get adequate reporting for all the things that you do within the system. We need to address that so as to be able to improve the issues of ranking and so on. I believe that the current Vice Chancellor is trying to address that but I would not lose my sleep over webometic ranking except the quality of teaching that is going on. You know if your ranking comes as a result of activities that are done in a university system, it is the natural output and a more natural reflection of the state of the university but if your ranking is constituted, in other words, you put things together in other for people to think that you are what you are not, I don’t think this university should be involved in that. I know a number of universities whose portals are down, that their websites are not functioning but they are showing up in the ranking. They are doing 419 collations of data in order to be what they are not but that really is not the case. Let’s look at it in Nigeria, webometric ranking to a university does not really play the role that is played in other countries where students look at those ranking to determine which to go. The demand far outreaches the supply in Nigerian. The issue of ranking does not generate the kind of activity it generates outside the country. Yes, it might have some level of cosmetic effects but it does not really have the fundamental business drive when students are making a choice about the university they want to attend.
Achievements while in DLC
You know I was basically the Director of Distance Learning by accident. I didn’t plan to do more than being the Head of Department of Linguistics. I knew that if I stayed long enough in Linguistics, I will be Head of Department and that was all I wanted to do. I wanted to do my research and win fellowships, so I was basically a research student but I had also functioned in ASSU as the secretary of the Union. One of the things I realize when I was approached to be the Director of Distance Learning was that it’s an avenue for me to do move from the level of just criticizing to demonstrate that there is substance in the criticism. So I went in there with all sense of humility and I describe my management as ‘management-by-wandering-around’. I wasn’t the kind of Director that stayed in a place. I was moving from offices to offices, so I heard directly from those who were directly involved. I received student phone calls, so I was in touch with the students and I was a good bridge between the administration and the teachers at the classroom. I developed a lot of rapport and a lot of energy. We also multiplied the program from just about four to over thirty. There was also a crisis on course materials and we were able to generate 600 course materials within a short period. Basically, it was just a case of an opportunity to touch the lives of the teeming Nigerians who are qualified ab initio. So it was a matter of doing what I thought I could as an individual within the context of Distance Learning to impact on the young Nigeria masses.
Advice for the new Director
I don’t know what advice to give to the new director because the realities are different but what I would say is that we have a poor tendency as Nigerian we guillotine a past leadership and we pretend to start afresh. There is nothing like that because development is continuing and if you see whenever people make progress, it’s incremental, not monumental. You build on that of your predecessors and over a period of time, you see that a lot has been accomplished. My advice would be that he builds on what is on ground, he strengthen areas that are weak, consolidate on achievements and then, of course, look at new areas where you can innovate. That is basically my advice to him.
You left DLC and contested for the Vice Chancellorship of U.I. We see that you have a lot of things to offer U.I as a whole. What is the next on your agenda?
The truth is that I just want to live my quiet life. One thing is that there is nobody who wants to serve that will be irrelevant. I want to serve but it might not necessarily mean within the confines of an office. I am still relevant and will continue to be relevant. I have a lot of interaction with students and with the university community. I run a radio program on Diamond FM and FRCN. I am very active and involved. It’s a case of using other means to achieve one’s goal.
You’ve achieved a lot in comparison with your age, what’s the secret?
Part of things that made everything go well for me was that I did not look too far into the future. I did not have big agenda and big targets. I focus on little tasks and the doable. So what you can see is a basic incremental. I also have the benefit of good inventors, people like my supervisor who had no problem absolutely with my progress. It’s one thing for you to progress; it’s another thing to have people who have absolutely no problem with you making progress. I had an undergraduate teacher who supported my research and sometimes, a case of personality. There are things you want to do, you have the drive to do it and you put in effort to do it, then you just thank God. I believe that’s basically what had seen me through.
Advice for AFASTES
You have the advantages now because you are in a unique time in human development. You have the ICT, there are break-through here and there. You can actually add value to your life by keying-in to the new media. You can sue this opportunity to target an address; areas that can add value to the human condition. If you are not involved in areas that are relevant, then you basically will be irrelevant. What you should do as individual is that you should have all-round education. You improve your IT skills and use it as a tool for personal development. Then, as a body, you need to be able to use your voice for improvement. I can say that there is a lot of room for reform and improvement in the kind of education that you (students) receive. I think AFAS can play a very key role in pointing out areas that needs improvement. You should involve, as individuals, in volunteer. People say they don’t have a job but I say that you may not have an employment but there is nobody who wants to be relevant that will not have something doing. Someone also told me he wants a job and when I ask him what kind of job he can do, he said “anything” and there is no job description like that. You must be able to look at situation on ground and ask yourself what area needs improvement; you can then find a way to fill in the gap. When you see your undergraduate education as what you need in life, you are missing the point; that is just to prepare you and to be able to think rationally, to solve problems and to have a critical mind. Now, your ability to carve out a role for yourself in a human state as an undergraduate will determine whether you will succeed or not.
Thanks for your time.
You are mostly welcome.