Strides of an ‘accidental’ rector



Teacher, researcher, lawyer, administrator and consultant, Dr. Abdulazeez Abioye Lawal, last Saturday wrapped up his tenure as rector of Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTECH), having resumed that office in 2011. Apart from steering the school to be among the first 10 polytechnics in the country, he spearheaded an infrastructural revolution in the school, acquisition of modern equipment, accreditation of new programmes and opened up a number of income generating vistas, which helped to add as much N80m to the N153m monthly subvention from the state government. Lawal, who said he was literally dragged in to serve as rector, declined applying for a second term preferring to return to his first love- teaching and research. He recently recounted his experiences in office.

Like other tertiary institutions owned by Lagos State government, the Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTEC), also had its fair share of regular hiccups, with one of the last being a cult clash in which some lives were lost a few years ago.

This, among many other ugly episodes, was partly responsible for the less-fancied status the school hitherto occupied. Matters were not helped by the dilapidating nature of classrooms, office blocks, laboratories and the general infrastructural deficit in the school, which ultimately contributed to lowering the school’s academic and aesthetics standards.

Lawal recalls, “When I became the rector in 2007, I acknowledged the contributions of my predecessors to the development of the school because they did a lot. But as at the time I assumed office as rector, there were lots of challenges in respect of the huge liabilities, payment of pension, salary arrears and so on.

And by the grace of God, today, I have cleared all that and added to the value of the institution. “In summary, we have been able to improve on existing infrastructure in the school. When we moved the seat of administration from Isolo to Ikorodu in the year 2000, we had little development there.

But today, we have made that place an ideal learning environment. We have developed the School of Technology as well as access roads, which the government helped to develop.

On the part of the school’s management, we have been able to turn the Information Communication Technology (ICT) Unit into a very vibrant directorate, and we now have an entirely new polytechnic in terms of ICT. From the point where the issue of ICT was assigned to a consultant, we have moved to the point that we’ve developed our homegrown ICT and all staff members have been challenged to develop software for the management of ICT in the school.

Lawal continued, “Apart from that, we have been able to provide sufficient classrooms and now have building for departments of banking, marketing, insurance and engineering. We have also been able to establish a mechatronic department and a modern workshop for mechatronics. Mechatronics is now the in-thing in the field of engineering…”

The former rector added, “We have also been able to provide modern equipment to virtually all departments in the school, especially in the field of engineering. The library has also been upgraded and partly transformed to an electronic library because we still have books in hard copies in parts of the library.

Underneath the library, we have the library resource centre, which also adds to the overall learning process. “We have constructed modern lecture theatres with modern facilities for the School of Agriculture and the School of Management and Business Studies, which other schools from out of the state are coming to take a cue from.

“We have also ensured that we adhere strictly to our academic programmes in order not to leave the students with too much time to engage in gangsterism and hooliganism.

Also, of all the state-owned tertiary institutions in Lagos State, we are the only one that can be said to be the peaceful because we, to a certain extent, have been able to provide for the welfare of the staff by promoting them as at when due.”

The issue of graduates seeking non-existence white-collar jobs perhaps dictated the need for LASPOTECH to equip its products to be able to fend for themselves upon graduation. “That is why we introduced the entrepreneurship development programme, and established a centre for it within the school.

By next week, the centre would have been completed and all the equipment needed for the acquisition of additional skills would be provided. At the centre, there would be provision for beads making, agriculture, hairdressing, poultry, animal husbandry and so on.

What we are doing presently is to collaborate with private entrepreneurs, who we invite over to the school to interact with us. With this, our students are able to acquire additional skills.” As a result of the nation-wide cash crunch, most states and federal-owned tertiary institutions are wallowing in want as the subvention from their owners fall short of their needs.

“That is why we decided to look inwards and ventured into a lot of business activities that would augment the subvention we get from the state government. For instance, we have established a bakery, are into table water production, we have also rehabilitated our guesthouse as well as gone into agriculture ahead of establishing a large-scale poultry business.”

LASPOTECH receives a monthly subvention of N153m from the state government. In the light of this, the massive infrastructural development in place and offsetting the backlog of emoluments and allowances that had piled up for over a year was seen as a Herculean task, Lawal said internally generated revenue came in handy here as the school makes between N70m to N80m monthly from these ventures, with which it augments the monthly subvention.

Praising the state government for the financial support to the institution, he informed that the special grant from Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) went to a great extent in helping his administration execute enormous projects and facilitated accreditation of courses.

“Today, we have in the school a bakery, state-of-the-art lecture theatre for the School of Agriculture, and a 700-capacity lecture theatre, among many other projects, courtesy of TETFund,” the outdone rector informed.

The school may be enjoying its new-found peace even though critics of the rector claim the peace is forced, but there is no denying the fact that LASPOTECH, which was a hotbed for cultism and cult-related activities has shed its former toga.

“In the last four years, we have not witnessed any cult-related incidence,” Lawal informed, adding that, “We have been able to maintain peace and put in place measures that guarantee the security of lives and property on campus. In the past, convocation ceremonies were rushed over because of the fear that cultists could come in and disrupt the activities.

“Also in the past, there was no cordial relationship between the polytechnic students and the Ikorodu community because the former were looked down at by the latter. Now, we have been able to nurture the students and make them realise that they have to relate well with the community, the lawyer added. Students of many institutions in the country labour under the yoke of sub-standard books and handouts forced on them by lecturers.

This untoward situation, the Lawal-led administration strove to put a stop to by standardising reading materials. “Before now, some lecturers would come with junks in the name of what they call “handouts,” and they force students to buy them. But when we came on board, a committee was set up to review books.

We asked lecturers who had books to sell to submit them for review. Professionals did the review. And if at the end of the review, two of the three assessors returned positive verdicts, then the books were acceptable to the school. In the case of the opposite, the books were not thrown away, but the negative comments made by the reviewers were shown to the authors and improvements to the books sought before they were sold to the students.”

Additionally, “We have made serious efforts towards standardising our academic programmes in order to avoid a situation where garbage in, garbage out becomes the order of the day.

This has seen us embark on, and invested a lot in the training and retraining of our staff members, especially the academic staff, both within and outside the country.

Currently, some (academic staff) are in the United States, United Kingdom, Malaysia and South Africa undergoing masters and doctorate programmes. Some are rounding off their programmes in a few months.

“The upsurge in the number of academic staff acquiring higher degrees locally and abroad is so because when we came on board, we emphasised additional qualification. We also emphasised on publication of articles by academic staff.

And that is why we encourage our staff, who have papers to present to do so at international conferences, through the TETFund.

I am happy to note that through this platform, we have a number of our staff that has presented papers in the United States and United Kingdom.

Despite inheriting pension, salary and gratuity arrears, some of which ran into 18 months, the out gone rector said his administration was able to successfully liquidate the indebtedness. Because of this feat, “the Lagos State Pensions Commission, acknowledged us as one of the institutions that is strictly following the provisions of the pension law.

“It is on record that this administration has been able to promote a substantial number of staff in the past four years, and the promotion criteria we put in place, encourages them to be in line with their colleagues in other parts of the world.

“When you look at the totality of these developments, you will realise that they have been able to add value to the polytechnic and this has ultimately affected positively, the rating of the school. Today, we are among the first 10 polytechnics in the country when it comes to rating of polytechnics.”

Scoring himself high on several fronts and in overall performance in office, one would have expected the administrator to vie for a second term in office. He explained why he is not seeking re-appointment. “I consider myself to be an accidental rector because I was practically forced to take up this appointment.

By my nature, I love teaching and research and not interested in administration. And in Nigeria today, people acknowledge me in the field of management, aside from the very popular Management in Focus, which I author.

“I do not want to return as the rector. I have an opportunity to seek another term, but I don’t want to return. I have been in a cage for four years now and I don’t want to continue with this cagey situation. I want to return to my natural habitat – consultancy and teaching.

Before now, I travelled a lot, just as I consulted for many professional bodies and taught in many tertiary institutions. Those engagements were no longer possible because of my appointment.

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