‘My Rectorship Was By Divine Provision’
Dr. (Mrs.) Theresa Taiwo Akande is the first female Rector of the Federal Polytechnic, Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State. She rose through the ranks, heading various positions at different times before assuming the rectorship of the institution.
NOT too many women in Nigeria are in leadership positions and even fewer are rectors and vice chancellors of higher institutions of learning. Many people feel being the head of a university or polytechnic in Nigeria is the birthright of men but this opinion doesn’t matter to the first female Rector of the Federal Polytechnic, Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Dr. (Mrs.) Theresa Taiwo Akande.
Born at the Massey Children Hospital in Lagos to second generation Lagosians, Dr. Akande is one of a pair of identical twins. She attended Our Lady of Apostles Primary and Secondary schools both in Yaba and spent a year at Our Lady of Lourdes in Surulere. She obtained her first degree in Zoology at the University of Ibadan, and completed her master’s degree programme in 1980 with a degree in Fisheries.
Shortly after this, she decided to join the then Federal Polytechnic, Akure, which is now known as The Federal Polytechnic, Ado-Ekiti as a Lecturer III in November of that same year. While lecturing there, she was advised by her fiancée, who later became her husband, to pursue her Ph.D in Fish Nutrition (Aquaculture) at the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA).
The following year saw her tying the nuptial knots with her soul mate, Dr. Babatunde Adewale Akande who was a professor and the Dean of the Postgraduate School of the University of Ado-Ekiti (UNAD), and the marriage produced three children. Sadly, he passed away in July 2004, and Akande says his passing was tragic but it made her even more motivated to excel.
She says she has always been a lover of academics and so her journey into the field was not a surprise to anyone. According to her, she derived intense joy from working in the laboratory at the University of Ibadan, investigating and trying to get results and solutions. She describes the laboratory and library as her second home. Despite being a university scholar, some events halted her postgraduate studies and she went ahead to take up an appointment with the polytechnic. In her words: “In those days, funding was adequate, facilities were in excellent supply and life was good, so I didn’t regret my decision at all.”
Akande describes her rise to become the rector as divine provision and not accidental because several experiences and leaders prepared her for the position even when she wasn’t physically aware that she was being prepared. She admits that it never crossed her mind that she would one day become rector, even when she was moving up the ladder in her profession.
“In 1981, I was upgraded to the position of Lecturer II, based on the presentation of my Master’s degree certificate. A few months later, early 1982, I was made the head of a unit in my department. A few years later, I became Head of Department (HOD), as well as retaining my position as head of unit and I served twice as the HOD. Concurrently, I served either as Chairman or member of many committees within the institution despite my relatively young age and lack of experience then. I also became Dean of School of Science and Technology in 1998 while also holding the position of Head of Department.
“I was the Coordinator of our institution’s chapter of Women In Technical Education And Employment (WITED) – a position I coordinated for 20 years. I became the Dean of our Continuing Education Centre in 2002. The Centre handles all our part-time programmes. I became Deputy Rector in 2003 and served for two terms, which ended in 2007. I was the Chairman of our Staff School Management Board, Prime Guest House Management Committee, and Academic Staff Review Panel, all alongside my portfolio of Deputy Rector. All these positions assisted and encouraged me to hone my administration skills as well as learn about human behavior,” she said.
She credits two former rectors of the polytechnic, Chief A. B. Ojo and Prof. Olawunmi Ajaja, for mentoring her and she describes herself as fortunate to have worked with them and learnt from them. She admits that these two men challenged and motivated her to develop abilities which she never knew she possessed.
Akande admits that the responsibility of running and administering a polytechnic is not an easy one, while trying to position the institution to remain relevant to the needs and challenges of present day Nigeria is a daunting one. She however believes that she has been able to put in her best so far and effectively managed the several challenges she has faced thus far.
On her experiences, she says that there is nothing like a negative experience, as all experiences in life are meant to develop an individual, even ‘painful experiences.’
The rector revealed that she discovered along the line that nothing, no experience, can absolutely prepare one for the reality of holding public office in Nigeria, adding that the ‘Management People’ have always averred that the most difficult aspect of management is the human aspect because it is the least manageable.
She says her administration has been successful and her nine-point vision with which she came on board has been actualised. Ranging from digitisation of the school’s processes, that is, the ICT development, staff/students’ welfare/development, boosting of the internally generated revenue, development of physical infrastructure, entrepreneurship development and putting in place a vibrant alumni association.
“Over 90 per cent of these have been successful despite the daunting challenges and opposition to reform. For example, during my first year in office, when I experienced the hassle faced by prospective candidates for the post-JAMB processes, I was determined that the entire process must be overhauled and streamlined more so that some unscrupulous staff were benefitting financially from the chaos!
“Thus in 2011, I initiated online admission process which included computer-based test (CBT) for the post-JAMB. Expectedly, there was fierce opposition with many insisting that it would fail and I was simply wasting money! But like any good idea whose time had come, not only did we succeed, JAMB itself went on to adopt its use for its examination all over the country. This success boosted my confidence such that in 2013, I again initiated an e-learning group on our campus to evolve ways and means of developing e-learning forms of most of our curricula,” Akande enthused.
She continued: “This was based on my observation that the old teaching methods were becoming obsolete and no longer reaching through to our students. Why not use the same social platforms, which currently engage our students and ‘waste’ their precious time, in teaching them? This was my challenge to the group at their inauguration. By December of 2013, less than three months after they started, members of the group, using the courses they were taught as pilot, were able to engage their students throughout the festive period with tutorials and assignments.
“As the Lord would have it, there was a workshop on e-learning organised by the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) Kaduna, to which some members of the group were sponsored. Since then, there has been no looking back. At the e-learning Conference in Uganda in 2014, to which many members of the committee were sponsored, one of them, Mr. Shadrach Akinkuade, won a top prize.”
The area of Staff Welfare/Development also equally received attention. “I have cause to thank the Lord. All the backlog of promotions have been cleared and even the 2015 Promotions/Conversions/Upgradings have been done and approved by our Governing Council. Quite a sizeable number of staff have been sponsored to international conferences/workshops using combination of TETFUND Sponsorship and our own internal resources.
“I believe so much in exposure. When I came on board in 2010, we had less than five academic staff with Ph.Ds. Today, five years down the line, we have over 30 and many more will be completing their programmes this year.
“In-house trainings, especially in the areas of computer appreciation and laboratory techniques, have been organised several times to bring our staff at par with current practices. It’s in the area of our entrepreneurship programme that we really scored. We started in the year 2010 and today, over 15 viable skills have been successfully anchored. The Centre for Entrepreneurship Development and Vocational Studies has now become ‘self-sufficient’ and in fact, some of our ‘graduates’ from the scheme have anchored their own small businesses through which they sustain themselves and their siblings!
“It has also successfully attracted a partnership with the USAID/WINROCK, which had been availing us of the help of volunteer experts to assist the programme get to the next level. NBTE has designated it a ‘Centre of Excellence’ for the Programme.”
Akande believes all these were achieved with the help of God and she is still hoping to do even more. She believes a woman can excel in a leadership position even more than a man if she is given the ability to show what she can do. She advises other women to pursue their interests and desires in a wholesome manner and not relent in the pursuit of excellence.
She hopes other women would pursue a career in academics because, according to her, the academic world needs more women than ever before. Most women struggle to finish school and abandon their degrees as soon as they get married and that shouldn’t be so, she avers. “Marriage should make you aspire to greater heights and not the other way around.”
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