The Vice-Chancellor of the National Open University of Nigeria, Prof Abdalla Adamu, speaks to OLALEYE ALUKO on the controversies over its law graduates’ ability to attend the Law School and other issues
What would you describe as your challenges – the biggest one in recent times?
Our biggest challenge last year was hackers. There are people who hack into our system. You see, NOUN has elevated itself to a level whereby people are eager to come in by any means they can find. This is because this is the only university where you can learn at any pace and at any time and the degree you get from NOUN is the same degree you get anywhere else, regardless of what anybody will say.
So what we have now are hackers. Hackers will go behind the scene and hack into the system and alter the scores. Someone who has a ‘C’ will pay them so they can change it to an ‘A’. We also have hackers who will collect money, then input false payments into their electronic wallets. But when they come for examinations, we have to vet every student to make sure they have paid. That is when we find out that their wallets have nothing. So, we are working with the security agencies in order to get the hackers.
NOUN has been dogged by controversies, including its failure to secure approval for its LLB degree programme, how are you coping with that?
I keep saying that as far as this university is concerned, not only this university but any university, our mandate for training you ends when the Chancellor says, “By the power of the Senate given to me, I confer on you the degrees of so and so.”
You collect your degree and step outside the boundaries of the university, that is the end of discussion. What you do with your degree or how you go with your degree is your own problem – not my problem.
I am not here to train lawyers. I am here to provide education in law. I am not here to train accountants. I am here to provide education in accountancy. I am not here to make you a member of the Nigerian Union of Journalists. I am here to teach you mass communication. Do you understand the analysis? I am not here to teach you how to be an advertising practitioner; I am here to teach you advertising, If the Advertisers Practitioners Council of Nigeria says you must have a particular qualification to be able to practise, that is between you and them.
If the Council of Legal Education says you must have whatever to become a lawyer, it is between you and them. My duty, according to the National Universities Commission, is to ensure that you are grounded in the theory of a particular discipline and I have done that.
What you do with it when you get out and the challenges you face have nothing to do with me. It is like expecting me to get you a job. You have got a degree in criminology and you expect me to get you a job in the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency or something like that. It is not my job. So, the issue of law school is totally and absolutely beyond our control because it is handled by another agency.
So that is why I am always surprised when people ask me about law school. They don’t ask me about people who finish in theology or about the fate of people who finish in philosophy. The reason is because those who finish in theology or philosophy are not required to have an additional qualification to do whatever they want to do. So, who is going to provide these additional qualifications? It is the agencies that are involved, it is not me.
The Council of Legal Studies has since said its policy only allows it to give approval to schools running law on fulltime basis and that NOUN started the law programme in defiance of the policy, how will you react to that?
All I know is that NUC has asked us to stop admitting students for law because of this issue. So for the last five years, we have not admitted any law student. That is how I met it and that is how I am going to leave it.
Meanwhile, every single programme we run in this university has an accreditation from the National Universities Commission – every single one. We don’t have any programme that has been denied accreditation and I am talking about since 2015, that is, since the last accreditation they gave us and they are coming back in October 2020 to do accreditation of those programmes they accredited for five years. This is because we don’t joke with our programmes here. See, the reason why people look at NOUN in a certain way is because people are used to sitting down in front of people and learning. We are used to someone teaching us, and we are not used to learning on our own.
So we in Africa are used to being led by someone who is going to teach us. NOUN is what makes us to learn on our own. We give you the materials; you go and read them. We give you the materials, you sit down at your own time and read them. After 13 weeks, which is one semester, we have an examination. If you pass, it is because you worked very hard. If you don’t, it is because you did not work hard, so you cannot blame anybody.
Your graduates have also not been able to participate in the National Youth Service Corps programme. What is being done about it?
The same matter concerning the law school applies to the NYSC. There are three levels of certificates that are issued by the NYSC. These certificates are not issued by the school but by the NYSC itself. The first certificate is the participatory certificate – this is for somebody who participated in the NYSC programme, is less than 30 years old
or acquired the degree before 30. Then, there is the exemption certificate which is given to those who are in the armed forces, the police or something like that. It is given because as students, they were already serving their fatherland.
Then, there is the exclusion certificate which is given to those who attended peculiar schools such as ours – schools like open and distance learning and whatever it is. All these are validly provided by the NYSC. If you have them, you don’t need to go and participate in the NYSC programme. Every student who graduates from the NOUN is given an exclusion certificate.
And so far, we don’t have a single student that is coming back to us that they have been refused employment because someone has rejected their exclusion certificate. This is because if they don’t take it, they are breaking the law. If it happens, we have to call the attention of the NYSC to it and say, you issued this certificate and someone is rejecting it. What happened?
Again, that is not my problem. My problem is to give you education and I have given you education, given you convocation and given you a certificate.
That is the end of discussion. It is as simple as that.
There have also been allegations that students pay for study materials and don’t get them. Does that not translate to fraud?
Yes, we have several complaints from students.
This is an internal problem which we are trying to solve. Basically, our storekeepers would not know how many students registered. This is because there is a disconnect between our information management system and our storekeepers.
However, we now have our printing press. So, if we know that a particular study material is in short supply, all we have to do is print the number of copies required. So yes, we heard about those problems, but I am telling you that from 2020, those problems are not going to be there no more.
Secondly, all the study materials we have are available on the Internet as PDF files. This means that you can download them on your phones or other devices and read them. You don’t need to have the paper materials.
Thirdly, we are now moving into having audio books. This is because despite the complaints they make that they don’t have study materials, we have discovered that a bulk of this generation don’t read books. They actually don’t read books. They don’t read newspapers, novels, or other books. What they do is to go on Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, Youtube and all these platforms.
In other words, audio-visuals are their focus. So, what we are going to do about that is to convert all our study materials to audio books read by someone and we put them on our website. So if you are offering Economics 101, it is there. There is a PDF file and then there is an audio file.
What about allegations that some facilitators are not available for students, why is this so?
There is no way anybody can say there are no facilitators because we have over 2,000 facilitators.
And these 2,000 facilitators are available in every part of this country. We go to universities and get facilitators and there is no way anybody can be a facilitator in NOUN if you don’t have a PhD or not a professor. Even being an academic staff member in NOUN, you must have a PhD or be a professor.
If you don’t have a PhD, you must show evidence that you have started your PhD. And if after some time, you cannot finish your PhD, we delist you from the academic section and convert you to non-academic staff.
This is because we don’t believe you have any right to go near students if you don’t have a PhD. We are the only university in this country that insists that academic staff members must have PhDs. We are the only university in the open learning system in Africa that insists that our facilitators must have PhDs or be professors. We have a website which has the picture of all facilitators, their phone numbers, electronic mails and addresses or departments that they are located.
So, if you are, for example, in Ekiti State, some facilitators are the Ekiti State University; all you have to do is to phone a facilitator. Mention your name to them; they have your matriculation number already. Either they explain what you need to know to you over the phone or they come to a physical centre where you can both sit down and they will explain it to you.
There was a time when the school introduced N20, 000 payment for the remarking of each missing exam script or course, why should the students be made to pay for the school’s negligence?
You said 20,000 what? All universities in Nigeria believe that they are doing the right thing when they mark your scripts. And when the scripts are marked, marks are recorded and the scripts are stored. Then suddenly, someone comes and tells you that they are not satisfied with the marks. So certainly, someone has to go and fish out that script and it has to be sent to an examiner. It has to be sent to be remarked and we have to pay that examiner.
We will not bear that cost; we are not going to do that. You have to do that. The students are aware of it. I am not saying it is N20,000. I don’t know exactly how much it is.
But all universities charge a fee for remarking a script that you think should be remarked. This is because you have already paid for the marking and we have done the marking. But now, you are saying you are not satisfied, you want us to remark it. So who is going to pay for all of that? This is because I have to fish out your scripts. I have to pay somebody to go and fish out your scripts out of thousands and thousands of scripts. Then, I have to take your script to another professor in another university and ask them to mark your script. And I have to pay them.
I have to send it by courier and they also will send it back by courier. So you will have to pay for that.
There are many students who are willing to do it, so long that they can get the proper mark. Sometimes, if they are right, marks are adjusted. Sometimes, the examiner even reduces the mark.
There have also been issues regarding non-release of results, which particularly affected students who finished in 2018, why are these things so difficult for NOUN to get right?
The students are very much aware that they have to do projects, they have to do seminars and they have to do SIWES (Student Industrial Work Experience Scheme) before graduation. They have to do these things. But somehow, they deliberately skip some of these or delay some of these because of one reason or the other. Either they say they have given birth or they changed locations and so on.
And when the examination comes, the computer will not calculate their results if there is one thing missing out of all the requirements.
And then when they discover that there is a missing project result, many of them will say, ‘Oh my God, I have forgotten to do that.’ So, I am not saying that we are not to blame, what I am saying is that a lot of blame also goes to the students.
They just simply don’t do the needful. Some know they have failed but think because it is an open university, they have more rights than anybody else.
I have had people who wrote to the Honourable Minister of Education to say their scripts were missing. That is not necessary. But we have study centre directors who should refer cases to us and every case referred to us has been resolved. We had a case of a young man who admitted that he had taken a course six times and failed, and that was the only course remaining for him to graduate.
When he came and explained his situation, I thought he had to take it for the seventh time. That was because he could not graduate if he did not pass the course. So that was my position. I told him to take it again or he could withdraw his graduation.
Also, students have complained that the way NOUN prepares its examination timetable is unfriendly such that several courses clash and are not well spread. What are you doing about this?
Last year, we examined about 120,000 students and nobody came forward to complain. And I am telling you that even if an angel prepares a timetable, somebody is going to complain. There is no way someone will not complain about a timetable or that courses are crammed within a particular time and so on.
I am a Muslim and we had an examination during the Ramadan period and a Muslim staff member of this university invoked a curse on me for holding an examination during Ramadan. He said it was wrong for me to hold an examination during Ramadan.
So I asked him to give me the necessary quotations from the Qur’an but he could not do that. So you have all sorts of excuses from Muslims, Christians, those who believe in their ancestral gods and others.
You will be rounding off your tenure next year, are there things you would like to be remembered for at NOUN?
I would like to be remembered as somebody who gave hope to those who had lost hope, particularly those incarcerated in correctional centres. This was because before I came, they were paying half of the fees. But I said no, I argued that it was not proper.
These guys are incarcerated. They don’t have jobs.
Their families have deserted them.
If you go to the prisons, you will see mostly women visitors because no man likes to go there and see his son or brother. And now, you are asking a guy who has been put in there for five years, maybe 10 or for life or who is on a death row, to pay money? For what?
So, I would like to be seen as someone who provided hope for those who did not have hope.
Is there any decision you made as VC but now regret?
No, there was none. At the same time, there were some policies that I had to implement and they pained me personally because they were harsh and the system had to be stabilised. Let me give you an example.
NOUN is a mobile university. By that, I mean that we have a lot of study centres across the country.
That means that any staff member from anywhere can be posted anywhere. Now, when you post somebody from Minna, Niger State, to Ekiti State or from Oyo State to Minna, particularly women, you start to hear, ‘Oh I don’t want go because of my husband, my children’ and the likes.
I would say, ‘I am sorry, ma’am. You either go to where you are posted to or resign.’ This is because you see if I have to consider people’s husbands or children, I will have to be doing that all the time.
So, it is painful for me because it means families have to be separated. That is why we have to be cautious when it comes to issues like this. So you have a young woman coming in for the job and we say, very good as we encourage women to apply.
Then we say we are posting you to Uyo, Akwa Ibom and the next thing you hear is, ‘No, my husband is here in Abuja, my mother is ill and I have to look after her.’ So I say, ma’am, I am sorry, it is either you go to where you are posted to or you leave the job. It is either your job or your family.
Now, it sounds heartless, but it is the right thing. There is nothing we can do. This is because I apply the same principle to my daughter. My daughter is a computer programmer and works somewhere. I told her that anytime she is posted somewhere, you have a choice.
It is either you go or you resign. So if I can do it at home, I can do it anywhere. It will appear heartless and because of that, a lot of people have resigned their jobs.
On January 2, 2020, we asked all our workers in Lagos to move to Abuja because we had completed the faculty building. About 10 people resigned. They said they could not come to Abuja. They said they hated the North and I had no problem with that. I could not force them to stay.
And I had a lot of pressure from people saying ‘let this one stay or that one stay’. I insisted that no, they must come to Abuja. So, decisions like that don’t make me happy because they separate families. But a principle and a policy must stand if we will not have a chaotic system.