Taraba varsity VC reveals ways to operate good electoral system

Professor Sunday Paul Bako is the Vice Chancellor of Taraba State University, Jalingo. In this Exclusive Interview, he raises the alarm over the continued involvement of Courts in the electoral process and proffers solutions to insecurity, corruption and deteriorating education standards. He also speaks on a number of serious national issues.

What is your take on our electoral system and the situation where elections are won or lost at the courts rather than the polling units?Ezoic

It is very disturbing that the courts are becoming too involved in the electoral process because there is no honesty of purpose. If I am contesting a public office to serve the people, I must not make it a-do or die affair. I shouldn’t insist that it is either my way or the highway. That is not correct. Unfortunately, there is lack of sincerity of purpose and so people go out of their way to win election by all means. And so, it becomes a matter of who is “smarter”. And so the person who “lost” knows that he is not fairly defeated and so he heads to Court for justice.

Sadly, the courts have also become so contradictory that people no longer have confidence that they will get justice. The worse of all is that no one gets punished. If a court determines that there were irregularities in elections and orders a rerun or a change of the outcome, it means someone somewhere along the line did what was short of his oath. So shouldn’t the persons be identified and sanctioned? But no, that does not happen to serve as deterrent to others. We hope that the system will improve because this is not democracy. Democracy is a call to service. The ballot should be allowed to speak for the people, after all, they said it is one man, one vote. But then people make their personal interests to look like the public interest and forcefully use public funds to implement their interest as public interest.Ezoic

What is your vision for Taraba State University?

My vision is to raise the standard of the university to that of a 21st Century University with focus on the basic tenets of University System which is teaching, research and community service, with an injection of entrepreneurship and digitalization of learning and learning outcomes. There are specific objectives that I need to pursue to achieve this by way of revenue generation, functioning of statutory organs of the University, improve on the infrastructure and focus on other things that will ensure that the University meets accreditation standards at all times. We upgrade ICT, prioritise welfare of staff and students, ensure that our research has global relevance. Of course to do this, we need to establish linkages and the national and international levels that would facilitate a robust human development programme. So this is where we are going with the university.

What are your key successes so far?

Well we have started and like I outlined in the objectives, we have touched basically every aspect of our objectives and presently, we have written a tenure report for the first year. In terms of revenue generation, we now produce our own water, though at the sachet level. We are hoping to kick-start the bottle water as soon as possible and the production of other beverages as well. Our Bakery is functional and our bread is already adjudged the best in the state now. We have a mushroom farm where we harvest Mushroom for sale. Of course you know that mushroom farming is one of the elite farming system that is available and we are fully into it. We have revived the TSU Press that is working fully. So these are some of the entrepreneurial ventures we have delved into and are doing more.

We have also renovated a 960 Bed space female hostel and upgraded it to the best standard with all the relevant facilities. We have also renovated the popular Hall 22, Faculty of Education and Health Science buildings, Integrated class 15, and the school clinic which we have upgraded to a standard befitting of a University.Ezoic

Considering how erratic power supply is, we have adopted the use of solar energy for the Central Library and the CBT Centre. Also in line with global realities, we have embarked on tree planting in and around the University. It may please you to know that we have established and secured a licence for an FM radio station on campus and have leveraged technology in most of our activities. Most times, we don’t necessarily need to all come together before we can have a meeting. We do most online these days and even students are beginning to have some lectures via zoom and other platforms.

What is your take on the funding of University System in Nigeria?

Running qualitative University System is an expensive business. Government funded Universities are more of welfare outreach and that makes it a major problem. It takes enormous funds to run a University and the system must be able to bring in something tangible as well. So far, education at the Higher level is seen as a welfare service. While the parents and unions see it as a right, the reality is that money is needed and the government has said, among other challenges, there is not enough funds to put into the University system. So that is the dilemma. For me, I believe that everybody will have to sacrifice and put in something.

Government has a responsibility to provide quality education but it should be at the level of subsidy. The students should have to pay substantial amount otherwise we will continue to have institutions that operate at suboptimal levels. I do believe that better funding can be achieved if there is more sincere engagements with the relevant stakeholders.Ezoic

What is the reason for deteriorating standards of education in the country?

Again, it has to do with the level of funding. Are we providing the needed resources to meet up the basic demands? Let me give you a practical example. I am a Biologist. When I was in the University, each student had access to a Microscope which you will use and luck it up in your locker and go away with the key. After I graduated, I was retained as a graduate Assistant for being the best in my class. Then what we started seeing was that the Microscopes were no longer enough to go round and more were not being bought. Students started sharing and as the years go by, you have a situation a whole class of nearly a hundred students will only have a few Microscopes and so most of the students would never really have access to it until they graduate. This applies to nearly every other thing in the school system. Now, these same students who never had access to what was needed for his proper training are the same that would come back to be teachers. What do you expect? That is how the system ends up deteriorating to where it stands. But if there were sufficient funding and facilities were also expanding as the population, we would have been enjoying a better quality of education.

How do you think corruption can be tackled in the country?

You see, corruption is as a result of greed and the kind of political system we operate. People get to public offices and their main concern is to amass whatever they can so as to prepare to buy their way into the next office they are vying for. Another problem is the expectations of those around public office holders. Once you get to a certain position, those around you believe that is their turn to also benefit from the looting and so there are things they expect from you and if you fail, you are considered a bad leader and when you come for anything from them, they will disgrace you. So the only way out is a total change of mindset to allow public interest to take preeminence over personal interests.Ezoic

Insecurity is ravaging the country with impunity. What is the way out, in your opinion?

Insecurity is as a result of struggle for dominance either amongst tribes, religions, political groups or such divides. Even those people coming from outside to perpetuate some of these evils have their agenda. Some of the people came from outside to plunder our natural resources and when they are stopped, they take up arms against the system.

Unfortunately, there is pervasive injustice which is fuelling the issue. For instance, in the case of Zamfara for instance, they said the thing worsened when some of the people who were mining there illegally are the ones causing mayhem after they were dislodged. But then, they were dislodged and the mining sites were allocated to other people who were close to those in authority and so the bandits decide to use their arms to collect what they want at all cost. Meanwhile, this was their only means of livelihood and since the government took the mining sites from them without providing alternative means of livelihood, they decided that okay, let’s kidnap them and get our own share of the mining money they make.

So it is a very complicated situation that requires serious meticulous studies and comprehensive and holistic solution. I think the security agencies are also over stretched. And so we need to improve on the system and deploy the use of technology for surveillance and management of the situation. We also need the non kinetic approach by engaging them in sincere talks, providing basic needs of the people, providing alternative means of livelihood for the people and ensuring justice.Ezoic

What is your take on the call for incorporation of local languages in the teaching and learning process?

It is a good idea because it removes the first barrier in communication between the teacher and the students. That is very key. For example, the French and Chinese among others, teach the same science in their respective languages and they still get well advanced technologically and so it is something that can be done. Of course, it is not something you wake up and do it, no.

You start from somewhere and achieve gradual results over time. Because of our colonial background, we have adopted English language as our Lingua franca but we can begin to translate our text books into local languages and gradually, gradually, we would get there. Definitely, it will take time to get to a stage where everything from kindergarten to higher levels of education will be done in our local languages but it is doable and it is very important that we begin to work towards that now.

Tell us about the ongoing accreditation exercise in the school.

Okay, we have 53 Academic programmes and about six from the professional bodies. We started in October and we have completed the Academic programmes that were carried out by the NUC and the indications are very positive that we would get full accreditation for all the programmes. The official results will be out by January hopefully. So for now we are left with the visits from the professional bodies, Council of Legal Education, Medical Lab Science Council, Nursing Council, and others and we are hoping that before we close for the semester, all of them would have come in and look at our programmes and we are believing that we would get full accreditation for all the programmes.Ezoic

It has been a very tough one. We simply managed to get through the process because the governor did promise the release of some funds that would have been used for the process but I think the funds are still being processed because we have not received them. We are hoping that we would be reimbursed soon because we had to dig our hands in very unorthodox sources to fund the programme with the belief that the promised funds will come in soon and we will do the needful. We realised that we had to stop postponing the evil days because it’s inevitable. It must come. This is something we had to do definitely. We started, we virtually had no University. What I mean is that 36 of our programmes were on denied status and the rest had their accreditation expired as at October when we started. So about 90 percent of our courses had no accreditation. So this process is like restarting the university all over again and rescuing the University.

You are generally referred to as the Digital Professor. What is the reason?

I don’t even know how they got that name. I just find people addressing me even at formal occasions as the Digital Professor. But I guess it might not be unconnected with my insistence that TSU must grow from analogue to a digital University befitting of the 21st Century. We have insisted that we must move from the former way of doing things. We have done a lot of things in the ICT. We do most of our meetings online. In fact, I had to travel during the Accreditation exercise and so some of the meetings I had to attend them via zoom or other platforms. We do teleconferencing with our partners abroad. So I think it is judging from this outlook that they came up with the coinage.

Credit: Sun

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