I used to think mission universities were expensive, now I know better- Asaju, VC ACU

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The Rt. Revd Professor Dapo Asaju, former Deputy Vice Chancellor (academics) Lagos State University, ex-Provost Crowther Graduate School of Theology  and now the Vice Chancellor of Ajayi Crowther University. He is reputed to be the first Bishop Theologian in the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion. He spoke with Church Times about a year ago. This interview was published in the hard copy edition of Church Times last year November. Below are excerpts:

You were lecturer at the Lagos State University, then Provost at the Crowther Graduate School of Theology and now VC Ajayi Crowther University. What does this transition mean to you as a person?

In my career as a priest and a lecturer I have always been called upon to work in pioneering circumstances. That is why I regard wherever I am as extension of God’s kingdom. I have identified that God has given me certain ability to struggle and put facilities in place for church or institutions to run with. I have had to face this challenge and God has not disappointed me.

My first exposure in the Anglican Communion was at the Church of Epiphany, Badagry Express way in the Old Diocese of Lagos and later in the Lagos West Diocese.  When I got there I found a weak congregation just emerging out of a crisis. But within a year or so God enabled us to put an end to the crisis and establish three churches from the church in one day.

I left that place and moved to the Church of Transfiguration, Iba Estate in Lagos. When I got there the church had no building of its own. The attendance was poor and the income was nothing to write home about. But as God would have it, the church turned out to be a big assembly.

While at the Lagos State University, God also used me to put up some buildings; including the only Guest House in the university. As a Bishop Theologian and the Provost of the Crowther Graduate School we started from the scratches. Today, that institution has become a world class institution with the best faculty in Theology in the country. God used us to start the Language School and a number of other departments. We have 23 professors teaching in the school including lecturers from Cambridge and Harvard. We have also been able to send some of our lecturers to foreign institutions for further studies.

So God has always allowed me to do pioneering work and he has always proved Himself.

So what pioneering work did you do coming to ACU?

Coming to Ajayi Crowther University has been another ball game. With every sense of modesty, the Lord has enabled us to make the university better than how we met it. We must however not forget to appreciate those who have gone ahead of us. We have only built on the foundation that has been laid.

But what was your perception of a Christian University ever before you took the job?

To start with I was reluctant to take the job. I had never in my life contested for any position. In 1988 I became the chairman of the ASUU of LASU on invitation. I was working directly with Prof. Atahiru Jega the then President of ASUU who later became the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). We were the arrow head of the struggle against Babangida and Abacha. The change in the salary structure of lecturers in Nigeria was a product of the fight we waged against the authority then. The salary of a professor in those days was N14, 280 per annum. I was one of those who drafted the new salary scheme. We ensured a roundtable for dialogue with stakeholders to be able to achieve the salary structure.

I am not an ambitious person. I don’t love position because it is a distraction to me. I told the ACU community in one of our devotions that I was in a hurry to do what I want to do and I told them I have five years to spend. That is if God wants me to be here for those five years. So there is a need for us to work as fast as we can while trusting God for His support so that the vision and plan for the school will be a reality.

So how did you now end up taking up the job of the VC in ACU?

I was reluctant to take the job because I was in Abeokuta at the Graduate School of Theology. It is on record that for six years in that school I did not collect any salary. We had to depend on God and the goodwill of people to fund the place. The dioceses were not supportive as it were. We were on our own. I still maintained my job at the LASU. It was a pioneering experience for me at the Crowther Graduate School of Theology.  I was asked to go there by the former Primate of the Church of Nigeria, The Most Rev Peter Akinola who told me he would want me to help lay a good foundation for the school. I was to supervise all the theological schools in the Church of Nigeria. About 500 priests were passing through the school in a year. I had a five-year mandate in the school and I had said to myself that until I am through with the five-year plan I would not take up any other job. That in a way explained my reluctance to take the ACU job.

It is important I give all this background for a proper understanding of what informed my initial reluctance to take the job. I thank God for Bishop Awelewa Adebiyi, the retired bishop of the Diocese of Lagos West who God used to make me a Canon and an Archdeacon. I will forever be grateful to him. He was the one who wanted me to take up the VC job then. But I would not just accept the offer of being VC against an earlier instruction to stay in Crowther Graduate School by the former Primate of the Church of Nigeria, The Rt. Rev Peter Akinola. I will not say because of the pay jump at the position. I don’t allow money to inform my decision. When I have money I give. When I don’t have I am happier.

Eventually when the opportunity came I accepted the offer. But talking seriously I like to be at the backseat. I don’t really enjoy limelight as it were.

What perception did you have before coming to ACU and what is your own idea of a Christian University?

ACU had its good days and had its bad days. But the fundamental problem is that we are still asking for more commitment to the school from all the stakeholders. Lagos West Diocese under Bishop Adebiyi did a lot in terms of committing funds and facilities to the school. We are hoping that the current Bishop, The Rt. Revd. Dr. James Odedeji will also continue in that line. There is reason to ask for more commitment from Church of Nigeria to the university. I have been in the university system for 34 years. I came on the premise that I will get all the needed support. My idea of a Christian university is that the Church of Nigeria has a heritage of pioneering education in Nigeria. I discovered students who had problems in other universities were being brought here because it is believed that they will be reformed when they get here. Unfortunately such students come to pollute others.

So what did you meet on ground when you came to ACU?

I believe governing an institution like the university is a continuum. VC’s come and go.  The university remains. By the time we came the morality was low. We had challenges in the area of academics and that cannot be unconnected with the fact that the school runs on zero subventions from the Church of Nigeria. I inherited a debt of over N400million. The roads in the school were not tarred. No lecturer lived on campus.  We had to start all over again. There was no chapel that would contain the population on campus.  Since we came we have been able build a lot of structures by the special grace of God. We also renovated a lot of the existing buildings. The Church has not been giving us money. But God has raised individuals and kind hearted Nigerians to support the school. For now, I can say with a lot of joy that things are looking up.

So what is peculiar about ACU?

ACU has a good historical heritage. Ajayi Crowther who God used to do great work in the Church of Nigeria came from the same area where the university is located. This was the site of St. Andrew’s College, Oyo. It was the first Teachers College in the whole of Nigeria. It has its own spiritual significance. The good news is that discipline has come back, excellence in academics has come back and the school is making great progress.

What has been the experience trying to make students morally upright and academically sound?

We try our best to give Christian content to students who are here. We try rehabilitation of some students who are wayward. What I discovered is that many parents have created a lot of problems for their children or that they are not aware they have such problem. Unfortunately some of these students still come back to their old habit after all the trouble and efforts in making them better. My conclusion is that only God can reform people. We will only do our bit. The standard is high in ACU. The new system we put in place is that the bad students are asked to go back home. But they will not lose a semester. They will still take courses and follow lectures online.  When the normal students are on break we bring back the bad students. By that, we would have limited the influence of the bad students on the good ones. The experiment is working. While the bad ones are at home we encourage their parents to seek deliverance and proper rehabilitation for them. But they will come and write their exams.

Does your course content in ACU reflect the needs of the job market?

Our duty is to train the students. The course content we have is strong enough to get them job in the open market. That they don’t get jobs is the fault of the government.

There was the case of a professor of Computer Science from one of the old universities who was saved from being embarrassed by one of our students. The man was about to deliver a lecture but he was having problem with his computer while trying to begin his power point presentation. He was struggling with the thing for about 30 minutes when one of our students who had come for the same lecture came to his rescue by just pressing a button on the computer. That gives you an idea of the kind of students we are producing.

Education is not about glamour. It is not about noise. I attended local schools during my primary and secondary education. My father just ensured that we were brought to school.  He did not check on us for the five years we were in the hostel. We had rugged education. But those of us who had cheap and rugged education turned out to be better scholars. Big schools do not translate to big academic attainment.

So how do you run ACU on a daily basis?

I am headmaster here. All students have my phone number. I am always on the road on campus checking out on the students sometimes till 1a.m. When I receive a text message from any student I ensure that I give it immediate attention. That is why I regard myself as the headmaster in ACU not the VC. I delegate responsibilities but I still have to supervise the work.

There is a concern that mission universities are expensive. How will you react to this?

I used to think that way too. But I have since found out that if you are running a university you are not on your own. You are under NUC and NUC regulates the kind of staff you must have. Unless you have a large number of students it will be difficult to pay the salary of staff. Here our wage bill is about N56 million yet, we don’t get subvention from the Church. The fees we charge in ACU are the lowest in all private universities in Nigeria and we have been charging that amount since 2011. The unique thing about our charges is that we allow parents to pay in three installments. If we are to charge cheaper fees we need to get somebody to pay the subsidy or we close shop.

 

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