The Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the governing board of the Osun State University, Yusuf Ali, SAN, has opened up on how he combines his role in the university with being a legal luminary, an academic and a family man.
Ali who is notable for handling election cases, took a look at electoral jurisprudence in the country and submitted that the main problem is not the judges, but politicians who do not believe that they can win fairly any day, any time.
As the pro-chancellor of Osun State University, you have been on the seat for over three years. How have you been combining this with your busy legal practice?
The council of the university was inaugurated on the 16th of August, 2016, by the former governor of the state, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the current Minister of Interior. Before I accepted when emissaries were sent to me that I should become chairman of the council, I took so many things into consideration and one of it was my availability to be able to discharge the functions to the best of my ability. And I also convinced myself that it was not a political appointment, it was not such an appointment that if I accept, I must join a political party willy-nilly. Number three, I also looked at the social service delivery part of it and I also thought of my own views and ideals about tertiary education in our country, what we ought to be doing, where we ought to be and what ought to be. Of course, I attended a university in Nigeria and I knew what university was like in the 70s and 80s compared to what it is today. So, I combined all these and I found that yes, I should be able to create sufficient time to be able to make impact no matter how little. And that was why I accepted. I can say that to the glory of God, I have at least tried to measure up to the standard because I know for example, by the law of the university; the council must meet at least four times a year. Apart from other council committees of which by virtue of being pro-chancellor and chairman, the tender’s board for example, I am the chairman. We must hold meeting before any contract is awarded. The Finance and General Purposes Committee (F&GPC) is also a creation of law and also chaired by the pro-chancellor. So, apart from the statutory meetings of council, I can tell you since 2017, we’ve had more than four regular council meetings every year. Apart from those ones, I have been able to hold meetings of the F&GPC and the tender’s board of which by law, I am the chairman.
It is on record that the university runs today without collecting subventions. How do you do it?
When the university was established, there were about five or four sources of income to the university. Number one was the government’s 100 percent subvention for salaries and emoluments; number two was to be an annual N500 million grant by the state government for infrastructure development; number three was five percent of the income of all the local governments contributed to the university for developmental purposes; number four was internally generated revenue (IGR) and number five was endowments, gifts, and so on and so forth. By the time we came into office in 2016, I can tell you that number one, the N500 million had stopped before 2016. The local government’s contribution had stopped because by the law setting up the university, the local government’s contribution was to be for five years, but for it to continue, the law would have to be amended. Unfortunately, the law has not been amended. So, when we came in, government’s grant every month oscillated between 40 percent and 42 percent and as a council, we made it a cardinal principle that we must pay salaries as at when due because when Nigerians leave their homes, they say they are going to government work of any type. The expectation is that they should get paid no matter how little they earn. So, given our determination from that time, the full salaries were paid on or before 25th of every month from then till now. Substantial part of our IGR goes into subvention of whatever government gives to us overtime, sometime, as much as 60 percent of what is due will be contributed by the university or a little more. But we have been coping. And I must say that when government, once in a while, had better revenue too. They also try to improve on what they give to us on a monthly basis. We haven’t gotten to the 100 percent threshold since then, but we have been coping using our IGR to augment what government was able to afford. Usually, it has never been less than 50 percent.
What has been the challenge leading a pack of high profile individuals in the governing board of the school?
That is why I have advocated that those who would be called upon to serve in the governing councils of all the universities, either government, state-owned or federal-owned, should be people who know the inner workings of the university system. It should not be about I passed through a university. I have advocated elsewhere that when a council of a university is constituted for example, there should be proper induction courses. Number two, such council must be able to know that the management has its own function. Three, members of council must know that their appointment is not permanent as they are not supposed to have permanent offices in the institutions where they will be reporting to everyday. Fourthly, everything we do, there must be a human face. So, for me, it wasn’t difficult because when the council was inaugurated, I had series of dialogue and meetings.
What has been the high and low moments of this assignment?
Let me first talk about the low moment. I think we seem not to understand what unionism is all about. I am sorry with due apology to our unionists. We seem to think that until we go on strike, then we can’t move forward. We have forgotten that dialogue is the best weapon to solve issues. Like I always tell people, even in wars, you still have to come back to the representation table to discuss. The destruction of the academic calendar of a university is the worst thing that can happen to a university. And it is clear to all of us to see that in our days in the university, foreigners, Americans and Britons were coming to Nigeria for undergraduate studies. But we have gotten to a stage today where our graduates are treated as second-rated graduates when they apply for higher degrees outside our country. And what brought us to this path? It is the incessant closure of the universities. All the universities in the world, there is minimum time of contact between students and their lecturers in each semester.
My high moment is that we thank God that we have been very lucky. When we assumed office in 2016, up to late last year, there was no course accredited in the university for PhD because the university is new. But as I am talking to you today, we have 23 courses that we are offering at post-graduate level, both Master and PhD. In fact, our PhD students just resumed. And to the glory of God, all the 60 courses we run in the university are accredited for all the undergraduate and post-graduate; 60 different courses across the six campuses – law, economics, accounting, medicine and so on and so forth. And of course, a visit to the six campuses will show you the monumental infrastructural development going on. And more than that, our chancellor and her family, they have started in the last one year to construct for us, an ultra-modern 250 bed teaching hospital with all the state-of-the-art facilities that will be available, including six theatres. Work is going on there now and the delivery period is two years. It is a multi-million dollar project which we are lucky to have attracted to the university. We have also attracted other things to the university from ETF, NEEDS Assessment and then, our IGR. As I am talking to you, we are constructing 104-bed hostel in all the six campuses of the university from our IGR. So, we have recorded quite a number of high moments. And of course, the quality of people! We have brought the Vice President of Nigeria to the university to give convocation lecture; we have brought the current Speaker of the House of Representatives to give an annual lecture in honour of one of the members of council, Engr Tunde Ponnle, when he clocked 80 and who also endowed and donated to the university, his vast mansion in Ada for use of the college of medicine in perpetuity. So, we have been able to attract a lot of goodwill to the university in the last three and a half years.
You are a known legal luminary noted for handling election cases. What is your assessment of the electoral process in Nigeria and adjudication of election cases in court?
Well, I must say that it is a mixed bag. I have said this and I continue to say it: the political class must learn how to win and lose graciously. The spirit of do or die is still very prevalent amongst our politicians. Also, the average politician does not believe that you could win and win fairly either in politics or even in court because they believe you have to do certain things in order to get justice.
How can we put an end to this?
We have to appeal to them. Let them see that it is not in the interest of all of us to destroy the judiciary. The judiciary is not only the last hope of the common man; it is the last hope of every person. Judiciary is the only reason why there is no anarchy in our country today. Judiciary is the only reason why there is some glitter of hope in our system and the judiciary is the only thing that has sustained our adherence to the rule of law. So, my appeal is that people should allow the judiciary to do its work without interference.
But people believe that with recent judgements, politicians have destroyed the judiciary. Do you subscribe to that?
I don’t. What do you mean by…? Many people who comment about judgments don’t even read those judgements and that is the funny thing about our country. And that is why as a lawyer for years, if a judgment is delivered now and you call me as a journalist and ask me about my view, I will tell you I can’t express view until I read the judgement. I don’t base my assessment on what other people say. I give you an example, but I won’t mention the particular state. In 2015, we did this election petition for one of the states. I was on the side of the petitioners. We won at the tribunal in the governorship election and we also won at the Court of Appeal. But we lost in the Supreme Court. Now, even some of my colleagues did not want to read the judgment of the Supreme Court. You see, it is not good to take predetermined position. But if you take that judgment and you read it, the Supreme Court had valid reasons for going the way it went. But people rather go for scapegoats for everything. So, if lawyers could behave that way, then it is a cause for worry. I am not saying that the judiciary is peopled by angels, but it is not also peopled by evil men. Majority of our judges are people who could hold their own anywhere in the world in terms of their learning, in terms of their character and in terms of their integrity. But this general and pervasive running down of the judiciary is not good for the system.
With a very busy schedule, how are you able to handle legal practise, academic and the family?
Well, I thank God. I tell people you can create time for everything you want to achieve in life. I have tried to create a balance in all these my interests. Moderation is my watchword in everything I do. In my work, I apply moderation. Even in play, moderation. So, time with my family, moderation. As the breadwinner, you won’t sit down every time in the house and start to joke with people. I have been lucky to create time for everything and those who surround me understand my lifestyle and they are able to adjust or cope.
You look slim and fit. Is it as a result of dieting or exercise?
One, it is gene. Can I point to any fat person in my family? Even my extended family, I can’t think of any. My mother is going to 88 now. She is almost as flat as my palm. And my father, before we lost him in 2017, he was taller than me. But I am not sure he was bigger than me in size. Apart from gene, I am a gym freak. Immediately after my morning prayer, anywhere I am, gym follows. The only time I don’t gym is during Ramadan and the reason is simple: Because of dehydration, you won’t be able to take water. Like I said, moderation in everything. I watch what I take.
What is your favourite sport?
Soccer and boxing.
Would you like your children to take after you like most of the children of Wole Olanipekun?
I thank God I have four children. The first one is a chartered accountant, the second one is a lawyer, the third one is a medical doctor and the last one has a PhD in engineering from Cambridge.
Did you ever dictate to them what they should become?
I don’t even suggest, not to talk of dictating. Nobody dictated to me.
How do you relax?
Relaxation is going to the gym. And of course, when people like you who are my friends, if you call me, I gist with you. That is relaxation.