Prof. Elisabeta Smaranda Olarinde is the acting Vice Chancellor of the Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, ABUAD. In this interview, she speaks on her feats since assuming leadership of the institution and what her students should expect as they return to school in a COVID-19 season.
Can you give us an overview of your career as an academic in ABUAD before you became the VC?
I have a career spanning over 36 years as a law teacher, academic, scholar, university administrator and legal practitioner. I was a law teacher and researcher in Nigeria’s Premier University, the University of Ibadan, between January 1984 and 2011 and later at Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti where I became a full Professor on October 1, 2015.
My legal background in both Civil Law (Romania) and Common Law (Nigeria) systems has added to my diverse multidisciplinary expertise and profile. This has been able to present me with a distinctive comparative perspective on national and international legal research where my focus has been on Medical Law, Women, Children and Young Adolescents’ rights and protection.
I have authored many articles and co-authored the book on Modern Law of Torts: a Kaleidoscopic Perspective. I was the Editor-in-Chief of the maiden edition of the law journal of the Public & International Law Department, University of Ibadan and I have been the Editor-in-Chief of ABUAD Law Journal, College of Law, ABUAD from 2014 to date.
I have at various times occupied leadership positions as member of Board of Trustees, Governing Council, Senate, Ag. Vice Chancellor, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Administration and Provost, College of Law, Afe Babalola University. I was also a member of Senate, Acting Head of Department of Public and International Law (three tenures) at the University of Ibadan, Sub-Dean, Undergraduate and pioneer Sub-Dean Postgraduate, Faculty of Law, University of Ibadan.
I was the President of the prestigious Nigerian Association of Law Teachers (NALT) in 2015.
Since your assumption of office as VC, how has it been?
I assumed the leadership of our University, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, ABUAD, on Friday, June 21, 2019, albeit in an acting capacity. And so, Sunday, June 21, 2020, marked my one year anniversary on the saddle as the Captain of the ship of ABUAD, the 21st century university.
I must say that it has not been easy being on this seat, but I must equally hasten to say that it has been a worthwhile experience during which I have acquired more knowledge, deeper experience and better understanding of university administration and management. The experience has also exposed me to innovative ways of doing things and managing people and resources. I have to recognize the fact that I have been enjoying the cooperation of my colleagues at all levels and together, we are prepared, more than ever before, to take our university to greater heights and make it stand out in the comity of universities in the world. My job has been relatively made a lot easier because of the solid foundation laid by our Founder & Chancellor, the incomparable visionary leader, Aare Afe Babalola, and my predecessor in office, Prof. Michael Oluwafemi Ajisafe, who bowed out of office on September 30, 2019.
What would you say you have been able to achieve within the period?
The University went on vacation shortly after I took over on June 21, last year, but the beehive of activities that is the hallmark of ABUAD commenced immediately new students started streaking in the last week of August 2019. This was followed by a week-long orientation for the new students, the grand finale of which was attended by the Founder & Chancellor, Aare Afe Babalola, his wife, Yeye Aare Modupe Babalola and the university management.
The Operating Licence of our University was granted by NUC in November 2009 and that made 2019 our first decade of existence as a university. It was therefore worth the while for us to roll out the drums to celebrate this milestone achievement and the 7th convocation ceremonies of our university. It is a significant achievement for me that I was the one at the saddle during the celebration of the first decade of existence of this university. I must again emphasize that the 7th convocation ceremony was the first I handled as the Acting Vice Chancellor.
The university commenced academic activities on Monday, January 4, 2010. Since then, the university has been celebrating the uninterrupted academic works annually at the foyer of College 1 where the Office of the Founder & Chancellor was then domiciled. However, this year’s celebration came with a difference. Not only that many more people attended, it was celebrated with fanfare at the foyer of the recently commissioned imposing administrative building, The White Rock. Celebrating the 10th anniversary of uninterrupted academic works in a university in Africa is no mean achievement considering the persistent and deafening drumbeats of strikes and other forms of high velocity disturbances ravaging the average African university, particularly since the military made an incursion into governance in most African countries in the 60s.
As is customary of the university, it opened its doors and arms wide on January 21, 2020 to formally accept 1,986 fresh students into its fold at its well-attended 11th matriculation ceremony out of the several thousands of candidates who indicated interest in coming to ABUAD. Again, this was the first matriculation exercise I superintended over as the Acting Vice Chancellor.
On March 21, 2020, the university assembled the crème-de-la-crème of the society made up of members of the medical profession, Bar, Bench, royalty, academia and the political class to celebrate the commissioning of the under-listed milestone activities:
• 16 newly acquired modern dialysis machines in ABUAD Multi-System Hospital,
• State-of-the-Art Blood Bank and Transfusion Services,
• Ministry of Aviation-Certified modern Helipad to ease transportation of patients and clients to ABUAD Multi-system Hospital and the University, and
• A new military outpost to aid security.
Perhaps, my administration’s greatest achievement in a digital and artificial intelligence-driven world is the successful on-line teaching, assessment, examinations and project supervision embarked upon by ABUAD during the over five months closed down period of schools by the Federal Government to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. This bold step was to ensure that our students, their parents and the university itself did not lose out during the pandemic that took the world by surprise.
Furthermore, we commenced our weeklong on-line Post UTME examination with effect from September 15. This is to ensure that ABUAD does not miss out from its consistent, uninterrupted and predictable academic calendar that has been in place since we commenced academic work in the university, 10 years ago. This is one of the reasons why we have conducted our examinations on-line, graded the scripts, processed results which the Senate approved on September 4. This marked the end of our 2019/2020 academic session. It is significant to note that this is at a time when many other universities are just commencing their 2018/2019 or 2019/2020 academic sessions. That is the stuff we are made of here and that is why we are different.
In another development, the Senate of our University has approved the commencement of the 2020/2021 academic session with effect from September 21. This will enable returning students and their parents to prepare for the on-line resumption pending directives from the Federal Government, through the NUC, on the physical resumption of students in tertiary institutions that were closed down since March 23. We have also meticulously planned for our admission for the 2020/2021 academic session. While mindful of the directive from JAMB Registrar on the conduct of Post-UTME examination and admission of fresh students, we made an elaborate preparation to receive our students both physically and conduct on-line academic session, if need be.
Another major milestone achievement of my administration is the creation of the office of the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academic, Research, Linkages and Strategic Partnership, ARISP, with Professor Damilola S. Olawuyi as the pioneer office holder. The pioneer DVC, ARISP, is empowered to bring about the much-sought after change of bridging gaps through linkages, innovation and the establishment of strategic partnerships to further project ABUAD on the international educational platform.
What does your appointment, a woman and a European though married to a Nigerian, as VC tell us about the vision of the Founder?
My appointment as Acting Vice Chancellor constantly reminds me that my great Founder wants a credible, selfless, honest leader who buys into his vision of running a university that will show Nigerians how a university should be run to pilot the affairs of the university as a Vice Chancellor. He prefers a strong leader who can work at his pace. From the beginning, he made it abundantly clear that he was out to establish a university with a difference. Besides, my appointment has told me that our Founder and Chancellor is a totally detribalized and gender-sensitive personality who will accord anyone his/her worth no matter one’s sex, race, creed or colour of the skin. All he wants is the best and whoever can deliver will continually be his friend and ally, as he does not believe in failure. He believes that everything is possible to achieve. This has been largely responsible for his success stories in everything he has delved into, be it Law, education, healthcare, agriculture and humanities.
Where do you see ABUAD in another five years?
Looking at the journey since we started academic works with 240 students in 2010 and being what we are today as a university, I can say without any fear of contradiction that the immediate future is very bright for us. If we could be where we are today in 10 years, with more hard work and determination and the cooperation of all stakeholders, I see ABUAD as the best university in the country, I see it as being among the best top 10 on the continent and among top 100 in the world in the next five years. However, I must say that I appreciate that this will not come by just replicating what we have been doing over the years, but through more innovation, more intense strategic planning, partnerships, hard work, determination and support from those who believe in educating their children here in ABUAD. Our learning process is exceedingly interactive. It involves the best Faculty around and we see ourselves competing favourably with the Ivy League universities such as Harvard, Stanford and Cambridge as well as Oxford Universities among others.
I want to take this opportunity to call on our alumni who have been growing in number every year to take their rightful place in the scheme of things in the university. I strongly believe that the ABUAD Alumni Association that currently is made up off 5,248 members has an important role to play by contributing their quota to the development of their alma mata as it is done in other parts of the world. I see ABUAD alumni being like their Stanford Universities counterparts who have founded many companies including Google, Yahoo, Microsystems, and Instagram in the nearest future.
Like our Founder and Chancellor is wont to say, I would like to encourage our alumni to appreciate that they are products of this university. They owe it a duty, and a bounden duty at that, to take care of their alma mata and nurture the foundation that created what they are today.
What makes you happy being VC of a prestigious university like ABUAD?
Let me remind you that I am one of the pioneer staff of the university. I remember how we used to navigate our way into the thick forest inhabited by reptiles and wild animals in those days. When I juxtapose the state-of-the-art buildings, the well manicured lawns, the well-trimmed trees and shrubs as well as the well macadamized road of today with those days of little beginnings, my heart oozes with immeasurable and indescribable joy. The overall development, the way buildings of different shapes and sizes daily “sprout” in the university makes me happy. I thank our largely unsparing and philanthropic Founder and Leader, the great Aare Afe Babalola, and his amiable wife, Yeye Aare Modupe Babalola, for this.
Moving a step further, as a mother, seeing young boys and girls who got admitted into university rapidly grow into well prepared and disciplined young adults gladdens my heart immensely. As a teacher, my first passion is for students and teaching as I believe that we teachers can open our student’s minds, stretch our hands to mentor them and touch their souls for life. My happiest moment is during my classroom interface with my students either at undergraduate or postgraduate levels. On a global note, the monumental achievements of our university in law, medicine, engineering, accounting and in the sciences as well as in virtually every area of our operations gladden my heart immensely.