Sunday, 9 September 2007

Covenant University misunderstood on pregnant, HIV students, says Prof. Obayan, VC

Covenant University misunderstood on pregnant, HIV students, says Prof. Obayan, VC
Posted to the Web: Sunday, September 09, 2007

HAVING been conducted round the Covenant University by a corporate affairs staff of the university, many things were observed by this reporter that she could hardly believe in an institution that has only existed for less than five years. The buildings erected for each school were imposing while the hostels appeared more than enough to accommodate all the students.
The electronic library situated at the heart of the campus is a place to behold. Is it the staff quarters one wants to talk about or the great honour accorded the professors with their Professor Village? There is no imported furniture in the institution, as people are employed to produce the plank through the university sawmill.

With all these observations, one was itching to have a chat with the person at the helm of affairs who has taken the university to such a level that can be compared with the best in the world, the vice chancellor, Professor (Mrs) Aize Olohigbe Imouokhome Obayan. She spoke on why the seat is for a woman, the position of the school on pregnant and HIV students, and other issues concerning the university.

WHY is the post for a woman?
Well, I don’t know whether it is about being a woman or not but I believe definitely there are some traits in terms of characteristics either innate or God given that actually put you in a better stead to do the assignment. I believe in the nurturing side of a woman - aesthetics of a woman. When you ask a woman to take charge, what I know is that most women would not want to fail. They try to be the best. I also know that before you ask a woman to take charge, playing a leading role, she must have worked very hard.

It is possible that in addition to being a woman and, by the grace of God, the things she has been able to connect with, in terms of learning, in terms of being in school, in terms of exposure, there is a God given assignment by reason of what God has called one to do and I would want to look more on the path of pre-destination.

In other words, there are clear purpose and clear assignment by reason of birth or by reason of an assignment that God says this is what you are born to fulfil which goes beyond gender and I believe when you are able to align with the purpose of your creation, God opens up opportunities for assignment.

The experience: It is difficult in a few minutes to talk about experience. Maybe I would talk more about exposure, maybe I would talk more about opportunities that God opens up and maybe I would talk more about persons God allows one to meet.

I know from the beginning that I wanted an academic career at the end of my first year in the university because I saw that university lecturers have pride of place. They enjoy what they do, they make contributions, they are persons always at the library and I enjoy books and, at the same time, a university campus appears so beautiful and most universities then were residential. I looked at it that it wouldn’t be bad to be a university lecturer to make contributions from a career base and I know then that I loved working with people.
I also see the subject area that counselling gave me in terms of training, particularly in people’s skills, in human development base, in understanding the context of a mind, feelings and emotion. All these actively combine to help me do my assignment in the office of Vice Chancellor with a lot of relief. You train as a counsellor to understand people even if they don’t say anything.

You connect with their reality and I think in terms of alignment and harmony with one’s environment and with people one works with, I have been able to get into a point of fulfilment. However, I believe in God’s connection which is a definite key to bring all the loose ends together in a holistic way. So when you are situated body, soul and spirit, you will definitely be there.

Is it because you are into guidance and counselling that has helped you in your assignment?
That is part of the reason. Another reason is the enabling environment of the university and the fact that there is a cause we are all driving at, which is to ensure that the dignity of the black man is restored and that the black man can also take his place. That is, when the conditions are right in terms of learning, a good and fine environment that brings out your best, you don’t have a choice than to also give in your best.

I believe persons in the field of computer talk about “garbage in garbage out.” When you throw in garbage, you don’t expect to produce anything less than garbage. So when you provide a good environment, your products that get out can only take after the vessel that has formed them. As a university, if we are able to achieve our vision of raising a new generation of leaders then Covenant University would have made its contributions in terms of fulfilling the mandate.
However, we are not just talking about certification but the students who go through here, the lecturers who train them and the entire context that provides this kind of empowering environment must be driven and directed to ensure that “total” graduate gets out of Covenant University.

Total graduate in the sense that they would be able to inculcate the values to the society and when they are out there in the world of work, you see them able to connect theory and practical and able to identify what solution to be applied even to take the immediate charge of their content and also improve their content by the difference they would make to be members of that content community.

However there are some fundamental guiding rules in terms of their core values. Every Covenant University graduate must know that he/she is a leader to make a difference, a leader who will ensure responsibility at all times, who will be disciplined, who would want to add value to the system; one who would make contributions and not about what he would gain and such a person would not go on to be part of corruption.

All of these are incorporated in the context of spirituality bymaking sure that in all their knowing and in all their doing, they have the wisdom of God so that even if they are asked to chair a board meeting, the course of what has been inculcated in their value base and in terms of qualitative curriculum and in terms of their spiritual connection with God, all of these add together to give you a superior product which can be taken anywhere, tried and tested.
You said the vision is to restore African dignity. In the recent world ranking, Nigerian universities are far behind, what do you think is wrong?

I believe what would have happened is the awareness about the place that ICT has come to take. Right now, in a world that is driven by technology, by computer and awareness of being able to create on a worldwide web, how much do the present universities have? If you look at the context of our nation, a number of things may have made this to happen in terms of debilitating influences. Number one, it takes hours to even be on the web in terms of regular electricity and it also takes having a proper support for ICT and awareness as to how these things should be driven.

It takes a lot to have your own server and then the backbone that will continuously enable you to make sure that consistently things are being put on the web or to have facility that promotes an ICT culture or even have the right personnel to drive it. However, what we have had by this ranking report is sensitisation.

I know that courtesy of the NUC’s effort, webometric committees are being set up in the universities which would ensure that the profile of the universities is present in the web and talking about electronic context, how much of university lecturer academic publications are in such journals? How much of the university information is put on the web? I am glad that as a university we have a webometric committee and we are consistently ensuring that we have a lot of information present in the web. We have just in February this year put the college quota in place.

You can do a lot of on-line registration for courses where parents could click into college site and see the students results, courses they are registering for and students can talk to their lecturers.
To get back to your question, I believe we can look towards the future. Now, what steps are we taking, as a university that wants to restore the dignity of Africa. I remember an interesting quotation I came across, by Thomas Fregman. When he was young, he heard his mother saying, ‘eat your food, India and China are waiting for your dinner’ but right now he finds himself telling his daughter ‘quickly finish your home work because people in India and China are waiting to get your job.’

I believe it is about capacity building mandate and awareness. In other words, information is so powerful and you must get right on the bandwagon of what it would take to be a learning organisation and a knowledge based industry. It is also about being pro-active about what we set out as our goal. Many atimes we react to problems but we are not able to identify and plan and say, in twenty years time, what would the employment content be? We are talking about being able to forecast, we are talking about doing time series analysis. However, we must be able to identify information from research base.

Conducting research

Are we even conducting research that is able to predict what will happen in five years time if certain things are not put in place or what it would take when these things are put in place to ensure that we become architect? One mandate that we receive right in the book of Genesis is to go out to dominate and take charge.

I believe that many Americans in terms of the pride they have, regardless of their identity, they are bound together in the American dream. You can only get there when you have identified that you are a people with a mission, a people with a goal and you are a people driving a cause. In the Covenant University context, beyond saying that we are a university and at the end of your tenure here as a student, it is about a social re-awakening, it is about a renewed consciousness, it’s about taking your place and making sure you matter. It is about when you are no longer here, what legacy would you have left? It is what the Asian have caught and there is economic revolution.

The awareness should be created from the primary school to encourage our pupils to begin to get excited and passionate about taking career in the sciences particularly in the information based computer sciences which is expensive too. That means our laboratory should be fully equipped. We have taken steps in our own little way to ensure that we are an ICT driven university. We have quite a lot of resources to support that like ensuring we access the library through our electronic visuals and being able to get a lot of electronic journals in place.

The issues of pregnancy and HIV tests as part of requirements to graduate: What type of policy is that since you deal with adults here?The test is a requirement for entry and exit to know the health status of the students. There are lots of placements we do in terms of hall of residence allocation. If for example you are asthmatic, it would be unfair to put you on the fourth floor.
One should look at the totality of the health nature. One of the compulsory requirements of the curriculum is to go on jogging and if your health status states that you are not fit, you have to be excluded. It is with the right information that we can do this. Of course about pregnancy, we want to make sure we are not exposing the pregnancy women to some very demanding requirements.

Remember the name of the university is Covenant University and that is to say we have taken a vow to deliver quality and everything that will take to deliver it in terms of understanding the requirement of the human development package. This means that we want to know the person we are dealing with not just as a statistic but what are the needs, how do you prepare the environment to take care of what makes him/her unique and what will it take to support the student? Then, when the students are going out, we also have to have the requirement because we are under covenant that the graduate of Covenant University is able to be a leader and we need to know that whoever we certified, what we say he/she is what he/she is.

Does that mean a person who is pregnant in the university cannot be a leader?

We have had married students here but we are just saying we prefer that they stay focused because the curriculum we drive here is a very rigorous one. School is directed towards a goal of having a right skill so that you can begin to contribute your own quota to the good of the society. As a country and as a people, it is better to get our priority right. The reason you come to school is to finish school in terms of being character worthy and also academic training worthy so that you are fulfilling a role and where that is lacking, that means you are depriving society the privilege of having that input and, as a university, I believe the products we want to give out are royal army. We prefer they are able to stay focused. However, we are providing an environment to ensure that every student that passes through here is connected with their God given potential. That is why in addition to your certificate you must learn skills for wealth creation, learn skill on how to live as a person. Even before you graduate, you must go through a total graduate course which we see as a bridge between university and the world of work. What it will take to understand the requirement of marriage, how to manage your money, getting ready for interview, packaging you just to mention a few.

That means a student can be pregnant if he/she can cope?

May be we should get understanding of what a university should provide. Education is for the common good and the university should be able to open its door to students from all contexts. However, the law of the land talks about not discriminating on the basis of age, religion, gender, etc. In that case we are talking about a university which wants to make its contributions in the area of raising a new generation of leaders. There would be a context that is created in terms of a conducive empowering enabling base to ensure that all of these happen. We are saying that, at Covenant University, this is what it should take to make and shape a leader. Already, right from the students that are attracted to us, they know exactly that if they come here, they are being shaped as leaders. From the interview, and the selection process, by the time they come here, there is a purpose that they want to fulfil. They’ve already caught a vision.

In the first year, we are asking them, what is your vision?

They commit themselves to what it would take to realising that vision and they also work out the timing. It is not about the compulsive way of saying this is what you must be but students who are exposed to a curriculum where they have also read a history of great men and women that have succeeded, with the ‘Total Man Concept’(TMC) where they are taught about planning their lives and having their lives goals, I believe that they are being shaped for leadership. I am not saying those who are pregnant would never be leaders because everybody is a leader in his own right but there is a leadership mandate to go and make a difference to his world and so our students are being raised and they see themselves as soldiers. I also believe that as a result of what has been put into them, it has not made them to consider it.

It is very rare to see pregnant women in the university who want to finish in four years. Maybe when sessions are not able to run regularly and you don’t know when you would start and when you would end it does happen. Of course there are other important life involvement that must also need to be taken on board, you would see persons who want to get married but students are now seen coming to the university early and so marriage and child bearing are being delayed until later because there are other things to do. So as a university we’ve not have to deal with that. However, in terms of responsible living, I don’t believe any parent would want a child that has not got married to get pregnant. Even in our cultural context, it is something that we would not want to promote.

What about the HIV issue that if a student tests positive, he/she is not going to graduate? Where do they run to if the Christian mission church that preaches love rejects them?

Can I let you know that there was not such thing. We don’t know where such thing came from. There is nobody in the university that was prevented from graduating. Of course if there is such case, we are talking about restoring the dignity of the black man, it would be irresponsible to shout it all over the place. It is not just about HIV/AIDS, it’s about a responsible way of managing students information and no organisation that is really worth its salt would do anything to stigmatise and to wrongly expose that which is not supposed to. They are persons to be cared for and being HIV positive does not mean that is the end of the world.

As a university, we have made our own contributions to research proposal and promoting support for research as to how we can be part of finding solution to that. There are some of our staffs who are volunteer counsellors. It is something beyond university context, it is something of national, continental, global concern and I believe that we must all come together to see how to better manage it. We are a Christian mission university, the entire ingredient of Christianity is about love and if we do anything less of that, we would not be living true to our creed.

However, we would all play a responsi-bility of also ensuring that we endear discipline as well but in the context of love.

There has been news all over that Covenant University is a glorified secondary school because of restriction to phone, movement and all that?

Well, you cannot carry your mobile phones because, in this environment, we are trying to create. Can you imagine what it would be like when a lecture is going on and phone from every corner is coming in. In many work contexts, especially in the bank, you are not allowed to use your phone during the working hour. The phone is a tool that should enhance and support whatever else we do. It shouldn’t be something that distracts. We are not saying our students cannot have contact with the outside world, there are telephone cafĂ© and centres where they can make call. However, in the kind of context that we promote, we call this place a royal academy, there is the packaging that depicts the palace culture. There is the carriage the king and queen have in the Nigerian culture.

There is dignity, there is decorum and because we are raising kings and queens, there are rules of the palace which take a grooming process if you want to be. There are certain privileges you are allowed and there are certain things that you have to do away with for a time and by the time you are announced to your world, you are able to now use these things. It is like having a child and you are now saying because you have not attained the age of 16 or 18, you can’t begin to drive a car because you know that a car in the hand of a person that is not ripe for it is asking for a disaster. There are rights of passage in order to be able to attain a particular position or to be able to take up a particular privilege. Beyond all of that we are saying a context where persons take into cognisance the living context of our day.

If we are talking about how to manage your money right, our students are not yet earners. It doesn’t matter what kind of homes they come from but responsibility also teaches that when you are able to earn and pay for your own SIM cards or mobile phone and also take care of the bills, your own earnings can now take care of whatever it would need to service having a phone. Again we know our students come from different backgrounds and we don’t want to put pressure on some other students who may not be able to afford phone and we are saying that is what has been provided for all of us here to use and we want you to know that by the time you can now afford it, you would use it sensibly.

What is your philosophy in life?

My philosophy in life is ensuring that it is not over and it is never over. It is about pushing and pressing to ensure that you keep making contributions and you keep seeking ways for continuous improvement in a context that allows the best in you to thrive because, in reality, it’s about doing what God has created you to do and ensuring that you deliver right on course along this line and emptying yourself on a daily basis and never put your head on a pillow until you know that you’ve really given your best for that day.

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