It all seemed like four days ago when the first matriculation ceremony of Landmark University, Omu-Aran, Kwara State, was held. Yet, it was four years ago and four years on (July 2014), the 955 pioneer students of Nigeria’s first private-owned, agriculture-focused university will be graduating at the school’s first commencement ceremony. To the parents, staff and students, the institution’s vision might have looked like a long journey, but to the visioner, Dr. David Oyedepo, who is also Landmark’s Chancellor, it is yet another testimony to God’s faithfulness, as the Lord Himself initiated the vision and has brought it into a glowing reality.
Landmark is based upon a revelation from the Book of Deuteronomy God showed Dr. Oyedepo how helpless and hopeless Nigeria would become if it did not start to secure itself food-wise. Thus was born an agrarian revolution, at Landmark with the focus on restoring dignity to agriculture (farming) even as it raises agricultural entrepreneurs among Nigeria’s young graduates. To be different and excellent, one has to think differently, innovatively and work extraordinarily.
The promoters of Landmark University (World Missions Agency Incorporated, an arm of Living Faith Church) are reputed for passion and excellence. No one comes in contact with the teachings of the church and remains the same. At the core of the education given at Landmark is the “Total Man Concept”, which seeks not only to raise students who are not only great in academics, but will also be found worthy in character. Such education is lost in secular universities across the world. Landmark University is academically equipped with over 10,000 book collections, which cover wide scopes of the university programme. The National Universities Commission, NUC, at the inception of the institution, approved five faculties (colleges). These are the College of Agricultural Sciences, College of Business and Social Sciences, College of Science and Engineering, College of Human Development and College of Health Sciences. From the outset, research was given top priority and in this regard, a seed money of N50 million was dedicated to fund academic research. Already in partnership with numerous agriculture-based government agencies, Landmark has dedicated over 34,000 hectares of land to practical, commercial farming. It recently acquired over 260,000 hectares of land for agricultural purposes because it takes its agrarian revolution seriously.
In a nation where leaders pay lip service to vision, excellence and quality service delivery, Landmark sets an example for African institutions and leaders. And as its first graduates go into the real world, the nation eagerly awaits their active and meaningful contributions to national development.
As the Pro Chancellor of Landmark University, you play important roles as a co-builder of this institution with the management. So, what are your feelings as the university is about to produce its first graduates?
My feelings is that of fulfilment of the plans and purposes of God, first for the Commission and for Landmark, which is a visionary university. The Bible makes us to understand that vision is life and God specifically says, “My people perish for lack of vision, (vision knowledge).” Where there is a vision, the bible also says “write it down so that he that reads it may run with it”. When a man or a corporate establishment gets a vision, he can no longer wait, he has to run, because there is a sight, there is something that you have seen. Doubt has been removed. The desire to pursue that which you have seen and are sure about gets you running. And so, to see Landmark University arrive at the point where the pioneer students are about stepping out into life is a thing of joy. We are all excited because this is also about the realisation of the potential of a nation, particularly as it relates to agriculture, which we believe is the security or destiny of the nation.
As the Pro-Chancellor, you are a step ahead of the Vice-Chancellor in the leadership of this institution. How do both of you work together to ensure that the vision God gave the Chancellor and which he handed into your hands, is implemented?
Every organisation that will excel or succeed must have a structure. The foray of the Living Faith Church into education is not an ambition, it is a mandate, it is driven by vision. There is nothing that God asks a man to do that He will not only give you the roadmap for it, He will also give you the strategy. God’s servant, Dr. Oyedepo, once said that the definition for insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. So before the university was put in place, there was already an end, and a strategy towards that end. One of those things that the Commission did was to ensure that we identified the bureaucracies that may limit the operational efficiency of the university and removed them. We are talking about an institution that is supposed to implement a revolution. And you know a revolution is sudden and complete. To effect change, you must have the right instrument in place. So we have a Board of Trustees, a Board of Regents. The Board of Regents does not want the management of the university to be held back in terms of taking decisions. For example, the Finance and General Purposes committees of the councils of public universities functions in a way that often delay the works of those universities. They function in a way that their management always have to wait until the committees meet. There will always be decisions that are sudden and a plan must be in place, based on fresh facts and fresh priorities.
There are three things that we must know about this university, number one it is a church university, two, it is a private university and thirdly a university. And therefore the best of excellence is supposed to be found here.
When I say a private university, financial efficiency is supposed to be found here. By a church university, those values and principles in the bible must be found here. So the peculiarity of the operation of this university compels also that the management and the administrative structure should reflect that peculiarity, particularly because it is a revolution. Management (of the university) has a budget, but whenever there is any decision that leads to a situation contrary to that earlier position either in the budget or the plan, you want to make sure that you reflect such a fact or such a priority without waiting till it becomes impossible to effect a change. It is supposed to be like a War cabinet, and there must generals on the ground to take smart decisions that will ensure operational efficiency, and that visionary targets are not hurt by bureaucracy. As the Pro-Chancellor, I don’t have anything to do with the day to day management of the university, but anything that has to do with governance that will warrant any delay, I can quickly process, through an ad-hoc committee of the Board (of Regents) and give an answer within one or two hours. That is the basis of my working relationship with the Vice-Chancellor. I am not a member of management, I am not involved in the day-to-day operations, but I can always effect the immediate resolution of issues that may be contrary to the initial plan.
Talking about bureaucracies hindering the efficiency of organisations, can you tell us the kind of challenges or problems government bureaucracies gave private universities like Landmark in terms of licence? And what can public universities learn from operations of private universities like Landmark?
When you see the potential of Nigeria as a nation and Nigerians as a people, you will almost be in tears. A nation that is supposed to be flying is still crawling and this is because of poor leadership. Nigerians can compete and excel anywhere in the world. Many of our professors in the public universities are among the best in the world, but the environments they work in are something else.
You ask yourself: why is it that the oldest university in Nigeria, the University of Ibadan founded in 1948 (and was 65 years in 2013) not among the best 100 universities in the world?
There is government inefficiency, but there is also public university inefficiency, and this is a reflection of government inefficiency. A university is supposed to be a place of excellence, a place of merit where you decide everything on the basis of the best critical minds in that environment. The best intellectual minds of any nation are supposed to be in a university. You will expect that the administration and management of a public university will reflect the excellence of the critical minds in that university. Purpose is sancrosant about every establishment. Why should we have the best of the brains in public universities and still have the worst public universities? It is about leadership, leadership content. Leaders are dealers in hope, their primary duty is to look ahead, get a roadmap, organise people and supervise them concerning the implementation of the roadmap. Can we say we have this in our public universities?
And so what we came to do on a private university platform is to show how it is to be done well and excellently. But you will feel bad when you discover that private universities that have come to restore quality to our education are not getting the kind of support government should give them. In the 1960s and the 70s when Nigeria was promoting Import Substitution Policy, we developed industrial estates and made facilities such as electricity and water available and then said to investors: “If you have an industry, come and set it here (in the estate)’ The truth is that it is not a nation that makes a people, it is the people that make a nation. Nigeria will never realise her potential until government gets sufficiently serious about education. There is nothing that will happen until you develop the minds of people. We as a nation are not where we are supposed to be because we have not done what we are supposed to do. The best economies in the world are the ones that operate with transparency. We have left the Communist Age or system. The private sector is a necessity that must be injected wherever you want efficiency. If you say education is important, and that this nation will not go anywhere until education is invested in, then let us get private sector involvement in it.
Resources made available to public universities will not transform those universities, but when there is competition, you will discover that excellence comes in. The reason why academics is regarded the way it is, is because it is universal knowledge, that is why it is called university, a place where universality of knowledge is celebrated. You publish your paper as an academic, it goes out across the world. You don’t go to the World Cup with your fifth 11 (players). You already have lost. We should let the knowledge industry in Nigeria operate purely on merit, so when we see people who want to invest in it, we should support them. By the grace of God today Covenant University (owned by promoters of Landmark) is 12 years. What Harvard University (in USA) could not achieve in its first 100 years, Covenant University has done it in its 12 years. Why? Because it is a church-based institution which injects spiritual maturity and wisdom, as well as private sector principles like operational efficiency and value measurement into its operations. It is true that there are some people who think private universities are for making money. As my chancellor will always say, such people will soon park out because a university is capital intensive. You don’t make money from it if you are promoting and pursuing excellence. Research will continue to be funded. The serious people investing in private universities are not looking for money, they are passionate about quality education.Follow Us on Social Media