On Tuesday, 17th of July, 2018, The Press Club, University of Lagos paid a courtesy visit to Professor Folashade Ogunshola, the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Development service) of the University. The Press crew seize the opportunity to have an exclusive interview with her. A lot was learnt from the distinguished Professor turned DVC who was once the PROVOST of the College of medicine, University of Lagos, Idi-Araba and also the first person to assume the office of the DVC-DS. Her academic life, family, her struggles, impacts, lessons of life and a lot more was shared in the excerpts of the interview below.
Correspondents – Agoyi Kemisola, Ariyo Ifeoluwa, Onyinyechi Blessing and Photo credit: Bisola Lois
Good day ma, it’s really a pleasure you are making out time to meet with us, can we know you? We will like to have a background view on what your career is like – medical, leadership – family and all about you
My name is Folasade Tolulope Ogunsola, I’m a Doctor by profession, a Professor in medical Microbiology. I’m the first of 5 children, I have a sister and 3 brothers and we’re all married, my father was a lecturer in the University of Ibadan, my mum was a Lawyer, she later became a high court Judge.
I attended University of Ife now called OAU. Myself and my immediate sibling attended IFE, two attended Unilag, and my sister went to University of Ibadan. I’m the only Doctor in the family, I’m married with 3 children and 3 grandchildren and I’m 60 this year.
Apart from the University of Ife, did you attend any other higher institutions?
Yes. After my medical school in Ife, I did my house job in two places, pediatrics and OandG in UCH Ibadan, then I got married and moved to Lagos. I did Medicine and Surgery in LUTH, then I went into private practice; I got tired of that and went back and did my Masters in Medical Microbiology also did my residency for two years, then I went abroad to do my PhD at the University of Cardiff in Medical Microbiology. I sought of did my residency half way, started my PhD, I did my bench work in two years and then I started writing, I had my PhD in 1998 finally, because I had to come back home – my professor here said I had to finish my part 2 – it was tight then as I also had a 4 month old baby. In 1999 – 2000, I was contemplating leaving university (teaching) because it was becoming boring and clinical medical microbiology was quite young then.
So I started a seminar creating awareness on medical microbiology, after the seminar I would give the doctors tea and biscuit – though it was my money, not like I had enough – but it was just to encourage people to keep coming and I also tasked them with research and ask them questions later. It was through that my life changed, I got a call one day from a senior resident, he was from general hospital and told me he gave my name to some people in Harvard who needed a clinical microbiologist. They called me and asked if I would be available for a conference in Senegal, on getting there, I found out there was no one from UNILAG, I confronted them about it and was asked to write a proposal for a project which I wrote; it was accepted and we were funded, so I started the kuramo project on the island clinic. On the project, we were dealing with HIV, we also worked with sex workers. That really changed a lot for me. Now all that is history and I enjoy lecturing, I enjoy the company of young people a lot. “I learnt that there’s no profession that is not a fantastic profession” and “Your profession is only as interesting as the amount of work you put into it”.
How did the administrative part of your career start?
Laughs…. that came in a very funny way. I was “pushed” by people who said, “why don’t you go in for provost?”, it wasn’t in my agenda but I got challenged and I said to them, “how do I go about campaigning, saying all I have achieved and done?”… I found it difficult, but I love pushing my boundaries. I went for it and I didn’t expect to win, although I did and I think I enjoyed it.
Ma, can you give us an insight into what your office is about, considering it’s a new office and you are the first person to assume the post, what is Development Service really all about?
Between 2008 and 2012, the “25 years’ strategic plan” was developed for the University, part of it was for us to go more into the 21st century. We need to go more international, go into more research and we realize that for the University to grow more properly, we need to turn research into more innovative products; that is one of the reasons why the DVC – DS office was created. Most of what I do was under A&R, Management, but it wasn’t functioning well. What I do deals with internationalization, entrepreneurship and strategic planning; all these are supposed to move us from where we are to where we are going, in such a way that we are like the other universities but we attract international student and our student will also know what is going on internationally.
Secondly, it is to help us look at the way we do things, my job is also to see us partner with industries and Universities so we have cross fertilization. And the last one; we understand that we are in the fourth industrial revolution – where everything is now digitalized, internet world – even if students don’t come for lectures they have everything on the internet, we want them to learn soft skills that will market them to the world. Your first degree is supposed to cement your knowledge on somethings as “You may necessarily not end up using your first degree, but that degree is supposed to open your mind”. Part of my job is to make students see that; it’s a bit abstract but not that much. We’ve started the entrepreneurship center already and training has started, by the time we are done, we are going to fashion out a certificates which will be given alongside degrees. We will make sure that for those who have innovative ideas, we can turn it to products, we would help you grow the business idea or make you partner with mentors, those who have being in the business before. For you to set up your own enterprise, you must understand a number of things e.g. finance, how to sell yourselves to investors, how to market your product… We recognize that not all student will like to go into that but it will help them realize that you can have two streams of income. So, while looking for a job you can be doing something.
How do you feel about being the first person to be the DVC D&S, like you’re the pioneer?
Laughs…. I don’t really know how I feel, I don’t know if I feel pressured to make something of it… I had to realize that there’s no road map, so I have to create one. Being provost I think has helped me, I had learnt early to manage my own expectations, “you think you can do it then life happens”, It helped me to know what my possibilities are. “I’m an internal optimist, I don’t believe there’s nothing you can’t do I just believe you might not be able to find an easy way to do it, you should look for new ways but never stop”… “Failure is not a problem, failure is just another way of saying that’s not the way to go, so you get up again and do it again.” So, never be afraid to fail; the only people who don’t fail are those who don’t do anything. Now I’m not so scared of failing, I only look at what I have done wrong and move on again. It’s tough, nobody likes to fail, but anyone who says they’ve failed before will tell you they’ve achieved a lot now and it gets easier.
This office runs for how many years?
It’s for 4 years.
Do you think at the end of the 4 years you would have left a legacy for others to follow?
I hope I do.
There’s this process of “rebranding the university” ongoing by the new VC, it’s probably part of the 25 years’ strategic plan, what is the role of your office in this rebranding mission?
Rebranding is in line with what we are supposed to do and we want to produce students that are fit for purpose. We’ve looked at the gap and we’ve seen that we’re not cross fertilizing, we’re still going local. A lot of my work is to bring in people, exporting ourselves out of here; we are going to bring in a lot more collaboration with other universities. We just came back from Canada and we are part of the epic group, we are actually the only African university there and first on the African continent to be part of the group; It’s in the area of renovation and cyber security. Cyber security is the next big thing, because the world is going digital, for instance the war between Russia and America is a cyber-war not physical and “as long as you’re on the internet, your problems will be on the internet”. We will be doing a lot more e-learning, for example, GST will be going online soon, so as to reduce stress, ’cause we’re dealing with the whole university. We are looking for ways to make the student do better – the entrepreneurship program is a major one – students will be taught soft skills. We also want to redo your (student) curriculum, to be industry related and more in tuned with what is going on out there and finally, change the way we teach, there’s too much lectures; It’s going to take a while for things to change, also getting lecturers to change their mode of teaching is a lot of work.
The entrepreneurship program, is it going to be like a class or a course?
It will be a course, it won’t just be lectures, there will be more practical’s, and people coming in from industries to give you more life experiences. There will be visit to places, we will bring in entrepreneurs who you can work with later, but you have to get credit for that and you get a certain level of credit, for us to say you can go. People who come up with ideas that can be turned into businesses – we would have an incubation center here for you to grow that business, we know not everyone will want that, but we want everyone to develop the opportunity to have a hobby turn into something they can use to make money. Even if not fully interested, at least they will have the skill to run a business later on.
This entrepreneurship courses ma, are they going to be compulsory or elective courses?
It will be like a GST course, you have to do them before you graduate, but we don’t want to have to force it, if not, we’ve failed in what we want to achieve. We will start with what we call “design thinking”, which will also affect your school work, it should improve the way you reason – we expect it to benefit your normal school work and at the end of the day, you will be leaving with that certificate and your degree and be a better person.
How long will the program run for?
It’s going to be for 2 years. Everybody must do the 2 years, some people will go on after, when they have something they’re working on and we’ve identified them, they’ll peach to investor, you will be taught that, that is also why we have the incubation center. But it’s not a one-man thing, somethings might not necessarily finish during my tenure, once you set things rolling, the whole idea is that it continues from tenure to tenure. But we’ll start the course next session. There is a program in place for those going into the final year and penultimate year. There’s already an entrepreneurship center set in place for them already.
What’s your thought on Feminism?
I like to be careful choosing my choice of definition because, feminism is so many definitions to different people. But I think what is important is not “feminism or not” but “self-actualization”, you can be who you want to be without anybody putting you in a box. “Being a female in a man’s area or in a position of leadership, people are going to try you”. You will have to learn to be confident, set your boundaries and learn how to put your foot down even though we were taught to be nice. We have to learn that when you’re in a leadership position, it’s not about being liked, but about being respectful, because those boundaries you’ve set will be pushed, and it’s not just by the men, but the women too… You can “mummy” me, I can joke with you, but when it’s time to work, you have to do your job. As a woman many things they will try with you, they can’t try it with a man boss. ‘Cause you’re female and you’re the one nurturing the family, don’t use your family as an excuse not to achieve what you want. Being female is tough but it’s not an excuse; some men and women also have it tougher. You must have plans, you can’t use children as an excuse, you have to even work harder for them, so when you stop working, they’ll know this woman is hardworking. You can’t slack off and making others do your work for you. “When I work with younger women, I’m usually tougher on them, I tell them the world is not kind”, but more importantly, the prayer is for you to have an understanding husband – because if there’s a problem at home, it will be difficult to focus – but again you have to shut that door, so you can do your job when you get to work. There’ll always be problem but God gives wisdom, when you don’t expect that much from people, you can’t be disappointed. “Plan your life within your own means, so you won’t have a problem”. If you don’t succeed, people will remember your story, so always plan not to fail and don’t give up
Ma, any advice for younger girls or even guys who look up to you as a mentor?
You know I’m laughing because I used to be a very shy person, even now I would still say am shy, my milieu is not very social, I’m not into the big social scene, but I can cope, I was told I’m a social introvert. I love just books, TV, small gatherings.
My advice – try and enjoy every day, try and enjoy what you do, most importantly, do not let fear stop you from doing what you want. If there’s anything you want to do, do it! Be afraid but do it. Constantly push your boundaries, don’t stay too safe – it’s boring. You will look back and say “I wish I had done somethings”. If there’s something you want to do, go do it! Don’t worry about failing, just try it and it’s liberating, the first time is difficult, the second time is a little less difficult, after a while you won’t even worry. That I am here is because I have pushed boundaries; it’s like taking a new step for someone coming from idi-araba. Becoming provost was pushing one boundary.
Talking about idi-araba, there’s this notion that it’s another entity on its own, how true is that?
No, it’s not. It’s not true, it’s the same university. It’s called University of Lagos College of Medicine. Most universities don’t have their college of medicines on their main campuses, there was a time Idi-araba was autonomous – it became the school college 8 years after. Medical schools are usually run differently from the way the school system works but it’s the same university, senate also takes their results, the rest is human factor but it’s not functional. Things are changing, probably because of the distance between, but we are one.
Concerning politics, what do you think of youth and women taking on politics in Nigeria?
We need more of youths and women. Women bring to the table consensus; they tend to work with consensus, their way of leadership is different from that of men, and they are more practical and pragmatic. Women are more doers than talkers, guys tend to talk a lot and then you have less ego flying around. Nigeria politics now is a problem, we need more young people, ’cause the world we’re in now needs the know-how of the youth. Wisdom is good, but we also need forward thinking and technology, although the problem of Nigeria is not just the age, but the wrong people in leadership generally. A lot of people there are not educationally sound, even more importantly, a lot of them have never had a flourishing business, it’s a double thing of mediocrity and corruption, it’s very bad. Certainly we need more women and more youth.
But I believe we need a path way to get there, you can just wake up one morning and say you want to be president, you have to go through the necessary roots, do something for your community, go through the local government, house of rep etc and raise to the top. “Nigeria is a business” how do you make a country work, so that people have jobs, schools run and the system runs well, we should be able to have financial management, have a vision. As a youth, start doing things that shows you can handle or run a project. It requires competency that you must learn; which comes from doing, failing, learning to lead people, to influence people… that comes with respect when people are willing to follow you.
On a final note Ma, any advice for UNILAG students?
You guys are creative, pretty smart, believe in yourselves and work hard, take this time now to invest in yourself, that’s the only way you will enjoy the extract later on. “This is the best time of your life, have fun, do new things, travel, gain new experiences”. Don’t be scared.