A 70-year-old man, who is a retired lecturer and Dean of School of Engineering at Ogun State Institute of Technology, Igbesa, Pa George Asuelinmen, has bagged PhD degrees alongside 144 others at the 52nd convocation ceremonies of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) Akoka.
With the academic feat, Asuelinmen made history as the oldest graduate at the 2019/2020 convocation. He is the second oldest person to bag a PhD in the history of the 59-year-old university.
Asuelinmen was a lecturer, head of the department, Mechanical Engineering, Director, Academic Planning, and Dean, School of Engineering, at Ogun State Institute of Technology (OGITECH), Igbesa (2006-2017). Before he joined OGITECH in 2006, he had worked mainly in the motor industry for about 25 years.
In this exclusive interview with The Education Report, the septuagenarian explained why he acquired a PhD in Mechanical Engineering.
Can we meet the latest PhD holder in town?
My name is George Anacious Asuelinmen. I am from Ekpoma Town in Esan West Local Government Area of Edo State. I am from a royal lineage and married, with four children. All my children are graduates who are gainfully employed. One of them is a pharmacist.
Did your children and family members support your PhD aspiration?
I worked in the industry for about 25 years, including at Leyland Motors, Leventis Motors and Anammco. I worked at Beta Glass for two years before I was laid off. I had to look for something else to do. In the process, I got a job as a lecturer at Ogun State Institute of Technology, ICT Polytechnic, Igbesa. I spent 11 years at the institution, when I clocked 65, I had to retire and you know that is the retirement age. I was the head of the department. I established the Mechanical Engineering Department in ICT Polytechnic, Igbesa. Before working at the institution, I already obtained my BSc and M.A Business but did not have an M.Sc. I needed an M.Sc to be qualified to fit perfectly into the environment. So, I considered the M.Sc programme, that is how I went back to school, within one or two years I finished. I discovered that I was qualified for a PhD, so I decided to enrol for the programme.
Describe your journey to acquiring PhD
I am a very dedicated person. Whatever I try to do, I do it well. I was very busy when I enrolled for M.Sc in 2013 and I was also busy in 2017 when I embarked on the PhD journey. I was paying minimum attention for two or three years, the other years I spent was just liaising and working on models, carrying out experiments, until the last three years when I decided to complete my PhD with the design of a three-wheel scooter taxi that we see on the road. I modified the existing design and made it stable in the Faculty of Engineering.
What informed the title of your thesis?
I worked with Leventis Moniya in Ibadan. Our job was majorly bodybuilding, vehicle assembling. I worked in an automotive engineering company in Enugu, I have also worked with Leyland Motors. So, when we learnt that Julius Berger was interested in these moulds, we made a design for them. I was the one that spearhead the design; we made the design and sent the proposal to them. At the time we finished the design, we were given IPO, when we finish as well, we got more IPO. That’s how the company became very prosperous. In the Federal Capital Territory, the authorities over there instructed Julius Berger to stop carrying its workers with containers. That was what led to this. We wanted to expand the business within Abuja; we met the authorities of the Federal Capital Territory, to produce this kind of bus. We were told to confirm that the vehicle would be stable. We took it to them and they confirmed that the vehicle was stable. They drove the vehicle and it was stable. So, when I left for OGITECH to work, we built a three-wheel scooter taxi, with a body, even if it rains, passengers won’t get wet inside. Then, in the process of reading newspapers, I discovered that there were complaints that the vehicle was unstable. Since I was planning to enrol for my PhD, I said to myself, why not pick the topic and look at it at my PhD level? That was how I picked the topic “Stability of three-wheel scooter taxi.” That was how the research work started. But the final title that was approved was “Stability: Analysis and redesign of three-wheel scooter taxi in Nigeria.” That’s how the journey started. I had two good supervisors.
Considering your age, how did your supervisors treat you?
They called me Baba, they saw me as an elderly person. Prof. S.J. Ojolo and Prof. O.O. Ajayi supervised my thesis. They are very intelligent scholars. We had mutual respect. I was taken as a student as such. I was treated well. I was also treated as an elderly person. We were able to work together.
What were the reactions of the younger PhD students?
At the time we finished our master’s, four among the students enrolled for PhD. I didn’t see any difference. We were like colleagues. The only thing I noticed about the lecturers when we’re doing master’s, it was seen as adults’ class. I am not sure most of them were up to 30 years, who did masters with me. But there was no difference. Even though they were more intelligent than me, I was wiser. So, we were able to work together. When there was a group assignment, I would provide hints, like I would say, this assignment, we can use Excel for it, and they listened to me. That was how we worked together and graduated before some of us now enrolled for the PhD programme.
Did they ask you questions like ‘what are you still doing here?’
I was still a lecturer at OGITECH by the time I enrolled. So, I was not asked such questions.
Was there ever a time when you thought of giving up?
No. I am not the type of person that gives up. If I decide to do something, I have to finish it. Nobody can discourage me, even if I quarrel with somebody, I have a way of coming back and reconciling with the person. Some people will make some comments, maybe your relations, what am I still looking for? But you pretend as if I don’t hear such comments.
How do you feel graduating at 70, since, by UNILAG records, you are the second oldest person to have achieved this feat?
Assuming I had my PhD at 30, I would be very excited and enthusiastic. You know, your parents and everybody would want to celebrate you. But at 70, if you tell someone that you graduated at 70, I am not sure they are too ready to celebrate you. What I know is I am happy to have achieved it. Not only that, I still have plans. My wife and children did. My supervisors congratulated me. My children wished me well, the four of them.
How were your undergraduate days like?
During my university days in the 1970s, things were like Eldorado. I studied at the University of Benin (UNIBEN), Edo State. I came from a poor background where people shared meat in a meal. But in university, we were given three chunks of meat to eat per meal. On Sunday, we got chicken lap; amazingly, I asked if it was food that we came here to eat. Some caregivers dressed our beds and did other chores for us. When I was doing my project as an undergraduate, I was assigned two supervisors. My undergraduate project was to design an automatic blanking machine. The cup for producing Coca-cola. It’s like a punch before they put the rubber, to cork the bottle. This machine produced round objects. My supervisors co-operated with me. They were very enthusiastic and I was able to make the machine. It was the best in the department at that time, it was taken for exhibition. I was invited to come and do the presentation and demonstrate it to the minister at the exhibition in Lagos. I was already doing my National Youth Service Corps. I equally represented UNIBEN as an undergraduate. I wrote a paper, defended it and represented the school at competitions. I represented the school in Ahmadu Bello University and the University of Ibadan for competitions. I already had an interest in design and production. I was passionate about designs. So, doing this (PhD) project is not a new thing and it was not stressful.
During your university days, was there anything like ASUU strike?
No there was no strike. I remember it was the students’ problem. If there were strikes, we would have lost a session. It was just protests, riots and demonstrations by students over changes of certain things. What we used to enjoy, we were no longer enjoying it. No more three types of meat, tea, juice, all the benefits we enjoyed, we started losing them. The government was complaining that there was no money.
How would you compare university education in your days and now?
It might be difficult for me to compare because I am no longer an undergraduate. It is the same tough situation. What I am saying, obtaining a master’s, you have to read, study excessively and work hard. The PhD too, it’s not a joke, not a child’s play. You must contribute to knowledge. The project in my undergraduate era was simpler: “Design and producing a blanking machine.” Now you are talking of making models of stability. Analyzing the vehicle whether it is stable or not. Talking of redesign, modification and stability of the vehicle. You have to work hard. I don’t interact with them as such, but with my experience at my school, it is the same standard: if you fail, you fail. If others compromise, that is their business, I don’t compromise. Even the students are still talking about me to date because of the project I did with them. If you are not good, you fail.
After your PhD what next?
I want to see what I can do myself, based on this knowledge I have acquired. I don’t need to work but in terms of contribution to the country. My first goal is the stability of the three-wheel scooter taxi. My own is to see how we can come up with the standard of design, production, regulation and importation of this vehicle because the vehicle is unstable. And the reason why it’s unstable is because of the high centre of gravity of the sitting position. It’s very high, compared to Jeep. Although Jeep is unstable the instability is lower compared with this tricycle. Those things need to be corrected; we need to work with some bodies like the Federal Road Safety, Standard Organization of Nigeria, National Automobile Design and Development Council. We need to put our heads together to see what we can do. We still need to liaise with the centre for automotive development with the view of sending them a proposal, both for design and to design a stable three-wheel scooter taxi. At the end of the day, it is the safety of Nigerians lives we are pursuing. That is the main focus of the PhD thesis.