PROFESSOR MICHAEL Umale Adikwu is the Vice Chancellor of the University of Abuja and a seasoned higher education administrator. The Vice Chancellor, who has presided over the affairs of the university in the past five years and would soon exit after completing his tenure spoke recently with The Telescope Nigeria Correspondent, Lyric Bahm in Abuja on the state of affairs in higher institutions in the country declaring in particular that the society should be held responsible for cultism in schools. Excerpts:
Prof. Sir, what challenges have you faced in the University of Abuja these few years that you served as vice chancellor?
Well, human challenges are usually uniform. What gave me the most challenge all these years as far as our environment is concerned are peoples’ attitude to work. People are not very serious in doing their jobs and this also affects the entire nation. Any issue that comes to my table does not stay beyond 24 hours but if it stays for 24 hours then, I am not around. I am so sad to hear that when I move the files to the next office, it stays there for upward of two or three months. This attitude to work can be seen all over the federation and it leads to the stagnation of the process because nothing can move that way. Staff attitude to work is my major challenge in this institution. In other climes such as Japan, people stay in their offices until 10pm or 12pm after reporting to work by 7am.
For example, in 2010, we went to South Korea and we were told in plain terms that work is their food in that country. Everyone works very hard there to make things work. In this university, you will be lucky to see people in their offices before 8am in the morning. This is how it happens almost in other places in this country and I think it is so because life is so cheap in Nigeria. People do not work for their food. I do not look at monetary challenges as problems because as long as one has a functional brain, one can get money for projects and programmes.
Cultism has become a major problem in schools especially higher institutions in the country. Sir, to what extent have you been able to tackle this challenge in the University of Abuja?
In every governance system, the man or woman at the helm of affairs matters a lot. If the person is a cultist, he/she will breed cultists but cultists will likely not be comfortable with the zone of the person who is not a cultist. There have been some flashes of cult activities here and there in the university but we got people who know their nature to tackle them.
There were also students who were caught with lots of hard drugs on campus but the main issue about cultism is the society we all live in. Society should be blamed for the increase of cultism in schools. People in high places are responsible for breeding cultists. These people teach the children bad things and turn around to accuse the youth of engaging in cultism. We cannot say it does not exist especially because of the jungle areas around Gwagwalada where students who are sent home usually remain and refused to go home. Some people who finished from school also announce that they are members of the Student Union Government, SUG and refused to go home to look for work.
These are fundamental issues but cultism has never been a serious or major problem to the University of Abuja. So, I do not want to lay emphasis on the issue even though we had some problems with them in the university.
What would you recommend that the federal and state governments as well as other education administrators should do to tackle cultism in higher institutions in the country?
There is something that Christians call revivals and crusades. Revivals and crusades have happened in several higher institutions on a regular basis but to what effect have these activities helped in curbing cultism? They have been ineffective because the devil is also concentrating his efforts in higher institutions. Cultism is not likely to go away anytime soon. Rather, it is likely to keep rising because there are no jobs.
Let me tell you a small story. I finished from secondary school in 1981 and recently I met one of my class mates. Interestingly, when I asked him what business he has been doing to help himself; he replied bluntly that he is involved in kidnapping. I was very shocked and afraid at the same time but he told me that kidnapping is where the money is. There are people like him who are not ready to work but cultism and kidnapping gives them a lot of money to spend.
As an education administrator, are you really happy with the level of growth of education in our higher institutions and what should be done to improve on the existing situation, if you are dissatisfied?
The level of growth is not the problem. If we have a thousand universities in Nigeria and every child can be sent to school, the problem of illiteracy would be wiped off. We can have more (Aliko) Dangotes if we educate all the Almajiris on the streets. Nigeria has missed the point because we usually want to wrongly emulate the white man by saying this or that thing is not there. The real issue is that it is good to train people. Education to some extent opens the eyes of the citizens.
There is no ideal human system anywhere in the world. If we expose many people to education early, we will get a lot of them doing something good with their lives. We should start producing people who are creative in our schools to enable the nation tackle poverty and unemployment. We get tons of applications here every day. When we train creative people, the people will establish jobs for themselves and for others. There is no way a federal institution can absorb everybody. We do not have industries. In Germany, one or two German firms can absorb all the federal work-force in this country. Where are the industries in Nigeria? The ones that are available are struggling to survive.
The University of Abuja where you preside has suffered a lot of neglect in terms of infrastructure and other development issues. What appeal will you make to the Federal Government on this sir?
I usually tell people that I coordinated a World Bank assisted project before coming to the university. I never brought any person from Washington here because this is not a good example of a university of the federal capital. What I want to say is that the Federal Government should take a second look at this institution. This university should be upgraded to become the pride of the nation. When the place is improved, if people come from overseas and you want to show them a sample of a university, this should be where one would bring them to see things so they can see how our universities look like. The University of Abuja should be a very good example of a well developed university even if others do not look good.
I must admit that we do not have most of the important courses offered by universities of repute. Courses such as music, to cater for young people who want to study music and dance. We do not have fine arts, which is grossing up so much money overseas. The other day, a painting by Leonado Da-Vinci was sold for more than $450 million US dollars. We also do not have sports facilities. I would advise the Federal Government to take a second look at the state of the University of Abuja and do something to upgrade and improve the institution.
In the past few years, the ruling council of the university tried to improve services and by next year, all the faculties would have moved to the main campus which has better space to accommodate them. We have massive land.
All the courses offered by the university have been accredited and more people are indicating interest to study in the university with the result that hostel accommodation has now become a problem since expansion of available facilities has not taken place.
You have been here for almost five years and you are getting to the end of your tenure, what will you say are your legacies?
My legacies will speak for me. I will not talk about my legacies. I do not like praising myself. Let others do so for me. Let others tell the story for me. Let others tell people what they have seen and not me telling you what I have done.
Prof, we have noticed that the institution has been grappling with admission racketeering, what efforts are being made to tackle this menace?
We have had several of such complaints even on the Human Rights Radio where a student complained that we were selling accommodation etc. I was contacted and I told them that I know of universities where they sell admission but we do not do so here at the University of Abuja. I coordinated a World Bank project worth billions of naira. I never bothered to get acquainted with any contractor there. I did not know any contractor who handled our jobs. If I did not soil my hands with that appointment, is it here that I will start?
Since I came here, people have been putting pressure on me to register a business at the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, but I responded by telling them that it is nonsense. I am not moved by peoples’ criticism or what people say. I keep hearing that people are collecting money for admission but we have not caught anybody in the act. All the allegations are mere hearsay since there are no evidence to prove the allegations. Even our certificates, I am told, are being printed in town. The other day, I read on the internet that eight out of every ten certificates presented by Nigerians in Australia had been forged. So, to answer your question, I do not collect money for admission and this has also reduced the racketeering among staff as many are afraid to do so knowing the consequences of being caught.
What has been the magic with which you maintained peaceful coexistence in the university since you came as there have been industrial peace and harmony?
There has been no magic but I think I have good lieutenants who are always on the watch-out for periods when the system would heat-up and they would alert me. Lecturers, workers and students appreciate dialogue. They want you to talk to them and they talk to you. I learnt dialogue from the former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission who engages everybody that comes to his office and resolves every problem to the satisfaction of everyone. This is a clear departure from those who would close their office and will not engage in dialogue with the result that they compound issues for themselves.
I think a good administrative officer should be able to attend to everybody who can wait for you and the executive should hear the person out. Everybody has a problem whether big or small and requires that they should be given fair hearing. There is a lot of dialogue that goes on here. We do not show them that there is a boss or that anybody is a senior.
Sir, you once said that this university will be producing some materials that were fabricated by students. With few months to your exit are you still focusing on the projects?
Yes. Anyone we have not achieved will be taken over by the next administration. We laid foundations and structures for these programmes and projects to be achieved. Once there is peace, nothing will be difficult to achieve. We have improved on ranking but there are several variables in ranking. People who finished at Ibadan are ranked as number one; people who come from the UNN are also ranked as number one. The English man who introduced ranking is more objective but some of them are also quarrelling with the ranking because of the parameters involved. Some of the parameters are the question of how many foreigners are in any university. Here we have few of them but in terms of national spread, we are better since we have Hausas, Igbos, Yorubas, Tivs, Ibibios etc who teach in the university as lecturers. We have most tribes in Nigeria here. There is so much politics associated with the ranking of universities. In terms of the agricultural issue, we want to model our programme like the National Agricultural Production Research Development Council, Zaria and groom various types of animals. We are working towards those programmes. My only prayer for the university is that there should be stability so that we can actualise our plans.
You have been ranked as one of the best vice chancellors of this university but there are backlogs of promotions which have not been released. What is holding it from being released and what will you advice the next vice chancellor to do on this matter?
The next vice chancellor should continue the good work from where we stopped. There has been little delay in promotions but any staff that is due to be promoted gets promoted. I was arguing with the National Universities Commission before now over a lot of things but the current members of the NUC have the same ideas like me. There is something called student/staff ratio in the university system. Overseas, we are told it is one to eight and that is to make sure the lecturers pay attention to each student. Here, we have similar things. In some cases, it is one to ten or one to 30 depending on the course. Some are practical oriented courses. Assuming we have ten staff and fifty students, the staff/student ratio would be one to five. Between ten to twenty years, all the teaching staff may become professors and you have not advanced the number of students, will you be advised to take in more people? Also, the retirement age is now 70 years. So, this has created a huge problem. Shall we continue to employ when there may not be enough money to pay the staff even if we are able to employ?
In a university in Japan, there are only three lecturers for the entire sciences. Others come from the industrial sector and their practicals are carried out by post-doctoral research by people who are doing Ph.D. So, the universities there do not overload their students but each lecturer there works very hard and is paid very high. Here, we have excess staff that do not have work to do and we recently set up a committee to sack some of them because we realised that the Federal Government is paying them for doing nothing.
Would you like to say something about the proliferation of private universities and the quality of education from such universities sir?
The proliferation or number of private universities is not the main issue. Currently, we have about 74 private universities. The total number of students that these private universities take in every year is not up to what five federal universities enrol. People find it difficult to pay their fees. Some of the private universities are looking for students but cannot get them. However, the more schools we have, the more people we can train. The major disadvantage of having so many universities is that it has drastically watered down the quality of teaching in federal universities. Many of them do not have lecturers and are using part-time teachers throughout.
How are you going to ensure that the courses you mentioned earlier are in place anytime soon especially before your exit?
We have approved all the courses on paper and for some like pharmacy, the administrative block has already been set-up. The Faculty of Environmental Sciences will soon take off as the procurement processes are on. Even when am gone TETFUND will take the matter to the Federal Executive Council meeting for approval. Initiating them is not the problem. Rather, the problem is having the will to do them. Faculties of Science, engineering, post graduate school and the medical complex are being built. The Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria has said it will not allow us to take more than 50 students if we do not have enough space to keep them. These are some of the challenges but like I keep saying, problems are not problems in themselves. What constitutes problems is the lack of methods to resolve them.
What about the backlog of certificates that have not been issued. What is being done about this problem?
We have resolved the problem but what we did brought some queries. When I came, there were more than 200, 000 certificates that have not been issued to people who graduated for several years. We learnt that there was a security company in the United Kingdom, UK, which produces certificates for many Nigerian universities. We went and signed an agreement with them and at one swoop, 50, 000 certificates were produced for us and we also produced about 30, 000 locally.
Every day last year, the registry was busy issuing certificates to people who graduated. The numbers have thinned down now and only very few people have not received their certificates. Some people did diploma courses here more than twenty years ago and have not received certificates. The major problem we are facing with the certificates are that of spelling error and wrong placement of names which are being corrected as soon as these are pointed out.
When do you hope to have the next convocation?
The convocation will be in June because of the Ramadan fast. We cannot bring our emir (Chancellor) here during the Ramadan fast. About 7019 students will be convocating. My advice to every staff is that they should engage in hard work. Hard work does not kill. Today’s students are still thinking like the students of yesterday and are bragging that since they are university students, nobody can talk to them. Students in other climes work very hard, they clean their hostels and laboratories themselves but here, our students dodge work. Our students do not think innovatively but hope that when they graduate, their fathers or relations, who are in high places will help them secure employment. So, the nation keeps hiring into the system people who have nothing in their heads.