Understanding the crises at UNN

Posted by Ugwumadu Nnanta | 13 January 2014 | 5,784 times

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In addition to its towering history, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) bears a burden unusual for an educational institution as the largest federal government establishment in the South East of Nigeria.

It has enjoyed a period of revival in infrastructure, in academic standards, in environment and in attracting corporate and institutional funding through the efforts of a renaissance man in the saddle as Vice Chancellor, Prof Bartho Okolo.

Okolo has initiated and executed over 95 infrastructure projects, as well as instituted profound modernising changes over four years. Persons familiar with the institution applaud the bold vision and the rigour in implementation, similar to the single-minded pursuit of a grand vision for the institution exhibited by then VC, Prof. Frank Ndili.

Astute mobiliser, Okolo leveraged on the UNN brand for the benefit of UNN in getting buy-in to infrastructure projects by corporate bodies and institutions. Recent donors to UNN include Shell Petroleum Development Company that put down an initial $1m for the Centre for Environmental Management and Control at the Enugu Campus. The centre would train staff of oil companies, carry out laboratory analyses of environmental samples and earn revenue for the institution. A consortium including MTN, Main One Cable Systems, Google Inc and Microsoft built the institution’s N3b Internet System, and even local giants like the Ibeto Group, building a diagnostic centre and Capital Oil with a data centre to support the Internet infrastructure. Other very huge benefactors of the university include First Bank of Nigeria, Fidelity Bank Plc, the Federal Government special intervention grants through Tetfund and appropriation.

As UNN management under his leadership successfully delivers more projects, on schedule and on budget, other companies are motivated and indeed join. Funding has come from institutional grants, internally generated revenue and donations. Success attracts good and bad, however, with some imagining there are huge funds available to the institution for the taking.

Okolo has leveraged the history of the institution for international affiliations. UNN is now affiliated to over 40 universities and research institutes across the world. With the support of the Federal Government, UNESCO established the UNESCO Category 2 International Centre for Biotechnology at UNN, one of a kind in Africa, and in May 2013 sent a team of experts both to inaugurate it and to hold a scientific conference.

UNN under Batho Okolo has become a magnet for attracting international and national support for the advancement of the dream of the founding fathers of the institution as an international centre of learning. The university management built an International Scholars Village of 86 rooms in anticipation of the arrival of international scholars in consequence of the affiliations and exchange programmes as well as a Presidential Guest House of 17 rooms and eight suites for the very many international engagements ongoing and envisaged. 

Okolo, a former President of the high profile Enugu Sports Club, speaks only one language to companies and institutions as well as alumni: What can you bring to improve standards in UNN?

He also commenced a focused programme of rebuilding the manpower base that was greying. He has recruited 46 senior faculty from across the globe including places like Harvard University, occasioning at Nsukka a reverse brain drain. Over 300 First Class Honours graduates were engaged in the last three years as junior faculty. Over 100 of the fresh faculty are training across the globe at institutions such as the universities of Kyoto, Sukuba and Hokkaido in Japan; the universities of Maryland, Johns Hopkins and Oswago in the United States of America as well as Strathclyde and Middlesex in the United Kingdom, among others..

However, change always meets with resistance from status quo. Even simple changes like introducing modern instructional materials and insisting that lecturers prepare lecture notes and present on screens through Power Point and other software are causing resistance and outright antagonism!

There is even more resistance to the Vice Chancellor’s move through the Senate for the institution to recognise Impact Factor as a criterion for promotions and recognition of academic work. Simply put, Impact Factor stipulates that any publication by an academic must be such as would have impact in the discipline in bringing new knowledge or expanding on what exists as is the global best practice, it should be published in only recognised peer-reviewed impact factor journals. It is one of the grounds of the protesters. Amazing that academics in an institution founded on the grounds of academic excellence would revolt against standards pushing for academic excellence! They prefer to roll out handouts and cyclostyled sheets as well as the vogue of self-publishing!

Enter the Federal Government, which through the Federal Ministry of Education appoints a Governing Council of politicians including Salisu Buhari of Toronto infamy and Dr. Emeka Enejere as Chairman. An Nsukka indigene and UNN alumnus of Political Science, Enejere had a record with the university that was not exactly stellar. He left the university as Lecturer 1, never headed anything and upon his appointment flaunted the title of professor, which he has since dropped in favour of the ecclesiastical Sir. How suitable is such a man to head the very same university with which he had issues?

His appointment as Chairman of Council of the largest FG institution in the South East was then supposed to be a reward. For what? Unfortunately, a university is not that kind of place. It is run in a collegiate fashion and includes a Governing Council, University Management and Senate.

Enejere’s appointment also came against the backdrop of agitation for “Our Son” as VC by Nsukka indigenes. Failure to achieve that goal at the time of Okolo’s appointment in 2009 was the basis for sponsored student riots barely three months into the assumption of office by the VC. Nsukka indigenes seek this prize above all even as three of their own sons are Vice Chancellors in other institutions with host communities.

Unusual crises such as community disruption have featured regularly since the new Chairman of Council showed his hands. Enejere ran an Executive Council that sat in the university almost on daily basis and took management rather than policy decisions. It awarded contracts and asked the Bursar to release funds for them. A chartered accountant, the bursar Mrs. Chinwe Obi, dodged the illegal instructions and the Chairman of Council promptly ordered the termination of her appointment. There have been attacks by staff unions, which no longer speak as one, as well as the alumni association, which is also torn in two. Even indigenes of neighbouring communities are suddenly waking up to demand that the university provide so and so to them. Just a few months previously, before Enejere, these communities offered titles and commendations to the VC that they now demonise.

The alumni association is a particular case study. With many alumni not paying attention, jobbers who think it is a gravy train often now run the alumni association. Therefore, rather than the alumni association providing support at least in the search for donations and funding for the institution, it seeks to feed off the institution. A disbarred lawyer is the current President.

Okolo has put in place structures to increase the IGR of the university such as the Abuja liaison office & guest house, upgrade & digitization of the University Press, expansion and  modernization of university bookshop, purchase of property at Isaac John Street, Ikeja Lagos, construction of clinical diagnostic & wellness centre and the expansion & modernization of Lion table water. He has been in the UNN system for 28 years, understands where the leakages are and has blocked most of them, thus occasioning the attacks.

Playing out at Nsukka, therefore, are contrasting visions of the place of the University of Nigeria and its role in society. Is it an institution needing the support of its Council as well as alumni and corporate bodies to get funding and other assistance that would plug the gaps in government funding or is it a centre of political largesse?

However, as has become the norm in Nigeria, the first course is to flag the chimera of corruption as tar against opponents, true or false. Remember the N2.8b allegation against Muhammadu Buhari and the Federal Government many years ago? It evaporated like a puff of air latter. Nevertheless, not before muddying the waters and fouling the air for many years.

The allegations against Prof. Okolo include alleged misuse or misappropriation of N3b, and the even more ludicrous one of engaging his wife in the university bursary. Barrister Nwanneka Okolo was until mid 2013 the Group Head, Public Sector South East for First Bank of Nigeria based in Enugu. She resigned to pursue other interests including establishing a major youth and women empowerment NGO, Lift Saxum, with notable Nigerians on the board.

It is easy to allege. Constituted authorities investigated and found nothing to the allegations. Those appointed through the aegis of the Federal Ministry of Education then launched a campaign against the same ministry and the supervising minister. The Ministry then remedied its error, firing the known cause of the “crisis” in the institution.

There is talk of dictatorship and arrogance against the Vice Chancellor. A dictatorship by definition is a system of governance where one person calls all the shots. Those making this allegation do grave injustice to the university system and the distinguished members of the various organs of this institution when they speak flippantly in those terms. UNN has a Council, there is a Senate and there is a University Management committee made up of three Deputy Vice Chancellors, a Registrar, a Bursar, Librarian and various Principal Officers. Those alleging dictatorship by the VC insult the intelligence and capabilities of these various officers when they speak in those terms because what they say is that these distinguished colleagues of theirs do not have a voice.

Ugwumadu Nnanta is a UNN alumnus based in Lagos. Photo shows UNN Vice Chancellor, Prof. Bartho Okolo.


Source: News Express

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