On assumption of office, you promised to leapfrog the university to greater heights as one of the best in Nigeria, and within 200 best universities in the world. Would you say you have achieved this?
When I started Project 200; it was to position UNIZIK among the best 200 universities in the world; first top 10 in Sub-Saharan Africa and the first in Nigeria. That was the mission, vision and the overall goal of my administration.
We anticipated that within the five years that I will serve as a Vice-Chancellor it is accomplishable. As we speak, we are bringing down and moving up. Today, we are fourth in Nigeria; we are moving closer to Sub-Saharan Africa, where we are number 13, and in the world the university has moved from 4,494 to around 1,200.
In fact, there are many issues responsible for this visibility. Some of these issues created challenges. The first is the digital update; the world has become digital and whatever you want to do to be visible you must be able to go digital. Our system has changed; the method of administration, academic delivery and the method of interaction have changed. They are all digitalised now.
And, of course, I see this as one of things that actually helped us to move the institution up.
Right now, our appraisals are done digitally. One of the things I did was to make sure that all staff and students have their signature email, bearing UNIZIK identity.
Before now, principal officers had only Yahoo mail or Gmail, and I said no to this, that we need to rebrand our university.
We now have Unizik.edu.ng for our emails; we were able to streamline that to everyone. I made sure we have our institution name in our emails and other digital devices. If you are talking about international visibility and they cannot identify you with your emails; that is already a minus.
That was a major thing we did. Though it was difficult to change the psyche of both staff and students because they were already used to their Yahoo and Gmail statuses, I insisted on institutional email because it is a brand we needed to sell our university.
Our appraisal system, which is a recent development, is today done digitally. When we wanted to start this, it was a big issue; people did not want it, as they wanted to remain the old way. That is the analogy of doing things.
You know that digital traffic is a major factor of our visibility. Right now, our external assessors no longer have to carry big bags of documents. The digital revolution is where I saw we have made tremendous improvement, but then we have a lot of challenges.
What other areas have been digitised?
In fact, students’ clearance is no longer a problem; our transcripts have also gone digital. For students to do their clearance, we want to launch something within the next few months. After the launch, students don’t need to queue up to do their transcripts. Once it is launched, you can do your clearance and transcripts in the comfort of your rooms, hostels or anywhere. That is an area we want to focus on now that will also enhance our university visibility.
The other key area apart from academics is infrastructure. If you visit any institution where the infrastructure is planned it will be seamless. What I want my successor to focus on is to plan infrastructural development; not just to build structures, but rather to plan them before building. If it is a classroom, he should make sure that it is connected to the solar system.
Besides, maintenance of the structures has been a big problem in our university. We have structures that are decaying for not being maintained because we did not plan them well.
I want to advise whoever succeeds me that anything he or she wants to build should be well planned, and to be connected to power and water reticulation, and should also be standard. Though I am trying to do that now, I hope I will be able to complete them.
We want our system to be synchronised and connected together. When I came in, I did not know that there was no power supply, no network connectivity and when something went wrong, it was difficult to trace or detect.
This was a big problem and that is the reason we now have a solar system and we wanted the solar to be loaded and shared. Maybe that was the reason when we had power problems in the hostels or classrooms it took us one and half years to rectify it.
We had to bring in a consultant, who told us that the university right from inception had no networks and everything was done in an ad-hoc approach. No electricity network and that is what we are correcting now. We want to build the network so that if anything happens we can go to the system and detect the fault. That is how it is done aboard, but in our own case they do trial and error for over six weeks. This is the same thing with our internet connectivity.
More importantly, we are now mainstreaming and clearing it, and once that is done new buildings that are constructed will be connected to the network. Of course, we will also check if this would add to the overload. We don’t need all these generators in the university again.
What other efforts were put in place by your administration?
We have also come to realise that getting funds to run the university is becoming increasingly difficult, so we need to focus on two areas, which are endowment and alumni.
We are strengthening the alumni because it is a big financial base for universities. Today, we are talking about school fees, which cannot even solve the problems of funding in our universities.
Endowment and alumni are bigger than all the school fees and other levies we are talking about. Therefore, as a university, we are strengthening our alumni base to make sure that any graduate that has passed through the university would contribute to.
For instance, if they all contribute N100 each, the financial base will solve the university challenges. I discovered this very late into my administration, but we are working on it. I would like my successor to focus on this and if he or she could do that, there will be adequate funds to run the system.
Whether we like it or not, university funding is dwindling and without adequate funds no one can run or fix a university.
We got a lot of endowments, and many things that we did in the university were from endowments. Almost all the major structures you are seeing in the university are through endorsement.
The endowment is either from the government, National Assembly, private organisations or individuals. However, we have not been able to tap fully into the alumni. If we succeed in that area, it will go a long way in helping in the sustenance and building of the university. Getting every alumnus of the university is our priority and we are creating a website where we showcase our alumni of the week, month and of the year.
They will see where their money is being channeled. I have interacted with the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, London and others; they said that their major sources of funding are through the alumni, not even from what the British Government provided.
Peter Obi once told me that he just put a small structure in Oxford University and that he pays his alumni dues regularly. This is a big financial base we are losing in our university. I met some of our alumni in the diaspora, and they told me that I should call them. But, the only thing they complained about is that they need an association. We are going to have a better alumni base with a powerful website. The money from that source alone can be more than what students are paying as school fees.
Do you mean that could remedy the hike in school fees in Nigeria?
Yes, that will be a remedy because with that we don’t need a hike in students’ school fees. If we organise it properly the revenue base of this university will be massive.
There is one issue reoccurring in the university about a lecturer accused of sexually harassing students for which various committees set up by the university had indicted him and for which the management only suspended him, what is happening?
Well, I did not set up Prof Obi Oguejiofor’s Committee. The case of the lecturer never came up under me as a vice-chancellor. It was not under my tenure and I won’t be able to say much about it. That may be possible under my predecessors. I can say exactly.
But on the lecturer, what I saw was a social media report, and suspending him is the way to go. Due process is important in handling such a critical issue. First is to suspend such lecturer for him to be properly investigated. What we are doing now is investigation and once it is complete and he is indicted by the committee, it will then go to the Joint Council of Senate Disciplinary Committee and that is the Committee that whatever it says would be presented to the Governing Council of the university with the final decision.
If we do otherwise, the lecturer involved will go to court, even the case may be on for 10 years and that is what we have had in the past. The former Vice-Chancellors did that and those who were asked to be called back by the court; we are paying heavily on them because due process was not followed.
Once you suspect a staff member, we have to investigate properly. There is no emotion and sentiment about this. If you use emotion to dismiss such staff there will be problem because he will approach the court for damages.
We have paid between N75 million and N80 million for something we knew were obvious, but which we did not follow due process.
Thus, in this case we are following due process and once he is found culpable, he will leave the university. There are no two ways to do it.
The university is planning to install CCTV cameras in the staff offices, lecture theatres and classrooms and this is generating issues, what is your reaction to this?
The CCTV camera project is in phases. It is to save the students. You see, some people are so careless about this key issue of sexual harassment, extortion and sorting to pass examinations. We are starting with classrooms. We are still deliberating on that. They have given their reasons why CCTV cameras should not be installed in their offices, but I have told them that the offices are not private apartments of any staff.
Of course, some staff may have one reason or the other, but then we will look into those reasons. We will sit down again and look into their reasons. In modern offices, they use what is called open offices. I was telling some of the staffers that the project is to help them because some of them don’t want to hold themselves in one way or the other. However, we don’t want to heat up the system because of that.
Meanwhile, we have installed CCTV cameras in many classrooms and lecture theatres. But students are messing up the system. There are two things; it is not just lecturers and staff.
I won’t like to impose anything on them; we will sit down and talk about it. They also need to understand the need. We are not happy with the social media reports about the university. This administration needs to do something to show that we are intolerant of negative activities.
We have had a town hall meeting with the students’ body and students’ societies in the university.
We encouraged and asked the students to speak out. We are going to launch Operation Speak Out, if you are oppressed. Majority of the students are afraid of speaking out because those lectures are threatening them.
Some of the students have come to speak out and I have set up a committee to investigate these. We are investigating them to know if anyone is found guilty, and at least we will start from those ones. We have five or six cases of sexual harassment that we are investigating. I told the students that what we are doing is to protect them. I have assured them that no one would be allowed to harass them under my administration and go free.
In fact, this had been happening all along only that the students did not come out to speak. I have said that once I see the case I will follow it up. I have zero tolerance for sexual harassment, even in my faculty, the Faculty of Pharmacy; I sacked one of my staff. I brought him into the university from a company and nobody believed I could sack him. He did not even believe I could sack him. Everybody knew he was my boy. We followed due process; we investigated him and we found him guilty. I have to sack him. If you like, be my brother, my wife or anybody but once you are found to be guilty of such an offence, you are gone.
I told the students that they should be rest assured that if they give information it must be followed to the logical conclusion. Once any person’s name is dropped in any of these issues, he will be properly investigated and if found guilty, that person will go.
I also urged the students to come forward and give concrete evidence because without evidence the management cannot do anything. We must have evidence to carry out our investigations. I also told them not to be afraid of giving evidence that the university will protect them. We are embarking on a total cleansing of the university.
In recent times, there have been several security challenges on campus, part of which EEDC cable was vandalised, what is your administration doing about this?
Honestly, when I saw that, I was not happy on one hand, because the issues of insecurity have become a great challenge.
For now, security of the campus has been outsourced. The government said we can outsource it. But, the people who are being outsourced to do the job are not here because of the same problems of funding.
We have been having problems with the agency that is actually handling the security in the university for some time now. In actual fact we owed them. It is a big shame, but that is the reality.
And, because of this issue, their service cannot cover everywhere on campus. We have made some arrangements in the last two months to engage causal security operatives. There are also members of volunteer staff, who want to work in the security/safety unit. We have trained them, though some of them have not been deployed and when they are all deployed, they will cover the entire campus.
When security was being mainstreamed in our salary, we had about 600 security personnel, but today we cannot afford that number.
Your tenure is about to end, and several professors are already jostling to succeed you, how do you intend to make the process free of rancor and mixed-feelings?
Well, there are laid down procedures for the selection and appointment of a Vice-Chancellor in the institution. I have been telling my colleagues in the university Senate and the entire academic community that every professor is a potential Vice-Chancellor, but we must follow the laid down procedures.
The National Universities Commission (NUC) over 10 years ago had stated the guidelines, steps and qualifications that should be met for one to qualify to be a vice-chancellor.
We will religiously follow those guidelines; there is no anointed candidate. Anointing any person is not one of the processes for the selection of the vice-chancellor of the university. The candidates must pass through due process of the interview and selection process, and if anyone emerges victorious through the process and found appointable, he will be appointed as the vice-chancellor.
I want to assure the public that due process must be observed, no short cut. What we do not want is for the candidates and members of the university community to turn the university into a conventional political party system where there will be a campaign of calumny to ascend to position. The position of vice-chancellor is a sensitive one that demands every sense of responsibility. Those who must ascend to the position must be said to be disciplined.