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We want to be Nigeria’s quintessential ICT varsity - FUOYE VC
Vice Chancellor of Federal University, Oye Ekiti (FUOYE), Professor Chinedu Nebo, a first class scholar and renowned university administrator, made waves as Vice Chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). Nebo, a geologist of international repute and a venerable of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, shares his experience so far at the newly-established FUOYE in this interview with Sam Nwaoko. Excerpts:
FUOYE has formally taken off and you may wish to share your experience so far since your official reception by Oye and Ikole communities as the one to nurture the new university to its feet. What would you say your experience has been like so far despite the initial hitches?
It has been quite an experience and God has been gracious and kind. That is why we are where we are today. But I will also like to point out that it has been a tortuous journey from inception to this time. It is on record that the university was not provided with a take-off site at Oye at the beginning. The university had to start at a makeshift place provided by the community because at that time the government of Ekiti State was at loggerheads with the Federal Government of Nigeria over the choice of the campus of the university. The Federal Government had chosen Oye to be the site of the university and the governor had chosen Ikole to be the site of the university. The governor felt very strongly that Ikole had facilities with which a university could take off and without any encumbrance; but the Federal Government felt otherwise and chose Oye. So, in order not to give the Federal Government what could be perceived as instant victory over the issue, the government of Ekiti State decided to refuse providing a take-off site at Oye and insisted that the university must be sited at Ikole.
However, by the grace of God, this was resolved between August and September 2011. That time, the Federal Government very kindly and, because of a meeting between President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Kayode Fayemi and some input from many of us, resolved the issue before the university becomes moribund. They now agreed that there should be two campuses. So, this is the only one of the nine new universities that has been given two campuses to develop. We thank God that the two communities eventually accepted the verdict of the Federal Government that there should be two campuses of the university. Right now, there are two campuses.
How about their development?
Trying to develop these campuses has not been easy. At Ikole where the governor had given, there are facilities on the ground for take-off and we are thankful for that. But at Oye, in order to drive home his point, apparently, the governor gave us a virgin forest to show there were no facilities at Oye. All the structures in the university were not here six months ago. Six months ago, here was a virgin forest and God has done marvellous things for us, giving us the grace, giving us the wherewithal and providing us the dexterity of purpose and by sheer frugal utilisation of available resources, we’ve been able to build a campus that is like a miracle going from a virgin forest to a university campus in six months. This is something we are grateful to God for.
Even at that, it has not been easy. The communities have tried their best. Initially, it was the impression that Ikole community was not peace-loving but in my opinion, Ikole is very peace-loving and they are people with understanding and have done everything they can to assist the university. On the part of Oye, the community has also tried by providing a take-off site and by giving land for the permanent site. But on the other hand, it should not be forgotten that the Federal Government delivered twins in Ekiti and had one baby at the other sites. Unfortunately, they have given me the same amount of money they are giving to those with single birth to develop a twin campus. It is not easy. People come and see what we have done and they say it’s nothing short of a miracle. And indeed it is a miracle because the facilities on ground at Oye and at Ikole campuses compare with the best around the world and people say so.
So, we have a very big financial problem because I’m given the same money to develop two campuses that people had been given money to develop one campus. Secondly, I have more campuses and I have more staff. But I am given the same money for overhead to run a two-campus university as those with single campus. So, we are really crying out for help wherever we can get it. We are pleading with the Federal Government and we are also pleading with philanthropists and lovers of education to come to our aid.
Are there specific people you have reached out to in seeking help?
We have done that. We are trying to go begging the organised private sector to come in and develop facilities because we want to be the quintessential ICT university in Nigeria. We have already signed a memorandum of understanding and a contract with MTN to give us internet access 24/7 at the cost of N30million per annum. That is a lot of money for us to spend since we don’t even have that kind of money coming from our overhead or capital provision from the Federal Government. In fact, I’m one of those that keep saying that internet access or bandwidth should be part of infrastructure. The whole of Nigerian universities added together do not have the bandwidth of a small university in the United States of America and these are the very people we are asked to compete with. So, we are going to get over 20MB bandwidth which compares favourably with most universities in Nigeria as most universities have just 5 or 10MB bandwidth. We want our students to be in touch with the rest of the world 24/7 and we are trying to package some of the things we need to seek the help of the organised private sector so that they can assist us just the way I did when I was the Vice Chancellor of University of Nigeria, Nsukka. We would bring our needs in such a way that the people we would approach would see that we are a very serious people. We want to be the quintessential ICT university, we want to be the quintessential entrepreneurial university; we want to shift from the ivory tower model where the university is detached from the community. Town and gown are wedded and probably, we are the only university in Nigeria whose Senate has passed a resolution that its students must do an entrepreneurship course every semester. In addition to that, we also want students, especially those in engineering, to do extra work in Civil Engineering and so on so that they’ll easily fit in when they go out there. To ensure that this is achievable, we have acquired the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Open Courseware System whereby in all our courses, we would be able to afford our students the opportunity to see and learn exactly what is being taught at MIT, which in my opinion compares favourably with Harvard. We want our students to tie into that and be able to compete any time, any day.
Considering the university’s carrying capacity now, how many students did you take off with at both campuses and how have they been blending along with you in the new environment?
We have four faculties. Generically, they should have been five but we have Humanities and Social Sciences tied in one faculty in order to reduce administrative cost. Otherwise, we would have had five faculties. But elsewhere, we have five faculties. We have been given a carrying capacity of 500 to 600 and in my opinion, we have the facilities for over 1,000 students. So, we are going to be making an appeal to increase our carrying capacity so that eventually, we will be going to admit very close to 1,000 students every year. We have already completed our post-UTME examination for the next session. This session will end in February and then the next, 2012/2013 session would begin in February and end in November. Once that happens, by November, we would have formalized our academic calendar.
Ekiti is a state with numerous highly educated people and people think part of the problems associated with that is the “petition writing state” the state has been labelled. How much of this have you experienced in your stay so far?
It is generally believed and actually known that Ekiti is the number one petition-writing state in the whole country. I don’t think anybody can debate that fact. I have suffered from the effects of petition-writing too. You do well, they write petitions, you don’t do very well, they write petitions and you keep quiet and don’t do good or bad, they still write petitions. So, it is better for you to continue to do good so that when petitions come, everybody would see that they have no basis and hold no water whatsoever.
All kinds of things happen here and these are people who don’t take time to come and see what happens here. Imagine someone writing petitions and claiming that I am colluding with the governor of Ekiti State to change the site of the university and move it to Ikole. Imagine somebody writing that about a governor that hasn’t done anything for this university and I am very unhappy that he hasn’t done anything for this university; and the petitioner is saying I am colluding with him? How can I? You find out that some of the petitioners have not even taken time to come and see what we have done in Oye, yet they write that we have not built anything here. So, it might be that you are looking at virtual structures here or that they are apparitions and I might also be an apparition. I say this because by petitions, there is nothing on ground in FUOYE.
You are a scholar, a venerable of the Anglican Church and a family man. How do you combine these callings as well as your duty as the Vice chancellor nurturing a young university?
It hasn’t been easy but when one realises that when God calls, He equips, I haven’t had any problem. Some people ask me how I cope as a minister of the gospel and a university administrator. But I tell them that I regard the university work as part of my ministry. So, while I was at the University of Nigeria and I was already an Archdeacon, I thought that my Archdeaconry was the University of Nigeria Nsukka. Whatever I was able to do there, brought God glory. Now that I am at the Federal University, Oye Ekiti, here has become my Archdeaconry. So, in the eyes of the world, they may say I don’t put in my time in the church but if I spend my time in the church and don’t do my work that God has committed into my hand, it will never bring glory to God. So, on account of that, something has to give. Because of that I don’t accept as many speaking engagements as I used to before I became Vice Chancellor. Before I became Vice Chancellor, there was almost no weekend that I wasn’t preaching or doing one Christian service or the other, running seminars, workshops, crusades, revivals and so on. But becoming Vice Chancellor right from UNN, I had to limit much of these to the weekends so that nobody will say I am working in the Ministry of Education and earning my salary elsewhere or that I am working at the Church of Nigeria and earning my salary from the Federal Ministry of Education. As it is, the Church has never paid me for my work and I don’t think it’s necessary. So, university vice chancellorship is work of God 100 per cent.
In September last year when you were formally received by the people of Oye, you sought the cooperation of the people as well as that of the people of Ikole. You also sought the cooperation of the people of the state at large and charged them to mobilise their sons and daughters all over the world to rally round the university. How much of your dream in this regard has been achieved? How well have the people responded to your call?
I would say that it hasn’t been much. It can be frustrating; I want to be very frank. Many people are looking for what they can take from the university and not what they can give. My principle in life is ‘wherever I find myself, I want to give a whole lot more than I take.’ Unfortunately, I haven’t seen that here yet. We are still waiting for the people from all walks of life; sons and daughters of Oye and Ikole communities to make some reasonable donations. We are not looking for money per se, they can donate projects, and they can send experts and fund them, whether they are in Nigeria or in the Diaspora, to assist us to get the university to where we want it to be. However, I would say no matter what happens; we would get to where we want to because God is already supporting us.