By Nuhu Yaqub
Ochonu’s piece was referring to the Plenary Speech I gave at the 20th Texas Africa Conference held in Austin, Texas, under the leadership of Professor Toyin Falola. I am not responding to his opinion, which he is entitled to, but to put matters in proper perspectives.
He had asked a similar question to me, which he prefaced as his premise to his current jaundiced analysis and reference, as contained in this forwarded piece, to my tenure in the University of Abuja. I replied him when he tried to relate my submission as well as the reply to his observation about the politicians’ usual resort to and the usual retort about their infrastructural achievements. In my paper, I gave a detailed analysis of the state of infrastructural development of the University upon my appointment in 2004 June, that is, after the University had existed for 16 years in a setting meant for a primary school. One of my challenges as a visionary leader was not to leave for my successor such an eyesore, considering that the University was the premier tertiary institution in the Federal Capital. I was able to move it out of the eyesore setting to the Permanent Site by May 5th, 2009 – just three weeks from the end of my tenure. Ochonu should come and see the difference between the Permanent Site (PS) that boasted of, among other infrastructures, the first phase of the Senate Building; a network of roads of not less than 14 kilometres; functional reticulated water service (with the assistance of Nassir el-Rufai, as the Hon. Minister of the Federal Capital Territory then); Faculty Buildings housing Faculties of Art; Agriculture; Engineering; Veterinary Medicine; and Management. I also put in place a printing press at the PS for the promotion of academic purposes. I embarked on the building of the University Library, which today stands a testimonial to my vision of having an edifice to the promotion also of scholarship on the Campus. It is one of the biggest in the country, too. If a scholar of the calibre of Ochonu would not consider all these as conducive to scholarly pursuit, he should tell us whether universities in the US where he is based, in their developmental strides, neglected infrastructures to promote only the publication of articles in impactful journals. If their pattern of development followed this trajectory that combined both promotion of infrastructural development and the introduction of academic programmes (see below), then, he has turned logic upside down on how young universities have developed in history.
Seriously speaking, is Ochonu saying that the universities in the US did not combine the development of infrastructure with academic programmes SIMULTANEOUSLY? He should, furthermore, tell us whether or not he shares an office with another professor in the university where he is teaching. Among the wisdom in infrastructural development was my foresight that when academics shared offices, there would be a natural negative impact on scholarship and even space for contacts with students for their intellectual development as well.
Indeed, when I went to the Wake Forest University as a Fulbright Scholar in the USA in the 2010/2011 academic session, I was given a room for my use alone; I didn’t share with any professor despite the fact that I was just there for a session, a short period at that. The University also thought it wise to give me accommodation on the Campus for the one-year sojourn. He should tell the world what would have been my feeling if, on my arrival for the program of teaching and research, I was asked to go and squat in a students’ hostel. Wouldn’t such treatment resonate as discrimination because I was a black Fulbright Scholar?
On the issue of paying much attention to academic and scholarly activities, I informed my audience that I set up the following NEW PROGRAMMES in my five-year tenure: Medicine; Veterinary Medicine; Agriculture; and Engineering. He deliberately refused to acknowledge these programmes that have, one way or the other, added to the academic tone in the Campus. These most important programmes were introduced to redress the ratios government has assigned to Science (60%) Arts (40%) in the case of “Conventional Universities) in both admission and and academic programmes of all federally-owned universities. The University of Abuja is a conventional university whose ratios were 28% (Science) and 82% (Arts) on my arrival. Although when I was leaving in 2009, the ratio marginally was redressed to 40% for Science and 60% for Arts, the University was already set on a trajectory that was on its way to meeting Government stipulations.
Perhaps, one of my greatest moments of happiness in regards to the creation of the above-mentioned science-based programmes included the courtesy call on me by the President of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) – Engineering Kashim – who came to congratulate me “for the foresight that came from a social scientist VC, who was preceded in office by two scientist VCs, who thought that having one science faculty was the maximal frontier of science for a university in the 21st century.” The NSE President also remarked that the Society tried all the means, at their disposal then, to convince the pioneer VC of the University of Abuja to, at least, start the engineering leg of the programme that I created, so as to enable the engineering students to integrate the development of the Federal Capital with their engineering programmes, but to no avail. This is what is seamlessly taking place now, to the benefit of all and sundry.
The other achievement of my tenure in the academic development of the University of Abuja that has been brought to a very bold relief came about during this COVID-19 PANDEMIC. The introduction of medical studies in the institution is one wisdom I shall unabashedly align myself with. First, because its existence and the Very Special Grace of God, the Teaching Hospital of the College of Health Sciences saved my life when I tested positive for the deadly disease towards the end of the year 2020. It has also been so useful to hundreds of other souls that have been successfully treated there. Aside from this, a number of academics I brought in to start the programme and others who came after my departure have come with value additions to the College, with a number of them winning academic laurels and other recognitions in scholarship, teaching and community services. I don’t know if Ochonu realises that community service by institutions of higher learning and the teaching staff that work there could also be on the basis of infrastructures provided!!! The medical programme has also been enhanced by the facilities – both academic and non-academic – which are potentially going to raise the rating of the University in the years ahead. I would not fail to mention at this juncture that Dr. Nasiru Gwarzo a serving Federal Permanent Secretary in Buhari’s Government – reliably informed a conference some years ago in Kaduna, that an agency visited the Federal Ministry of Health from the USA and disclosed that a sum of $70 million was to be given to a medical school in either Nigeria or Ghana. The officials in the Ministry urged the visitors to go to the University of Abuja that has a budding College of Medicine for discussion and the feasibility of endowing the University with the grant. It was the terrible lukewarm attitude of the VC that succeeded me that made both the College and the University to miss out (on the grant). The idiot – without apologies – who succeeded me behaved that way because the grant would come to enhance my reputation as the founder of the programme!!! Have people ever heard of such stupidity and crass lilliputian and self-incriminating chief academic head of a higher institution? A Centre of Excellence would have emerged from such grant and the medical programmes made more excellent by the grant!!!
Well, some people do not know that Rome was never built in one day. I am however happy that the small mustard seeds planted from the time of my tenure in the University of Abuja have all germinated very nicely; and they are fruiting at the moment. I learnt the current VC of the University is planning to introduce additional programmes in the Engineering Faculty that will teach Railway Engineering. Mr. Ochonu should be asked whether it was only infrastructural development that was my only focus as the VC of the University; an institution that I wished and continue to wish for the highest accolade. If he is in doubt about my academic achievements at the helm, he should ask for the full paper I deliveted from Professor Toyin Falola. In it, there is a tribute for me from one of the academics not known for frivolities, when I celebrated both my 7th Birthday and retirement from university service recently. The tribute pointedly celebrated me for one achievements beyond infrastructural development.
The forwarder of Ochonu’s write up should show equity, please, by forwarding this reply to his source who, in turn, should forward it to Ochonu, to impress on him that as a scholar that he thinks he is, he should avoid selective and biased write-ups if he wants to be taken seriously. I shall also forward this reply to Professor Falola for his reading and comment on the proceedings of last Saturday of the highly successful 20th Texas Africa Conference.
Finally, Ochonu is fond of grotesque commentaries about scholarship in Nigeria/Africa. Yes, Nigerian scholarship generally may have shortcomings, here answer there, let him come home and rectify the areas that need salvaging. That is the time those of us not lecturing out there can appreciate the higher stuff he thinks he is made of as much as his patriotism!!! He should remember that he was trained in Bayero University, the very basis of his currently advertised superior scholarship. But, as it is often stated, a house with a weak foundation cannot stand. If the standard in the Bayero University was that low when he went there to study, his current Olympian Height in scholarship could not have endured this far. Bayero University’s standard; in the paper I presented last Saturday, April 3rd, his Alma Mater is still among the first 200 leading universities in Africa. This also includes the University of Abuja!
Professor Nuhu Yaqub is a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Abuja and the Sokoto State University.