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Gov. Emmanuel Is Passionate About Education – Prof. Eno Ibanga

. . . We have laid solid foundation for the growth of AKSU

Every bit of his action reveals clearly that he is a man driven on a mission. Even without saying it, Professor Eno James Ibanga, vice chancellor of the Akwa Ibom State University radiates the passion for excellence and success. His sojourn to the state-owned university in 2015 has completely changed the fortune of the institution. His passion for development of the young institution has led to the accreditation of all courses offered by the institution, the setting up of post graduate school, building of more befitting structures, restoring security and sanity in the institution among several achievements he disclosed in this interview with our editors. With all sense of modesty the thorough bred academic and professor of solid state physics and materials science, in an exclusive with Crystal Express, thundered, “We have arrived as a university”. The interview is revealing. Excepts.

After the storm, what is the security situation in your school like presently?
We, the management, met with stakeholders and resolved to beef up security around the school and to do this, we need to assist the security agencies. So, we met with the governing council and got approval to buy two Volvo cars for security agencies, to help tackle the problems in the two campuses located in Ikot Akpaden, Mkpat Enin Local Government and Obio Akpa in Oruk Anam Local Government Area. We also have a synergy with the communities on the services of the vigilantes. You know our university is non-residential and most of our students stay within the communities around. Therefore we are partnering with the vigilantes in these communities to ensure adequate protection of students and arrest of crime. We have put several security measures in place here which is not for public consumption but worthy of note is that anybody suspected to be a member of any clandestine group whether caught or not is strictly warned to change or stay completely out of the university community. Our security measures are already paying off as 10 boys were arrested two weeks ago on their way to the initiation ground of one of the cult groups. As a university we have zero tolerance for any misconduct and for the already arrested suspect, appropriate laws will be applied. I would not want to disclose publicly all concerning our plans to ensure adequate security of the campuses and students.

We have heard cases of lecturers harassing students for one thing or the other and vice versa. You are a known critic of misconduct. What is the situation in your school presently?

The University has guidelines, rules and regulations governing the activities of students and we made provision for them to lay complaints through SMS when they have issues. Since my appointment as vice chancellor of this university, we have terminated the appointments of eight lecturers based on harassing the students and other unacceptable relationship with students. At the moment we have an on-going case which is yet to be concluded. We want students to speak up if they have issues because if a matter is not reported to constituted authority, there is nothing we can do about it. Today our students are very happy because we are giving them the necessary coverage and shield, even those who have reported such cases knew that there will be no reprisals. We play both roles as parents and management here for our students.

Talking on issues concerning accreditations, can we know the ones the school has succeeded and the ones still pending?

When I came in as a deputy vice chancellor in 2013, we presented 11 programmes in 2014 of the faculty of Applied and natural science and they all got accreditation at once. Now over the four and half years, I have stayed as the vice chancellor we have 38 programme plus a new one – fishery and agricultural programme – which started few years ago and all the graduates of our departments have no issues.
The accreditation we are going for now is that of the first faculty we accredited in 2014 which is five years now and we are going for re-accreditation. Eleven programmes in Faculty of Biological and Physical Sciences. Biological Sciences has five programmes and Physical Sciences has six. The only one remaining now is Fisheries and Agriculture that started five years ago which made it 12 programmes. After the next visit of the team, that means that all the programmes in the university have been fully accredited. Now we are set for postgraduate programme after NUC approval with students already applying. By next year, we will have our first set of post graduate students. We have some programmes that will be run at masters’ level and some up to PhD.
After four and half years as vice chancellor, let us know the challenges you met and the milestones?
Upon assumption of office, I inherited the crisis of lecturers that were not properly employed and we withered the storm. I and my team, after proper interview, regularized and staffed them and our state governor pay-rolled them. They are now benefiting. That was a major challenge because of the crisis the matter generated. I was locked out of office on many occasions; most of the affected people at a time lost hope and stopped coming to work until the governor rescued them. It was a big trying times for us. Again when I came in, I discovered that most staff of the university were brought from another institutions to temporarily teach here as adjuncts. I therefore sought the permission of the state governor to do away with this temporary arrangement and to recruit our own staff. It was also a major challenge. I got approval to bring in 160 people and we did just that and have the university you see today. We can minimally seek the services of adjuncts in specialized area. For instance if we need such services in nuclear physics, we can get someone from the University of Uyo to come and teach but the core staff strength should not be adjuncts. We surmounted that challenge too. Another problem was infrastructure which delays accreditations. We started building and inviting NUC and when you go around now, you will discover that the university has faculties and infrastructure. The Agricultural Faculty for instance has machineries that were abandoned because nobody can operate them. We therefore gathered experts from other universities and not only put the machinery in use but also started commercial Agriculture and the Governor commissioned it.
We have ensured regularization of staff, appointments and promotions and getting people properly placed. We also standardized appointments as obtained in other universities. We also carried out certificate verifications and gathered that some people are working with fake certificates and even found those who did not have basic entry requirements to even work in the university. Those we sent away ran back to their godfathers and before you know I was summoned here and there and also to the State House of Assembly. At a point we had to encourage people to go back and remedy their certificates. Some without basic entry subject like English were given one year to go back and obtain the right papers and we regularized them after they did. It was a very big challenge considering the pressure we faced then. Now I am even happy to announce that everybody that needed to be promoted in 2019 has received their letter of promotion. Staff welfare has remained our priority and we carry everybody along. We ensure we have a well motivated staff to ensure results in our efforts. It has been ups and downs but we are making progress.

How are you coping with the challenges of running two campuses as a young institution?

Well at the permanent site here, we have utilized the Tetfund intervention maximally because when I came in, I discovered that the university runs on small buildings and I went and convinced the governing council on the need to have signature buildings in the campus as obtainable in other big universities. The first one is the biological science building phase one which is almost completed and when we are through with phases, we will move in all the biological sciences departments scattered here and there into one building. We have built the school of postgraduate programmes. There is serious concentration of development here at the permanent site as agreed with the governing council. At Obio Akpa campus, we have the head of campus that reports to us and once in a while, I undertake the inspection of the campus to see things for myself.
Your poise and countenance shows that the university is well funded by government.
There is nobody anywhere that will ever admit that funding is enough. The only thing that differentiates people is the utilization of the funds. If I get more money, I will do more things. Here in the university with the approval of the Government and the governing council, we don’t award contracts; this administrative building was done by direct labour with manpower sourced from the university community. We did the costing ourselves and we even do most of our projects from our internally generated revenue. We won’t sit down while programmes are due for accreditation. Our standard mass communication studio was built with our internally grnerated revenue (IGR) because that was what we needed to fulfill the requirement for the programme. We built the theater, Accounting Lab, Marketing Lab all with IGR. I must commend the Governor Udom Gabriel Emmanuel and the governing council (past and the present). The incumbent governing council upon assumption of duties was briefed on how we are running the university and they keyed into it because everybody wants results. And for those we have promoted, we pay their arrears. At the end of October the NUC accreditation team will be here and every facility needed is all in place. I am so relaxed because all year round, I make sure we upgrade faculties and do not just wait for accreditation time. We are upgrading facilities daily in the institution including old buildings. In all, we spend a lot of money. What we do is to judiciously maximize the funds we receive to ensure the best for the university community, so far, so good.

Could your desire to overhaul the university community be traced to your being an indigene of the host community of the institution?
My approach to development here is borne out of the tutelage of my mentors. I have seen the achievements and legacies of many vice chancellors in several big institutions that I promised to leave such legacies if opportun to be a vice chancellor. I got inspiration from the then vice chancellor of Nassarawa State University, Prof. Adamu Beke, whom I worked with as dean, Students Affairs. We built projects in the university through direct labour. Monies are released for materials as job progresses. We operated then under a committee and when I was appointed a vice chancellor here, I adopted same approach. For every project we prepare all that is needed including the bill of quantity, seek and get approvals of government and governing council and execute the project by direct labour. This administrative building project gulped N160 million but later had a variation that pushed the cost to N180 million, the reason was the sudden hike in the cost of rods in the market in early 2017 and everybody acknowledged the challenges then. The governor was fascinated when he saw the efforts we made in erecting such a gigantic building at a minimal cost. You know that it is the wish of every professor to be a vice chancellor and when you have such opportunity, you must strive to write your name in the sands of time. I am passionate about developing our people. When we went for Engineering Conference in Uyo, the display by Akwa Ibom State University overwhelmed that of other universities. People who come from other universities to our own, sometimes got overwhelmed by what they see here especially in our engineering lab. A student from one of the top private universities in the country confessed to me recently that what we have in our lab is far beyond what they have. She said their laboratory is not up to 50% equipped like ours even though their fees are far higher.

Universities are known as citadels of knowledge, how can you rate the quality of graduates so far churned out by this institution?
Our graduates are doing very well and even the students are doing us proud. We have our feedback mechanism. But just like every system, there are the good and bad ones. But the good ones are more. With quality facilities and good teachers, the opportunity to excel now rests with the students. We are passionate as leaders and principal officers of the university about the success of the programmes and students in the university. It is our resolve here to make the best out of our system here.
Outside Tetfund, have you received assistance for projects from international oil companies (IOCs) here or the NDDC etc?
The good thing is that the new chairman of governing council is building a synergy between the university and these groups. It has been difficult making an in-road. There is a promise to support the engineering faculty University of Uyo from Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited and we keyed into it. They have promised a skill acquisition centre, in Ikot Abasi and we will be part of it, though it is a long term project. My coming is to lay a solid foundation for my successor to build upon and expand it. The university is about nine years now and doing well. There are so many universities that get up to 20 years before they stabilize. By the time we finish the faculty of biological science buildings, it will take the university to the next level. Then we will have several laboratories, classrooms, over 1000 – seat auditorium, canteens and several other faculties. The next one will be engineering complex and followed by massive expansions which will include pre-degrees and other business and auxiliary outfits needed by the university to expand its IGR. We have put things in place to add value, maintain what we have and stabilize the system.

How would you rate the university education in Nigeria considering the recent outcry by the NYSC Director General that most graduates cannot write a simple sentence?
The standards in Nigeria universities are high just that some students are not serious; we have further incorporated entrepreneurship into the university’s curriculum. Naturally the standard should be rising. The students that are serious are doing fine. The gigantic administrative building here was done by students with due diligence. There are many interventions that students handle here. It is not a statement that is applicable to every student. Some students may spend quality time doing other things on social media. Some abuse the freedom offered them by coming to stay in the university through peer groups pressure, technological pressure and other trivial things. As a person, I know the standard has not fallen but some students have been distracted by technology and other trivialities. Any student that makes first class here will repeat same in any university and that is my personal belief and assessment. We have equipped the institution in tune with the digital age with WIFI in the entire premises and e-library for our students to learn and be abreast of new developments around the globe.

Since this is a non-residential university, is there deliberate effort to encourage developers to build hostels for your students?
Yes. if you look out you will discover some hostels by private individual for students around and we are even trying to establish a data base to know where every student is residing. The former chairman of governing council donated a post graduate hostel to the university in the permanent site, which shows our seriousness to open up the permanent site for full occupation. Off course I brought in the state Commissioner for Works, Mr. Ephraim Inyang-Eyen to give us an access road to the site. With my faith, I believe in the impossibility and I like the way my presiding bishop at Winners Chapel operates; I was encouraged to launch into the deep to achieve results. If you hear my staff, they will tell you that I am a man with a very big faith. You must move and achieve sometime or remain stagnant.

What is the university doing businesswise to generate funds for her activities?
We have gradually started consultancy services in different areas and may soon go into oil and gas services. We are starting from somewhere. The former deputy vice chancellor is the head of our consultancy unit. In a short while these efforts will blossom for all to see.

The governor is very passionate about education, growth and development. The essence of the Education summit held recently is to improve the lots of education in the state and his vision is to see everybody educated to fit into his industry revolution and developmental strides. Even as a university, we have spoken to Ibom Airline management to partner us in the area of aeronautics engineering and we are bringing in professionals and stakeholders in the field to assist in that regard. So the governor is not only passionate but supportive. Our fund is first line charge, ours is so unique in that even before the Federal Account Allocation Committee, we would have received bank payment alert. That shows how passionate he is about education. Even he has given us full support for the accreditation we are going for. When the team came for resource verification for post graduate programme, he gave us N150million to upgrade facilities to scale the hurdle. For the coming accreditation in agriculture and fisheries, he has given us N60 million in cash not promises. We are working together to ensure the development of the institution and the State.

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