Professor Muhammad Zaiyan Umar, a former Professor of Political Science at the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto (UDUS), with over three decades of professional and administrative experience, was appointed the third Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University, Birnin Kebbi (FUBK) on November 24 2022 by the institution’s council members.
Umar, who is the immediate past Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic), Sokoto State University, Sokoto, in this interview with OLANREWAJU LAWAL in Birnin Kebbi, set an agenda for himself and targets to be achieved as he kicked off his five year tenure as the third vice-chancellor of the university.
How do you feel about your appointment?
First and foremost, as you all are aware, I took over the mantle of FUBK on December 4, 2022, following the completion of my predecessor, Professor B.B. Shehu. So I felt it imperative to engage stakeholders who have a lot to offer for the progress and development of this university. I am fully aware of the functions of the media houses in our society, that is, to educate, inform and enlighten the general public. You are also the image maker of any institution.
As you may be aware, this institution was established in 2013 alongside two other universities, one in Gusau, another one in Gasua. By God’s grace, this university is lucky enough to be supervised by seasoned administrators. The first vice chancellor, Professor Suleiman Bilkishi, who is now Vice-Chancellor of Usman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto, as well as my predecessor, Professor B.B.Shehu.
I must admit that in the course of eight years of this university existence, those two gentlemen have been able to pilot the services of their subordinates, including the registrar, deputy vice chancellors, council members and other members of the university to achieve greatness. Those of you who might have the privilege to move round this university premises would observe that this university is having multiple campuses —three campuses. We have the take-off site, the permanent site and the colleges of health sciences. It has also made a breakthrough by commencing programmes which are key and capable of contributing to the growth and development of this great country, Nigeria.
For example, the College of Health Science, which is running MBBS and nursing programmes; Faculty of Science and Environmental, Faculty of Science and Management, Faculty of Education, and so many other programmes that are in the pipeline, especially programmes for the development of this university. I must commend the efforts of the previous vice chancellors for laying a strong foundation for this university to be among the best institutions waxing stronger in Nigeria. Despite insufficient funds, my predecessors were able to run their tenures with prudent expenditure to establish academic excellence that many stakeholders are proud of.
When I assumed office, I pledged to be committed to continue with the legacies of my predecessors and to do my best to strengthen the academic development of this great institution.
Funding is one of the main challenges facing Nigeria universities. How do you think this challenge can be surmounted and how prepared are you to source funds for your university outside regular allocations from the government?
It is common knowledge that funding of the university’s capital projects have continued to widen in scope, because of the precarious academic activities, economic situation and competing demands from other sectors of the society. So, universities cannot be isolated from our nation’s challenges in terms of funding of its activities. Universities have a lot of plans for projects which require huge amounts of money.
So, in FUBK, what we have been doing and what we are going to do, is to optimise whatever allocation that comes to our account from the federal government for the funding of infrastructure development. We have adopted prudence as our principle in this institution as always when it comes to spending.
So, while I appreciated the efforts of the previous administration on that prudent spending, I have the intention of exploring other opportunities outside the government allocations, because there are several opportunities waiting to be utilised, especially funding available for capital projects which all the universities are entitled to draw from, which are globally acceptable.
I will try as much as possible to utilise these opportunities and also solicit support from the international and national organisations, as well as well meaning Nigerians, our corporate organisations, companies and Industrialists who have enough to offer us. We shall start campaigning for sourcing of funding locally, through the university’s alumni, international agencies like USAID, Kennedy Foundation, Bill Gate foundation, European Union and other organisations, like British Council, to generate more funds for our capital projects. So, my intention is to utilise these opportunities which are open for us in cash and kind to garner financial support for the university.
The Academic Staff Union of the Universities (ASUU) recently suspended its long strike. What is your institution doing to catch up with the lost periods?
It may interest you that, since the ASUU called off the strike, all our students and members of staff have fully returned to the campus and started their academic activities. As I am speaking with you, the first semester is about five weeks, and we have set up a committee to find out the level of coverage of the academic calendar of the first semester. I can tell you our lecturers are up to the task, and they are doing their best in discharging their duties. In a nutshell, I can tell you that the industrial strike is over as far as this university is concerned, and the management lectures have commenced in earnest, and, in the next few weeks, the second semester shall commence.
Don’t you think there should be alternative ways of addressing grievances with the government instead of embarking on a strike by ASUU?
I want to believe that, for ASUU, a strike is the last result. I think there are several options the union can explore to make their demands met. I think the experience of the last strike showed us that we need to re- strategise to look forward to tapping from so many other alternatives as far as industrial action is concerned. In this university, ASUU members are very supportive pf the management of the university. They provide a series of advice, engaging the university on the welfare of their members. I will continue to engage them, including the non-academic unions like SSANU and other unions in the university to ensure that the university has a rancour-free working environment so that all of us, who are working to achieve our goals, developmental agenda, can actualise it and reach our common goals together.
So, for me and other members of the university management, we shall see them as partners in progress. We shall continue in engaging them to tap from their experience, because they too have a lot of potential, skills that could be useful to drive the university to greater heights.
We must really appreciate the contributions of these unions in our institution. I want to assure them that we shall continue to work as a big family to ensure that this system surpasses us. I want to use this opportunity to assure them that we are going to work together and, at the end, when all of us might have retired, we can look back, give glory to Almighty God for giving us the opportunity to serve this system diligently.
In the next 100 days in office, what have you pencilled down to achieve?
I shall embark on wide consultations with our staff and management to achieve a lot within these 100 days in office you are talking about. I have short term wishes, midterm wishes and long term wishes. I want to assure you that, at the end of my 100 days in office, you shall be invited to my office where we shall tell you our achievements.
Which position do you expect this university to occupy in the nearest future among the universities in Nigeria?
I want this university to be one of the best visible universities in Nigeria; a university that will be the most chosen university in the country by the admission seekers. In the last eight years, in this university, we have been able to install courses that are attracting more students from different parts of the country to our university. For example, the College of Medicine where the MBBS programme is going on; the environmental programme, education as well as social sciences —these courses were carefully selected to impact positively on our immediate environment. We would ensure that similar programmes that would be attractive that would be attracting more students from far and near states, neighbouring countries across the world are instituted in this university. This will make this university to be the most chosen university, most first choice university by the admission seekers in this country. I want to assure you that, with the calibre of lecturers, staff and management team I met in this university, the sky will be our limit. I want to add here that, as part of our strategies to strengthen our courses, and make our institution attractive, we are planning to start our PGD programmes fully in the first quarter of 2023.