“There is time for everything. I realized, long ago, that great eaters and great sleepers are incapable of doing anything that is great.”
Joy Eyisi, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic), National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) the first female to be elected into the post since the inception of the university in 2002, was formerly a one-time Director of the university at the National Assembly (NASS) Study Centre where she had the opportunity of interacting with many legislators, Senators and House of Representatives members, angling for the university degrees. A professor of English, and author of several English textbooks, with primary focus on accuracy in the use of the language – something which formed the content of her inaugural lecture at NOUN, Lagos, in September, 2016, she was also a one-time Senior lecturer in English Language at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, before she left to take up the NOUN job. In this chat with Saturday Sun, she shares with readers her experiences.
As a mother and an administrator, how do you combine your work as DVC with the demands of the home?
I believe in and practise proper time management. There is time for everything. I realized, long ago, that great eaters and great sleepers are incapable of doing anything that is great. Therefore, I eat reasonably, exercise reasonably and sleep reasonably, devoting a great percentage of my personal time to my family. More importantly, my husband is very helpful and my children are grown, making things a lot easier for me. I must say that my husband is a consummate encourager! The perfect consort of an academic! He has been there from the beginning of my career to date, supporting me on the right course. My children are also wonderful. Their maturity and understanding do the magic.
Before you were elected into the post, you were formerly a facilitator or a lecturer or something like that at the National Assembly Study Centre of NOUN. Tell us about it.
I was the pioneer Director of NOUN Special Study Centre for the National Assembly, Abuja. I assumed this position in February 2015. On 25th October, 2017, I went in for our Senate meeting and came out as the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic). This position nullifies my former position as a Director at the said Study Centre.
How did the posting to the Centre come about?
It was established, precisely in October, 2014. I suppose the then Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Vincent Ado Tenebe, and his team decided to send me to pioneer the new Study Centre, which according to them was (it still is) the most sensitive of all our study centres. In a letter dated 28 January 2015, this decision was communicated to me. I was also tutored on the requirements of the University at the Centre. Having been well-informed, I left Lagos for Abuja to assume my new position. Initially, gaining entrance into the National Assembly was like a camel passing through the eye of a needle. But eventually, after all protocol that lasted for weeks, we succeeded. We had our maiden matriculation in March, 2015, for only three students we already admitted. We started a massive advocacy, creating awareness in the four walls of the National Assembly and so the number of our students improved in leaps and bounds. By the time I was leaving for my current position in 2017, we had over four hundred students. The strict security measures at the National Assembly was a barrier to our admission of students, especially because external candidates were forbidden.
What does it look like operating the Centre, in terms of course contents, the kind of personalities you interact with, security, liberties and constraints?
The Centre has its peculiarities due to location and the special categories of students involved. In terms of course contents, there is nothing spectacular. The University provides rich course materials for all students, as we have in other study centres. We interact with all manner of personalities, from distinguished senators, honourable members of the House of Representatives, former governors to security officers, cleaners, and so on. They are cooperation personified, very accommodating. For instance, we share the same fourth floor with the Senate President. We use their meeting rooms/halls for our semester examinations. Their busy schedule, however, is a challenge. So, it is usually not easy getting the big men and women to enroll in our programmes, even when they have strong penchant to do so. But where the heart is willing, it finds a thousand ways. Where it is unwilling, it finds a thousand excuses. Besides, leaders are learners, if you stop learning today, you stop leading tomorrow. So, we continually work with those of them who can. Security, as I said earlier, was our biggest hurdle. But today, our identity cards grant us easy access; no more barriers. We are at liberty to discharge our duties to the comfort and satisfaction of our students.
What categories of people constitute your students, only lawmakers as you earlier mentioned or administrative staff of the National Assembly or both?
We have distinguished senators, House of Representative members, legislative aids, even casual workers, as students. In fact anyone who works at the National Assembly Complex is free to register with us, either for an undergraduate programme or for a postgraduate, provided that he or she meets our University requirements for the said programme. Apart from National Assembly staff, there are those who work with companies, such as MTN, Airtel, Glo, banks, and so on, with branches at the National Assembly, who are also our students. With all these, our Study Centre still operates even when the lawmakers are on recess.
Are the same standards applicable or do they operate a different standard from that of other study centres?
The standard is the same for everybody, from admission to graduation, the status of the candidate notwithstanding. There is absolutely no room for compromise. Every admission is given based on merit and every graduation is certified based on merit as well. Every student, regardless of his or her calibre, participates in our tutor marked assessments (TMAs), in readiness for their semester examinations, which could either be pen-on-pen or electronic or both. Their answer scripts are not marked at the Centre, for any influence to take place. They are marked, in a different locality, outside the Centre, only by sound academics who possess the highest educational qualification of a PhD. We pull them from different universities in the country.
What was your most memorable experience facilitating lecture there?
At NOUN, we do not lecture as they do in conventional universities. We facilitate. We use eminent scholars from different universities to achieve this. We call them facilitators. They also supervise our students’ projects. As a Director, my duty was to ensure that the right categories of staff were recruited for these exercises and to confirm, regularly, that they were committed to these tasks. But because of the penchant I have for teaching, I was involved in granting lectureship opportunities for my students at the National Assembly. I lectured them mainly on common errors in the use of English. Such experience of being with them, in face-to-face contacts, has remained evergreen in my memory.
In what ways were the operations of the Study Centre affected by the impromptu closure of the National Assembly complex on Tuesday, August 7, 2018?
The disruption of activities at the National Assembly on August 7th affected all the individuals, organisations and institutions that work there. I was severely worried because our own staff for the Study Centre were to administer our semester examinations, which were in progress in all study centres of our University. However, much later in the day, normalcy was restored and we had our examinations without hitches.