Fred Ezeh, Abuja
Chinedum Nwajiuba, Professor of Agricultural Economics is the Vice Chancellor, Federal University, Ndufu-Alike, Ikwo, (FUNAI) in Ebonyi State.
The university was however renamed Alex Ekwueme University in January.
In this interview, he highlighted his achievements and challenges.
What has been your experience piloting the affairs of the young university?
The journey has been extremely marvelous and fruitful, as could be seen in tangible and intangible successes made so far in the school, though not without challenges but we have been able to surmount them.
This is my third year as the VC of FUNAI, and students and host community could attest to the significant transformation the school has recorded in the last two and half years. The entire school management feels proud and encouraged to identify with the significant progress recorded over the period. I must confess that the success was built on the solid foundation laid by the pioneer management of the school led by the vice chancellor, Prof. Ibidapo Obe.
Can you be precise on the achievements?
I am always reluctant to do that, because it could be misinterpreted as assessment of the previous administration. I prefer to be asked if there was any change at all, not to talk about significant one. However, I might be tempted to praise myself or romanticize the last two years of my administration if you insist on knowing the precise achievements that could be attributed to me. An artist is judged by the public based on his or her performance and not the other way round. It means that I will not be the one to make the judgment on my own case to avoid sentiment. I suggest that the people I serve should be the ones to pass the judgment regarding my time in the university. That would give more credibility to the story.
In your convocation address, you complained about infrastructure deficit and its effect on teaching and learning, as well as research in the school, what have you done about utilizing the opportunities provided by TETFund?
We have been able to do that to the benefit of our school. There is no gainsaying that the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), has been extremely helpful in the provision of physical infrastructure and other critical interventions in public higher institutions. It was indeed a wonderful idea that must be commended. The only challenge was accessing the fund which is dependent on some factors, one of which was the ability of the benefiting institutions to account for previous disbursements. Just like every other university, we have our own peculiar challenges but we are working hard in collaboration with stakeholders to surmount them. TETFund intervention has helped significantly to expand the space available for teaching, workshops, office space, classrooms and others. Right now, we have four new building projects ongoing in the school. They would service the faculties of engineering, humanities and agriculture. We are optimistic that the contractors would expedite work on them so that they would be completed on time. I must confess that TETFund under the Executive Secretary, Dr. Bichi Baffa, is running in a professional manner. We are expecting the 2017 interventions but I am sure it won’t come if the previous interventions were not accounted for.
N1.6 billion was disbursed to universities in 2016 by TETFund; Is that right?
That is not correct. I don’t know about other universities but FUNAI didn’t get N1.6 billion from TETFund in 2016. All we got was N1.1 billion, which was the merger of our 2014, 2015 and 2016 interventions. Others might be the intervention for trainings, conferences, books and several other provisions. But for things like infrastructure, laboratories and other related issues, we got N1.1 billion from TETFund and not N1.6 billion that you mentioned.
How healthy is your relationship with your governing council?
We have enjoyed healthy relationship with the pro chancellor and chairman of governing council, Prof. Mba Uzoukwu, alongside other members of the council. FUNAI could be among the few federal universities blessed with great and experienced governing council members. Our pro-chancellor and chairman of council is an accomplished young man who is very conversant with the Nigerian education system. He has served in many Nigerian universities in different capacities and has even held several political positions in Nigeria. When you have such an experienced person as chairman of council, your work is made easier because there is nothing you could say that he does not know. He understands the language of the academics as well as all the challenges. I must, once again, confess that we are lucky to have in our council great men who are eminently experienced in academics and management.
What about your relationship with the host community?
That is the biggest challenge we have in FUNAI today. Recall that the understanding the federal government had with the 12 new federal universities established in 2011 was that the host states would provide the land for the take-off of the school. The states were also mandated to resettle and compensate the communities in whose land the school was sited. But that has not been done to the host community. The development has affected our relationship with the host community. On several occasions, the villagers have registered their anger through friendly or unfriendly ways. We are very careful in handling the issue so that we don’t get to the point of confrontation with them.
We have created a university/host community relationship committee that is made of great arbitrators, and they are working assiduously to re-gain the confidence and trust of the host community for peaceful co-existence. We have equally drawn the attention of the council to issue.