Felix Ikem, Nsukka
The atmosphere in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka is to say the least charged, or rather uncertain. It has always been the case every five years when a new baton is about to be exchanged in the leadership of the nation’s first indigenous university.
However, this year is particularly different because of the big vacuum the exit of the current Vice-Chancellor, Professor Benjamin Ozumba is expected to create when he eventually bows out of office in June, 2019. Even the ongoing ASUU has added to the level of anxiety over who takes over from the incumbent VC Ozumba when his tenure expires by June this year.
When Prof.Ozumba took over the mantle of leadership of the university five years ago he merely inherited a glorified secondary school in the name of university as abandoned projects littered both the Nsukka and Enugu campuses of the university. Staff welfare was at its lowest ebb. But immediately after taking the mantle of leadership on June 10, 2014, the Professor of Gynaecology swung into action and today, the Lion has continued to roar so loud that even those that doubt his abilities ab initio are nursing the pessimism that there may not be a capable leg to fit into his big shoe.
Nearly five years down the line, Sunday Sun looked at how Prof. Ozumba tried to keep to his promises on staff welfare, infrastructural development, peace and security in this great university and the findings were positive.
Sunday Sun recently paid him a visit and it was indeed a hearty and revealing encounter with the ever smiling and visionary VC giving account of his stewardship in these past four years plus.
Peaceful atmosphere in UNN
Prof. Ozumba has been very much dogged in calming the tidal wave of hostile relationship among the staff of the university. “When I came in 2014, the administration of this university was relatively unstable and they were at loggerheads with the former governing council. I think it is remarkable to know that for these four years plus, the university has been in peace, making the academic activities to be conducive for learning. It is very important to inform you that midway into my tenure, among all the universities in the country UNN came first in her rating in integrity index. This is a very good development and that summed up the quality of leadership, integrity and we have unqualified progress in all ramifications.”
There is no gainsaying the fact that this feat can only be achieved in atmosphere of peace and mutual relationship among all the staff. Prof. Ozumba knows this, and that’s why he did not hesitate in solving the problems of welfare among all the staff.
Before the administration of Prof. Ozumba, the issue of staff welfare seemed to be a mirage. University staff were very much embittered by unfair treatment meted out to them by the past administrations. With Prof. Ozumba on the helm of affairs, the staff now have a fresh breathe of air, cordial relationship and high productive index.
“When I assumed office nearly five years ago, so many staff were owed arrears of salaries. There was nothing like promotion of staff. In fact, welfare was almost at zero level. But today, all issues of arrears of salaries were being handled. The issue of promotion was also taken care of by my administration. Not only that; the staff were also given the opportunity to go for further training overseas and locally. Salaries are now being paid as at when due. All the promotion matters have been handled. All the bottlenecks for staff progress have been uprooted.
Establishment of new institutes
With the visionary zeal of Prof. Ozumba to transform the university to world class centre of learning and research, six new institutes have been established both in the main campus at Nsukka and also at Enugu. We now have Institute of Climate Change, Institute of Herbal Medicine, Institute of Molecular Medicine etc. We also have a brand new Faculty of Vocational/Technical Education, the only one in the country. The same way we have set up many new departments, these are avenue for intellectual improvement. In academic excellence University of Nigeria, Nsukka has been consistently ranked No 1 in the past three years by Webometric and the story is that UNN has excelled better not only in Nigeria and Africa but also some universities in Europe, America and Asia. In his words, Prof. Ozumba described this thus:
“This is very unprecedented, both at local and international level.” Perhaps more unprecedented is the fact that this is happening when the economy is at a very tight corner.
For the better part of one decade, the University of Nigeria has experienced upheaval in students unionism. When he took over in June 2014, the leadership of the union was under a caretaker committee. Stories of manipulation of students’ unionism have continued to grab front pages of national dailies. But under Prof. Ozumba’s watch, all those things have become a thing of the past. Election has been held and officials duly elected without an undue interference of school administration. In the same vein, there has not been any major interruption of academic calendar since the inception of his administration.
“You can see that the academic calendar in this institution now runs full cycle. There is no interruption. Students now graduate when they are supposed to graduate. This is a mark of good administration. You are aware of how it was before this administration.
“Prior to the inception of my administration in 2014, the university had a backlog programmes/courses requiring accreditation. Most Faculties and Departments had no accreditation. They survived by paying penalties to the National Universities Commission (NUC). Today, the story is different, all the over 100 academic programmes running in the university are fully accredited.
“Today, Student Union Government for the first time, the SUG of both campuses had official and branded buses of their own.”
Prof. Ozumba believes that the progress of any institution lies heavily on the security of the people in the institution. “ My administration has zero tolerance on cultism and corruption. In fact, it doesn’t even exist here. You can see that before my administration, the school was known as centre for study on corruption. That was how bad the school has gone. But today, the story is different. We have not had cases of cultism since I assumed office. We have high level of both social and academic security in the university. We also have plans to install CCTV throughout the length and breadth of this institution.”
“All works and no play, makes a student a cultist,” says the erudite professor. The administration has recorded an unprecedented feat in sports. The institution has participated in West African University Games and won some medals. The university has also participated in NUGA games and won tremendous medals. “ We also have a cordial relationship with the alumni. This made them to donate a brand new building and bus to the institution.”
You may not be entirely wrong if you call Prof. Ozumba jack of all trades and master of all. He has bulldozed his administrative way into agriculture by establishing poultry, piggery, aqua culture animal husbandry in the institution. “My administration has gone a little further by establishing poultry, aquaculture and piggery etc. This is to ensure that there is food security in this country.” Recently the University of Nigeria, Nsukka launched Nigeria Incubation Hub, “Roar Nigeria” whose mission is to create home grown technology solutions with global impact, and this would help in diversifying the Nigerian economy.
Under the administration of Prof. Ozumba, many new structures have continued to spring up in the university. “We have acquired new medical equipment in our medical centre for installation. Our pharmaceutical centre has been completed. Our Biotechnology Centre has also been completed. New buildings in our Medical centre are also nearing completion. When I came in newly, I discovered that there was no Internet access in some hostels. I made effort to see that this situation was reversed. Today, every hostel in this institution has access to Internet. This has helped the students very much, to say the least.”
Sunday Sun findings Also revealed that completed projects and those awaiting commissioning include ;
. UNESCO Category 11 Biotechnology Building (Phase 1) at Nsukka Campus.
. Faculty of Social Science Building, Nsukka Campus.
. Faculty of Pharmacy Building (Phase 1) Nsukka Campus.
. NLNG Engineering Laboratory Building, Nsukka Campus.
. Renovated Lady Ibiam Hostel, Enough Campus.
. Arthur Mbanefo ICAN Lecture Theatre, Enough Campus.
. The University Main Gate,Agriculture, Enugu Campus, etc
“I don’t have any challenge. What people call challenge is a stepping stone for me,” he said.
Prof. Ozumba is of the opinion that nothing is impossible for a visionary leader. “I will like to see the University of Nigeria, Nsukka to be the best in the whole world in the next ten years. It is very possible. What it takes is determination and dedication. You know how it was before I came in here. When you look at the situation now, you will agree with me that it is very much possible.”
Just as one staff of the institution rightly attested, the account of good work of Prof. Ozumba cannot be exhausted in a single write up. One thing is very much glaring, under Prof. Ozumba’s watch, the Lion has continued to roar even louder than expected and the dignity of name has been restored.