As Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, gears up to celebrate its golden jubilee on October 4, 2012, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Abdullahi Mustapha, in this interview with our AHURAKA ISAH, says that the university has substantially achieved its objectives. He also calls on its alumni to continue to support the institution so that it can rank among the best in the world.
Fifty years in the life of an individual is a great milestone worthy of celebration. What are the achievements the university really wants to celebrate?
Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) which is adjudged the largest university in Nigeria and second largest in Africa, second only to Cairo University, Egypt, would attain 50 years of age by October 4. It was founded exactly on October 4, 1962, as the University of Northern Nigeria.
ABU operates two main campuses - Samaru and Kongo campus. The Samaru campus houses the administrative offices, sciences, social-sciences, arts and languages, education and research facilities. The Kongo campus hosts the Faculties of Law and Administration.
The Faculty of Administration consists of Accounting, Business Administration, Local Government and Development Studies and Public Administration Departments. Additionally, the university is responsible for a variety of other institutions and programmes at a number of other locations.
The university runs a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate programs. Besides, it also offers Associate Degrees and other vocational and remedial programmes. The university has a large medical programme with its own teaching Hospital, the ABU Teaching Hospital, which is one of the largest hospitals in Nigeria.
At the opening on October 4, 1962, thanks in part to absorbing existing institutions, ABU started with four faculties comprising 15 departments. However, students in all programmes numbered only 426. The challenges faced were enormous.
Over 60 years of British colonial rule, education in the Northern Region had lagged far behind that of the two southern regions. Few students from the North had qualifications for university entrance, and fewer still northerners had qualifications for teaching appointments. Of the original student body, only 147 were from the North.
Opposed initially by some, the school proved a great success and enrolments expanded even more rapidly. By its tenth year, ABU’s total enrolments, including non- and pre-degree programmes, were put at over 7,000 out of which more than half were in degree programmes. In its first 10 years, the University of Ibadan produced 615 graduates. At ABU the corresponding figure after 10 years was 2,333 first degrees, along with several advanced degrees
Yet ABU continues to occupy a particularly important place among Nigerian universities. As it approaches its half-century anniversary, ABU can claim to be the largest and the most extensive of all universities in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Currently, the university covers a land area of 7,000 hectares and encompasses 12 academic faculties, a postgraduate school and 82 academic departments. It has five institutes, six specialised centers, a Division of Agricultural Colleges, demonstration secondary and primary schools, as well as extension and consultancy services which provide a variety of services to the wider society.
The total student enrolment in the university’s degree and sub-degree programs is about 35,000, drawn from all the 774 local government areas (LGAs), every state of the Nigerian federation, from Africa and from the rest of world. There are about 1,400 academic and research staff and 5,000 support staff serving the university.
The university has also nurtured two new university institutions, Bayero University, Kano (BUK) and the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University of Technology, Bauchi (ATBU). Some 27 tertiary institutions made up of colleges of education, polytechnics and schools of basic or preliminary studies are affiliated to it.
If you look at the history, without fear of contradiction, this is the only university in Nigeria that has at least a student each from all the 774 LGAs that make up the country. It is not just the student populations that cut across the country. In terms of staff contents, we have virtually all the states represented on both academic and non-academic staff cadres of the university, aside foreign researchers and lecturers in our midst.
The reasons for this broad spectrum of staffing and students intake from all parts of the country, Africa and overseas is to maintain our academic standard as well as to sustain our national and national focus and policy upon which the university was establish.
With our mix in terms of students and staff requirement, definitely, ABU is indisputably a national university that is hard to compare with other universities in the country. This is the credo upon which the university is founded and has been maintained up till date.
The university has announced that it would be celebrating its golden jubilee on October 4, barely a month from now. How is your preparations so far for this occasion?
We commenced the preparation by setting up committees for various aspects of the occasion and these committees are all working round the clock. The various academic departments are also on ground to showcase their research achievements for the years of their existence.
We are distributing invitation letters to our alumni, general public, leaders within and outside Nigerians, to come and join us in marking our golden jubilee. We have an award committee that has already laid down the criteria for those to merit various awards that we shall dole out during the occasion.
What does your administration actually have in mind to achieve with this celebration?
The key point in our celebration is the award of Ahmadu Bello golden trophies to some people who have distinguished themselves with their generous contributions towards the progress and development of this university.
The challenges of transforming universities in this country are a hard task. The bottom-line for the transformation or changing things or university is fund. With the lean resources at our disposal, we have had to prioritise our developmental strategies, because with almost 90 academic departments in the university, there is no way we can develop them at the same pace from such meagre resources.
For instance, when we talk of research, our major focus was to become a centre of our national economy. This is the very reason for our grandeur efforts in agricultural researches. Perhaps, that was what has accounted for so much achievement in the areas of improved seeds and agricultural mechanisation that have direct impact on our economy.
But we have also done well in engineering and herbal medical researches; yet we want to refocus ourselves in those areas as well as break new grounds.
This reminds one of your much talk of biotechnology and energy research centres. What are the level of progress in these centres and their ultimate uses in the country?
ABU is the only university with the energy research centre aimed at researching into nuclear energy for electricity generation. With the commitment of the federal government towards adequate electricity production to cover the country, our energy research centre can readily come to hand.
So far, it is the only university that posses nuclear reactor and with adequate funding and commitment from the government, it is just a question of time to put electricity problem of the country to rest.
What can you say are the high points of the 50th anniversary celebration?
One of the high points of the 50th anniversary celebration is the commissioning of the 30-kilometre campus wide fibre optic network with 10Gb Ethernet using high end devices that support Cisco’s Borderless technology.
The optic fibre campus network links the major campuses - Samaru, Kongo and Shika - on an intercampus 10Gb scalable backbone with 65+ locations enabled with a minimum of 2Gbuplink connectivity to faculties, halls of residence, digital centres, classes, libraries, laboratories, lecture halls and offices.
The new infrastructure will allow ABU to deliver Internet and Intranet access to over 40,000 students and staff in all its campuses and provide the ground for the university to facilitate e-Learning, online application processing and support multi-media communication services (video conferencing and VoIP) for staff and students.
The new infrastructure coupled with a robust data centre will address key issues like, reliability, redundancy, increased bandwidth and network convergence at consistent speeds.
Internet access currently resides on an STM-1 (GLO-1) link at a 155Mbps Bandwidthcapacity.
The robust Optic Fibre Project was financed by McArthur Foundation with a counterpart funding by the University.
To complement the ICT-driven vision of the university, the TETfund had provided funds for the upgrade of the optical based Intranet for e-Learning and multimedia applications. Some selected lecture theatres and classrooms are now provided with Smart Boards for computer-based teaching delivery.
This university can boast of the current vice president, eight serving state governors, CBN governors, GMD of the NNPC and so on as its alumni. How does the university intend to convert them into assets for the purpose of its developmental goals?
I think, again, this is one of the virtue of Ahmadu Bello University. This is borne out of direct impact of teaching and research which goes with the aims and objectives of establishing the university. The university was set up primarily, among others, to develop man power needs of its immediate environment, that of the nation and the world as a whole.
The late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua studied chemistry here. Former Vice President Abubakar Atiku and the current Vice President Namadi Sambo passed through ABU. We also have eight serving state governors, current CBN governor, Sanusi Lamido, former and present GMD of NNPC, Mr. Austine Oniwon and Patrick Yakubu respectively, as alumni of ABU.
The eight serving state governors are Isa Yagudu (Bauchi), Umaru Tanko Al-makura (Nasarawa), Ibrahim Dankwabo (Gombe), Usman Saidu Nasamu Dangari (Kebbi), Patrick Yakowa (Kaduna), Ibrahim Geidam (Yobe), Ibrahim Shema (Katsina) and Danbaba Suntai (Taraba) as its alumni .
The ex-governors include Donald Duke (Cross River), Bukar Abba Ibrahim (Yobe), Kabiru Gaya (Kano), Ahmed Makarfi (Kaduna), Adamu Muazu (Bauchi) and Ibrahim Shekarau (Kano) aside several military administrators that passed out from ABU.
It is not just by accident that this university gave birth to these calibre of people in the society; it was all done to our human capital development teachings and researches. If all the alumni of ABU can indeed turn back to contribute to the development of their alma mata, I assure you that his university would indeed become one of the greatest and richest universities in the world.
This university has 27 affiliated institutions, divisions of college of agriculture, five institutions and six specialised centres. Can we really consider them as assets or liabilities and, if they are stressing your purse, is the university contemplating shedding weight?
You see, there is no way we can decide which institutions can be affiliated to us. It is all due to how these institutions assess your capacity and value as a worthy citadel of learning. Besides, they dont’ really come to us for the need of funds, and as a matter of fact they are autonomous in terms of financial commitment.
Moreso, we are also concerned with the need of our immediate community with respect to human capital and research development. These centres equally contribute immensely to the volume of teachings and researches that form the constitution of this university. They are part and parcel of university obligations and, in any case, there is no way we can tell even any affiliated institutions to go away. Of course, where would they go to?
This university is one the Nigerian universities that have suffered most from closures in the past. Is it right to say that your insider knowledge has helped greatly in bringing about the current academic stability in the institution?
I was a student of this university from 1969 and graduated in 1973 from the Department of Pharmacy. I did not just pass through the university, but the university also passed through me. During our student life, I was also involved in student union activities.
As an academic staff member of this university, I was also involved in union activities; in short, I was among the longest serving heads of department, because I spent 19 years on the seat. I was a dean of faculty, dean of student affairs during General Mamman Kontagora era. As a deputy vice-chancellor, I was in charge of administration.
You can see that I was really involved in all spheres of university administration and affairs. I have got enough experience to understand the need of the students and the university workers.
AS a deputy vice-chancellor in charge of administration all union matters were under me. I am so much close to the students and staff of the university, so I know their needs and aspirations as well as the tricks and the politics. We can sit down even the trees and discuss their areas of grievances and resolve them amicably.
And I think that being a vice-chancellor, I would not distance myself from the needs of the unions. If you see the unions fighting a vice-chancellor, it is because the vice-chancellor is not being open, not transparent, or not prepared to sit down and discuss the issues with them. All that is required is to sit down with them, show them the books containing figures from government treasury, what they were meant for and how they were spent.
I show the unions what was meant for them; if they want more, let them tell me where to get it. Since all of us are stakeholders, they can understand because they are human too, and if I take decision, it is simply in the interest of the people and not for myself. I think that is what has brought this level of understanding within the university community and the academic or industrial peace being witnessed.
What areas of the university law are the Council and Senate of the university set to review?
The university law has to be reviewed because the visitation panel has directed all along that we should review our laws in order to improve on our university administration.
Also, with the university autonomy bill which has been passed into law by the National Assembly, we need to review our laws to conform with the dictates of the Bill as well.
There are laws such as Public Procurement Act has to be incorporated in university laws in order to adjust to the nation’s law on the award of contracts because it is with public fund such contracts are financed.
Besides, we have to conform to the standard/best practices world wide in universities. You would recall that the laws we are set to review came to be as far back as in 1965 or so. I was not the one that started the review but my coming is to make sure it is done, and within the next three years, it will be done.
What special message do you have for the ABU alumni?
I wish the alumni to join us in the celebration because that would afford them the opportunity to observe the level of our infrastructural decay, the depleted or near absence of our research and teaching facilities.
They would be able to sincerely determine the level of assistance we need to replace and rehabilitate the teaching and research materials. We require their research to maintain our position, our teaching and research standard that laid their foundation for their greatness. Certainly, after 50 years, ABU needs adequate funds to replace and rehabilitate her infrastructure, teaching and research facilities.
We also know, all over the world, that great universities are those supported by their alumni. A clear example is Harvard University which is one of the richest universities in the world and receives $50 billion endowment fund mostly from its alumni.
Let me draw the attentions of our alumni that what we require from them is not just cash, but building infrastructure, teaching and research equipment they come to install or construct on their own.
The founder of BlackBerry is from Waterloo University and has donated over $250 million to that university so far. Here in Nigeria, the former group managing director of NNPC, Mr Austin Oniwon in conjunction with committee of friends built ultra modern ICT centre for ABU. I expect the rest of alumni of this university to emulate these ambassadors of their alma mata.
With such support, ABU would be transformed into one of the leading universities in the world. Our target is to compete favourably with Harvard and Oxford universities.