For most Nigerian universities, the daunting task of ensuring both physical and academic development remains an uphill dream. In our nation’s ivory towers that are characterised by paucity of funds and decrease in the release of budgetary allocations by government, the envisioned destination of universities is often confronted with many challenges crippling the growth of tertiary education, especially Nigerian universities.
A visit to any of our nation’s universities would readily expose the infrastructural deficits and academic rot bedeviling them. Despite interventions from agencies like the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), many of our universities have been described as glorified secondary schools. Understanding the dynamics behind forces militating against the attainment of academic excellence in tertiary institutions is critical in enthroning brilliance in universities.
Considering the fact that some universities are often seen as ‘negotiating centres’ in the acquisition of certificates, the struggle against corruption in the varsity system have opened new spectre of challenge in rescuing our nation’s ivory towers from not only insiders in the system but outsiders who are determined to have their ways in the system even if it means violating the ground norms.
Those who seek the bastardisation of the varsity education are driven by the urge to have easy access to educational certificates without earning them. Sexual harassment and money-for-mark scandals, among other problems, are some of the evils that have besmirched the university system in Nigeria. When a nation’s varsity system is vitiated with incessant challenges that seek to undermine its excellence, only committed university administrators, assisted by academics who are irreversibly committed to the resolution of these challenges, can step forward to save the system.
One public university that has grappled with the task of developments in both infrastructure and academic facets is the University of Abuja. As the only public university in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), efforts have been deployed in the past and present to ensure its dreams of excellence in terms of development of physical infrastructure and attainment of academic distinction are not aborted. Established on 1st January 1988, the University of Abuja became the first in the country mandated to run a dual-mode system for both conventional and distance learning academic programmes.
After nearly 35 years since its establishment on a temporary site in a primary school, Gwagwalada, the university, under the leadership of the current Vice Chancellor, Professor Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah, has finally relocated to its permanent site along the Airport Road, Abuja. It has been a tortuous long walk from its Gwagwalada temporal campus, as previous vice chancellors were engaged in a battle to finally relocate all academic activities of the school to its permanent site.
While past vice chancellors of the university tried their best to realise the dream of pulling the school to its permanent site, their efforts were not enough to ensure a final relocation.
The frustration to relocate the school from its Gwagwalada temporary site became agonising when a panel in 2014 described the university as a mockery of university education. The deficits in both infrastructural development and academic growth, according to insiders, unveiled the level of growth of a university that was expected to be a symbol of educational distinction. It was obvious that the university, then, fraught with all forms of challenges, had forced the panel to conclude the institution was operating a glorified form of a university education devoid of academic brilliance expected of an ivory tower in the nation’s capital.
On his appointment as vice chancellor of the University of Abuja, Prof Na’Allah vowed to tackle the poor infrastructure of the school as well as facilitate the emergence of merit and distinction in elevating the development of education. The Na’Allah-led administration embarked on broadening the academic base by ensuring accreditation of new courses by the National Universities Commission (NUC) and left no stone unturned to recruit round pegs in round holes to assist in realising the dream of building a university of a global status befitting Nigeria’s capital. By expressing his earnest determination to pull through the challenge of relocating the school to its permanent site, Na’Allah was set to resolve the greatest of the problems confronting the development of the university since inception.
As global scholar whose commitment to the development of the Nigerian university system remains undoubting, Na’Allah’s irreversible resolve to leave footprints of excellence remains a dream that must be achieved. If such a dream must be realised, the playwright and poet, who is never a stranger in running university’s administration, was devoted to the task ensuring relocation of the University of Abuja to its permanent site. Na’Allah’s 10-year indelible footprints at the Kwara State University (KWASU) where he served as the vice chancellor from 2009 to 2019 had clearly set him apart as an astute university administrator who had turned the fortunes of the then newly KWASU into one of the most sought-after for admissions by students.
When he assumed office as vice chancellor of University of Abuja in 2019, the level of development in the university was uninspiring. Even though there had been some levels of developments, there was the urgent need to turn around the conditions of the school for academic excellence; the need to improve the physical development of the school to relocate the university to its permanent site became paramount.
As Vice Chancellor of the university, Na’Allah rolled his sleeves and went to work, determined to succeed where others have failed. In plotting to achieve his goals, Na’Allah knew that he must walk his talk by ensuring he flew beyond wishful thinking. He was determined to walk to the hill of academic excellence, including synchronising efforts with relevant government agencies to achieve final relocation of the institution to its permanent site.
In less than three years into his appointment, Na’Allah’s relentless synergies with relevant agencies and members of the relevant committees of the National Assembly earned him effective collaboration that focused on development of critical infrastructure that once resided in the realm of hope. In walking his promise to turn the university into a global institution committed to the academic distinction, the vice chancellor turned himself into a propelling force behind the power poised at turning the University of Abuja into a Citadel of Research for teachers and students.
At a time when universities are engrossed in the battle against sexual harassment, Prof Na’Allah left no stone unturned to punish culprits and discourage the shameless acts that have turned some universities into ivory towers of shame. In a bid to check against intimidation of students by teachers, he made available his telephone numbers to students to reach out to him personally on any issue that is of interest to their academic developments.
In his avowed fight against improprieties meted against students, especially female students, the vice chancellor has opened the floodgate in receiving complaints and ensuring these complaints are promptly looked into. In doing this, Na’Allah becomes the first vice chancellor to stake personal commitment to assist in the fight against sexual harassment. It is generally known that complaints from students have led to the dismissal of teachers to demonstrate disapproval of inappropriate treatments on students by teachers.
Despite the milestone achievements of Professor Na’Allah in successfully realising the relocation of the university to its permanent site and raising the bar for academic excellence, what his administration must do now is to focus on improving welfare of university workers. Having hit the peak by ensuring increased approved courses, the need to reward teachers and other workers should now be his focus.
There’s no doubt, having been a firm hand in the management of tertiary education for nearly 15 years, Professor Na’Allah remains a tireless hand in advancing the growth of the university system in Nigeria. This global scholar of distinction remains dauntless in improving the quality of university education in a nation that is short of determined administrators who are filled with commitment and vision.