Like the task of Tantalus
whose target keeps receding, the challenge of reversing the fortunes of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka – UNN, the country’s premier University, to its past glory, has, for too long, daunted its successive management teams.
Established in 1955 but formally opened on October 7, 1960, UNN became Nigeria’s first indigenous University and maiden project after independence. The opening ceremony of the University, which became part of Nigeria’s independent celebration, was performed by Her Royal Highness, Princess Alexandra of Kent, the representative of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II at the occasion.
The opening ceremony and laying of the foundation stone of one of the University’s early buildings by Princess Alexandra was a historic event, marked with fanfare across the country, especially in the then Eastern Region.
With its philosophy of seeking, teaching, and preserving truth, and motto: to restore the dignity of man, UNN was in a short time, propelled to the class of great Universities in Africa – a tribute to its founding father, Rt. Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, and other well meaning Nigerians who worked assiduously to keep the flag of the University flying very high.
In 1972, the famous Astrophysicist, Sam Okoye of the University, founded the Space Research Centre (SRC), an outstanding research centre that offered courses in Astronomy up to the post graduate level.
In 1974, Professor Yacoub from the United Kingdom led a team of Medical doctors including Prof. F.A. Udekwu in an open heart surgical operation at the university’s teaching hospital, the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu. The feat was the first of its kind in Nigeria and Sub-Sahara Africa.
It was common knowledge in the 1970s that UNN was outstanding in several areas of academic pursuit, especially Law, Literary Studies, Veterinary Medicine, et al. The practical orientation of the university’s academic activities modeled after the American system, distinguished this citadel of learning from the other tertiary institutions in the country.
In the language of one of the most renowned economists of this world, and a former lecturer at the University of Ibadan, Professor Arthur Lewis while delivering, a lecture in 1968: “The United States is absorbing bachelor’s degree to the extent of 30% of the age group. The British are absorbing now about 8% of the age group. Nigeria is producing less than 1% of the age group with Bachelor’s degree. Yet my students at Ibadan were already very worried that they would not find jobs. How come?… whereas the British come up with new fundamental ideas as often as the Americans (per thousand of population), the Americans are much better at developing and applying new ideas.”
So the founders of the UNN were driven by the consciousness of raising young Nigerians who would generate and apply new, dynamic, and aggressive ideas – the big ideas, the boom dimension – that will take into cognizance the peoples history, cultural and traditional beliefs, geographical, religious, and ethnic diversity, dreams and aspiration, capacity, social and political institutions, and economic conditions.
Thus, in his address at the inaugural convocation of the University on October 13, 1960 entitled “Heroes and Heroines of a New Nigeria”, the first chancellor of the institution, Rt. Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe said: “The founders of the University of Nigeria aimed at relating its activities to the social and economic needs and the day-to-day life of the people of Nigeria.” But what has become of these lofty dreams of the founding fathers of the University over the years? To all intents and purposes, the story of UNN in recent times, has been anti-thetical to the vision of its founders. As stated by the immediate past Vice-Chancellor of the University – Prof. Bartho Okolo, at the valedictory meeting of Senate in his honour on June 6, 2014: “I recall that one of my first trips abroad was on the invitation of the Nigerian Higher Education Foundation (NHEF) based in New York. During the visit, I learnt that UNN had at some point been blacklisted as a dysfunctional University, while her peers like the University of Ibadan and Lagos, and even younger Universities like University of Port-Harcourt had taken advantage of opportunities created by NHER to raise their visibility and profiles. In return, they had received millions of dollars in grant from American Foundation, such as MacArthur Foundation and Ford Foundation. You would also recall that in the Webometrics Rankings of January 2010, UNN was ranked 19th in Nigeria and outside the first 100 in Africa and the first 6,000 in the world”. A former Vice-Chancellor of the university and current Minister of Power, Professor Chinedu Nebo, was once quoted as saying that the Medical School of this institution was publishing the least number of academic articles among the first generation universities when he assumed office in 2004.
So what is the task before the Governing Council of the University, composed of the Pro-Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Representative of the Federal Ministry of Education, and other prominent personalities who have proved their mettle in their various areas of human endeavour? After the hullabaloo that greeted the removal of the former Pro-Chancellor of the university, Dr. Emeka Enejere on December 13, 2013, it behoves the Emmanuel C. Ukala (SAN) led Governing Council to, as a necessary condition for effective teaching, learning and research works, engender peace, harmony and co-operation in the university community. This is the time for all and sundry to eschew rancour and share their experiences, knowledge, and talents for the good and upliftment of the university. Walking the golden path of partnership, consensus, peace, and harmony, will certainly open new vistas of greater heights for the ivory tower.
In fact, to know whether a university is fulfilling its basic functions, one must ask these fundamental questions: What is happening to learning and research in the institution?
What is happening to application of theoretical knowledge to practical problems? What is happening to professional training for high level jobs? What is happening to cultivation of real talents in all areas of human life? And what is happening to the relationship between the university and the society?
The Governing Council must, as a matter of urgency, address these questions and more.
In the final analysis, the success of a university is measured by its contribution to the well being of the people it serves and the overall development of humanity. It is not too late for the university to actualize the Plan of Action for the Second Decade for Education for Africa (2006-2015) which calls for generating ideas and programmes that will promote access to science and technology by all and strengthening research capacities and enhancing the teaching and learning of mathematics.
So much is expected of Emmanuel C. Ukala (SAN), the new Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council of the University. A graduate of the University of Lagos and a legal luminary, Ukala has, for over 30 years, traversed the legal firmament like a colossus. He is known to be a gentleman of impeccable character, a very strict disciplinarian and a stickler for merit and due process. He is therefore coming to the saddle with a formidable background of pro-active administration and a great passion to serve his fatherland.
The new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Benjamin Chukwuma Ozumba, a one time Provost of the UNN College of Medicine, is a renowned Professor of gynaecology. It is believed that Professor Ozumba will bring his wealth of knowledge and experience in university administration to bear on his new job.
It goes without saying that the entire nation are watching and expecting Ukala, Ozumba, and indeed, the Governing Council to transform UNN into a paradise of learning, teaching, and research – TO RESTORE THE DIGNITY OF MAN. Well, if the speed with which peace was restored to the university upon the assumption of office of Ukala as Chairman of Council and the resounding ovation with which the transparent process of selection of the new vice chancellor was received are indicators of the focus and capacity of this Governing Council, then there is much hope for the restoration of the dignity of the University.
Wilson is a public affairs analyst.