By Hakeem Alohunmata
The 1914 amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates as one entity, called Nigeria, has repeatedly been described as a ”marriage of inconvenience” or simply put, a ”forced marriage”. To some people, even, it was a wedding without marriage.
This is the position of the pessimists who see Nigeria as a failed project. How can it be a successful project when the couples are constantly in conflict like sworn enemies? A nation that graciously allows artificial divisions to becloud its sense of harnessing its cultural diversity and religious plurality for national development.
A nation that allows faint lines of boundaries to blur its vision of tapping into the resources of its over 400 languages for tourism enterprise. A nation that allows mutual suspicion to daunt its passion for developing its human resources for skill exportation.
A nation that allows political affiliations to clog the wheel of its fortune, progress and prosperity. Pursuing the banality of a fictitious interest, the nation is found wanting in the loneliness of a multi-crore forest. The multitude of culture, plurality of ethnicity and diversity of religion, rather than being a blessing to the nation, seem like an irredeemable curse placed on a traitor in a local movie. Nepotism, sectionalism and corruption have eaten so deep into the system that it has spread like a wildfire to every sphere of our institutions.
University of Abuja, a federation within the federation, shares a similar experience. It is the only federal University in Nigeria that has all the thirty-six states of the country as its catchment in terms of staff recruitment and student admission.
It is an heterogeneous community, and a conglomerate of conflicting ethnic groups, diverse cultures and polarized religious affiliations. Like the bigger federation, the ethnic divisions and religious affiliation have, over the years, become a bane in the development of the university.
The institution had badly been bitten by the bared fangs of nepotism. Past leaders of the university had tried, without much success, to free the University from the tightening claws of sentiment in order to chart a course for development of the University.
However, lack of political will to suppress ethnic favoritism and religious bigotry whips the chord of incessant internal crises, underscored by monumental bickering and eventual down-tooling of labour unions within the university.
Prolonged industrial actions, blatant disregard for academic calendar, admission and certificate racketeering, infrastructural deficit, poor staff and students welfare, and low-level of academic research output, top the chart of the numerous challenges bedeviling the institution.
And this is no less the reason why the university was being derided and ridiculously referred to as a ‘glorified secondary school’.
This was the situation of Uniabuja, until the birth of a new regime spearheaded by an altruistic, patriotic and detribalized Nigerian – Prof. AbdulRasheed Na’Allah.
Rather than succumbing to the seemingly insurmountable problems, which are as big as the mountains surrounding the campus itself, Prof. Na’Allah saw an opportunity in the ethnic and socio-cultural division of his staff. No sooner he was appointed as the Vice-Chancellor in 2019, than he coined a slogan –
The University for National Unity – for the university. This slogan has come to stay as the University is now popularly known as UofA of Nigeria and the University for National Unity.
The coinage of this slogan shows the readiness of Prof. Na’Allah, right from inception, to form a government of national unity by mobilizing staff, students and stakeholders regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliations to work with him on his mandate to bring an aggressive development to the University.
The idea of University of Abuja as a university for National Unity becomes his watchword. It is at the fulcrum of his programmes and policies, and it was brought to bear even in the appointment of deans and directors into key positions in the University without sacrificing merit. His idea of national unity was reflected in the admission process.
Having realized that some sections of the country had benefited too much for so long in the scheme of things including student admission, he reviewed the admission process to ensure that applicants from every state of the federation are admitted to the University without prejudice. Prof. NaAllah’s patriotism could also be noted in the staff recruitment exercise by standing firm on the principles of federal character.
His belief in National Unity resonated in two critical centres he established: the Centre for Community Development and Centre for Stakeholders Mobilization. While the Centre for stakeholders mobilization is working hard to mobilize for support from people of different background and status from within and outside the University, the Centre for Community Development serves as a link between the ‘town and gown’.
Through the Centre for Community Development, the host communities are deeply involved in the activities and programmes of the institution. They now feel more attached to the University like never before.
The harmonious relationship between the host communities and the university made it possible for Prof. NaAllah to achieve the construction of perimeter fencing of the entire university land – a task no one believe was possible.
Prof. Na’Allah’s zeal for infrastructural development is not known only to University of Abuja. As the pioneer Vice-Chancellor of Kwara State University, he started the university from zero infrastructure to a masterpiece, a world-class university with beautiful landscape, superb architectural edifice, good road networks, stable and quality academic delivery, a feat that made the then Kwara State Governor call on the House of Assembly to review the one-term tenure policy of a Vice-Chancellor, to allow him come back for another term of five years.
This also is an uncommon privilege earned by uncommon character and dedication to duties. The Executive Secretary of TETfund, Arch. Sunday Echono, visited the university recently. He could not but confirm the solid foundation laid by Prof. Na’Allah upon which KWASU today stands.
However, the great achievements he recorded at KWASU were not enough to reveal the patriotism in him as KWASU seems to be a small community with small political set up.
The opportunity eventually came when he was called upon to serve his nation in the capacity of Vice-Chancellor of a Federal University- a university with conservative tradition that defies modernity; a university that takes solace in mediocrity and stagnancy; a university with galaxies of scholars working in isolation without collaborations; a university with a senate that is divided against itself across ethno-religious lines.
Managing such an institution was a huge task because the most difficult thing to accept is change. As a master strategist, Prof. Na’Allah, amidst stiff rejection, cheap blackmail and witch-hunting, was able to waddle through the muddy water to pave the way for the needed development in the University. Under his leadership, University of Abuja has regained its rightful position in the comity of Universities in Nigeria.
With his doggedness and administrative acumen, Prof. Na’Allah had, in no small measure, maintained the sanctity of academic calendar and improved academic standard of the University.
With COVID-19 lockdown and the prolong ASUU strike that rocked the entire 2020 and early part of 2021, University of Abuja was one of the few, if not the only, universities that did not lose a single session.
Prof. Na’Allah developed a robust virtual learning system that allowed students to take their classes while at home. Students now know the day they will graduate, the first day they are admitted into the University.
This was largely made possible with the introduction of a portal system by Prof. NaAllah who is popularly known across the length and breadth of the campus as a digital Vice-Chancellor.
To the committee of Vice-Chancellors of Nigeria Universities, Prof. NaAllah is known as an infrastructure Vice-Chancellor. He leaves no one in doubt of his capability by turning University of Abuja to a construction site.
To him, the best welfare any staff can get is to have a conducive working environment. He then began on an aggressive mobilization for fund by blocking leakages, improving the university internally generated revenue (IGR) without unnecessary hike in school fees, rallying for financial supports from philanthropists, organizations and well meaning alumni of the University, and lobbying government and government agencies to invest in the infrastructure of the university.
These endeavour yielded tremendous benefit as money raised are prudently plunged into building of faculties, befitting lecture theatres, state-of-the-art laboratories, world-class international conference centres, building of new hostels and renovation of existing ones, staff clubs, new staff quarters on campus, mini stadium, solar farms, computer laboratories across the campus, first-of-its-kind new senate building (ongoing), completion of the old senate building as well as all other abandoned projects (PG school, Faculty of Engineering, Faculty of Sciences etc.) landscaping and street lighting of the entire campus, good road network, to mention a few.
This recent transformation occasioned by a world class administrator, Prof, AbdulRasheed Naallah, opened up the University to both local and international collaborations.
Government agencies, ministries, diplomats from various countries, international organizations, Universities from other African countries, Europe, China, Japan, North and South Korea, are now trooping to the University for partnership and exchanges.
This gives the ever-expanding student population the opportunity for intercultural exchanges as some students of the university, that won Fukushima Prefecture Governor’s award were recently invited for a tour of Japan by the Japanese government; so also is the University receiving international students on exchange programme to its campus. The Chinese government is continuously supporting the University’s Engineering programme through provision of state-of-the-art equipment.
Prof. Na’Allah, in a grand style and in one scoop, did what no Vice-Chancellor in the history of in the history of Uniabuja had ever done by securing NUC approval to start twenty-six (26) new programmes including Aeronautic and Astronautic Engineering.
He is a Vice-Chancellor of many first’s’: The first Vice-Chancellor to introduce students employment scheme to Nigerian education system, the first Vice-Chancellor to introduce Railway Engineering (awaiting NUC resource verrification result), Aeronautic and Astronautic Engineering (at KWASU) as undergraduate programmes and so on.
Prof. NaAllah’s unmatched administrative experience in managing tertiary institutions had, without doubt, brought about a significant change not only to University of Abuja but also to the Nigerian higher education system as other Universities now tow the lines of a new direction he had painstakingly led. Prof. NaAllah is a distinguished academic and astute administrator that only needs a bigger stage to turn around the fortune of Nigerian education system.
GAPOGS Tasks African Students On Impactful Research To Challenge Education
The Global Association of Postgraduate Students (GAPOGS) has called on all the postgraduate students of the African continent to bring to the fore, impactful research that will transcend borders to address global challenges.
While speaking in a press conference on Tuesday, in Abuja, the newly elected African President of GAPOGS, Amb. Peace Nwankaego Onuiri said that the association will leave no stone unturned to ensure the holistic growth and development of all postgraduate students.
She expressed that, GAPOGS aims to instill a broader perspective on education, emphasizing the role of postgraduate students in finding practical solutions to real-world problems.
According to her, GAPOHS stands as a beacon for postgraduate students globally, fostering collaboration, celebrating diversity, and advocating for the rights and interests of scholars.
“As I call upon postgraduate students in Africa, let’s come together and make an impactful research that transcends borders and transforms the landscape of postgraduate education worldwide.
“Our primary aim is to establish collaborations with academic institutions globally, steering partnerships that facilitate campus development, academic exchange programs, joint research initiatives, and mobility for postgraduate students, and together, we will build bridges connecting the gown to the town, creating a vibrant local community that transcends geographical boundaries.
“As we embark on this journey, GAPOGS will facilitate networking and collaboration among postgraduate students, encouraging interdisciplinary interactions and knowledge-sharing opportunities. We will organize seminars, webinars, and Conferences to promote academic discourse, critical thinking, and intellectual engagement across diverse fields.
“Professional development is key to our mission, GAPOGS will provide resources, workshops, and mentorship programs to enhance research skills, academic writing presentation abilities, and overall competencies crucial for the professional growth of postgraduate scholars. A shining example is the upcoming Global Postgraduate School Games in June, showcasing our commitment to supporting the holistic development of postgraduate students.
“Cultural exchange and diversity appreciation are integral components of our agenda. GAPOGS will celebrate cultural diversity through events, forums, and Initiatives that foster cross-cultural understanding, appreciation, and integration among postgraduate scholars from diverse backgrounds.
“Advocacy is a cornerstone of our mission, therefore we will serve as a vocal advocate for postgraduate students’ rights, ensuring their voices are heard at both national and international levels. GAPOGS will also provide access to resources, including databases, research grants, scholarships, and other opportunities to empower postgraduate students in their academic pursuits.
“In addressing the unique needs of Africa, we recognize the importance of result- oriented research, our focus on African tourism components aims to implement research outcomes that contribute to the development of the continent. GAPOGS is committed to addressing global challenges through impactful research, emphasizing the role of postgraduate students in implementing solutions, especially in the context of Africa.
“Lastly, on the welfare front, we are proud to illustrate our commitment through the forthcoming Postgraduate Global School Games. This event exemplifies our dedication to the overall well-being of postgraduate students, showcasing our support for both academic and extracurricular pursuits.”
While presenting the certificate of return to the African president, the Global President of GAPOGS, Amb Dr. Edward Olutoke stated that Africa needs to think outside the box for them to get the attention of the world.
“When we get to Universities all over Africa, you see piles of projects from BSc. to Ph.D. What do we do with these projects? And for people to write these projects, it involves a whole lot of energy, some go through tough times. Some of them even pay huge money for their projects to be done. That is why GAPOGS was formed to ensure we let them know that we don’t just go to school to acquire certificates, but we go to school to solve problems.”
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