Professor Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah is the Vice Chancellor (VC) of the University of Abuja (Uniabuja). In this interview he describes as unfortunate the inability of Nigerian universities to court best students in secondary schools thereby allowing them to study overseas. He also reveal his plans to ensure that Uniabuja has a stable calendar and contributes to national development.
How will you assess your performance in terms of academic and infrastructural development since your assumption of office?
When I came I realised that we have a university that has a lot of potentials that are capable making it larger than life, but was dragging for many reasons, including many years of neglect. I could not just accept what I met. We set to work to have a university that is respected locally and internationally. We ended the first year by celebrating research achievements. People got over N350m research grants, and in 2021, we had more than N1bn. That was a significant increment. Almost everybody who is academic is exploring opportunities to live a true academic life. A true academic involves having meetings with industries, getting research grants and being the research laboratory, among other things.
How were able to get the N1bn grants?
These are research grants in different disciplines. The money came in to support academic research in those areas for us to work with industries to bring out new products that will be relevant in helping society to resolve problems. These grants go to the university’s account with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Already, there is a budget prepared by the academic staff which tells us how they want to use the grants. We have an accountability process and the grants organisation is also interacting with us to make sure that the grants are used judiciously.
What can you say about the disconnect between findings and using the results of such findings by relevant agencies, in most cases you see the university coming up with a report and archiving it, what are you doing about that?
At Uniabuja, we are mobilising our staff to the idea that it is wrong to finish research and just leave it on the shelf. We have approached the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) and signed an MoU with them. One of the areas of the MoU is how to translate our research into products. Except universities do that, I tell you they will not understand that their roles are not only to teach people and give them certificates, but to also translate the certificates to real-life development. We want to set examples in Nigeria. The coming of ACCI means all industries are coming; we have a lot of MoU with the Energy Commission of Nigeria, environmental agencies and other agencies. We want to take over the laboratory of the Atomic Commission and a committee is already working on this, because this university has to be known in the area of energy.
You have excellent dreams, but image counts a lot, not too long ago JAMB accused Uniabuja of not getting it right in terms of admission; that you indulge in illegal admission, what does that mean?
The university senate does admission and when a university does admission you cannot call a senate admission illegal. But I know that there might be a misunderstanding because the university must work with other organisations. The federal government has so many organisations and these organisations must cooperate in ways that will help this nation move forward. Uniabuja is a university with integrity. We may have some difficult history; it is not the reality today. Our admission follows a very thorough process. There was a particular case last year when somebody applied to this university. He was offered law on merit, but before this guy could register, the mum who was eager that universities were closed due to strike and that private universities were on, went into the system and changed her son to a private university. The student now realised that he got admission into Uniabuja and insisted he was not going to a private university, also the parent saw that it was cheaper to come here. Do you now describe Uniabuja’s action on a person who actually applied to us, participated in our post-JAMB activities and got admission as an illegal? It may be illegal in their own dictionary, you know the way it is, they have a process and we have a process, but I think the best thing is just to work together, but we do not take our integrity lightly.
One of your courses, computer science, has not been accredited by the NUC, what are you doing about this?
One out of so many courses that were accredited; I am happy to tell you that NUC is back, they have looked at our computer science. I will give you good news very soon in terms of the accreditation.
The University of Abuja was ranked 56 in the Nigerian University Rankings System by NUC, what does this portend for the university?
It portends the fact that Uniabuja is in the right direction, because if you look below Uniabuja there are so many, but it also means that we must also belt up and continue to do better. We are already there, we are very alert, and the ranking does not really surprise us.
We are strengthening our programmes and making sure that our students succeed. We have the Centre for Counselling and Career Services; it is one of our most important centres, where we address so many things, from psychological to drug abuse. I had a meeting with the Chairman/CEO of NDLEA and we are now working together to start a drug-free club on our campus. It is one of the major crises in our nation, and the University of Abuja is not an exception. Next year when this ranking is done, we will lead and we know that and that is why we do not bother too much.
We also met with the Chairman of NDLEA and he said he wanted to propose to the university the administration of drug test on students before admission, what is your take on this, and also on sexual abuse, because there is a link between the two?
The Chairman of NDLEA will be here to launch the drug-free club. Part of the strategy we are discussing is to bring in drug test everywhere on our campus and make it regular. A person may be drug-free when he gets in; that doesn’t mean he is going to remain drug-free. We really want to make students know we care for them, and when we say stop using drugs, we are saying Nigeria needs you, your family needs, you need yourself and you have to be successful so that you can live a good life.
When you abuse a student sexually, you have destroyed the student’s life. A student who is here to study and you force yourself on her, that student will never forgive herself. We will never take that, and we are working very hard, we have expelled academic staff because of sexual harassment. We have expelled professors. We will never tolerate it. It will be unfortunate if Nigeria’s academia allows itself to be seen that Nigerian universities and sexual harassment are one and the same.
How far have you gone in instilling confidence in people considering the recent security breach that led to the kidnapping of some staff?
That was a tough time in the history of our university. Bandits came to our staff quarters and kidnapped three staff and three of their children, but thank God, we stood firm and worked closely with law enforcement agencies. We did not sleep and it led to successes in the sense that we not only got back all the people kidnapped, we also actually arrested some of the kidnappers without paying a kobo.
Tell us about the CBN projects that were abandoned for several years in the school?
I was surprised when I came and saw projects by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) abandoned on our campus and becoming an eyesore. But they are actually now beginning to finish some of the projects. We have a medical students’ hostel, right now we can only admit 50 students into medicine. Part of the reason is the hostel facility.
We have seen the best students in secondary school leaving certificate examinations leaving Nigeria for other countries; probably on scholarships, what do you think Nigerian universities can do to change the tide?
It is unfortunate; these are the kinds of things that Nigerian universities should be sensitive to. Universities actually court them. The university puts in place facilities and even scholarships to make those students come to them. We don’t do that here. We take it for granted. We look at our students and even abuse them sometimes. We do not do this and it is unfortunate. We have taken for granted that these children are helpless, they just come to you and you even give them courses that they never wanted to do. It is absurd and we better begin to put our acts together as a nation. What you rather have is turning universities into secondary schools. It is unfortunate if that is how we see it. Universities are places of honour. We must understand that universities are great places. It is a horrible nation, a nation without ambition that does not respect its universities, and I don’t care who you are or what agencies you are, you must respect your universities. Whatever your agency, no agency is greater than the university; none whatsoever. Our universities must be respected and accorded the dignity that they deserve, but those universities too must show that they have integrity and values and must collaborate in ways that can help this nation. When I say universities, I mean education institutions, including polytechnics and Colleges of Education (COEs).
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