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HOW I RESTORED PEACE IN MICHAEL OKPARA VARSITY – VC

By NBF NEWS
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When he arrived Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia State four years ago to assume duty as the Vice Chancellor, Professor Ikenna Onyido met the school in crisis.

Chaos stared him in the face and he wondered what he had come to do in a place where peace was a stranger. Then he went down on his knees, right inside his office and called on God to assist him to overcome the problems.

According to him, one of the promises he made to God was that by the time his tenure expires, the institution which was in shambles would become a centre of excellence and one of the Nigeria's best universities.

Recently, the Professor of Chemistry marked his four years in office and Daily Sun was there to listen to a man who has brought peace and excellence to a place that would have been best described as crisis zone.

The journey so far
'My administration has indeed come a long way. In the past four years, I have been the Vice Chancellor of this great institution, and in the remaining twelve months, the university shall consolidate on what is on ground the benefit of the stakeholders in the system and the society at large.

When I arrived here four years ago, precisely on March 1, 2010, my major challenge was to ensure that I left the school far better than I met it. I had hoped that I would mark the anniversary of my administration quietly and in a private contemplation, with no fanfare and blaring of horns. I had wanted us to strictly devote our selves to stock taking, reflecting on our strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as a basis for fashioning attitudes, strategies and tactics for improved performance and out put.

We adopted this deliberate posture because chest beating and noise making do not conform with the comportment and traditions of the academia as our determination is to uphold the best practices and traditions in the university system in a scenario where virtually every institution has been subjected to significant devaluation.

However, we are here today to undertake stocktaking in a reflective and humble manner to mark this anniversary and give thanks to God for the humble contribution and successes that are visible from our work.

I recall that on this date four years ago, I pledged to strive to make this university emerge in the shortest possible time, a centre of excellence and one of Nigeria's prominent universities. I also pledged to install an administration that will be transparent in the management of resources and to sustain a participatory, governance style that emphasizes due process, justice , equity , fairness and the primacy of the rule of law.

Today, I can say with every sense of humility that we have tried to keep faith with these pledges and we shall review our efforts in a number of directions.

I met a Campus that was split from top to bottom and partitioned from left to right into contending groups. The discord on this campus and the deafening din of high decibels from warring groups and factions needed to be dealt with in order to create a platform for any semblance of sustainable developmental initiatives.

In line with my pledge to restore stability and cohesion in the university community, we embarked on a mission to soothe frayed nerves and inspire confidence in all members of the community, not only in themselves but also in the university as an agent of their own good in addition to institutional responsibilities to the larger community.

I am persuaded that we can now say with careful confidence that we have moved far away, indeed very far away from where we were.

Our meetings are held in a friendly cordial atmosphere where serious business is done in a civilized way and every one has his say. One innovation for managing the campus is the introduction of the periodic MOUAU family meeting which includes all staff of the university. Where any issue concerning the university is discussed, it was done in a way that factual information is conveyed to staff first hand and we are able to know what their anxieties, worries and concerns are.

Rain of petitions
When I arrived on this campus, I received in excess of 200 petitions from staff alleging one form of ill- treatment or injustice or the other. We created committees that investigated these allegations and where we were convinced that the strict standard of justice had not been met, we took those cases to the governing council for disposal action.

The net result is that quite a number of grievances of staff were addressed and this helped us to stabilize the campus. We have been running at the level of minimum or no rancour from staff and this we achieved by running an open and participatory administration.

Relationship with staff unions, students
We have established relationship with the staff unions on the campus, a relationship that is based on truth, openness, justice, fairness, mutual respect for each other and for the rule of law and an insistence on the greatest good for the community . As a result, we have experienced industrial peace and harmony in an unprecedented scale to the extent that there has not been one single instance of any local dispute with any of the staff unions, while the prosecution of national strikes has gone with consideration for the health and well being of the university and with significant decorum and sensibility.

Our students are turning out to be some of the best behaved in the Nigerian university system. The tendency to resort to violence has reduced drastically if not all together eliminated. We have confronted the social ills of students' cultism, examination malpractices and similar vices head on, showing zero tolerance for these debilitating ills but on the other hand, ready to work to rehabilitate those who turn a new leaf and reject these evils.

Our students population has almost doubled in the last three years, standing presently at about 6518 full time undergraduate and postgraduate students, with an additional 2082 part time students at the sub degree and post graduate levels. While we are pleased with the expanded opportunities given to prospective students by these numbers, these expanded opportunities demand corresponding increase in physical facilities in order to ensure that a conducive environment is sustained for academic activities.

Infrastructural development
Our efforts at physical and infrastructural development in the last four years have no doubt helped to change the landscape and face of the campus with many new buildings already commissioned and put to use. These have been variously funded by the capital appropriations, grants from the education tax fund and from our internally generated revenue (IGR). Quite a number of projects are in advanced stages of construction and it is my hope that these will be ready for use before the end of my tenure.

The sustained efforts we have made in this direction in anchored on the belief that a modern university must have adequate physical infrastructure to support meaningful academic and community life. We have been able to go this far in spite of the severe resource constraints that we face because we have adopted a resource management philosophy of ' learning to do more with less'.

Research efforts
We have in the last four years engineered structural reforms and introduced new institutional organs for the effective pursuit of our institutional mandate and objectives. Thus, we now have a research policy and plan document that articulates the kind of research that the university engages in.

The implementation of the research policy and the management of the institutional research efforts are activities undertaken by a Directorate of Research and Development, created by this administration. We have also worked to ensure that our research addresses developmental issues and produces utilitarian results. Given our institutional mandate and orientation, our research, which is multidisciplinary, applied and adaptive in context, seeks to address problems of the rural poor in order to add value to their lives.

We now have an extension Blueprint that is implemented by the MOUAU extension centre (MEC), created by this administration. The centre has established and functionalized three model villages in communities around the university. Our MDG-style work in these villages aims to empower the rural communities to lift them out of poverty and usher them into prosperity through the use of proven science.

We have also worked towards making the fruit of our research and innovations through our extension mechanism, reach communities outside the university in such a way that over time, the impact of our engagement with these communities shall be visible through raised standard of living and reduction of poverty.

We have also created a Directorate for University Advancement to handle all areas of interface between the university and the larger society, such as alumni relations, linkages and collaboration with other Universities and specialized institutions, drive for endowments and gifts. It is on record that it is during my tenure that the MOUAU Alumni Association was inaugurated.

Linkages and affiliations
We are linking the university and bringing it to interface with global university community. To that extent, we have formed linkages and signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Earth Institute of Colombia University under the leadership of Professor Jeffrey Sachs, and Utah State University in the United States of America, Mcgill University and University of Alberta in Canada, International Centre for Insects and Ecology in Kenya, the international Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan, the National Centre for Remote Sensing, Jos, and centre for Superconductivity research, Abuja, all in Nigeria. Joint activities involving staff training has started through these linkages and plans are afloat for scale -up in the form of staff and student exchange, joint research and training activities.

Our MoU with the Tennessee State University in the United States is waiting to be signed when a delegation from here visits. Our belief that education especially university education, in the global world must factor in partnership, shared experiences and shared resources to be functionally relevant for now and the future has driven the initiative for these linkages and collaborative arrangements.

We are ICT driven
Our desire is to introduce, domesticate and functionalize new technology in the university and the ICT strategic plan has taken a firm root. With the completion of our ICT Resource Centre, MOUAU, has joined the league of Universities world wide that have state of the art ICT facilities and whose teaching and learning are ICT- driven. But we are not satisfied with our modest successes in this area. We are continuing to make efforts to ensure that our ICT facilities remain frontline.

Biotechnology centre
We have also turned our attention to biotechnology as a tool for agricultural and industrial research and development. Thus we have established a centre for Molecular Biosciences and Biotechnology as a multi-disciplinary research and training facility to drive and coordinate molecular Biology and biotechnology research and development. I am happy to announce that we have succeeded in attracting one of our best minds to return from the United states to take a position as a professor of Biochemistry in this University to help drive our efforts in molecular biology and biotechnology and help make the centre a place of pride in this domain. The future is full of possibilities in this regard.

We have in the past four years worked extremely hard to make this institution a frontline University, a centre of excellence, a first among equals, where our students are given the best and prepared for life outside the University as a relevant and conscientious citizens of Nigeria and the world, not only through the knowledge and skills acquired while here but also through the positive attitudes and the character component in our training that are passed to them in preparation for life in larger society.

I can say without equivocation that it has been indeed a collective effort and I am proud of my team and the generality of the staff and students of this University.'