TRAVAILS OF UNIABUJA: WHO WILL TELL THE VISITOR?
Certainly this is not the appropriate time to bother Mr. President and the presidency generally with mundane matters like education especially now that the only item that seems to be on the agenda is ‘Election, Election, Election’. But incidentally the stimulus and trigger for this write up came from Mr. President, ably represented by Vice President Namadi Sambo, at the recently concluded convocation ceremony of the University of Maiduguri, where he reaffirmed that one of the priorities of his administration is quality education. To confirm this, President Goodluck Jonathan himself has presided over at least one education summit since his assumption of office as the President, Federal Republic of Nigeria. If I had access to Mr. President’s Facebook, I would have posted this piece to him directly because I cannot trust to go through the ‘Presidents men (and women)’, for some really do not care a hoot about anything. Our focus shall be the University of Abuja! Welcome to the University of Abuja, located somewhere in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and which arguably should be the closest citadel of learning to the presidential mansion at Aso Rock but it is indeed very, very far. Established in 1988, it is perhaps the only federally owned University that is still conducting most of its activities from a temporary site located at a suburb of Gwagwalada. That setting certainly is not where a student or teacher can aspire to be a Nobel laureate! You then ask, what was the vision and mission of our past leaders with respect to educational infra-structural development in Abuja - the political and administrative capital of Nigeria? We shall come back to the University very shortly. Take an inventory of the Abuja City landscape and skyline and you will be pleased and thrilled! From the fortified Aso Rock (our own equivalent of the White House) to the magnificent National Assembly that adores the three-arm zone. We also have the state-of-the-art Federal Secretariat, there is this edifice called the headquarters of Federal Ministry of Finance, then the awesome International Conference Centre, the towering NNPC towers, the grandiose CBN head office, the titanic National stadium, the fine and functional National Hospital, the gold-plated National mosque, the captivating National Christian ecumenical centre, the exquisite Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport and many more. But where is the University on this landscape or any public tertiary educational institution of repute in the FCT? A new federal capital city without a befitting public tertiary educational institution is a testament to the type of leaders we have had the past years. Surely, Abuja deserves an architectural masterpiece with a designer outlay in the mould of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife; equipped with modern gadgets and intellectuals to nurture a pluri-potential youth in an ambient and academic-friendly environment, so as to help make Nigeria a genuine candidate for the 20 developed economies in 2020. Nothing less will be acceptable! And it is certainly not late to right the wrong. Not when the President of the country, the Vice President, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and most of those in the corridors of power today at Abuja are themselves graduates of our own Ivy League of schools. To do otherwise will be ungodly and unpardonable! Beyond infrastructure, University of Abuja appears to have many other challenges. What else could be responsible for a federally-owned institution, situated next door to the seat of power and influence, been denied accreditation for many of the academic programs and courses? The National University Commission (NUC) in an advertorial published in the Daily Trust newspaper of Thursday, October 7, 2010 pages 12 and 13 confirmed that the Masters of Business Administration (MBA) of the University of Abuja has been closed down. What is the fate of thousands of qualified candidates ranging from regular students to bank executives, senior civil servants and private entrepreneurs that work in the FCT but quest for higher intellectual development? Other universities located in big and capital cities like Lagos, London and New York have gone beyond regular MBA to ‘executive’ EMBA so as to accommodate senior and working-class citizens. Somebody must come to the rescue of the University! For the records, the list of programs denied accreditation at the University of Abuja aside MBA include, Education Economics, Education English, Education Geography, Education History, Education Social Sciences, Basic Agricultural Economics, Human Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and Computer Science! A federal university in the Capital City cannot train undergraduate students to become professional teachers, doctors and computer scientists in the 21st century? In fact the NUC has warned the affected Universities not to advertise and admit students into the denied programs. Where should our children go? Where do the children of our leaders go for their university education and don’t they read professional courses? I need to be informed because the neglect of our educational system is becoming criminal! Finally, the University of Abuja Medical School deserves special mention because of what was recently reported by the media houses. It is unbelievable that a College that is struggling to improve on her infrastructure to meet the minimum standards prescribed by the National University Commission and the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) could be a victim of brazen power display and ego. It is no longer news that a few weeks ago, bulldozers from the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) acting on instructions ‘from above’ pulled down all the College buildings under construction within the premises of the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada, on the ground that the land on which the structures stood belonged to the FCDA and not the University of Abuja (see attached pictures). The College is therefore back to square one and the students are worst hit! In more civil clime, the College of Medicine, the Teaching Hospital and the School of Nursing share premises and work together for the good of humanity. The University College Hospital, Ibadan, Nigeria is a good example. In the case of the Uniabuja Medical School demolition, every body seems helpless since the order was said to have come ‘from above’! However, there is need for those with transient power to show some decorum and decency especially when the future of young men and women is threatened by their actions. From the way things are going, the Visitor, President Goodluck Jonathan, needs to intervene in the travails of the University of Abuja for a couple of reasons. First, some of the infrastructural challenges are far beyond the management and Council of the institution. Secondly, Abuja has been described by some cynics as ‘no man’s land’ hence, it is not likely that a powerful delegation led by a Governor, an Emir, or a Clergyman for that matter will come visiting the presidential villa or the leadership of the National Assembly to plead for more appropriation to the University of Abuja. Therefore, as an orphan only the initiative and support of the Visitor can solve the infrastructural and manpower challenges of the University. Let the University be a tourist attraction to the lettered and the not-too-lettered visitors to the City! We look forward to that day when the Visitor shall visit the University of Abuja with one of his international guests and say to the guest: ‘This is my adopted alma mata, with which am very pleased and proud’. We dream that one day, the Visitor shall find time to hold a ‘town hall meeting’ with students and staff of the University in a befitting auditorium at the permanent site. We dream that very soon the Visitor shall bring good luck to the University of Abuja, so that the students like their folks at Ibadan, Maiduguri or Port Harcourt shall shout their own slogan: ‘Great Aso Rockites’ (or whatever nickname the students are called). God bless Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, PhD, the Visitor, University of Abuja, as he personally takes interest in the challenges at the University. Charity they say begins at home, Abuja should be considered home to all including Mr. President. Whoever that is close to him should please tell him! Bishop Ekele writes from Jabi, Abuja.