Prof. Suleiman Bala Mohammed is the Vice Chancellor of Nasarawa State University, Keffi, In this interview, he spoke on his first two years in office, plans for the expansion of the university among other things.
By David Odama
WHAT informed the whistle blowing policy introduced by your administration, what is it meant to achieve?
The whistle blowing policy as you rightly observed is one of our cardinal and critical agenda which falls under the context of trying to establish our fight against unethical conduct on the campus. Because we observed that there were lots of unethical conduct especially amongst staff and students. Though we don’t have much worry about students, because they appear to be powerless. Once a student is engaged in examination malpractice, you can bring him or her before the committee and if found guilty, we expel or rusticate such a student.
But for the staff, it is a bit difficult because some lecturers lecture by proxy and some staff mark their examinations through proxy and some don’t even submit results on time. It is a policy that was launched with the aim of exposing our colleagues, teaching as well as non-teaching staff, who are unethical in what they do.
What have you achieved from this policy?
Fantastic results. In fact, we have seen results that are very impressive. One, I like to say that it has been able to serve as a deterrent. The mere fact that we have launched that policy, a lot of our colleagues have retracted from what they were doing and I have evidence all over. People have come here to thank me for what I have done.
Number two, from the dedicated lines we are able to receive quite a number of complaints. We have been able to track some of them. And we have found some of them to be genuine and they are at certain levels of investigation. We will investigate them and those that we find culpable, we will put them in the disciplinary process.
Do you have a specific number of the culprits?
I don’t have the number, because it is the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academics, that is handling it.
Approximately, about five or six are under investigation.
Recently, you constituted two committees; One for Faculty of Engineering and the other for the College of Medicine, how far have the two committees gone?
So far so good, the committees are actually not meant to submit any report. We are actually supposed to be working with them until we admit students in October, 2021. It is a committee that is supposed to assess what we are doing and submit report. They have submitted their first report which actually dealt with the schedule we submitted to them and their overall observations about our regulatory agencies, We have got those reports and we are working with them. You see, our plan is that the committee is made up of experts, professors as well as practitioners and we are supposed to be working with them based on what we have in place. They will make their own observations and contributions that by the time we set or we begin these programmes, they will be among the best in the country.
We have received one observation which is very good. They told us that Ambrose Alli University in Edo State has one of the best faculties of engineering and medicine and I have sent a delegation comprising the Deputy Vice Chancellor Academics, the Registrar and the Dean of Engineering to go and observe and they said it is marvelous. We are going to pick some of the best practices there.
So when are the faculties taking off?
The facilities are taking-off by 2021. We have done a schedule, where we hope that between now and the end of the year, we are going to advertise and recruit staff. We are also going to work on the take-off sites. By early next year, we will invite NUC to come and carry out a visitation, once they visit, hopefully they will give us the go ahead so that JAMB can include them in the brochure for next year’s admission and we will admit by October, 2021.
How many staff are you willing to recruit?
There is usually what we call BMS (Basic Minimum Standard), that NUC normally put in place which deals with number of staff per department and equipment per department, library materials and so on. We are actually guided by that. In addition, we are also guided by the professional body for engineering, that is COREN, for Medicine it is Medical and Dental Council. The two have to come and carry out accreditation for us and we are working closely with them. In fact, in our steering committees, we had representation from these two professional bodies.
From experience in other states and private universities, they will admit students into the College of Medicine, by the time they get to three hundred level, they will switch them to other disciplines of Medicine, how grounded are you in this aspect?
Yes, incidentally, I had that kind of experience in the University of Abuja where I came from. At the University of Abuja, we set up College of Medicine, we were very ambitious. Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Faculty of Agriculture and Faculty of Engineering, four at the same time and we ran into the problem of funding, we ran into the problem of facilities and the students went on to demonstrate at the Abuja – Lokoja highway. It caused a lot of damage. Immediately the federal government had to intervene and they assisted us in solving those problems.
In our own case, we are thinking not of that. We have done our planning in terms of staffing. We are able to work with the government and we have the approval of the government and that of our Visitor.
So, we have that support and we don’t have any issues with recruitment of staff. The other one is the issue of building. For engineering, our site is in Gudi, a complete school structure was handed over to us. The state government built that structure for the disabled, but they have handed over the structure to us. So, what we require in that place is simply to realign the structure to meet the need of engineering and make additional workshops. We have a good structure for Engineering.
For Medicine, we have given contract for the construction of the first phase of the College of Medicine. But meanwhile, we have identified a new site. We have a new site for the Faculty of Environmental Studies. We want to use the old site for the Faculty of Environmental Studies as the take-off site for the Faculty of Medicine, which is going to take off on this campus.
The state government has just given directives that tertiary institutions in the state should resume, how prepared are you?
We are prepared. We have been working with the state government first as a team, with all the tertiary institutions in the state we are working together. We are also working together with the ministry to ensure that there is safe resumption. In the course of our working together, we discussed with the government on the need to assist the institutions to get the health protocol facilities required by the task force of the state and the federal government. We have worked with the government and I want to report that they have given us that assistance.
Government has also taken up the responsibility of fumigating the environment. They have also taken the responsibility of training of our health staff and other staff on the health protocol.
That is why virtually all the tertiary institutions in the state, apart from the university have announced the date of their resumptions. College of Education Akwanga, Polytechnic and College of Agriculture, have announced the date of resumption.
In our case, we are having the challenge of strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). We are hopeful that this strike will end very soon. They are meeting soon; we hope that they will have a common ground. I am sure the pressure is on all of them, both ASUU and the federal government. Our students are at home for a very long time now, once the strike is suspended we will call a Senate meeting to look at the calendar. We have to adjust it and we have to amend it.
You have three years to end your tenure, looking at your five-point agenda for this institution, which of the agenda have you achieved?
There are ongoing projects that we are supposed to achieve at the end of the first year. Some of them are not something we can conclude, but we have set the machinery. For example, we want to build a university system. Building a university system, you have to have a system which is guided by the rule of law. Guided by the rule of law means that the regulations that are so stated, are the ones that will guide the relationship of all staff of the university. We also said the system has to be based on accountability and transparency.
Building that kind of system is not something you can say will be built at the end of one or two years, our expectation is that over time we will be able to have a university people are proud of.
In other words we want to see a system that is guided by rules and regulations and there is some openness in what we are doing. This is one of the core tasks that I set for myself. We have been working on it and it is really a work in progress. My expectation is that we will keep improving until the time it becomes so obvious to the public.
Another issue is on ICT. You cannot build a 21st Century university without having effective ICT unit. It is work in progress. I want to give our appreciation to TETFUND who gave us a new befitting ICT block. We have an ICT block that is about one thousand seater capacity.
Let us look at the burning issues in most universities today, which has to do with cultism. How fair is your school, how many of such students have been rusticated or punished?
I can say without any contradiction that we don’t have serious challenge of cultism, this is not to say that they may not be in existence, but they are not so pronounced. If they are operating they are doing so underground. We have got that clue, because there is one hotel where somebody was killed, and it had the footprint of cult related killing. But of course it was outside the campus, it was in an hotel. What we did was to invite the Police and the DSS to go and investigate and up until today, we have no report to show that we have ‘XYZ’, who are suspected to be cultists. So, if they are there, they are underground and we are also watching to see whether they show their face. If they do, I am very sure we will deal with them.
If the government relieves you of your duties today, what will you proudly say that you have achieved, What legacies are you leaving behind?
One, I will say I have been able to build a road map that will take this university to greatness in the next five years. This road map is the one that is so inclusive that we debated it at Senate, at Faculties, at Departments and we convinced stakeholders and presented these documents.
For me, it is something that I have done and I feel good about. Even if I am not here today, there are a lot of our staff who are part and parcel of that work plan, and who will also be able to continue with it.
Secondly, we have shown the world our intent and I am sure a lot of colleagues understood that we want to expand the science base of our university. It is known all over the state and it is known all over the Keffi community. The government is giving us all the necessary support. I want to say that the project of establishing a College of Medicine and a Faculty of Engineering, is not going to be reversed. It has reached an irreversible stage, and I feel good about it.
I am also happy that we have started the fight against some unethical conduct, and this fight is known among the members of the community and even outside. For the mere fact that we have launched that war, it has an immediate impact and I want to say that whatever we do, we try to carry stakeholders along.
So, I feel good about this because we have started. We have not yet reached maturity and fruition, but at least I can say that something is on ground, and the community is aware and it is just a matter of time before we reach the promised land.
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