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[OPINION]: University of Abuja: The burden of a 21st century University - Onyeka Nwigwe

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The theme was “A 21st Century University: The role of Science and Technology and the occasion was the 22nd Convocation lecture of the University of Abuja. While it is functional to dwell on this epoch ceremony and the razz – matazz that accompanied it, it is instructive we reflect on the painful history of this institution, its journey from a battered past to a glorious present, and how, what once stood as a symbol of our collective shame was transformed to a citadel and beacon of robust intellectual enterprise.

Before now, not many would envy to be associated with the institution, it’s litany of absurdities in administration, academics and structure – that embarrassed the true intents of its founders, stood in our faces. That these competing negatives ever befell the only tertiary institution in the nation’s capital city, a neighbour to the seat of government betray the crisis of interest in the education sector and government as accomplice.

As a participant observer, this writer is an eye witness to the ignoble past of the institution and understands why Nigerians expected better. And haven eaten the fruit of knowledge from her garden, we can now see succinctly not only our nakedness but that of the nation and comprehend where we need dressing.

The transformation being witnessed cannot be disassociated from the appointment of Professor Michael Adikwu. It is difficult to differentiate the man from the matter, thanks to the past chairman of council, late Samuel Ogbemudia (God bless his soul) who midwived the selection process and delivered on his promise to bring the best.

The registrar, Ms Rifkatu Swanta calls him the “Angel Michael” on a redemptive mission. The school’s new records are testaments to the reformers vision.

A new luxury accommodation in both hostels that students fondly named “Banana Island”, free wi-fi access in strategic locations, an uninterrupted academic calendar is a departure from the past, that students now access results few weeks after resumption is a new high. Integrity now restored to examination process is worthy of note, rules of conduct and appropriate sanction now accompany exam cards that none would claim ignorance.

The impressive library regularly updated was a sanctuary to this writer. At every turn is a construction site, the CDLCE building that once stood as an uncompleted monument for decades is nearing completion.

And after a wilderness journey of more than ten years, the maiden induction of medical students held last December. These are testaments of a university hungry for a 21st century status. Though the world university rankings may be far from acknowledging these developments, it does not invalidate them and we are not unaware the progress made.

In the last three years, the management has sought ideas from far and near in its efforts toward standardization, it has invited a professor, a priest and a philosopher to intellectually engage the community and proffer templates for sustainable development in its convocation lectures.

Professor Oyewale Tomori, the immediate past president of the Nigeria Academy of Science speaking on “A New Generation University: Problems and Prospect” gave us a blueprint for a modern university and lamented that “a university without tradition is a rudderless university without anchor” in his 2015 lecture, the management ran with it.

The fervent intellectual engagement in the campus in faculty seminars, inaugural lectures and annual convocation ceremonies are new rituals in the university calendar. As the only university that accommodates studentship from every village in Nigeria, she has become a melting pot for our diversity and upholds tolerance that has been elusive in the nation’s struggle for unity.

Rev. Matthew Hassan Kukah in “Though Tribe and Tongue may Differ: Managing Diversity”, the 2016 lecturer further warned us of the “narrow mindedness that is reaped when universities are turned into fiefdoms, when we place interests of local communities over and above those of the nation and other citizens”.

Championing the school to take its pride of place in the 21st century, Dr Umar Bindir, advised that until we take science and technology seriously, our journey will be a mirage. It is by providence that these progresses coincide with the thirtieth anniversary of the school. It is high time the Federal government took the University of Abuja seriously.

However, the tedious journey continues. The hiccups experienced should be addressed. Campus shuttle is still chaotic, the Wi – Fi service suffers convulsion, electricity should be constant, the hostels accommodation are overstretched, certificates should be issued at the convocation. Additionally, the lecture halls are grossly inadequate and names of the greater proportion of admitted students should not rhyme with the ethnic cleavage of every incumbent Vice Chancellor.

That the management could only afford handshakes for the sixteen first class graduates – the highest harvest in her history, speaks volume of our national attitude to academic excellence and scant regard for intellectual distinction.

Onyeka Nwigwe writes from Abuja

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