In this interview, the Chairperson, Implementation Committee, Ambrose Alli University Inaugural Global Awards and Fundraising 2018, Mr. Richard George speaks about the alumni’s plan to build a fit for purpose examinations and records hall estimated to cost N350 million for the university, as well as the need for alumni associations to contribute towards the development of state-funded institutions. Excerpts:

How important and relevant is the award programme to your alma mater and to members of the association and is this what you truly need now to be a formidable association comparable to the biggest, vibrant and prominent alumni associations of the world?

The relevance of this award programme cannot be overstated. First it presents the alumni community globally the opportunity to come together for the very first time since the university was formally established in 1981. Second to recognise those who have contributed and continue to do so in various spheres of human endeavour at various levels of society in the last 37 years is a long overdue exercise.

While some alumni members may argue legitimately that it is not what we (alumni and university) need; it however gives energy and focus to the alumni’s strategy as a stakeholder and draws attention to the university itself – as it creates an enablement for alumni members, branches and chapters (both home and in the diaspora) to begin to align and synergise their strategies for contributing to the advancement of knowledge that is central to the vision and mission of AAU (formerly Bendel and Edo State University, Ekpoma, Nigeria).

How do you hope to increase the connections among alumni of all divisions in recognition of a ‘one university’ approach to the future?

The incumbent President, Professor Edward Omi Ujuanbi has made this a legacy of his administration and in the last two years alone, grown the alumni community (chapters and branches) both nationally and internationally; USA and UK respectively. What I have found most appealing is the president and the National Executive Council’s commitment to ‘one university’ approach built on peace, equity, fairness, transparency and accountability. This is what has endeared me and perhaps given me reassurance that the future of the alumni is bright if we continue along this path. My commitment in this regard is therefore non-negotiable. While the various branches and chapters operate as autonomous units taking into account local socio-cultural quirks and nuances of their base of operation, there is a centralised constitution that supersedes as a reference point for conduct, guidelines and boundaries. The key therefore is compliance. Herein lies the point of convergence.

In what manner do you wish to increase their connections with the university?

The connections with the university already exists in various guises with various class of graduates or individuals, chapters and branches contributing in various forms to the infrastructural development of the university. A very good example is the auditorium built exclusively and donated to the university by Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, an alumnus. An interesting point to mention here is that as recent as November 2016, I visited the university for the first time since graduating in 1987. I used the occasion to present before the university’s management some concerns of the alumni community. I am proud to state on record that the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Administration) Professor Jude Agho, who chaired the meeting, has worked tirelessly and continues to do so to address some of these grievances. What we must be mindful of however is that AAU is a state funded university and therefore totally reliant on government subventions. The alumni want to help the university engage gear and make a paradigm shift. By that I mean if we can contribute our widow’s mite then the burden will lessen. We can only do this as a collective body and remain apolitical while doing so.

Will the forum provide an occasion to discuss the state of the university and important issues that need urgent attention if any?

Yes. The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ignatius Onimawo and our alumni President, Professor Omi Ujuanbi will be expected to deliver overview speeches. We do not however intend to make the occasion one of speeches. We want to create an interactive and thought-provoking experience while enjoying ourselves at the same time. The university has come a long way. Let’s celebrate the successes of its diverse peoples while keeping an eye on matters arising such as fundraising to build a fit for purpose examinations and records hall estimated to cost N350 million. We need the support of everyone to realise this project.

What so far have been the achievements of AAU?

The achievements of AAU cannot be listed here as I would run out of space. It remains till date the pioneer state university that has blazed the trail in Nigeria. If anything, the quality of its products that are doing so well in various fields globally serves as a reference point. Indeed its greatest achievement is perhaps one of continued advancement of knowledge through delivery of its accredited academic programmes.

Are you considering any endowment or research support for the university now or in the future?

I am not qualified to answer this question as I am only a trustee of the alumni association. I am confident that our president will or may have a thing or two to say in this regards. All I would say however is that my experience as an alumnus in my UK university, this is certainly a path we have towed with great success.

The university’s peer institutions are all moving forward with their initiatives and all strive to provide the best academic experience for their students. Does this tell you anything?

Yes it does. Hence we are embarking on this bold move. AAU alumni or indeed the university is not in competition with any institution. However, where we feel there are shared values and best practices of benefit, we would adopt same as a way of repositioning our strategic outlook. Note however that as a state funded university we must work within the state’s budgetary constraints. This is an accepted reality we cannot shy away from.

What would you consider to be your source of joy looking back to the 80s and the quality of the university’s undergraduate and postgraduate programmes? Would you say you are satisfied with your alma mater?

In answer to your first question, my source of joy is in the fact that so many pioneer alumni members of this great university are now working together and collaboratively to build a strong, virile alumni with robust processes and systems in place. This is testament to the quality of the undergraduate and postgraduate programmes that most of us were schooled in during the formative years of the university. Late Professor Ambrose Alli of blessed memory certainly wanted the best, attracted the best brains to Ekpoma to build a world class institution. Our lawyers for example represent a cohort of the finest brains in the legal profession.

Satisfied is not a word I would use loosely. Suffice to say I am very pleased with the work Professor Omi Ujuanbi’s led National Executive Council are doing, the efforts and ongoing mobilisation at local branch and chapter levels by the various chairpersons. However, it remains a work in progress. What is most important is that everyone plays their part with gravitas and commitment because this is a marathon race rather than a sprint.

What would you consider to be AAU’s strengths and what is its future direction?

AAU’s strength is in the diversity of its people. The future direction will be to continue exploring this strength through collaboration, cooperation and coordination with a view to making continued progress. This will only be achieved by visionary leadership.

How is the programme funded?

We have been very fortunate in this regard. Our primary sponsor is Keystone Bank (Nigeria) PLC whose MD/CEO is an alumnus. We have also identified one or two other sponsors but have yet to receive any feedback. We remain hopeful and positive. Further, we are exploring other ways to raise funds besides individual contributions from members and branches. I would like to use this opportunity to encourage any organisation or high net worth individual(s) that considers partnering or sponsoring this event to please get in touch via our website: www.aaualumni.org. Nothing is too small and we will in turn create a mutually beneficial working platform for such organisations and corporations as part of corporate social responsibility.

What is the date, venue and scope of the event?

The date is September 15, 2018 at the MUSON Centre, Lagos; the scope of the event once ratified by the National Executive Council (NEC) of the alumni will be published on our website and subsequent press releases.

Are you expecting any special guest?

Yes, as a state university our special guest of honour will be the Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki. There will be other eminent personalities notably the son of the university’s founder.