The Vice-Chancellor of the Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Prof. Suleiman Bala Mohammed in this interview with Igbawase Ukumba, speaks on the introduction of whistle blowing policy to fight unethical conduct on the campus, and other matters. Excerpts
You recently introduced whistle blowing policy in the Nasarawa State University. Have you started reaping to that effect?
The whistle blowing policy you rightfully observed is one of our overall agenda. It falls under the context of trying to establish or fight unethical conduct on the campus. Because we observed that there are a lot of unethical conduct going on among staff and students. We don’t have so much worry about students, because they appeared to be powerless; once a student is engaged in exams malpractice you can bring him/her before the committee and if found guilty, we can expel him.
But for staff, it is a bit difficult. For lecturers who lecture through proxy, and there are staff who mark their exams through proxy and some don’t even submit results on time. And what we have done, we say look for lecturers and non-academic staff, we must be ethical and must do our jobs properly. And if we don’t do, the victims are the students and the general public. They should have the courage to complain. It is a policy that was launched with the aim of exposing our colleagues teaching and non-teaching staff who are unethical on what they are doing.
Has it yielded any result?
Fantastic results. In fact, we have seen results that are very impressive. One I like to say that it has already 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 evidences all over. People have come here to thank me for what I have done.
Number two, from the dedicated ones, we are able to receive quite a number of complains, and we have been able to track some of them. 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 into the disciplinary process.
Do you have a specific number of culprits?
I don’t have the number, because it is the Deputy Vice- Chancellor, Academics that is handling it.
Approximately, what is the number sir?
Approximately about five or six, are under investigation.
Recently you constituted two committees; one for the establishment of Faculty of Engineering and the other for College of Medicine. How far with the two committees?
So far so good the committees are actually not meant to submit any final reports. We were 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 reports. 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 gotten 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, it will be one of the best in the country.
We have received one observation which is very good. They told us Edo State University has one of the best Faculties of Engineering and Medicine. And I have sent a delegation comprising the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Academics, 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, are the faculties taking off in 2021?
Yes, they are taking off by 2021. We have done a schedule where we hoped that between now to the end of the year, we are going to advertise and recruit staff. We are also going to work on the take-off sites, and by early next year we will invite NUC for visitation and 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 Basic Minimum Standard (BMIS) that NUC normally puts 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 to that, we are guided by the professional body for engineering, that is COREN. For medicine, it is Medical and Dental Council. The two have to come and do accreditation 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 state and private universities, they admit students into the college of medicine, by the time they get to 300 level, they switch them to other disciplines of medicine. How grounded are you that such a thing does not happen in this university?
Yes, incidentally, I had that kind of experience from 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 wanted to demonstrate at the Abuja- Lokoja Highway and it caused a lot of damages. Immediately the federal government had to intervene and they assisted us in solving those problems.
And the problems we also had, we cannot fund the students in other universities because there is a limited number that every college of medicine can accommodate. So the option we had was to distribute them. Of course we had candidates who will tell you that I have been admitted into MBBS and I won’t do any other thing except MBBS. Of course they have the right to ensure justice.
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 visitors.
In fact, when the Conference of Nigeria Alumni Association went for a meeting, what they said was that they are going to give 100 per cent support to ensure that our programmes in engineering and medicine take off.
So we have that support and we don’t have any issue with recruitment of staff. The other one is the issue of building. For engineering our site is in Gudi; complete school structure was handed over to us. The state government built that structures for disable 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. So we have a good structure for engineering.
For medicine, we have awarded 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 Environment. So we want to use the old site for the Faculty of Environment as the take-off site for the Faculty of Medicine which is going to take off on this campus.
So we are going to sort the issue of staffing, we are going to sort the issue of facilities and we are going to sort the issue of books. And we believe that we are good to go. And we are going to have this inspection early in 2021 and we can now have approval to start.
The state government has just directed tertiary institutions in the state to 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 require 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 fumigation or disinfection of 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 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.
Looking at your five point agenda for this institution, you have three years left, which one have you achieved to the latter?
Well, there is supposed to be 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. In building that kind of system is not something you can say it 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 where people can say if you come to Keffi, your ward, I am sure, can go to class base on timetable, take his/her lectures, can write exams based on timetable, if he/she deserves accommodation he/she will easily get accommodation. And if you graduate from Nasarawa State University and come to collect your transcript you will just go online and get it.
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 work in progress. My expectation is that we will keep improving until the time it becomes so obvious to the public to begin to notice.
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 express our appreciation to TETFund who gave us a new befitting ICT block. We have ICT block that is about 1,000 seater capacity.
What of the one donated by Maigida Foundation?
The one donated by Maigida Foundation is for Postgraduate School. But this one is so unique because it is about 1,000 seater capacity. Currently TETFund is training our non-academic staff. So we are gradually getting the infrastructure. We want to ensure that there is campus internet connectivity, once you come to the campus there will be service for you to connect and do what you want.
We want ICT to drive teaching and learning, this is not something you will say you have finished. But towards the end of five years, we should see a considerable progress in the system.
The other ones are the setting up of new programmes. the university is 20 years old. All our contemporaries, including the ones that are junior to us have science based programmes, but ours is tilting towards art or social sciences. That is why we said, look it is time we go into medicine and engineering.
Nobody can contest the need for engineers, medicine and paramedics in the state. If you take statistics of Federal Medical Centre (FMC) here in Keffi, if they will recruit, I am not sure whether people from Nasarawa State will go and apply as doctors. Even paramedics the people that will get it are people that are accountants and administrators.
The governor recently got disturbed when the doctors went on strike and there was appeal for them from the Nasarawa State House of Assembly, by the traditional councils and even by the government for them to show some level of understanding but they didn’t. That is why the governor said look, whatever it will take him to ensure we get this on ground he will do that. By October next year I will say yes I have achieved that one. By April next year, I will be two years and I have more three years, because I started as an acting vice-chancellor for six months.
Let us look at the burning issue in most universities today which has to do with cultism. If you have issue of cultism, 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 gotten 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 a hotel. What we did was to invite the police and the DSS to go and investigate and up to today we have no report to show that we have X, Y and Z 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.
I remember I was in the University of Abuja as a Dean of Students, that was the time we had serious challenge of cultism. In fact, we were complaining that this inter-university transfer they were doing was just bringing cultists and it became so serious. There was inter-cult fight, there were killings and they were beginning to intimidate lecturers so we had to come out openly and fight them and we fought them to a standstill. So I understand what fighting cultism is all about. If a campus is infected by cultists I know. Here, we don’t really have evidence because in the night students move around do their reading and other activities.
If the government says you should go today what will you say is your greatest achievement?
One, I will say I have been able to build a roadmap that will take this university to greatness in the next five years. This roadmap 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. This document is there, it is a living document, we are going to be adjusting it manually. For me, it is something that I have done and I feel good about it. 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 have understood that we want to expand the science base of our university and 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 college of medicine and faculty of engineering is not going to be revised. It has reached an irreversible stage and I feel good about it.
I also feel good that we are entrenching the rule of law, we are fighting arbitration and impunity. And a lot of students are appreciating what we are doing in that regard. We are doing some projects on transparency, the students know that and the members of the community know that.
I am also happy that we have started fight against some unethical conduct and this fight is known among the members of the community and even outside. For the mere fact we have launched that war, it has 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 we will reach the promised land.