Amid the shutdown, University of Abuja is enjoying a face lift, writes Dave Omahi Gabriel

The 10-month-old strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic have seemingly connived to launch assaults on the country, especially the Nigerian universities. In all of these assaults, the students are the worst hit.

While the effect of Covid-19 is much mitigated and life seemed to have relatively come to normal, the strike has lingered for too long, leaving in its trail boredom, redundancy among students, dislocation, distortion of academic calendar and delay in admission of candidates into various universities. It may be hard to recover from these effects, but it could be worse if the physical and infrastructural conditions of universities remain unchanging or decrepit, without any improvement.

The management of any tertiary institution which appreciates the essence of building and maintenance of the physical and intellectual structures of their schools will not only be doing itself a great service, but helping to boost the morale and confidence of staff and students.

One university that can be said to understand this strategy and seems to be preparing itself along this line or refusing to have its development stagnated in the midst of the pandemic and ASUU strike, is the University of Abuja. Since March 2020, at the outset of the Covid -19 outbreak, the management of the university under the leadership of its Vice-Chancellor, Professor Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah, has been carrying out impressive development in the institution, so much so that by the time students resume anytime soon, they will notice that the university they left many months ago, is now taking a new shape and wearing a new look. They will notice, for instance, that the university gate on the main campus has been given a face lift; they will also notice that roads are being constructed and renovated.

In fact, as you go around the campuses today, you are likely to see several buildings dotting the landscape in attractive magnificence. Though a couple of the structures were said to have been started by the previous administration in the university, what is striking is that they are being completed and many new ones are being initiated by the present management of the university.

Using the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the university, the administration of Professor Na’Allah started Academic Conference Centre, installation of street lights and completion of the Institute of Legislative Studies. Other works include extension of electricity from academic core to the Institute of Education, access road from academic core to Agric Farm and Staff Quarters (Appropriation). Through the determination and doggedness of this professor of Comparative Literature, the six primary projects abandoned by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in 2017 have been recently resuscitated and the contractors mobilised back to site. The projects include Postgraduate School, Postgraduate hostels, ICT centre, Faculty of Science, Faculty of Engineering and Medical Hostel, in Gwagwalada. Perhaps, by far the greater aspect of infrastructural developments are the projects coming through the interventions of TETFUND, an institution which the administration of Professor Na’Allah is leveraging his goodwill to heavily draw support from for the development of the institution. The new constructions that are taking off are the Faculty of Law 500- capacity lecture theatre, academic office complex for Faculty of Law, 150-capacity lecture theatre for Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Academic Staff Complex for Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Academic Office Complex for Faculty of Basic Clinical Science, and Academic Office Complex for Faculty of Agriculture, all of them advancing rapidly. Two constructions that have been completed are the academic staff office for Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (Needs Assessment Fund), the Faculty of Management Science Phase II, Departmental Buildings for Faculty of Pharmaceuticals, Provision of farm house and other associated facilities at the Agriculture Teaching Farm.

Professor Na’Allah had hit the ground running shortly after he assumed office in July, 2019 inspiring staff and students to work towards making the university great. Given the pace at which the management of the university under his leadership is moving, it is only a matter of time before we see more revolutionary changes from the man whose desire has been to make Uniabuja a world class university. And this vision is not far-fetched, because Na’Allah’s legacy at Kwara State University (KWASU), Malete, where he directed the affairs of the institution for 10 years to an enviable point before being appointed to head Uniabuja, speaks for him.

However, commendable as these developments in the university are, so far, they will not immediately make the it an Oxford or Cambridge. But then again, you need to know where the university is coming from to appreciate the heights the vice-chancellor and the university management is probably taking the university.

Established in 1988, University of Abuja started academic activities in 1990, and for so many years, it was cocooned in some blocks of building in Gwagwalada, making critics derogatively describe it as “glorified secondary school,” until 2009, when it was relocated to the main campus. Anyone who has followed the trajectory of the university will arguably submit that series of wrongheaded leadership is largely responsible for why the university is not so highly rated. It has been responsible for its slow pace of development, poor infrastructure, underdeveloped classes, sparsely constructed buildings with poor aesthetics, etc., all of which reasonably hurts your sense of decency and architectural aesthetics. Chairman of the TETFund Board of Trustees, Alhaji Kashim Ibrahim-Imam alluded to this poor status of the university when he toured it sometime in November 2020. “What I saw when I went round the faculties was not acceptable for a premier university,” he said, adding that the University of Abuja should be much better than what it is now. And this is the truth. While we revile this present state, at least, we are excited about the heart warming, promising changes taking place. They do point to the fact that if they continue this way, more good things will come. As a student of this university, I am feeling proud that soon I will be feeling unashamed of associating myself with it.

Of course, I see the quality of leadership that the present administration is providing in the University Abuja as desirable, and I think it should be encouraged by well-meaning Nigerians so that these development and changes can continue in this stream.

The support from government now, particularly TETFund, National Universities Commission (NUC) and other government bodies should be steadier and fuller. Even though all Nigerian public tertiary institutions should deserve serious support from the goodwill of these bodies, all hands must be on deck to help change the status of the University of Abuja to the one that befits the only public university in the Federal Capital Territory and invariably into a world class status. Because you can’t continue to have a university in the FCT with unbecoming looks and compares to everything that contemporary university should not be.

I like the confession of the Chairman, Board of Trustees of TETfund, Alhaji Ibrahim-Imam, the day he visited the school. “This is a unique university and I have already announced that we are very concerned about the status of this university and we are going to develop it to a world-class university. I am going to take a personal and particular, partial and bias interest in developing the University of Abuja”.

Gabriel is a Law student, University of Abuja