Wigwe University: Retooling Africa’s Education Story

The birth of a world-class university modelled after Oxford-Harvard, by GMD/CEO, Access Corporation Holdings Plc, Dr. Herbert Wigwe, in Isiokpo, Ikwerre, Rivers State, signals the actualisation of a cutting-edge transformation enabler in the South-South region, Nigeria and Africa at large, writes Louis Achi

The boldness of the Wigwe University’s conception speaks to hope in the possibility of transformation of the human condition through bold, informed and specific action.

The license for the University, founded by Dr. Herbert Wigwe, the Group Chief Executive of Access Corporation PLC, the holding company of Access Bank, is among the 37 licenses approved and issued by the National Universities Commission (NUC) on Friday, June 9, 2023.

With NUC’s approval, the dream of the university is officially realised after years of conception, planning and high-octane work. The University is located at Dr. Wigwe’s hometown, Isiokpo, in Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State. It is about 15 minutes’ drive from Port Harcourt International Airport and occupies about a 400-hectare land space in the sub-urban community just 40 minutes from Owerri, the capital of Imo State.

With many of the facilities in the campus built, Wigwe University is about ready to receive its first set of students. “Most of our buildings and facilities are ready or would soon be ready, and we expect to begin lectures in September 2024’’, says an elated Yvonne Victor-Olomu, the chief operating officer of The Herbert Onyewumbu Wigwe (HOW) Foundation, the university’s promoter.

WU is the second private university in the state but unquestionably would be one of the best on the continent when fully completed. Founded in 2016 as a non-profit organization, the foundation is the special purpose vehicle through which Dr. Wigwe executes his numerous philanthropic activities. The HOW Foundation focuses on the critical arenas of education, youth empowerment through leadership and mentorship and health.

Browsing a big hardcover brochure containing pictures of buildings in the massive campus clearly indicates it would be one of the most beautifully landscaped and planned campuses in the world and would change both the economic fortunes and development narrative of the people for good.

Wigwe University will offer courses in Science; Technology (AI, Robotics programmes and other futuristic niches); Engineering; Arts (Creative Arts and science-based Art Programmes such as Gaming and Computer Creative, etc) and Mathematics (STEAM); Management and Social Sciences at the start.

It would then subsequently offer courses in Medical Sciences; Medicine; Law and Post Graduate Degrees. It will have linkage relationships with top foreign universities that would facilitate students’ exchange programs. The thrust of the university is to create leaders and entrepreneurs who will, upon graduation, be focused on creation of jobs, as opposed to job-seeking.

Although there are many universities in the country, they have not substantially filled the void that exists in the nation’s tertiary education. WU is therefore being deliberately and carefully designed to fill these gaps, some of which are outdated curriculum; poor funding; decrepit facilities and infrastructure; poorly paid and motivated workforce.

The motivation for establishing the university was principally borne out of Herbert Wigwe’s burning desires to give back to Nigeria, a country he loves passionately. ‘’He realized that education and healthcare are two areas that his social interventions would make the greatest impact on Nigerians.

In designing the academic and non-academic programs at WU, Dr. Wigwe has hired academicians from top US universities and European institutions to work with experts from across the world, including Nigeria. Undoubtedly, the people of Isiokpo community are enthusiastic about the huge investment coming to their town.

With the 37 newly licensed private universities, there are now 238 universities in the country, of which 147 are private, 43 federal government-owned and 48 state government-owned. But graduates from these institutions face prolonged periods of unemployment because the jobs have dried up and they were never equipped with entrepreneurial skills.

Indeed, the scope of the vision behind Wigwe University, Omueke-Isiokpo, Ikwere, Rivers State, aligns with that of South Africa’s revolutionary first black president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela.

Mandela held that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world and no country can really develop unless its citizens are educated.” He further observed that “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

The unassuming, and accomplished illustrious son of Isiokpo kingdom, Dr. Wigwe, last year told his rapt audience comprising HRM King Blessing A. N. Wagor JP, Nye Nwe Ali Isiokpo, the venerable Isiokpo Council of Chiefs and important cultural and political stakeholders of his native community that the university  will align itself with the standards of globally acclaimed Oxford University and Harvard University with the first set of students starting lectures in September 2024.

Hear him: “A university that would create a new generation of fearless leaders and also be one of the best universities in the continent” and the institution which will have a 24/7 power supply within the campus and contiguous environs and set new continental standards of excellence. 

Dr. Wigwe is today one of the most fearless African financial sector leaders astutely superintending the monstrous growth of the Access Bank Group from a mere commercial bank straight to a continental financial behemoth on its way to global recognition.

The Wigwe University cited in his hometown Isiokpo, would have a 60% local and 40% expatriate faculty population, with about 200 buildings spread over 400 hectares of land. A very unque, exciting dimension is the announcement that students of the university would spend one year abroad getting international exposure.

The University will also undoubtedly spark a great infrastructural development in and around Isiokpo. This will consequently open up not only that region but the whole of South-south to international attention.

The top-flight banker unfolded this ground-breaking project at an inaugural meeting with the Isiokpo Council of Chiefs and other stakeholders in mid-August, 2022.

Dr. Wigwe, incidentally the visitor and Pro-Chancellor of the University, who revealed the transformational project is part of his commitment to community and skills development then introduced Prof. Darlington Didia, an American based University Professor who is also an Ikwerre indigene as the tertiary institution’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor.

The astute banker further told his distinguished audience the project would help develop Isiokpo kingdom and Rivers State while providing the region and country with a pool of world-class human resources. His passion for education and unswerving urge to create a top-notch tertiary nursery of knowledge simply connects with and amplifies Nelson Mandela’s vision for the continent.

Dignitaries present at the event included the Chairman of Ikwerre Local Government Council, Eze, Hon. Samuel Nwanosike, Ph.D, former Rivers State Secretary to the State Government, Dame Aleruchi Cooky-Gam, former ED, Finance and Admin, NDDC, Dr. Christian O. Amadi, Chief I. H. Wigwe, Dr. Ebere Wigwe, Chairman Isiokpo Development Committee, Mr. Eze Wordu, Secretary Isiokpo Council of Chiefs, Hon. Jossy Chie Amadi JP, Chief Charles I. Nsirim – former ED Halliburton, Chief Matthew N. Aleru-former MD, NDBDA, Chief S. C. Owhonda, Chairman, Ogbodo Council of Chiefs, Elder Humphrey Walker and a host of others.

To-date, it’s hardly debatable that Nigeria’s development quandary at this juncture of human history is firmly linked to how cavalierly its leadership has been treating the education of its children. And this has gotten the laser-sharp attention of Dr. Wigwe.  

It is a given that powerful visions pull in ideas, people and other resources. They create the momentum and will to incept imperative changes. They inspire individuals, complementary organizations and institutions to commit, to persist and to give their best. Enlisting this enduring philosophy, Dr. Wigwe has also deployed impeccable professionalism, discipline and persistence to change the traditional narratives in all arenas of human endeavour his paths have intersected.

It is worthy of note is that in setting sail to actualise his tertiary education institution project, Dr. Wigwe certainly is not the kind of personality who stays tamely at the receiving end of received prescriptions. He covets knowledge-driven innovations, proactive engagement with stake-holders and policy makers even in fluid operating environments. Perhaps most importantly he believes in sure-footed, decisive action. These dimensions have been boldly mirrored in the challenging pathways he has trodden.

September 2024 Deadline:

Having set the stern deadline of September 2024 for the start of normal academic activity at the Wigwe Universty, the question of why has Dr. Herbert Wigwe who has given so much of his life to the very challenging banking sector turning his attention to intervening in the troubled tertiary education sector of his country has already been answered.

Cut to the bone, university education is more than the next level in the learning process. It is a critical component of human development globally. It provides not only the high-level skills necessary for every labour market but also the training essential for teachers, doctors, nurses, civil servants, engineers, humanists, entrepreneurs, scientists, social scientists, and a myriad of other personnel which Nigeria and Africa badly need.

It is these trained individuals who develop the capacity and analytical skills that drive local economies, support civil society, teach children, lead effective governments, and make important decisions which affect entire societies.

This is the philosophical and foundational backbone of Wigwe University with which to retool Africa’s education story.

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