- More than 600 FUT Lecturers are on Various Masters, PhD Programs at Home, Abroad
- We have Executed well over 23 World Class Projects, Ready to be Commisioned Soon
- We have Developed, Patented Mobile Laboratory to Serve Institutions in Need in Nigeria
- FUT First to Launch ‘Students Work Programme’, ‘Benevolent’ Fund for Indigent Students
- We have Perfected, Signed MoU with Urban Shelter to Provide 5000 Students’ Bed Spaces
- We have Developed a Multi Sim Card Prototype to Pot all Networks Instead of Using 2-3 Sims
- We have Developed Computerized Walking Stick for Old People which also Measures BP, HB etc.
- ASUU Should Stop Contradicting Self on Tuition Fees, Wants Union to Fight for Members’ Salary
By Samson Yaki & Usman Muhammad
The Vice Chancellor of Federal University of Technology, Minna, Niger State, Professor Abdullahi Bala, in our Maiden ‘Star Vice Chancellor’ exclusive interview, shortly before the Institution’s 30th Convocation Ceremony, spoke on a wide range of issues that included the objective of setting up the University, it’s pace setting role as a third generation University, his achievements within the span of four years and several other sundry issues of National and Academic interest.
One very important aspect that the Vice Chancellor touched in the interview, apart from the University’s several ground breaking researches and ‘Award Winning Inventions’ that the federal government needs to celebrate and be proud of, is the hard facts and personal opinion on what he sees as a contradictory and faulty approach of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, in fighting for the rights of its teaming and highly committed, loyal and innocent members.
Professor Bala who did not mince words in expressing his views on problems facing Nigerian Universities,
lamented government’s indifference towards the plight of Public Institutions. He also spoke on what both the government and several stakeholders that included, particularly, parents and students, need to do to salvage Nigerian Universities. He however opined that even though ASUU and the Federal government hardly agree on many issues, they share the same retrogressive opinion on banning Universities from charging Tuition Fees, without which the nation’s Universities will continue to experience paucity of funds
EM: Sir, can you tell us how your Academic journey started, and catapulted you to the position of Vice Chancellor of FUT Minna?
- The Academic journey for every individual starts from the home.
The initial and most critical phase of one’s life is with the parents. Before I formally went to school, I started with the Qur’anic education until I was 7 years old before we were sent to the primary school. We didn’t go through nursery school that time. We went to primary one straight.
I attended Dawaki Primary School Suleja in Niger State between 1973 and 1979. From there, I went to Federal Government College Minna between 1979 and 1984. In 1984, I proceeded to the School of Basic Studies Zaria for my A Level, after which I got admission into the Faculty of Agriculture, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, to read Bachelor of Agricultural Science.
I graduated in 1989 with a First Class degree and proceeded for my National Youth Service in plateau state and completed in 1990. Thereafter, I secured appointment with the Federal University of Technology Minna, as an Assistant Lecturer on 10th of January, 1991, since then, I have been a staff of this University.
In the process, I was privileged to be sponsored for study fellowship for my Postgraduate Program under Commonwealth scholarship. I had my Masters in Soil Chemistry between 1992 and 1993 at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom; I did my PhD in the University of London between 1995 and 1999 where I graduated with a PhD in Soil Biology.
As a staff of the University, I went through the ranks and became a Professor of Soil Science in 2010.
Along the line, I served in different capacities as Director, Centre for Preliminary and Extra Moral Studies in 2007 and 2009. I was appointed Deputy Vice Chancellor, Administration in 2012, then Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academics, and finally Vice Chancellor in 2017.
EM: Recently, you celebrated, though low keyed, your 4th Anniversary as VC, what can you proudly say, are your major achievements in those eventful years?
VC: Let me start by appreciating God that the four years have been very eventful. Sometimes I find it difficult to say that these are my major achievements, because people, most often, want to judge your achievement, perhaps by the kinds of buildings that you have. But, as a University, some of the achievements that may be critical to the University may be more of the soft in nature. That is human capital development, curriculum development and the rest of them. So, looking at that component I would say in terms of accreditation of programmes for example, we’ve done a lot. When we came in there were two programmes – Physics Education and Geography Education – that had been denied accreditation, today, those programmes have full Accreditation.
There were other programmes that became delisted as a result of government policy. So, we sat down and re-strategized and did some alignments by looking at the curriculum to make sure it is consistent with the mandate of the University. Today, we have five programmes that came out of those comatose ones with the approval of the National Universities Commission (NUC).
We have also introduced new programmes which include Information Communication Technology, Mining Engineering and Petroleum and Gas Engineering and we are admitting students into those programmes this year. Of course, that is a major achievement in terms of accreditation and programmes development. We have also had a lot of successes in terms of staff development. We have about 600 of our staff at different levels of fellowships ranging from Masters to PhD degrees. Of course, some of our non-academic staff have also been sent on different trainings for capacity development.
The other component which is the major mandate of the University is in Research. We have seen over 200% increase in the number of research grants that have been procured by the university.
As at the time we came in, the number of patents was almost zero. But today we have five approved patents and there are almost ten that are in different stages of processing. So, we have seen huge link in the number of patents that the staff of the University have been able to get; and we are currently working on speeding up some of the projects.
There is a particular project called Mobile Laboratory which has attracted high interest from the public and is gradually becoming a speed off company for the university because we have patented it and we are already selling the products both to government and non-governmental Institutions. It is meant to be used when you don’t have well developed laboratory especially in secondary Schools. Currently, we are doing some projects with the Kaduna state government running into millions of naira in the provision of mobile laboratory equipment to all the schools in the state. All the schools in the state are going to be furnished with that technology.
Then another component is community development. We have been conducting ICT training since for secondary Schools in virtually all the Emirate Councils in the state since 2017. We teach the students on computer appreciation. We have also done a lot of Youth empowerment training at the center for entrepreneurship development. All of those programmes are important because they are derived from the mandate of university.
It is a fact that for us to discharge our duties well we need an enabling environment. In this, we have to provide equipment, buildings and other infrastructure for the university, and we are happy that through various interventions, be it TETFund, NEEDS Assessment, or Public-Private Partnership, we are able to come up with a number of projects, that today about 23 projects will be conservatively commissioned during our forthcoming convocation. I said conservatively because there are other projects that we feel there’s no need commissioning them. The projects to be commissioned are in sum total, going to allow the university to relocate three schools from the Bosso Campus to the main Campus at Gidan Kwano. The Schools of Applied Science, Physical Science and Post Graduate studies will be moved to Gidan Kwano Campus.
This will take place before the end of the first quarter of this year.
Similarly, we have been able to attract some investment from the private sector in the provision of hostels. We are in partnership with the Urban Shelter to provide about 5000 bed spaces for students. We also have Shelter Suits and Hotels who are going to provide standard hotel at Gidan Kwano Campus for us. There are buildings, laboratory equipment, multimedia equipment and other things that run into millions of naira that we have provided and we are happy that we have achieved that.
During the Fourth Anniversary celebration, we did a review of our activities for the previous years. We were able to review about five policies that were introduced by the University Council. We have been able to have a policy of Intellectual Property Right – a policy on anti-sexual harassment. We have about five different policies for advancement that can help us attract Funds for the University.
First, we have been able to launch the Benevolent Fund which will be opened for donations, both by the members of the University and outside the University community. The essence of the Fund is to support indigent students who are not able to pay their registration or upkeep in the University. We are doing that out of the desire to make sure that no student drops out of the University due to financial difficulties. Anybody can apply for it but we have to go through rigorous screening to make sure the person is in need of the fund. Another policy that was also launched is about student support services.
This service is aimed at providing services and enabling environment for learning for students. It is also known as student work programme.
This is for students who are able to pay for their registration but need some funds for upkeep. Since we have different works going on in the university, the student support services can register students for specific works in the university. Some of us that studied outside the country engaged in such things.
For example, you may spend two hours in the library replacing books that have been used, and at the end of the day you are paid some stipends, and that helps you going. So, that is the essence of the Study-Work-Programme as opposed to Benevolent Fund. The Benevolent Fund is for Indigent students while the Work Support is for those that want additional income.
The programme can help in the students’ career, furthering of their education, and the rest of them.
Another policy that we have launched is One-Programme-One-Product policy which is in line with the mandate of the University in community development. To say that the University will be 40 years in 2023, we want to make sure that the immediate communities get the impact of the University through technological products that are being developed in the University. So, this particular policy demands every department to come up with one product/technology deriving from the pool of expertise in that department that can make available a product that the University can use. For example, ICT, the Computer department can continue to organise ICT training for youths, Education department has started Spelling bee competition and extra moral classes for secondary Schools around, and other departments with their different technologies. This means bringing out technology that people can feel this is coming out from Federal University of Technology Minna.
We have given every department up to the end of March this year to register what it wants to work on as part of their own product for the department. It’s not as if we’ve not been doing anything No! Various departments have been doing many things, for example, the department of horticulture in conjunction with the National Seed Council organised a field day for farmers around Gidan Kwano, demonstrating new varieties of maize, pepper, etc, with high yield, disease resistant varieties.
The University has different expertise in different areas and wants to make sure that the expertise is brought to bear in the kinds of policies and products that the University can offer to the immediate community and the country at large.
EM: Specialized Universities like yours are often founded with particular objectives, what was the objective of setting up FUT Minna, and how can you say the University has achieved its objective/s?
VC: The University has done very well in terms of development of technologies. Sometimes in the 1990s it is from this University that we were able to develop Typhoid Fever Vaccine. Of recent, we have a number of products that are around us especially in the communication sector, we have so many prototypes for the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC). For Example, we have a multi SIM Card prototype. You know, because of the problem of network, one person tends to have 2 or 3 lines rather than just one line. So, we have developed a SIM Card that would allow you to pot from one GSM Service to another without having to buy many SIM Cards. Wherever you are, the service that is most effective will be the one on the phone. We are in the process of further development and then commercialization. We also have computerised walking stick for old people instead of the ordinary walking stick. The computerised walking stick would allow you to measure your blood pressure, heartbeat and provides balanced movement.
In fact, the problem is the technology but the problem has been the issue of commercialization, how to get it to the people. That’s why we are strictly working on a Triple Helix System that will bring together the government, industries and the university to work in a manner that any technology that is developed, gets to the consumer through private sector participation. We have a lot of programmes that are ongoing, we have the artificial intelligence for clean energy. It is a research group in the university. They are working on a project that provides an interface with the industries. Even in the Military, we are part of most of what they are doing.
EM: Many Vice Chancellors find it difficult to administer their Universities effectively in recent years due to paucity of funds. How do you cope at FUT Minna?
VC: Well, funding would always be a problem especially because we are public funded Institutions, and funding from government is always limited. You know because of certain policies of government, there would always be the problem of funding. For instance, government has a policy that government Institutions should not charge tuition fees. If you look at Universities all over the world, their major source of funding comes from Tuition Fees. But, here, government does not allow Tuition Fees. There is nothing like free lunch, somebody must pay for that education. If parents and students are not paying, then government must pay or there must be some other means by which you pay.
Government is doing its best in terms of provision of funds for salaries and emoluments. They take care of that one 100%. Not that we are 100% happy with that, No! But once you have an X number of staff in the university, government would pay fully for that. They give little for overhead which is where the problem is because that is where the bulk of the expenditure comes from. We had to supplement that with service charges that are imposed on students. But universities cannot rely on plain charges alone. So, ordinarily, Universities should be generating millions out of researches. That is why we are putting emphasis on making sure that we have proper intercourse with industries so that whatever products that are coming out and patented and you licensed it to a company, you will be getting royalties from that. And once you have so many of these research products coming out, you are sure of getting money from them. But unfortunately that is the major area that has largely remains untapped.
We are doing our best and we are getting a leaf from that just as I told you before about what we are doing with Kaduna state government and other agencies.
Of course we also use special purpose vehicles for revenue generations. The partnership with Shelter Suits and Hotels that I mentioned earlier is also revenue generations. We have water plants (both sachet and bottle) and other areas that are supposed to be generating revenue.
There are different ways by which Universities strive to survive, and of course, we also have to reach out to donors and philanthropists in the provision of equipment, buildings and landed properties that the university source from. So, there are different ways by which we get funds to augment what we get from the government.
EM: There is trending campaign by some Professors within and outside Nigeria that emphasis should be given to skills development in Tertiary Institutions instead of certificates alone. What is your take on this?
VC: Universities all over the world have specific purposes, and Universities are areas of knowledge generation. The issue of entrepreneurship is something that is just creeping into our own lexicon now. We have a policy where the Universities are to generate largely theoretical and philosophical undertones for national development while others like polytechnics are there to do the real hands on work. But now it is becoming clear that even the Universities should learn the hands on works experience and that is the essence of having the entrepreneurship centres, because what we have as part of curriculum recently is insufficient to impart that entrepreneurial skills that are expected. The NUC Curriculum just provided nine units for entrepreneurship which is nothing in terms of actual impartation of knowledge and entrepreneurial skills. But I know that NUC is currently working on improving that so that there would be more input into the entrepreneurship. But what we do now is to have the entrepreneurship centres to collaborate with a number of organisations, NGOs and other agencies so that we provide training for the students to help them develop that entrepreneurship mindset. We need to help them conceive ideas that can be turned into businesses even before they leave school, so that when they are leaving school, they already have a business idea that they want to pursue rather than waiting for government to employ them.
Every week if you go to the entrepreneurship Centre, you will see them having different kinds of programmes that are meant to develop the skills of the students. In fact, most of our students are already into businesses. So, when they go there they want to develop more than entrepreneurship skills. We train some of them to get loans from government entrepreneurship programmes that are available and they are doing very well and we are making sure that beyond what they are taught in the classroom, they learn real life situations and challenges of business development are also imparted on them to prepare them for the world outside the University.
EM: ASUU and other education experts are opposed to the proliferation of universities in Nigeria due to government’s refusal to fund existing ones. What is your opinion on this as a university administrator?
VC: Well, I don’t want to put myself into that frame, I want to look at it this way. Currently in Nigeria, I think over one million Nigerians apply for admission into University every year, and, at the end of the day, they go through JAMB.
May be only about 40% of that number may end up getting admission. Others may still have to go out seeking for admission elsewhere. Very often, you hear people say they didn’t pass JAMB. No! It’s just that by the way JAMB operates, once the process is done, the one million we are talking about are qualified for admission into University but the number of placement in the Universities is such that it is insufficient to accommodate everybody.
So, there’s the need to create more chances so that our youth can actually have the benefit of University education. Now the question is, how do you do it?
Government has liberalised the education sector so that today you have private universities coming to play their very roles. Unfortunately, what we have from the private universities, may be because of high cost of registration, is that, despite the fact that they account for more than 50% of all universities in Nigeria, in terms of total enrollment into private universities, i think they just account for less than 10%. So there is still a huge gap in terms of what the private universities can do in mopping up these extra ones. There are certain courses that the private universities will never go into because they are not profitable and the country needs expertise in such areas, so government must continue to provide opportunities for students to come into the University.
Maybe what ASUU may have problem with is that existing Universities are not properly funded and then they are creating new ones. Well, they may have a case in that but I, in particular, looking at it philosophically, ideally, a University should not rely wholly on government for funding. There are many means or ways by which a University can generate its own funds. There is no law that prevents us from going out to generate funds for the University. So, what we would be doing is that in as much as new Universities are being created, there should be a manner in which they are put in a pathway where they are expected to generate certain funds to support their activities rather than relying on government.
Of course the reality is that government cannot do it alone. There is no country where you expect that only government can fund Universities. Citizens must also make their own contributions.
I earlier mentioned about approaching people for donations, where you invite them to come and build lecture theaters, Hostels, or even foreign staff to come and fill certain gaps.
Beyond that, where I have problem with ASUU is their stand against Universities charging tuition fees. If government is going to be building Universities, then there should be provision for fees especially at the Post Graduate levels because PG level is when you are comfortable before you want to go into PG studies. You don’t use PG as a platform where some people go into because they don’t have something doing, so, they want to engage themselves doing something, hoping to get job with their PG Certificate, No! Once you go into PG studies you are already going into academics, into real research. Most of us that went for PG studies did that under scholarship from funding agencies. But today, most people are complaining that Universities charge very high at PG Studies. That is the essence, the University should be able to get money because once you go into PG, you are going into high quality research, you are going to start research product that would now go into commercialization and attract fund for the University.
But if the government is clamping on us that we should not charge fees then they should pay.
I think there are contradictions in terms of the Universities’ expectations of the government and the expectations of the citizenry for what Universities are meant to do. Go to anywhere in the world, even the best Universities in the world, you will pay. So, we cannot just close our eyes and pretend as if we are rich and that everybody should go to the University and get free University education. No! Maybe you can do that for first Degree so that everybody can have a first Degree but once you begin to talk of going for PG, you should be able to pay.
So, we have that problem where government wants to create more avenues for University Education, and ASUU is saying by doing that you are actually diluting the quality of education. The number of people that are available to even do the teaching, that are currently lecturing within the existing Universities are not enough. Even the Private Universities that are coming up tend to rely on the existing Faculties in the Public Universities mostly for their teachings.
Of course by creating new Universities, it means they would also have to rely on some of these existing faculties, and one of the problems of this proliferation is that some persons keep jumping from one university to the other for promotions without really sitting down and getting well prepared in a place. By the time they get the position of a Professor, they don’t know anything. They are not in a position to mentor the younger ones; consequently, they will continue to dilute the quality of education. ASUU has a point there. In looking at it critically, if you must increase the number of the Universities, then you must also look at the quality of what you have. There is a point in that. But it is a government policy. Government has the responsibility to ensure that as many of it’s citizens as possible, have access to university education.
EM: To some in the Academia, a Vice Chancellor is supposed to be a Servant of the University and its constituents. Do you see yourself as one?
VC: Well, I’m not the right person to respond to this question. You are supposed to ask the members of the University community whether Prof Bala is a servant or a lord. But, as a Vice Chancellor, I have and I know my responsibility which is to make sure that there is good governance practice in place in such a way that people have an enabling environment to do their work without being harassed, intimidated or victimized. I provide everything necessary to the best of my ability. To make sure that rules and regulations of the University and the laws of the country are adhered to in the University.
I think to that extent, we have done our best but as a leader not everybody will agree with you and not everybody will hate you. But one way you can judge in terms of governance in a particular community, is the attitude the people in that environment. If there is peace and cordial relationship between and among the various segments of the community, then you know that everything is good. But once it is in the opposite, there is a problem. By using those indicators, you would be able to tell whether you are doing well or not.
EM: how can you rate your relationship with ASUU and other in-house Unions?
VC: We try as much as possible to have a good working relationship with all the unions on the campus. You be in a place to have some kind of balance because these groups have different interests. Of course there are some interests that overlap, converge or align, but they are meant to serve these different constituents. As a leader you must find a way of balancing to make sure that everybody feels a sense of belonging. We have tried to do that to the best of our ability, we don’t have any problem with any of the unions. Not that we always agree, there is no way that Management and unions will always agree but we always agree to disagree and we have always been in agreement.
EM: If you had taken up the position of ASUU President, how would you have helped resolve the lingering ASUU/FG feud?
VC: I have been a loyal member of ASUU. But as a VC now, of course it means that I have cause to disagree with the direction that ASUU have been taking. Not that we always agree with what ASUU is doing or says, even among the academic staff you still have discordant voices with the interest or direction of what ASUU is pursuing. Currently there are some segments of ASUU that is saying that ASUU is taking on a fight that it shouldn’t be taking. It should not be the person to fight for everybody. ASUU is an association that is meant to fight for the interest of academic staff but you see us fighting for different other courses that do not concern us. As a result, we always find ourselves in a coldesac in a manner that people may not even appreciate what we are doing. For instance, it is philosophical underpinning of ASUU that there should be no school fees but quite a number of academic staff send their children to schools where they pay. Whether it is nursery, primary or secondary Schools, they pay. Some of them send their children outside the country and they pay, then we are here saying that government must do everything that Universities should not charge. To me, there are some contradictions there, but that is ASUU policy. Some people feel ASUU should be fighting more on salaries of the workers of the academic staff rather than other things. Imagine how we spent 10 months in 2020 on strike on many issues of which one is Earned Academic Allowance. At the end of the day how much did you get as earned academic allowance? May be by the total sum you may think it’s a lot of money but when you divide by the number of months in that year you will discover that there is nothing much about it. Is it then a sufficient case for you to go on strike, bringing everything to a standstill? So these are issues that have continued to be major points of discussions even among the academic staff. As an administrator, there are certain things which we love ASUU to do which they are not doing. Very often I do have cause to complain, sometimes you see ASUU at the national level taking position on certain things and I often wonder whom they are consulting with because I would expect that since ASUU is an association that is based on bottom-top approach and decisions are taking at the various campuses, these decisions are aggregated and taken to the top. But when you see certain decisions being taken, you tend to ask why can’t the local chapters of ASUU sit down with their VCs to find out exactly what the challenges of the University are? You hardly see someone coming to you as VC to discuss some certain government policies with a view to proffer solutions. Nobody does that. There are more serious things to take position on, but the kind of explanation you give are not things that really address the issue.
So, to me, I think there should be some kind of paradigm shift on the part of ASUU, we should eat the humble pie and let us try to engage more with the local management. ASUU should not see VCs as enemies. VCs should be partners in progress because we are all working towards betterment of the system. So, local chapters should be able to sit down with their VCs to find out what actually is the problem. It is based on that that you aggregate these issues at national level and come up with some sort of general overwriting policy rather than just sit down and do something that are very uncomfortable to us. They should change the tactics of doing things.
EM: What is your opinion on what some people think that FUT should have been a Conventional university rather than a Specialized University?
VC: I don’t agree with them because the question I always ask is why did government think of the necessity to establish a university of technology in the 1980s? What are the objectives of the establishment of the University of Technology?
The Universities of Technology were established essentially to give the technology that the country desired for self-sufficiency in science and technology. The question now is, are we sufficient in science and technology today? Has anything changed between then and now that would make universities of technology irrelevant? No! If anything, looking at then and now, there is even more and better reason for setting up universities of technology now than in the 80s. We are talking of unemployment and other things, people need to be properly prepared for life outside the University and they should be employers of labour rather than waiting to be employed and it is through the development of technologies that we can achieve that.
The Universities of Technology were fashioned after the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) model. The IIT has been in existence since the early 50s. Today their products form the major players in the ICT sector. It is based on that model that government decided to set up Federal University of Technology. The only difference between the Indian IT and Nigeria’s FUT is implementation. While IITs get adequate funding, about four times than what conventional Universities get, the reverse is the case with Nigeria’s Universities of Technology. Here, they set up the University of Technology and fund them as the conventional Universities. If anything, they are even treated worse because if you look at the University sector, funding is based on generational status. Funding for first generation Universities is higher followed by second generation and lastly the third generation where our Federal Universities of Technology fall in. So, they just give us little amount of money and they expect us to do wonders to develop technology for the nation, No! If you really want the Universities of Technology to do what they are meant to do then you must provide the necessary facilities, infrastructure and enabling environment. I’m happy to say that the current regime has suddenly realized the need to look at the Universities of Technology and are ready to upgrade them and to establish new ones in various geopolitical zones that do not have them. The idea is to begin to treat them for what they are- a knowledge generation Centers where high quality research and development will be taking place. So, I don’t agree with people that we should be converted to conventional Universities. Rather, we should be looked at and repositioned in a manner that we are able to do what we are meant to do.