• UniMkar Sets to Set Pace Among Private Varsities
  • Faith-based Varsities Need TETFund’s Support To Excel
  • Some NUC, JAMB’s Policies Hinder Varsities’ Performance

As part of our Mandate, at Education Monitor, to give the education sector, particularly Tertiary Institutions required attention and visibility, our Editor-in-chief – Waziri Isa Adam, and Editor – MK Aliyu, had a very exciting and revealing interaction with a Lecturer of Professors and accomplished Scholar cum Professor of Archeology of international repute, the Vice Chancellor of University of Mkar in Benue State – Nigeria

Editor, Education Monitor Newspaper (Left), VC University of Mkar Prof Gundu (Middle), Editor-In-Chief Education Monitor Newspaper (Right)

Prof, can we please know about your academic sojourn, and how you found yourself in this University?
Thanks so much. I started my university education at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria on a good note, and I am very proud of that. I went to Zaria, started my School of Basic and Remedial Studies (SBS) there in 1976, that was after I completed Command Secondary School Kuru in that same year. The days were very good. My father had not been to Kuru before, neither had he been to Zari. I just did the SBS entrance exam and they took me. So, right from the secondary school I went to the SBS. There, I did the one-year programme, between 1976/77. I actually wanted to be a lawyer, but somehow they didn’t take me for the law programme. But then, Archeology programme was being mounted for the first time in the History department, and I said let me go and do it. So, 3 of us went into the programme, we started the Archeology training and graduated in 1980 as the first set of Archeology graduates of the university. The department arranged for us to do our youth corps service there because they also needed to beef up the department. So I didn’t have the excitement of finishing there and going for the service in another state. We did it at the department. I wasn’t happy for obvious reasons, but it was also a contribution we were mindful of. The department was just starting, and they needed some of us to support the department, so we did. But, after that I left Zaria. They wanted us to stay, but somehow, the 3 of us left. But then I went for the masters at the University of Ibadan. And they still wanted me to come back to Zaria. I came back, but later left to come and be local government Secretary at Ishongu here in Benue. From being LG Secretary, after the Abacha days, the Babangida days, I went to do some work with National Oil.
During my time at the National Oil, because I had already started my PhD programme at the University of Ibadan, I had to go and complete it. After I completed it, I came back to Zaria. By then the department of Archeology had started in Zaria. The people in Zaria graciously accepted me. I was there with this (pointing at MK Aliyu) great professor of Archeology and ASUU man, who we used to call ASUU professor (laughs). I also had the good luck to lead the department as its 2nd Head of department, then from there I got this opportunity to come here as the VC. This university was set up in 2005, and I am the 4th VC, 3 VCs had served before me. I started here last year in September.

Sir, can we know about the university itself, its vision and mission, and why the owners decided to site it at Mkar?
Yes, this is a rural university, because it’s in a rural community. Mkar is just a small village not even as big as Gboko. But Mkar is also the Headquarters of the NKST Church who are the promoters of this university. The NKST Church is the Tiv protestant Church, one of the oldest Protestant Churches in the North Central. It has its own root in the Dutch reformed Church mission. The South Africans were actually the ones who started the Church. And when they brought Christianity into the Tiv field, they also started the School system, education; they started opening up clinics, and then they started introducing some crops and some Agricultural produce. The oranges you see are actually from South Africa, in addition to the Christianity which they brought around 1911. They also gave us a heritage of clinics. You must have heard about the Mkar Christian Hospital. It was a reference hospital for people in Taraba, Nasarawa, and then of course people from Kogi state, and others in the zone. Because Mkar is the headquarters of the Church; it’s the headquarters of NKST not only in Nigeria, but worldwide, they decided that they would also have a university. So, this place where you have the university was the Mkar Teachers College. When they opened the mission here, they wanted to have teachers for the primary school owned by NKST. They decided to open a teachers college. Because they had no money to start a university, so, they decided that the university should start from here, and this was in 2005. So they started the university to contribute to the educational development of the Tiv area, because the Church is essentially a Tiv Church, though they have mission bodies in the Cross-Rivers, Taraba, and other parts of the country. Though, the university was promoted as part of the Church’s contribution to the education of the youths. The mission essentially was to develop change agents; people who can change society for the academia, for the Church, and society, using knowledge which is best from the word of God.
The vision is to be a world class university that is committed to the advancement of knowledge through quality teachings and research. Then the philosophy is to develop a total person through university education that is qualitative, comprehensive, that propels the individual to self-reliance, to train somebody that can go out and do something for himself. This philosophy is predicated on the challenges we face. In most other universities, the person who is trained, is going out to look for job; is going out to look up to government in search of a job; to look up to another person to give them a job. And we found that this was very difficult, because government was actually not leaving up to certain expectations. So, the Church thought if they could establish a university where they could train people who can go out and create jobs and opportunities for other people, they would not just be folding their arms, they would be doing other things that would be helpful. So, these are some of the reasons why the Church decided to open their own university; to be also part of creating opportunities for our youths, and because it was quite clear that not everybody would be able to access the university education because the universities were not able to give everybody access. So it was another opportunity to say look, we can also participate and help resolve this critical situation by having our own university.

Mkar being the headquarters of NKST Church which is found in almost every part of this country, don’t you think this university should be one of the most populated in terms of students, that every NKST member should see himself as a potential student of this university?
You’re quite correct. The NKST had national spread and if every member considers this as their own university they would be sending their wards and we would have a lot of students, but in truth we don’t have, because when the university was first chartered, if you look at the initial academic brief, the focus was on Science education. Unfortunately, the people who prepared that brief didn’t take into account that our primary and secondary school systems had virtually collapsed, and the collapse was even more in the area of Sciences, so we opened the university focused on Sciences; but we didn’t worry about the fact that there were not many Science students, willing to apply to come in here as students. So for the first 5 years it became very clear that we could not get the type of Science students we had thought, so we started going into the Social Sciences, the Arts, and the Education. Even at that we discovered another challenge: you know because this is a faith based institution, the initial trust was let’s keep the students on campus, let them be in dormitories, let them be in the hostels, I will not allow anybody to come from outside, and some people were resenting this. They said Ah! this is not a secondary school. They have this idea that the university is a place where if you want, you can stay on campus or off-campus, why are these people insisting that everybody must be on campus, we don’t want that type of control. This was affecting our intake. But that was not just the only issue. The other was the cost, and because this place is rural, and because most NKST members are also rural – farmers, artisans, etc, they would not even understand when we explained that look when you go to Igbenedion, you are going to pay 2 times more than what you’re paying here; go to Afe Babalola, you would pay 3 times more than here; to other universities, you pay more than what we have here, but they wouldn’t understand. These are some of the reasons why we don’t have dense student population.
The projections which were made for example was that, according to the academic brief, we had projected that by last year (2021), we would have up to 15,000 students, incidentally, we didn’t even have upto 2,000 last year. The implication was that our funding level had also dropped.
Most of the faith-based universities that come from traditional churches, not the Pentecostal ones, the traditional churches are not doing as well in the funding of their universities as the Pentecostal universities. So if you go to Oyedepo’s landmark, if you go to Covenant, if you go to the university established by the Redeemed Christian Church, you will see that they are doing very well than the ones of NKST, ECWA, or Baptist or others. The only traditional faith-based university that is doing very well is the one established by the 7th Day Adventist, BABCOCK University. And, this is because the 7th Day Adventist has established universities in other parts of the world. So, when they established the one in Nigeria, they leveraged on those connections to get teachers, to get experience, to get materials, to get support, so they work at that level. The NKST, rural, in a cocoon, it doesn’t have the spread and international influence as much as some of these other ones. And so, because of that, we don’t seem to have too many students. However, when I came on board, I was able to convince the Proprietor and the Council and the Board of Trustees that we just have to open the university to people who want to stay off-campus and come for several reasons. One, we would be seen as not wanting to control every student, to insist that that they are in the hostels under our watch; two, since we have not properly expanded our hostel facilities, there is some overcrowding. So, if you allow people to stay out, you’ll be putting less pressure on our own hostels. And then the municipal services too, especially water. So they gracefully agreed. So, as from this session, people who want to stay outside will be staying outside.

Sir, what measures do you take to sensitize the church or members of the public on your challenges and what the university is up to?
You see, as I told you the NKST is traditional, and because it’s traditional, the best way they could think of mobilising people and sensitising them on the needs of the university was to use the pulpits. You pass words to the pastors who now tell their members. However, we are trying to tell our story now in a very compelling manner and to show that there is a change of character in the university now, because in the past, we had issues with people who were questioning how accountable you are; people would say ah, we’ve been giving this, we have been giving that, what have you done with it; people want to see visible accountability.
You know it’s natural that when people give you money they will expect you to return and tell them what you’ve done with the money; what it means to the Church and the society, and I think we’re not doing that very well. So what we have started doing now is that we are speaking with all stakeholders who can in turn speak about us even in our absence, and to convince them that we’re now focused on making sure this place grows to a sustainable level. Even the church itself, we discovered that most people thought that what they were given us before was enough. Until we came and showed them in black and white that look this thing is not enough; if you want this university to survive, it cannot be with the type of thing you’re giving us, it has to be more. Most people don’t appreciate the capital intensive nature of the university, and if people don’t appreciate, they’re not likely to give as much support.

On electricity, portable drinking water and internet service, how do you cope?
The public power source as you know is very erratic, no person can depend on that. Because of that we have about 6 – 7 generators, some of them not very big. When the public power supply shuts down, we go into the use of these. The challenge now is the cost of diesel. It’s so much. So what we are trying to do is we’ve got a consultant who has given us an idea of what it means to supplement the power source with solar energy.
We are discussing with him on the possibility of sourcing money even if it means getting a private person to invest in that so that we can be giving him money overtime to offset the cost. That is what we are looking at.
For water, this campus is serviced with about 7 boreholes. We placed some of these boreholes close to the hostels. Out of the 7, some of them are low yielding, so during the dry season, the tendency is not to have as much water as possible. But the 4 of them which are high-yielding tend to supplement that. We’re hoping that if we ever expand to get more students on campus, there’ll be need to sink more boreholes. So the proposals we’re having with people who want to develop hostels for us includes having boreholes in those hostels.
For internet services, when I came here, we were having just some very small, just about 10 megabites, talking about uploads and downloads, per second. Now, as we speak, we went into some arrangements with a consultant who’s giving us about 150 mbites per minute, which is very huge, and we’re hoping to leverage on this bandwidth now to make sure that we teach better, when we have more resources. And we’re also going to see whether we can have electronic boards that can enable electronic teaching, because what we have discovered is that if you ask somebody from, say Zaria, to come on part time, the risk, the time, and the cost is so much that somebody may say it’s not worth it. But if we’re able to leverage on the internet and get you to sit in Zaria and give lectures to the students, and maybe come here twice in a semester, it makes it easier. And with the internet and what you can do with if you have the proper infrastructure. We’re hoping that if that infrastructure is in place, somebody can stay in Lagos, give lectures, even in the US, in the UK, in Asia, everywhere, because we just discovered that if you have that, even meetings, that person can attend staff meetings very clearly on Google, on zoom, and the other platforms. So we’re very excited about the internet thing. If you go out, even in the gardens, you can get out internet, and it works, it’s fast, it’s reliable. Most of the challenges we’ve had in many places is poor internet services. When we were in Zaria, people were still using their own modems. I came here, these were the kind of things we were using. They just chop your money for nothing. So we’re very excited about the internet. Infact, the internet is something if we get it right it can help in many ways we don’t even realise. It can track what people are doing because you can get teachers to put what they are doing online. All these types of other things teachers are used to doing will not be coming out.
We are also aware of something like e-library, where you can get as many books as you want. There are amazing collections of free books there that you can download.
Once you have this kind of facility in place, if it is in the area of psychology, if it is Political Science, if it is economics, instead of going about looking for books, they can go there, download and print. What we are trying to do is set up a place where students can go and print at cheaper rate so that people will not exploit them. So, for Internet, those are the types of things we are doing, but we’re also trying to leverage to improve our accounting system. You know when you ask people to go and pay their fees, the cashier may not even take it to the bank, or by the time he takes it to the bank he pinches it. He may get some fake tellers to claim he had paid it to the bank, whereas he has not. We’re trying to build a platform now, that payment would be online. You can pay from the comfort of your house anywhere in the country. Then we also want want to see whether we can improve our exam management system as a result of some challenges, because you know record keeping is not part of us. Those of you who finished school long time ago, it’s just that you may not need transcript, but if you are to need your transcript now, you would have problem. We want to see whether we can automate this and some other things. This is the direction we are going.

What programmes do you run in the institution?
We have at the moment close to 25 programmes. Some of them have just passed this resource verification test. We’re just hoping that in the next cycle of admission we’ll admit people into that. But the ones that are existing now, we have full accreditation for about 10 of them. In fact, for this year, there are about 9 programmes that are due for accreditation. 5 of them came middle of the year, the other 4, would be coming anytime from now. But just recently, NUC sent us a note to verify what courses are due for accreditation, and they haven’t written back to tell us what it will take and how much we are going to pay them. But we’re preparing to have 9 of our programmes accredited by NUC.

What about your school fees, what are you charges?
Our school fees regimes is about the lowest in the country. Our highest fees, mostly in the Sciences, are in the region of about N450,000 per annum. And our payment structure is flexible, you can split it into two times. There is a slight difference between indigenes and those from outside, but the difference is not much. It’s not more than 20,000. And then of course, there are scholarships.
There are scholarships for indigent students and there are scholarships that are awarded on merits. We started benefitting from one of the merit based scholarship this academic session when I came here. She promotes Rosular Foundation. She wanted to confirm that we are not a public university, because she said there’s too much disruption in the public universities. You start giving scholarship and you don’t know when the person would finish. So when we said we are a faith based private university, she was able to give scholarship to about 48 of our 1st year students, paying all their school fees and buying books for them. It’s amazing. Since we had this that was about the largest scholarship we have had. And what did she do? She just said of course you can check Rosular Foundation on the Net. She said they had already closed the porter, but because we appealed to her in very strong and emotional terms, she said ok I will give concession to you. If you’re able give us a pool of applicants, we will be able to choose the best from that, and will give them the scholarship. She wanted to give actually 50, but by the time we sent the pool to them, they said these 48 are the ones who met our minimum standard. But because we are rural, even with this low school fees structure, people are still complaining, but you can hardly blame them.

What is your relationship with regulatory agencies like JAMB and NUC, do you have any rapport with them?
There is nothing you can do for JAMB or about JAMB or for NUC. But what I can say for NUC is that their control and hold on the university system is too much. It doesn’t make room for innovation, it doesn’t make room for competition, it doesn’t make room for good governance of the university. For example, the conditions for opening a university are not reasonable
TETFund has received so many pleas and lobbying from private universities, that they should be considered in the funding of their universities.

What’s your take on this and how do you think that can be done, considering the fact that most private universities according to popular believe are established for the sole purpose of making money?
Well, not all private universities are established for profit motives. Some of them, especially the faith based universities are not for profit. So if we’re discussing the issue of TETFund extending support to private universities, let us not lose sight of the fact that some of these private universities are not for profit. There is also a bigger reason why we should not worry about that. Since the beginning of this university we have trained more than 2000. They have done their youth corps service. They have gone to support the country in different states, some of them working with the local government, some, states, others, the federal government. So we’re all in the business of supporting each other. So my own argument is that TETFund should be able to support private universities. Of course, if you look at the law setting up TETFund which incidentally implants so much, initially ASUU was talking about the deplorable state of public universities. And it’s a shame that even when ASUU was worried about this, government itself did not originate the idea of TETFund, that this is our solution to this your worry. It was also ASUU that said since you don’t seem to know what to do, is it possible that you set up this body, get money from these sources, so that this money can be used to support the public education system at the tertiary level, and because they were able to do this, the law was skewed in supporting public tertiary institutions. So when private universities came, for somebody who’s already sitting on the table and already being supported; it’s like look if I shift, these people would come, and maybe I’ll not have enough. But I think TETFund should support private universities at the level of research, staff development, and many other things, particularly in the area of equipment. In research, theoretical, we can partner with somebody in a public university as a lead researcher, who can get some research grants, but it should also be possible to be here and get that. TETFund is working on supporting publications – books, journals, others, but they’re also skewed more to the public universities. I know that for the publications, it is possible to also give a manuscript to people from the private universities and it may be considered. But the emphasis is more on the public universities. What we’re pleading is for TETFund to relax its rules and also try to support, because in truth, staff training is very expensive but it’s essential because when you train somebody you don’t tie him to your school forever. You can train and he would not come back to this country, then the next time stays with you for one or two years and he goes to the public university, and you have lost. So if training is at the same level every person invariably benefits.


With the frightening security challenges in the country, how secure, can you say is your university?
Glory be to God, we have never had any incident of threat. You know we’re in the centre of Tiv land. There has been a lot of instability in order parts of Tiv land – Katsina–Ala, like in Shikan, you can’t go there again. Only last year in that Shika, bandits attacked in one day and killed about forty-something poeple. You know these things are happening on the periphery, the fringes, they are not here, but that’s not to say we have to go to sleep. We are conscious of the security situation and we are always asking our students to as much as possible stay within and study.

A world class university is supposed to be a home for every citizen of the world. How do you intend to make Unimkar as such?
A world class university is one that is open enough to have students from all parts of the world.. As we speak now, we virtually have students from all parts of the country, but for staff, we don’t seem to have them from better spread of the country as such, we don’t have a staff who is not a Nigerian, except for one who is a Cameroonian. You know getting international students means that improving your facilities and getting your university to be well known, and getting international staff or faculty would mean being able to pay them attractive salary. That also means a lot of money, we have not been able to do that, but we’re hoping that as we grow, we will overcome these things. We want to consolidate before expanding to all other ideas, but for now we’re working with one or two institutions on some joint academic programmes. They have their headquarters in the US.

What about skills that your products can use to survive on out there? Do you have such a thing here?
Yes, we’ve taken a cue from the encouragement NUC is giving about entrepreneurship. We have baking, we’ve fishery, tailoring, we’ve all types of farming arrangement that we encourage each student to key into, so that in addition to the certificate they would get, they would also have some skills that if they don’t want to work in the office they can use their hands to help themselves. But it’s not just a about the skills, it’s also about the mindset. You know some people would tell you ooh I am a graduate I cannot be a barber (laughter).

Youths all over the world are known for certain vices or exuberance.
What is your experience here? Do you have cases of criminal activities – cultism, drug abuse, etc.?
This thing is out there, sometimes it starts from the primary school, sometimes, secondary school, so every single higher institution in this country has these elements. Some institutions try to deny it, but we discovered that denying it won’t even help. Because, sometimes, these children, their parents don’t even know how bad they are. So, if you don’t talk about that, then you’re not helping anybody; you’re not even helping the system.
So, what we try to do is to do random spots in the night because they have a way of sneaking out through the gate when they’re coming in and there’s nothing you can do about that slip into the guests when they come in and there’s nothing you can do about it. But there are also bad students because if you don’t cut them red-handed, they will deny so we can’t get them red handed, we tried to put them under our radar and wait for the opportunity to catch. We have zero tolerance for those who are found wanting.

Do you have effective security?
Security is also a challenge. No matter how effective they are, there may be issues. And it’s because we’re worried about these vices, because once you start having drugs, it is a serious issue that is tied to criminal activities. Very recently, we decided to partner with NDLEA so that they would come and sensitise the campus. So they came and sensitised our students and our staff, gave them some lectures, exhibited some of these illicit substances. Some people were seeing cocaine for the first time. Some people were seeing wraps of marijuana for the first time. They were also able to throw up a challenge to us, which we are now taking very seriously because we have now established war against drug abuse club in the school. The challenge they gave us was, sometimes the tertiary institutions come across these drug addicts, and the idea is put a hammer on them and send them out. They go into the society and continue; sometimes they go with vengeance, and sometimes come back to the university, because we don’t have good records. So what they were trying to say was they have rehabilitation facilities; is it possible to consider sending some of these students for rehabilitation? Because they were able to convince us that once somebody goes through that facility, there are 60 – 70 percent chances that he cannot go back to those vices. And I believe this is not just a problem of only one university, it’s a national problem, and we must think about it at that level.

Do you have any message for government, and the society?
What I can say is that studying at the University of Mkar is a very good and powerful experience. The environment is very serene. You can sit down here and you’re just hearing about the society outside. The students are very young and full of energies; if we can channel these energies positively, it’s going to make some contributions to the local community and the state and even the government. So, what we try to do is to appeal to the immediate environment to support what we are doing; we appeal to government to also support what we are doing; and then we appeal to other stakeholders to help support the university to grow into a bigger institution. And then more importantly, our country, really, is in need of healing; we want to produce students here who would be mindful of the fact that what we do to each other as citizens of this country should be something that brings us together and not the one that divides us. The divisions are too many and they’re really not helping.
Thank you sir.

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