PRESS RELEASE BY THE VICE CHANCELLOR, PROFESSOR FRANCIS OGBONNAYA OTUNTA, 5TH VICE CHANCELLOR OF MICHAEL OKPARA UNIVERSITY OF AGRICULTURE UMUDIKE, ON THE OCASSION OF THE UNIVERSITY’S 8TH CONVOCATION AND 25TH ANNIVERSARY
Ladies and gentlemen of the press, it gives me great pleasure to take advantage of another opportunity to enjoy your presence and an effective chat, which would help you support us in disseminating true and productive information about our university.
I assumed office on the 1st of March, 2016 under the supervision of a Governing Council chaired by Professor Anya O. Anya. After the tenure of that Council, the Federal Government inaugurated a new Council, chaired by Rt. Honorable LawalMuhammaduZayyana. This Council like the one before it has been working tirelessly to ensure that the University ranks competitively amidst its peers on a global playing field.
Within my administration, we conceived and birthed the establishment of two Deputy Vice Chancellors; for Administration and for Academic. This bold move has paid off, resulting in more efficiency and a better spread of responsibility in the interest of transparency. I have also so far, the privilege of working with a University Senate that insist on hardwork and merit, demonstrating zero tolerance for examination malpractice and other shortcuts to graduating from this institution.
Members of the press, although our 8th Convocation Ceremony is a few days away, the convocation is not our only reason to celebrate. The University community is also excited to celebrate the silver jubilee anniversary of this great institution. Our University is the youngest University of Agriculture, established four years after her sister universities on the 13th of November,1992. The University effectively took off on May 3rd, 1993 with the admission of its pioneer students and appointment of its pioneer Vice Chancellor, Professor Placid Njoku. It is therefore fitting that Professor Njoku will come back in two days to deliver the convocation lecture.
After 25 years, the colleges in the University have grown from six to eleven and the University campus from sleepy to animated. This Saturday, a total of four thousand nine hundred and fifty eight (4,958) students would graduate from all the Colleges at the 8th convocation of Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike. Of this number, ninety eight (98), made First Class; one thousand four hundred and thirty seven (1,437), made Second Class (Upper Division); two thousand one hundred and eleven (2,111), made Second Class (Lower Division); one thousand two hundred and seventy six (1,276), made Third Class; while thirty six earned a Pass Degree.
Since I took over as Vice Chancellor in 2016, the University has suffered severely from lack of funds. Initially, the University administration consoled itself, thinking that the ‘hardware component’ (buildings and structures), funded from the NEEDs Assessment Fund, which littered the entire campus were a progressive development. We were sadly mistaken, as most of the projects were uncompleted and uncompleted despite the release of funds. I spent sleepless nights making concerted efforts to achieve the release of a second tranche of funds, constituting 40% of the 2013/2014 NEEDs Assessment Fund which is due to the University.
This sum, a total of N2, 166,963,212.89 enabled us to revive the 25 uncompleted projects that were part of the 45 projects that had been funded previously. All contractors previously owed (31) were paid and asked to mobilize back to site. This cost the University over N684,000,000.00. Work is now in progress on some project sites whilst some are still suffering a set back due to an upward variance in costs resulting from the fall of the Naira. The TETFund money was not spared in the strange happenings surrounding funds. The 2012 – 2013 merged Normal intervention had six projects committed to it. Three have been completed whilst three are still in progress. 2013 – 2014 TETFund Special Intervention committed to twenty projects. Four have been completed whilst 16 are still in progress.
There were also projects being funded by Internally Generated Revenue. Sadly, too many irregularities plague these projects and monies. For example, contracts were awarded without due process. All of these have greatly threatened the progress of this administration in terms of infrastructural development.
I must express my gratitude to the Central Bank of Nigeria for building an ultra-modern complex that houses our Center for Entrepreneurial Development. This building is part of the bank’s effort to support and promote skill acquisition as a tool for self-development. In February, 2017, a similar project was donated to the university by Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN). In the area of information dissemination and communication, the University Radio, Green FM was refurbished and revamped. It was also upgraded from a Campus radio to a Community radio. Today, the radio is vibrant, has a wider reach and is positioning to become a potential source of Internally Generated Revenue. Additionally, Green FM launched its Outside Broadcast Station on the 19th of May, 2017 and has since been broadcasting University events life on air.
This administration has looked inward and decided that Internally Generated Revenue if strengthened, would take some pressure off the University’s government allocated funds and enable it pursue more projects for expansion and advancement. On this basis, committees have been set up to revive the University’s farms and other agribusiness. The oil plantation for example is already producing gallons of palm oil. Other agribusiness such as piggery, fish farm, poultry are working fast and hard to set up shop as soon as possible.
Accreditation is a business that my administration considers very important as it connotes the climax of the University’s purpose and creed. Management spared no effort in ensuring that the human and material resources meet up the standard set by National Universities Commission. After the visit of the accreditation team in November 2016, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike was granted accreditation in all but one of the twenty-one programmes on offer. In May/June 2017, eight out of nine programmes passed accreditation. Regrettably, the University faced a major challenge with the closure of some departments and delisting of some management science programmes, due to the Federal government directive for all specialized universities to return to their original mandate. Following the storm that arose from this incident, this administration worked and advocated long and hard until the federal Government rescinded its decision and allowed the programmes to continue as it was.
Ladies and gentlemen of the press, under my watch, I can guarantee you that this administration is enslaved to academic integrity, diligence and high standards. This is why we re-introduced and sustained the culture of inaugural lecture. Before I took over the reins of leadership of this great institution, a total of 23 inaugural lectures were held in 278 months. In 19 months of my administration, four inaugural lectures have been held. With God helping us, I intend to keep the flag flying, by ensuring that we have at least six Inaugural Lectures a year. We shall achieve that.
I am pained to observe that the recent ongoing recession has been unkind to the staff of the University. The University receives a subvention of N325M instead of the much-needed N451M. It has therefore been impossible to meet our commitment of paying full salaries. This situation has left us helpless even in the face of vehement protests and ultimata by the Unions. It is our hope that things would improve soon and that our staff will continue to bear with us.
Management discovered early to its dismay that a lot of impropriety has permeated the system, such that everything was politicized and auctioned. This has given rise to mediocrity, disrepute and ridicule of our great University. We have stepped on toes in a bid to sanitize the system and introduce a high standard of meritocracy. To achieve this, committees were set up to properly assess staff. Those unjustly denied their promotions were finally promoted. It is note worthy that for the first time since the history of our University, this administration has produced and circulated revised copies of the Conditions of Service for staff. The objective is to ensure that all staff know and understand their rights and privileges as bullying and impropriety in any shape or form will not be tolerated under my watch.
Students have not been left out in our quest to make the university better than we met it. In March, 2017, I had an interactive session with the students. During my time with them, I was apprised of the dilapidation of their hostels and constant breakdown of their boreholes, resulting in great hardship upon the students. Suspecting sabotage, the Management hastened to checkmate acts of vandalism and other acts of sabotage. In addition, Management championed free and fair Students Union elections, ensuring that favoritism and nepotism found no place to bud or thrive.
In consideration of the current economic situation in the country, Management granted a N10, 000 rebate in hostel charges to all student living in University owned hostels and reduced school charges by N2,000. I believe our students are well worth anything we do for them as they have also worked hard to make the University proud. During the 25th edition of Nigerian Universities Games (NUGA) held in April 2017 at University of Agriculture, Makurdi, Benue State, our students flew our flag high and proud, winning a total of two gold medals, one silver and four bronze medals. Management with a nod from senate has decided to honor the medalists for their achievement. The students have also inspired Management to work harder to ensure that basic sporting facilities are installed on campus.
On another playing field, our students emerged champions at the 5th edition of Nigeria Debate Community Open Championship held at the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Ondo State. I am very proud to announce to you that our students will be representing Nigeria at the Pan Universities Debate Championship to be held at the University of Buea, Cameroon this December. Furthermore, these shining beacons, will represent Africa at the World University Debate Championship in the New Year as God helps them to win the championship in Cameroon.
As we send these 4,958 graduates out into the labour market, I am confident that they will bear the name of the University in good light and set a good example for those coming behind to follow. I am also confident that the University will record greater progress in all spheres of its life as God helps us to do the right thing always, without fear or favor.
Thank you very kindly for attending this press conference and God bless you.