AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH PROFESSOR JOHNBULL O. ECHEME BY JOY NWALOR
Can we meet you, Prof?
I am Professor Johnbull Onyekachi Echeme, Professor of Organic Chemistry/Medicinal Chemistry and the current Director of Academic Planning, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike. I have been in this University for about 15 years, transferring from Bayero’s University Kano, where I started my academic career.
What motivates you in this work?
The length and breath of fresh knowledge as well as the calibre of people I meet along the way, especially in places like the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Agriculture, National University’s Commission Abuja, and the synergy of working between all these people, their demands and requirement, which could sometimes be very challenging, but turns out to be very pleasant for me, these are the motivation(s). Doing something and getting good results is something that makes me very happy in this work.
What personal or professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
Professionally my job is divided into teaching, research/community service and extension services.
In the area of teaching, it is very fulfilling to see a small boy who is raised from the cradle, through the process of teaching rises up from very low position to a very high position. Some of my students in academia are Professors and those who are not in academia, are doing well in their various spheres of life. Some of my students are in leadership position, while others are top ranking officers, politicians etc. Seeing my students achieve great success is very fulfilling to me and I feel happy having impacted in their lives. For me, it is a great accomplishment.
Let’s talk about accreditation: The University recently gained full accreditation for all her courses presented to NUC. How do you feel about this?
I feel happy; I feel fulfilled and I feel highly grateful to Almighty God. I am grateful to the University management led by the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Francis O. Otunta for giving the enabling environment and a wonderful platform and for also providing the needed funds (very huge amount of funds required for accreditation). Accreditation process is not a small process because it involves a lot of planning; it involves carrying the staff along (Academic and non-Academic) and also putting things in place. There are very grey areas of accreditation that must be met before accreditation, they are: the curriculum review, infrastructure, staff quality and the library. These four components must work conscientiously; in order to have a full accreditation.
As the DAP, what were the challenges you faced to achieve this full accreditation?
I just mentioned that the process involved in gaining full accreditation is not a one day’s job. It takes a long time, and it is always good to start planning early?
Sometimes, some Departments are always late to plan and that’s a challenge. There is the challenge of coordinating human beings of various calibres. Some Professors will not cooperate with you while some non-teaching staff will feel naive and nonchalant about the whole process, and to achieve a full successful accreditation, you just have to carry everybody along. You have to make sure that the books in the library are well arranged, the place must be very convenient for any visitor to come in and access the books. Electronic library must be in place too. In the various Departments; they are expected to have infrastructure and equipment, these must also be seen in their proper places, without these, you will score low in accreditation. Some contractors that are contracted for these jobs also work at a snail speed and end up not delivering at the expected time. These are basically some of the challenges faced by the DAP.
The management courses and some other courses in the University have not been accredited. Are there any plans to get them accredited by the next NUC accreditation exercises?
The courses that have not gotten accreditation at the moment will be standing for accreditation in a few months ahead. We are working towards every programme getting accreditation but the ones that were delisted were as a result of a policy by Federal Government Executive Council (FEC). FEC delisted them and it is the same FEC that will decide when they will be enlisted back into the programmes of the University and subsequently accredited. Though, we are currently working very hard to make sure that all delisted courses meet up the required standard expected by NUC and gain accreditation.
Students from Departments such as Chemical Engineering, Environmental Management and Toxicology (EMT), Library and Information Science (LIS), have difficulty in mobilising for the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC). What seems to be problem(s) and how does management plan to solve them?
These courses you listed started officially in 2015 as NUC approved, unfortunately the University with much expectation started the program by 2012, hoping to get accreditation and normalize it but incidentally NUC did not agree to that. The students were so to say, not properly approved to start the programmes by NUC. Initially NUC said they don’t have anything to do with these students and that they will never mobilize them in life. But the University has worked very well using the support of the Vice-Chancellor, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (academic) and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (administration), we have been able to bend NUC to accommodate them during the maturity of their programmes. Programmes like LIS and EMT that were approved in 2015 will be matured in 2019 being a four year programme, to mobilize for NYSC, while by next year, programs like Chemical Engineering will be able to mobilize, being a 5 year course.
In a nutshell, when you kick off a programme without proper approval from NUC, the graduates of the programme are bound to face challenges. Many Universities are faced with this challenge; the situation is not peculiar to MOUAU.
How many Departments are awaiting accreditation and what improvements do you think the University can make to help them achieve full accreditation?
There are eleven Departments that are awaiting accreditation. Some are from CCSS, CASAP and COLPAS. Departments like Statistics, Physics e.t.c, will be undergoing accreditation by October and November this year. We are embarking on early planning and praying that God will grant the University the enablement to release funds much earlier. The Vice-Chancellor has been very magnanimous in releasing funds for accreditation. God has also shown mercy in the just concluded accreditation. We have never had such a good accreditation as this last one, having full accreditation for all the programmes presented, and having all the programmes not scoring less than 80. This milestone has put MOUAU in top rank in NUC list, as it was published in NUC newsletter as having the best accreditation and the overall best in 2018. For programmes that will be facing accreditation, we have already written to them to enable early preparation. Accreditation does not need only money; it also involves putting your house in order, proper records and cleanliness.
What are your fiercest challenges as the DAP of this institution?
The challenges of being the Directorate of Academic Planning for me are anonymous. I am bound to know every worker and student leader in the University. I am also bound to tolerate their temperaments. The workability of the University in terms of record keeping, quality assurance, prompt lecture delivery, and meeting with examination timing, calendar, etc. Some times we run behind schedule and we are always bound to cover up. Most times letters are written for supply for various Departments and they will never come. This is a big challenge but God is helping us overcome some of these challenges.
One of my fiercest challenges is the pressure from NUC Abuja. NUC never gives a prior notice for a document but at the 10th hour, they notify you and give you 24 hours to deliver. At this point, if you don’t have a bank of the information, commotion could arise. There is a lot of pressure attached to the position but these challenges have made me a stronger and better person.
No doubt, you are a very busy man, how do you plan and prioritize your time?
I share my time in such a way that none of the responsibilities that I am holding or supposed to showcase will be found wanting. Particularly those that will demand early response(s). I work with a time lag, for example, the Vice-Chancellor gives me a time frame for every assignment. NUC gives me a time lag and this lag must be met.
I prioritize in such a way that nothing suffers. As an administrator (DAP) and a lecturer (Professor of chemistry) I make sure that no area of me is lagging behind. Students must be taught and administrative job must be done. I just do a proper time management, though sometimes I sleep for only 2 hours in 24 hours but most important to me, is that I deliver as at when due.
Away from work, how you do relax?
Relaxing time is also a good time. My former mode of relaxation as a pure academic has changed with this new post as the DAP. This new responsibility has shortened my relaxation time. When I leave the office, I head home. I relax with watching television to know what is happening within and outside my country. I also read a lot.
I spend most of my leisure in reading and acquiring more knowledge. I read as a hobby to be updated. I swim too but I have not done that in a while, due to time constraint. I am also a lover of good music especially gospel.