17 March 2009

Nigeria: How MacArthur Carnegie Foundation Revitalises UI

Lagos — Recently, the authorities of the University of Ibadan (UI) organized a colourful "thank you" dinner, in honour of Mr. Jonathan Fanton, the President of The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, a private independent grant-making body which has practically saved Nigeria's premier University from financial dehydration, threatening to cripple a noble institution which is being touted as the "first and the best".

The dinner, a demonstration of gratitude, was in appreciation of the foundation which has since 2002 spent over N1.5 billion on UI, thus breathing life into the hitherto comatose situation on Ibadan campus. The University of Ibadan which is a national patrimony, given its historical antecedent, has produced over 90,000 graduates over the years.

Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan probably described it better recently when he said "everyone of us has some UI in us. You are either a graduate of UI or you are taught by a graduate of UI or by someone who was taught by a UI graduate". In other words, the University, over the years, has touched every Nigerian one way or the other.

However, the glorious pedigree of the 60 years old institution began to nose dive in the 1980s when the University which was one of the best in the commonwealth at some point in its history and was set to be one of the best in the world could not even find a slot among the best on the African continent. The military rule compounded the matter as many donors ceased to fund researches and other academic programmes. The political instability and adverse effect on policy formulation and implementation, coupled with the economic crises affected the vibrant learning culture and dampened the morale of the students and staff members.

This was the situation in Ibadan and indeed, all over the country until the emergence of the immediate past vice-chancellor, Prof. Ayodele Falase who mooted the idea of sourcing for donor agencies with a view to getting assistance to address the decay. Prof. Falase's idea was packaged and sold around, but it was only the MacArthur Foundation that bought into it.

MacArthur Carnegie Foundation, a part of a consortium of Americans whose objective is to impact on higher education in Africa first gave a substantial amount to UI towards institutional strengthening, repositioning and renewal as well as community outreach. When the foundation discovered that the U.I authorities were faithful and prudent in the management of the fund, the second grant of US $3,400,000 dollar was made covering the period of 2005 through 2007.

Consequently, the MacArthur grants have enabled the university to send staff members overseas for cutting edge training; award multidisciplinary research grants, establish and equip a multidisciplinary central research laboratory and implement a number of activities with high impact on the Nigerian society.

It must be stated that before the MacArthur intervention in U.I, the situation on campus was horrible. In fact, access to internet facilities in the Departments was largely non-existent. Staff and students had to go to cybercafé spots in town and pay exorbitant fees. To be specific, there were just only 220 computers wired together to service the entire university community. But today, with MacArthur grants, the University has built the network of fiber and wireless with over three thousand computers on the network.

The Kenneth Dike library, the main University library, is at an advanced stage of automating all its operations. The library now has an electronic classroom and a computer laboratory with full internet access, multimedia facilities for a conducive learning and teaching environment. With the foundation's intervention in UI, the institution is on the march to reclaim its glory as it is fast recovering from the debilitating disease of poor funding.

It was against this background that the Prof. Olufemi Bamiro led administration felt touched to organize a thank you dinner for Fanton who has watered the desert in UI with uncommon grants.

The dinner which attracted the major stakeholders in UI, including the newly appointed council chairman, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), his predecessor, Mr. Gamalie Onasode, former vice-chancellors, council members, prominent alumni was as relevant as it was useful in many dimensions.

There are many useful lessons in this UI-MacArthur partnership. The donor agencies are ready to assist where they see sincerity, honesty, accountability and probity. This is where the immediate past vice-chancellor, Prof. Ayodele Falase and the current VC deserve credit. They are accountable. They have been able to convince the MacArthur foundation that they are honest with money as they give account of every kobo donated to the institution. The sincerity of these leaders motivates the foundation to do more.

Already, Fanton has promised continued support because past grants have been honestly and judiciously utilized and accounted for.

Indeed, UI is very lucky to have had Falase handing over to Bamiro who has consolidated on the template laid by this predecessor. Credit must also be given to the former DVC academic, the diligent Prof. Biola Odejide, the current DVC administration, the admirable Prof. Elijah Bamgboye, DVC academic, the conscientious Prof. Adigun Agbaje and the indefatigable Registrar, Mrs Omotayo Ikotun for their commitment to the University.

Another lesson from this partnership is that Nigerian Universities should put on their thinking cap in order to generate funds for their development rather than depending on the federal government subvention.

-Sunday Saanu


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