Last year, about 600 students of the Anambra State University renounced their membership of various cult groups, and it was seen as a rare feat. In this interview with DAVID-CHYDDY ELEKE, the Vice Chancellor of the university, Prof Fidelis Okafor confirms that most of those who sponsor cultists are men in the larger society, just as these are speculations that sponsors who are not happy about the renunciation are responsible for the fire that recently gutted parts of the university. Excerpts
You have been the Vice Chancellor of Anambra State University for a year now, what few achievements have you made?
I want to say that within this one year, a number of events have taken place. For the first time over this one year, our university was able to host six international conferences of different faculties. The first one was done by the faculty of Agriculture, and that created a linkage between us and the famous farm model in Benin Republic, I mean Songhai farm. It is a farm which most heads of state have visited including Anambra State governor.
The man who presented the paper happened to be a reverend gentle man who presides over the farm. Through that conference, our students have been getting their industrial training there and other trainings. The faculty of Social Sciences had another international conference, followed by the faculty of Management Sciences, then the Faculty of Engineering, the Faculty of Sciences and the Faculty of Environmental Sciences. We know the uses of conferences like these in Universities.
The University is a place of teaching and research, and the research component of that work comes through the conference that we host to bring academics to brainstorm on their various discoveries and findings, so for us it is an event of note.
Also within this period, we have made other achievements. One of our engineers, Luke Emeh of Civil Engineering was invited to a conference, International Water Association in London. It is a coming together of great engineers to show their research findings, and to our joy, our engineer was singled out to have presented the best research paper in London, and this gave us a lot of joy. You may have also heard of the Nuta Bolt, our engineering students, who won the first position in the world last year in a competition of all engineering students in the world.
The event opened a lot of doors for us, NUC and the Society of Engineers in Nigeria have taken it upon themselves to make it possible for these young engineers to produce more of their ingenuity, and even Shell Corporation is interested and wants to ensure that their talent is not wasted, and we hope that soon the Engineering Faculty will be a place of research.
I also want to tell you that through the instrumentality of our governor, Anambra State University was among the few universities in the country to receive ETF fund, and we were given the sum of N3billion to reposition our university in terms of infrastructure, and from our outline, much of that fund will go into the Engineering faculty, so that the engineering ingenuity in us will be made possible in our own century. The new development in Engineering which we see in Nnewi and environs will be harnessed by experts, this will involve bringing in the Nnewi manufacturers and others to be linked to the university.
We would like to know how you are coping after a six month strike that almost crippled the university?
I want to say we have stabilised after that devastating strike, it left us lagging behind for six good months, but today our university has stabilized, our new session has commenced at the proper time, our admission is going on well and we are circumspect with admission processes so as not to make mistakes, and our admission is purely on merit. There is industrial peace today between the union and management, there is effective understanding between students, management and lecturers.
Is it true that your Institution is owing Anambra State government tax to the tune of over N800million?
I am surprised what your interest in tax is, but I am not aware if the university is owing tax to the tune you just talked about. Taxation is a matter between government and the tax payer and if the tax payer defaults, government or the agency concerned will have to sought it out. I am not aware that our university is owing tax to the tune you just mention.
Taxes when deducted and paid to the relevant bodies, there could be delay in payment resulting in delays of payment of salaries, for instance during the six months strike, there won't be payment of taxes, and it could accumulate during that period. So these are factors that could be responsible.
Again, I want to state that our payment of tax is directly to the state government and our institution is owned by the state government. There is also some that we pay to the federal inland revenue, especially taxes deducted from projects, that one goes to the federal inland revenue, but I can not here authoritatively tell you that we are owing this amount or that amount.
Recently there was fire outbreak in your institution, we like to know how it happened?
It happened in the midnight of a Sunday about a month ago. They set fire on some of our admin offices, and it is a situation that is baffling to us for arsonists to attack us. The fire gutted our stores, exams and records, salary and wages offices and the office of the deputy bursar. I want to say that it was not a mechanical or electrical fault, it was purely a deliberate act, and that happened at the Uli campus of the university, and we are still investigating it.
Some people say the fire was stage-managed to cover up monies that were embezzled, and also to cover up many illegal recruitment you people have had in the institution, either by the past administration or by your administration?
The inferno took pace at Uli campus, no one now can say with any amount of certainty the cause of the fire. There are many speculations, some even thought that after we were able to get about 600 students to renounce cultism that there is grievances among their sponsors in the larger society. We have discovered that these cult students have their counterparts in the society, and such persons are not happy with us about their renunciation.
There is also speculation that students who have overstayed, and you know that there is a number of years after which you are no longer a bonafide student of our institution, about that time, some students who had stayed for seven to eight years for courses they should originally stay for four years were asked to go home according to the university regulation, and that is also speculated as the cause. There is also the possibility and that one I will not know because after one year I have stayed as the VC I am yet to know of any fraud, but you know when things happen, people are bound to speculate.
People are also thinking - you know that recently, before our exams that all the heads of the various cult fraternities in our universities surrendered their temple, so some are thinking that the attack may be from cult groups from other institutions . So you can see that there is rife speculation, so we can not say for sure what is the cause.
Is it true that you are going to install a new chancellor for the institution, and what necessitated the change?
Yes, it is one of the special features of this year's convocation ceremony. I just came back from Okpe kingdom, a kingdom in Delta State that is just 20 minutes drive to Benin where we went for the final arrangement. He is retired Major General Felix Mujakpereo CFR MNI, Orodje of Okpe kingdom of Delta State.
This will take place in the morning session before the convocation proper because the chancellor confers degrees. Of course you know that in the university system they are three persons who have chancellor to their name, the chancellor, pro chancellor and vice chancellor, and their duties are very well specified in the law of the universities.
Our former chancellor, Dr Nwuche of Rivers State died last year. So last year, we did convocation without a chancellor, and exercising the rights within the law, I had to confer the degrees myself, but the ideal thing is that the chancellor of the university confers it. This time around, we are happy we have a new chancellor who will perform that function.
Part of the reason your institution increased school fees last year was to help in the payment of staff salaries, now that the state government has facilitated N3billion for you from ETF, would you consider reducing school fee?
Let me say it, our university does not have enough money to pay the salaries of workers. That is because government gives the university N90 million, and the university is expected to put in a N100 million every month. This is because our wage bill fluctuates between N180 and N200 million every month, and you know that workers are liable to increments and promotions.
So when you are called upon to source N100 million every month to add to government subvention to pay salaries, you will know it is a herculean task. If we keep the school fees, without taking out a kobo, it can not still pay the salaries of Anambra State workers. Now it is from these school fees that the university is run in all its ramifications, it is from the school fees that we repair our cars, that we fuel all the machineries, that we do all the services of the faculties and departments and the rest.
What is usually called overhead, we don't receive. Let me tell you that it is even a herculean task to collect school fees because most parents don't have money. Personally, I am helping some students who are not my children in that university. Even as I was addressing the students sometime ago, I told them that I will not want the school fees to rise again. I also want it to come down because I am also a victim of the increase in school fees, and I also told them that most of the lecturers they see also have their children in the University and they also pay the school fees and would be happy if it is reduced.
We reduced the school fees and the students know, it was not what it was originally that it is now, we reduced it. Not even the N3billion I told you of the ETF fund will go into payment of salary and ETF that gave the money has given stringent rules that we must abide, even to access the money without which you will go to prison. So the capital project is different from subvention, so we are not doing badly, but in terms of subvention which we use in paying salaries, we are far behind.
The state government has consistently told us that its looking into our problem of subvention, but it is worried about the funds to meet our request. I have to borrow money in some months to make up to pay salaries so as to avoid industrial unrest. So, that is it for the person who thinks that with the capital project amount, our problem is solved. What is solved is infrastructural problems, and you will see the development that will take place between now and the dry season and the next dry season.
The rise in school fees, many people believe has greatly affected the number of students who prefer your institution over several others in the country?
To my surprise, and to your surprise, more than ever before, the number of people who applied to come to Anambra State University increased 10 times. We have a total of 30,000 applicants vieing for 2,000 to 3,000 spaces. I have applied to NUC to increase our admission quota. Still, what they gave us is not enough, they just grudgingly gave us 500 as increase on what we have always had. So, you can see that not withstanding the increase in fees, students still prefer us.
Of course, let me also say this, and it is a statement of fact. Anambra State school fee structure is still one of the cheapest in the South East, and you can verify. Old students pay N76,000, but the first and second year pay N106,000 and 104,000 and that is because they pay most of the things the old students don't pay.
So our school fees structure is still the least. You recall that Abia State University is on strike, students went on rampage, the reason is that the university authority insists that you pay your school fees before you do exams, because that is the only way to get the money.