22 November 2012

Nigeria: Ahmadu Bello University Story - the Vision, the Hope


Mni — The birth of Ahmadu Bello University ABU is a story of vision and hope which began a year after Nigeria's independence with the report of scoping activity on the future of education in Nigeria. The Ashby Commission looked into "Post-School Certificate and Higher Education in Nigeria" and recommended the establishment of a University for the Northern Region.

In April 1961, the Northern Nigeria Legislature passed a law establishing a provisional Council for the university. The University commenced full operation in 1962 and was named after the Sardauna of Sokoto and Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello (1901 - 1966) who became its first Chancellor. During his installation in October 1963, Sir Ahmadu Bello, said:

The Cardinal Principle upon which our University is founded is to impart knowledge and Learning of Men and Women of all races without any distinction on the grounds of race, religious, or political beliefs. This principle is enshrined in the University Law. Only through freedom of membership and freedom of enquiry and research can a University be drawn into the full ferment of thought from which new knowledge comes. Only if it adheres to those freedoms can it became truly great. If our staff and students are drawn from all parts of the world, then the mixture of international minds working together in an atmosphere of academic freedom can produce a University true to its ideal and meaning.

The dream of freedom and the vision of learning echo through the message of the founders. Today, ABU has the largest and most extensive university in Africa, South of the Sahara.

The leaders at the helm of affairs worked hard to establish the Institution ABU has had renowned educationists and academics as Vice- Chancellors: Professor Norman Alexander (1961 - 1966), Professor Ishaya Audu (1966 - 1975), Professor Iya Abubakar (1975 - 1978), Professor Oladipo Akinkugbe (1978 - 1979), Professor Ango Abdullahi (1979 - 1986), Professor Adamu Nayaya Mohammed (1986 - 1991), Professor Danial Saror (1991 - 1995), Major-General Mamman Tsofo Kontagora (rtd) the Sole Administrator (1995 - 1998), Professor Abdullahi Mahdi (1991 - 2004); Professor Shehu Usman Abdullahi (2004 -2010; and Professor Abdullahi Mustapha, 2010 to date.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of this great university several events were lined up. The week of November 5-8, 2012 witnessed essay competitions, students' project exhibition, best research presentation, Inter-Faculty Games and fun fair From November 13 -12 a symposium on History, Achievements and Challenges of ABU, Zaria was organised. On November 9 2012 projects were commissioned and, the following day, a Public Lecture on Vision and Mission of founders of ABU and the launching of ABU@50 Book. The activities were rounded up with a special convocation, a convocation lecture, commissioning of a Hall of Fame, Sir Ahmadu Bello Merit Award and launching of ABU Endowment Fund

The launching of the endowment fund set me thinking about the funding challenges facing universities and the education sector in Nigeria. For ABU in particular it had to face the expanding needs of an institution with so many centres and rapidly increasing student population. This was amply reflected in the report of the Visitation Panel appointed by the Federal Government to look into the Affairs of the university in 2010.

Among the Terms of Reference of the Panel were: To inquire into the level of implementation of the White Paper on the last Visitation Report; To look into the financial management of each institution including statutory allocations and internally generated revenue over the recommended period and determine whether it was in compliance with appropriate regulation. Others were, to trace the historical evolution of the University and take stock of its net achievements and problems'. The Panel also examined its style and sense of direction and advised on fundamental or expedient corrections needed to enable the University to better achieve the objectives set for it;

The Visitation Panel observed that ABU like other universities was experiencing 'dwindling allocation from Government' and urged the University Management and Council to streamline other sources of funding. It recommended efficiency and honesty in the operation of University owned enterprises and a more aggressive pursuit of funds from internal sources." The University Council while acknowledged the improvement in funding by the Federal Government said it had reconstituted and refocused University enterprises. It also recently established ABU Holding Company Limited for the streamlining and management of ABU investment companies. It has also put in place ABU Estate Management Company charged with the duty among others of recommending to Council economic rates for University houses.

An innovation that many universities in different parts of the world are tapping into is maximizing fund raising from corporate organisations that are often attracted to funding social sector projects, mainly education and health. Many organised private sector donors are also encouraged because they also get tax rebate from donating to charitable causes. One was happy to note that ABU is exploring this and the University said it was making efforts to strengthen its collaboration with a United States private foundation the MacArthur Foundation and also a Nigerian one the MTN Foundation. A Directorate of Information and Communication Technology was established by the University to implement its ICT policy. It received grants from MacArthur Foundation which it is fully deployed for enhancing the ICT requirements of the University. The ICT project is to provide internet access throughout the main campus in Samaru and the Kongo Campus in Tudun Wada in downtown Zaria.

Those of us who passed through ABU a few decades ago when standard were quite high are really concerned at the deterioration in services. This was visible from the worn out look of the hostels that were overdue for renovation. The Visitation Panel did mention the poor facilities in the hostels stressing that they should be urgently rehabilitated and expanded. Indeed the Panel painted a disturbing picture. 'The situation in the hostels, most especially the female hostels, will sooner than later lead to very serious health problem. It is safer, faster and cheaper for government to increase the number of bed spaces by creating more hostels now than to wait for out-break of so many communicable diseases which may be difficult to control and more costly. The Panel urged government to build more hostels 'without prejudice to the existing government policy of encouraging private developers to build hostels in universities on agreed terms. There should be an immediate construction of more hostels."

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