3 January 2013

Nigeria: 2015 Benue Governorship - I May Be Interested - Prof. Ker

Professor David Iornongo Ker is the former Vice Chancellor of the Benue State University Makurdi after which he worked with the National Universities Commission in Abuja. Thereafter Catholics Bishops appointed him Vice Chancellor of Veritas University. In this interview he speaks about why he left Veritas, gives an account of his stewardship there, and also comments on speculations that he may contest for governor of Benue State come 2015. SOLOMON AYADO was there for LEADERSHIP.

Why have you left Veritas University?

I left because my tenure ended two weeks ago. I had a two-year tenure; it was a special arrangement with the Bishops Conference that I would do two years to complete the tenure of the VC I was replacing. The idea was that after the two years my appointment could be renewed but for personal reasons I didn't want the appointment to be renewed.

So sometime in September this year I gave them the mandatory three months notice that I would not like my appointment to be renewed , that I would prefer to finish the two-year tenure which was the first appointment in the letter I got.

Some close watchers say you had problems or disagreements with your employers which bordered on staff welfare, emoluments and things like that, what's your comment?

I wouldn't describe it as problems I think there was a slight misunderstanding about the personal emoluments. We were paying what is known as CONUASS which was the salary scale agreed upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, and the Federal Government and it was to enable us maintain a competitive edge with other universities.

If you have to be the best, you must be able to offer comparable salaries. And I believe my proprietors believe that that is a bit high. They were hoping they could negotiate something lower than that. That's natural; I didn't see it as a major disagreement. They are people who had the money and it was not enough so they had to maximize it. That's not the reason why I left anyway.

Many think you didn't agree on that so you had to leave...

I'm not the kind of person that would run away from a challenge. I think we could have solved that easily.

Can you give us a brief account of your stewardship there, about the things you were able to do in two years?

The one I'm most proud of is the fact that I witnessed, for the first time, the National Universities Commission, NUC, visiting the University for the Accreditation Exercise. Mind you it's a new university so none of the programs had yet been accredited. So we were welcoming them in March this year for the first time since the university opened its door to students and staff. And I'm very happy to tell you that the university received full accreditation for all its programmes.

It's a major legacy that I believe I've left for Veritas because first of all it's a bit unique that a new institution facing the accreditation team for the first time will get that kind of excellent result in all the programs. I'm very proud of that legacy. The second thing that I've left behind is the atmosphere of peace. If you'll recall when I got there my predecessor had been kidnapped, the Bursar was kidnapped, three students were kidnapped and there was tension both within the university and outside with the community. By the time I was leaving there was calm both inside and outside. I give glory to God for giving me that wisdom that allowed me to settle matters amicably with the community of Obehie.

Do you have any regrets? Would have wished to stay on?

No, not at all, I really wanted to leave. You know it's very challenging on a personal level. I had to discuss that with my family very closely. I've been a VC before and by the grace of God I was a very successful VC so I didn't really have anything to prove. But when the Bishops approached me to take the job, I said well I know this job well and this is my church there is no reason why I can't offer my services to the church in which I worship. So I took the challenge. I think I left at an appropriate time.

The sacrifices I was making were enormous. I once told someone that I was in my second NYSC round because if you remember I had to literally hide in Port-Harcourt and drive every morning to Obehie for work and back meanwhile the report I got was very unsafe but I thank God that I came back okay.

The hustle of coming to check on my family itself and so on, it was becoming a bit much for me. If you're much younger you have a lot of adrenaline and energy, you could afford to lose energy but it was becoming tough. And as I said it was a troubling decision to withdraw my services after that short tenure officially came to a close.

So what are you doing at the moment?

Doing what I know how to do best - teaching English. I've already reported in my Department; supervising projects at all levels, undergraduate and postgraduate, I feel very excited about it.

Have you been given a designation or are just a lecturer here?

I am a professor of English.

Some see your exit at Veritas as preparation for 2015; what's your comment?

There's no harm in people thinking that way. I'm a son of Benue who loves Benue very much and I always try to do my best especially in the area where I know well - education, to improve the quality of life for people here. I think that in itself is politics. You're thinking of education in those terms; improving access to education for Benue people.

When you stay in a place like this, obviously every other day I'll be involved in the process of decision making in one way or the other. I think in all modesty I can claim to be a stakeholder in this enterprise called Benue. I haven't declared any interest but I don't think there's any harm when people think that I may be interested.

BSU clocked 20 this year; as a pioneer staff, former Vice Chancellor, as well a major stakeholder as you've said, how would you assess the institution?

Oh, I'm so proud of this institution. In words I won't be able to tell you how I feel. When you came with your newspaper and I saw that we had graduated 23,000 in this university in the 20 years that we've been around, my head swelled up again because I know that I've contributed a lot to that number and I feel so proud. Everywhere I go, in Lagos, I remember even in Nairobi not too long ago a confident young man walked to me and said he was my student here and he works with CNN, I felt so excited.

My joy is the joy of somebody at the back of the yard who has planted some beautiful grains and so on and he goes every evening and he finds that they're sprouting and producing fruits; this is a wonderful thing that has happened to Benue. It's one industry that I believe very strongly by the grace of God will not die. Others have seen all kinds of stages of growth, mostly comatose, this one is getting more and more vibrant and I'm proud of it. I'm very proud of Benue State University, I'm very proud of that result.

And I'm so happy that I've also come back in this 20th year to share in the joy of the successes that we've recorded in this period. It's amazing that it's already 20 years. I told someone recently that I can remember as a Deputy Vice Chancellor carrying my own broom to sweep the office and dusting it and sitting down and working hard. It all seems like yesterday when you see what you've achieved with it. I was looking at the convocation brochure and the names of the members of Senate and so many of them were young men and women that were assistant lecturers in 1992, 1993; isn't that fantastic?

We've grown our own professors and they are solid professors in this university. I think that it should be something that should be cheering news anywhere in the world. So I'm very excited about what we have achieved in 20 years. Mind you it's a collective thing that's why I'm saying "we"; there are many of us. Many of us have been part and parcel of this big dream which Rev. Adasu and his people ensured that it was concretized in 1992.

Are there some areas you wish recorded more improvement, more progress?

Of course, we're short of space. We're really short of space, we need classrooms for our students, we need offices for the staff. More seriously is the issue of classrooms for students. They're overcrowded and I think that it can be done. I think that with the good will that holds this university together, if the stakeholders, we used to talk about these local governments for instance, if they could put in a certain percentage as a contribution to BSU monthly, we will have large lecture theatres where examinations can hold, we'll have medium sized lecture theatres, that way everybody is comfortable.

The way things are now I used to describe it as lecture by rumor because it got so bad that students sometimes have to stand by the window and because they stand by the window they're saying, what is he saying? So obviously it's almost like there's a rumor but we can minimize that structural deficiency if we sit and work together. What we did in 2003 was to approach ALGON and ALGON gave us these monies that we built one lecture theatre here and one up there and then the Faculty of Arts building.

That was just for six months' contribution. If they do that just for two, three years sustainably, we will be very far. Then there'll be enough accommodation to take care of the teaming, like I said this is one successful industry that Benue has and we can keep it so.

Are you not worried that many of your graduates are unemployed?

Of course I'm worried. But I keep saying that I'll rather have a youth who has a degree and doesn't have a job than one who is not educated. So the issue of employment should be handled seriously but we should not stop admitting. I think it's very worrying. Some of them in five six years after they graduate from here they don't have jobs and it's really worrying. So the job creation issue should be on the front burner of our government, we have to say government because there're no industries.

Then this success story will be a much better song to sing because until they're actually gainfully employed, it doesn't have to be in Benue that's why I told you I met this one in Nairobi working with CNN, but the opportunities should be limitless, because we can't have this kind of reserve of intellectuals just wasting.

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