interviewBy Victor Edozie
Port Harcourt — Since the appointment of Professor Barineme Fakea as Vice chancellor of Rivers State University of Science and Technology on September 5 2012, the varsity community has not known peace. Affiliate unions have embarked on several protests citing irregularities in his appointment. But Fakae appears undaunted by these drawbacks, insisting there is plenty to celebrate about the embattled university. Excerpts:
What challenges did you meet on ground immediately you assumed office?
The university was doing well until about 2000 when its fortune started to plummet and things deteriorated to the extent that by 2005 only eight out of the 39 academic programs running were accredited by the National Universities Commission [NUC]. For instance, when Architecture was visited by the NUC in November 2005 it scored only 20.7% which was far below the minimum score of 70%. The university also lost its license to run the MBA program. It remained so until 2007 when the visitor and Governor of Rivers State Chibuike Amaechi came into office.
Over admission and admission racketeering was glaring and was enjoyed by those who benefitted. Admission system undermined merit and NUC approved carrying capacity. Infrastructural and environmental decay were its hallmark. Records were in shamble with an Exams and records unit that did not have records inside it and this created difficulties in obtaining transcripts. Results for examined students were not released as at when due just as convocation did not hold. Certificates were not issued from 2002 and the issued certificates were without identifying or reference numbers. Academic corruption with examination malpractices were outstanding, sales of grades for cash was a commonplace phenomena as well as obsolete financial administrative system existed. Laxity, truancy and entrenched ethnicity and nepotism at the expense of merit and excellence were at the highest ebb. There was low morale in both workforce and students because of high level of corruption in the system. There was a very strong resistance to change by those who were benefiting from the corruption in the system.
Most of them see me as a threat because of my determination to effect change. The rot in the system was over bearing and we were very determined without caring whose ox was gored to effect the change you are seeing now in RSUST. There was so much rot that time will not permit me to point them out here. Are we talking of improper data handling in the university or the inefficient manual processes with bottlenecks as well as lack of synergy and integration of processes. Incessant strikes and disruption of academic programs were predictable. There was a total breakdown of discipline, law and order in all ramifications of the university. This plethora of irregularities necessitated the setting up of the powerful Professor Munzali Jubril visitation panel by Rivers state government in 2005. All this created credibility challenges for the university and this was why the governor insisted that we undertake a rescue mission in the university.
How were you able to tackle all these enormous challenges?
Actually the problems we met on ground were enormous. We adopted so many strategies to tackle these challenges. The first step we took towards this direction was the recovery of lost programs in all our faculties. We prepared the first academic brief ever and restored infrastructure as well as tackling of environmental degradation. We went ahead to streamline students records which was bastardized in the past while we insisted on good delivery and prompt release of results. We also conducted intensive appraisals to clear backlogs of staff promotion and ensure there is full compliance to extant rules and regulations. In the past, convocations were held with backlog of graduates results not ready for collection but now it's no longer like that. We have cleared the backlogs of graduation students through a combined convocation ceremony which was followed by a back to back convocation in which all graduates were given certificates instantly. As I am talking to you now we have had 100% accreditation for all courses presented to NUC and by this we are one of the respected universities as cited by the regulatory authorities. Out of 124 universities in the country, we are not among the top 27 considered qualified for visitation by NUC for the purposes of institutional accreditation but we are now institutionally accredited with an impressive score of 67.25% and rated A in the second category to operate as a university for the next five years. RSUST recently shot up from 76th position to the 19th position on the world webometric ranking table of Nigerian universities. Our infrastructures have greatly improved and we have achieved milestones in completion of staff offices, classrooms, student accommodation, parking lots, laboratories, staff school are in our tenure report.
There are allegations that the e-varsity project you introduced is fraudulent and a conduit pipe to siphon from students. Is this true?
We are the foremost e-varsity with an enviable record of 12 years results online- downloadable from any part of the world. This allows for instant transcript preparation. The university now runs an e-senate [totally paperless] since all senate members use their laptops, ipads or notepads during senate meetings. Students now see their results without bribing their way and parents can confirm their children and wards status online. Today the university can boast of running the most robust campus management system which is still scalable. It has one of the largest ICT centers which houses over 1000 work stations with a standby 375KVA alternative power supply. It runs IT academy in universities in the country in partnership with Microsoft Cisco and Intel. The university has successfully implemented e-examinations which are now being introduced to remove all the misconducts, irregularities and difficulties that arise with manual exams. Students get hostel allocation of their choice on first-come-first-serve basis, also online, just as we obtain reservations on aircrafts. Admission is strictly by merit and the admission lists are publicly displayed, online and print media. Our online processes have removed corruption because we now run a cashless university and students statistics are unknown. All backlogs of certificates from 2002 have been signed and available for collection.
We have largely overcome our credibility challenges and have thus started enjoying industrial intervention for example donation of AutoCAD laboratory by Chevron , donation of 140 workstations with 375 KVA generator for the E-learning [testing] center by NDDC , donation of CNC lathe Machines for RACAM by NASENI , provision of campus -wide Wi-Fi and CUG by MTN , donation of modern towing tank for marine engineering laboratory by Shell , donation of Malaria control testing kits to environmental and applied biology research group by world health organization, ongoing construction of a modern IT centre by SNEPCO. These are our modest achievements so far. So those who said our e-varsity project is a fraud are those whom the changes and revolution we have introduced have checkmated their criminal activities.
The lecturers from your university said they are still on strike and will never go back to class until due process is followed in appointment of a substantive VC?
I wish you will find time to visit the university campus and find out things for yourself. Those who said they are on strike are not lecturers from RSUST. About 95% of our lecturers are working. Those that refused to resume have been relieved of their appointments according to the laws establishing the university. Academic activities in the university are in full swing and we are moving forward.