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‘Research, bedrock of technological advancement’

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Asiabaka

Asiabaka

YOU have a year left on your five-year single tenure. Have you accomplished the major part of your vision for FUTO or are there things you think you need an extra tenure to complete?

The RTP is basically where science, theory, come together. We are looking at Aba, Nnewi, Awka, Onitsha for instance. In these places, they have the concept of rural technology. So, we are trying to see how we can come together and use this synergy to ensure technological development.

Thankfully, it is a non-renewable five-year tenure, which would expire next year; there will be no extension. When I became vice chancellor on June 19, 2011, I came up with my mantra and that mantra is the quest for excellence. That mantra contained what I intend to do in the long term and short term. On the short term, we computerised the university, blocked loopholes of wastage in the system. Today, we have what I call the e-Senate, e-registration, e-payment, e-council and e-payment. Still within the mantra were plans to internationalise the university. Today, we have contacts with at least 20 universities worldwide. In that mantra, we said we were going to be accountable, transparent, and move towards being a world-class university. We are inching towards that. In the same mantra, I talked about increasing opportunity for people to have access in terms of infrastructure. We have done that so far.

In my annual state of the university address, I try to see how far we are going with this mantra. I know others would do the final assessment. We now have a five-year strategic plan, a research policy in place and annual reports to show that what we are doing is transparent. We are moving in the right direction.

Has the university established any synergy with local technological content in the South East?

This is the reason we celebrate the actualisation of the Research and Technological Park (RTP) in FUTO. The Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) approved the sum of N1 billion for us to initiate that process. And by this development, the first research and technological park in the country, even the first in the continent, will be established in FUTO. The minister of education did the foundation of the centre last year during our convocation ceremony

The RTP is basically where science, theory, come together. We are looking at Aba, Nnewi, Awka, Onitsha for instance. In these places, they have the concept of rural technology. So, we are trying to see how we can come together and use this synergy to ensure technological development. The RTP, when fully established will have incubator laboratories, research laboratories and researchers’ residence. We are thinking that when we have the RTP fully operational, we will put in people to have patents and finally commercialise it. The RTP is a place where industries, universities and the public come together for the enhancement of technology. And we are of the opinion that, if it has been done in other climes, why not Nigeria? We have the wherewithal to do it. And in every four African scientists, one is a Nigerian. So, why should we, with the economic base, the technical know-how, fail?

Given our special needs and deficiencies, how was the RTP conceived to enhance technological growth?

Science is not hidden; there are several researches and technological parks in the world. In fact, it is a global concept. What we have done is to think global and act local. Basically, we are looking at what prevails in other climes to thrive. I have looked at what we have locally like what we call the “Made-In-Aba,” which is a metaphor for what we can do for ourselves. We have the blacksmiths of Awka, the local techies in Onitsha and Nnewi, and with FUTO in their midst, a lot can happen. And when I liken it to the research triangle of North Carolina, then I think we are in a better position to tap into that potential. I am eager to get it off the ground and I am glad the Federal Government has come in strongly to assist in that. And then, FUTO is the premier university of technology in this country and we are in a hurry to compete globally.

We are producing a car in collaboration with the Technical University of Munich (TUM) in Germany. By May last year, we exhibited the prototype and we are talking with the Federal Government to see how we can tap into the automotive industry bill and get some money to get the car off the ground.

Is there any collaborative effort between FUTO and local car manufacturing companies in the South East to enable them key in to the RTP?

When the RTP becomes operational, we expect the local car manufacturing companies to get involved. These companies will be waiting on the wings for patents. It is going to be a collaborative work with them. The end is to commercialise research.

What do you see as the biggest challenge in embracing technological advancements?

The challenge is in our attitude. So, we need to start thinking; start making good use of our brain. Another challenge is our orientation to education. The founding fathers of FUTO believed that you should not be employed, but you should be employable. They believed that enhancing the practical part of education should be part of education. If we take this further, we will be talking of other infrastructures that make the system work like electricity. As soon as these things are addressed, and we re-orientate ourselves and not take it as business as usual, we will progress.

When we are thinking of challenges, we should stop thinking of generic challenges and hurdles. The problem of electricity is generic; it is not something that we must not get out of. If we start thinking out of the box, somebody can now know how we will deal with electricity. For example, we have nearly 24 hours of sunlight and with the availability of renewable energy; the issue of electricity can be taken care of. We don’t have electricity all round the clock, but when we have it, what do we do with it. If we think out of the box, we will solve the problem of electricity. In Israel, every house has a solar panel on its rooftop. They are living in the desert, but yet they have the fourth highest GDP in the world, and they don’t have oil or mineral. They are thinking and so they have conquered their environment.

In this seemingly eternal quest for technological advancement, what is the immediate technological need of Nigeria?

We should be thinking of appropriate technology. The technology that is working in a place where you have regular supply of electricity is not the same that will be used in a place where electricity supply is epileptic. The technology that is used in an environment where nearly everybody is literate is not the same that can be used in a place where half of the population are uneducated. The Israeli Institute of Technology said its duty is to answer questions from government. And I have told the Federal Government that our duty as Federal University of Technology is to answer questions from the government. Let them ask us questions, empower us to answer those questions and we will answer them.

The universities of technology are there basically to answer technological questions. But they should be empowered to do that. We also need to change the educational orientation of the country, and this is where vocational and technical education comes into play. It is not everybody that needs to pass through the university. Experience has shown that you don’t need a university education in order to make a mark in technological development. Bill Gates with his Microsoft Company, the late Steve Jobs and his Apple computer are two examples. They were university dropouts. So, we should emphasis less on certificates and we would gradually move in that direction.

However, we are not so far off the mark because some of the advanced countries we are comparing ourselves with didn’t just get there overnight. I am saying so because we are just 55 years old as a nation and some of these countries are over 100 years old.

What is the state of funding for the school?

Funding for whatever we have achieved in terms of infrastructure has been from the Federal Government. In the last three and a half years, there are over 40 projects executed in this institution, all funded by the Federal Government. FUTO is blessed by the quantum of assistance from the Federal Government through its intervention agencies like TETFund, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and others. The university has been transformed because of the availability of funds. We are talking in terms of the things that make a university of this nature thick. In all my years in university administration we have not had it so good.

Before TETFund sponsored RTP, we were looking for external funding, trying to also do endowments. But the truth is that a good idea cannot die and that is why TETFund believed in it before throwing in N1 billion. When the RTP takes off and we secure the interests of big industries, I am sure funding can also flow from there. In other climes, companies and individuals bring in money to fund researches because government alone cannot fund researches.

How did it make you feel when your name was recently linked with political propaganda?

Initially, I laughed it off. But I then wondered why people should be so mean, uncharitable, wicked in their attempt to put my name into disrepute. I earned my respect. I have served this country academically; I am a scientist and not a politician. The tabloids wrote how overnight I became the first cousin of the incumbent governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha. How I fund All Progressives Congress (APC); relocated my office to the governor’s residence, started recruiting ad hoc staff for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and how I am lobbying to be Secretary to the State Government (SSG). How close is being the vice chancellor of the foremost university of technology in this country and being an SSG? The most ridiculous of these allegations is that I am the first cousin to the governor. We are not even from the same local council.
How would you describe the relationship between the state government and the university, especially after the alleged collusion between the government and host communities to annex over 75 per cent of the university’s land?

They did that but it is my responsibility to safeguard the university land. So, we challenged it in court and we finally settled out of court. The government had it gazzetted and that intrusion has been rescinded. It didn’t put them in good light when the court revoked the seizure because the Federal Government properly acquired the land and I had a duty to perform.



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