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‘How we’re tackling challenges at Ambrose Ali varsity’

By Michael Egbejule
24 May 2019   |   4:17 am
One of my decisions when i came in as the VC was to ensure that such practices no longer exist and i saw it as a herculean task.

Prof. Ignatius Onimawo is the Vice Chancellor of Ambrose Alli University (AAU). In this interview with MICHAEL EGBEJULE, he spoke on his administration’s efforts to promote academic excellence and boost infrastructure in the institution among other issues.

How were you able to address the problem of missing results, a very disturbing issue in the institution?
One of my decisions when i came in as the VC was to ensure that such practices no longer exist and i saw it as a herculean task. We quickly decided to use ICT to solve the problem.

That was why we introduced Computer Based Test/Exams which means that as soon as the students finish writing, all they need to do is to press the submit button and their scores will immediately display on the screen. It is not a matter of go home and we will process your result.

When we did that for all 100 level and 200 level courses, we discovered that the issue of missing results was completely eliminated. The issue a lecturer expecting some students to bring money before he does his job was also completely eliminated and that has brought a lot of sanity to the university system.

We started this initiative with 100 level and 200 level students because these are students that can easily be cajoled. They do not know their left from their right. In fact, when they come in, people can tell them, if you do not do this or do that, you cannot pass but now, they have realised they can pass and that all they need do is to read their books; their exams will be written by computer and their results will be right there on the screen.

There is no other federal or state university in Nigeria that has been able to do this but we are doing it here in Ambrose Alli University and that is one reason we talk about making AAU to become the best state university in the country.

Many students evaded tuition fees  or forged school fees tellers and graduated in the past. How have you addressed this problem?
We have improved ways to ensure we collect our school fees. In the past, we had what we called Task Force on School Fees. They move from one exam hall to another asking students for their school fees receipts. This new ICT method has helped us to collect our school fees with ease because if you login with your computer, without school fees, you cannot access it. So apart from the fact that it has brought sanity to our academics, it also has helped us in the collection of school fees.

How were you able to tackle the issue of violence that usually characterized the students union government election on campus?
The last two Students Union Government (SUG) elections in AAU were conducted electronically. There is an electronic display board and as the votes are being cast, it is displaying on the screen and you can see who is leading and how all candidates are fairing.

So, it is not a question of go and count result as every single vote is displayed as the voting takes place and all the candidates agents are there with their laptops and are monitoring it. Whoever wins, we already know and we have done this two consecutive times now. No issues, very transparent and we have been telling our colleagues from other universities to also use this method.

You may not appreciate this if you don’t know what happened before. Sometimes in the past, students get killed during SUG elections and some will snatch ballot boxes. Students don’t need to go and queue up anywhere to vote in AAU as at today. All you need is your smart phone. Once you login to the portal, you cast your vote and once you do so, it counts. You can’t vote twice from the same phone. We developed the App here and that is what we have been using for our student union election.

Has AAU embraced ICT beyond writing exams and marking results?
ICT innovation is also being used in senate screening of final exams and it has helped us in seamless collation of results. It has also helped in cutting costs and managing our resources better.

There is a dearth of infrastructure in the institution after over three decades of the school’s existence?
You know, the university is not only about academics and students. Infrastructure is also a major part of it. When you go to a university, the first thing that catches your attention is the infrastructure on ground and AAU has suffered in that area over the years. Yes, there are few good buildings around but a majority of the buildings were what could be called ‘wooden buildings.’ When we came on board, I said, let’s put an end to all these ‘wooden buildings.’ As God will have it, we were lucky that after much writing, pushing and negotiations, we were able to access some funds.

We were able to access TETFUND funds and have been able to build a new faculty of Life Science. Now, the way TETFUND works is that, for you to be able to access funds, you must be able to show what you have done with previous funds you accessed. We passed their criteria and they gave us opportunity to access their funds and we have also now completed the building of Physical Science Faculty. As we were doing this, we were also able to, through some contacts, access special intervention from TETFUND. Last year, only six universities were selected to benefit from them to build and AAU was one of them. We have about 33 projects on-going at the moment and they are at different stages of completion.

We have lecture theatres going on and a lot of other infrastructural constructions scattered all over the place. So, infrastructurally, we have changed the face of AAU and we are still working. We are also very lucky that NDDC came and started helping us as well. Shell came and donated an ICT centre to us. Tony Elumelu came and donated projectiles to us as well.

All these came during this period under review and it is three years of my being the VC and I still have two years to go.

Cultism was a big problem facing the institution. Do you still have the problem?
On the issue of cultism, we came together and said things cannot remain the same. So we came up with strategies and solutions to curb the menance. Through these efforts and the grace of God, the issue of cultism has been greatly addressed.

Strike is a great challenge for higher institutions particularly concerning staff welfare and issues of unionism
We have a good relationship with our students and our staff unions have also been very cooperative and we have had a smooth working relationship.

The institution seem s to have zero tolerance for sexual harrasment by Lecturers and recently the suspension of the chairman of your local chapter of ASUU has raised a lot of controversy Prof. Igbafen is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy who was suspended in February over alleged sexual harassment. Igbafen is saying the police is after me. I laughed when I read about it that we should be arrested for forgery. I went to the Commissioner of Police when I was informed about the petition. I showed the commissioner the letter written by one engineer. The letter accused me of covering up the report that indicted Professor Igbafen. It threatened to drag me to ICPC and EFCC.

I minuted on the letter to Igbafen and he replied that something like that happened many years ago and the matter was concluded. He said he believed that the people that wrote the letter were after me. The Registrar brought the report and he was indicted. The report recommended that he should be arraigned before the Senior Staff Disciplinary Committee for further disciplinary actions. He was accused of sexual harassment. The panel found him culpable and they said he was accused of gross misconduct and abuse of office. We wrote back to him to say what he said was not true. We placed him on suspension until he is cleared and hell was let loose. He went online and using all media to castigate me and my family. He dragged my wife into the matter saying I promoted her from a typist to lecturer I.

The police has concluded their report. The girl and the mother testified before the police. The girl said she lost job opportunities for five years. Igbafen locked up this girl’s result in his locker and travelled abroad. We have been keeping quiet. Since he wants to dance naked, we will let the world know what happened. A first letter that came from one lawyer said they didn’t send anybody to write the first letter but that does not exonerate Igbafen.

This matter is no longer between the family and Igbafen. It is now between the university and Igbafen because it is against our ethics.

Igbafen was given fair hearing. The girl said Igbafen harassed her three times. They have to break into his office to produce the girl’s papers. We will prosecute any lecturer caught harassing students. Being an ASUU chairman does not give immunity to commit any crime. He said I am now running everywhere. He is supposed to be asking for the matter to cool down but he is escalating it. The local ASUU set up a committee of elders. I told them I cannot suspend Igbafen because he is an ASUU chairman. I told them the issues. The matter was already before the Governing Council.  I cannot withdraw it. If Councils gives a directive, I will oblige. I asked them to ask Igbafen what was my offence? Why he decided to rubbish me since I came into office.