The Vice Chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Anambra State, Prof Charles Esimone, in this interview with select journalists speaks on sundry issues about university administration, advising those interested in succeeding him as Unizik Vice Chancellor not to politicize the contest. TONY OKAFOR, Co-Publisher of the RAZOR NEWSPAPER reports.
Your tenure is coming to an end and many professors are gearing up for the position , how do you intend to make it rancour -free?
There are laid down procedures for the selection and appointment of a Vice Chancellor in the institution. I have been telling my colleagues in the senate and the university community that every professor is a potential Vice Chancellor, but we must followed the laid down procedures. National Universities Commission( NUC) has over ten years ago stated the guidelines; steps and qualifications that should be met for one to qualify to be a vice chancellor.
We have to religiously follow that guideline; there is no annointed candidate. Annointing any person is not one of the process for the selection of the Vice Chancellor of the university. People must pass through the due process of the interview; if ones emerges victorious and found appointable he is appointed as a vice chancellor.
I want to assure the public that due process must be observed, no short cut.
What we don’t want is the people turning the university into conventional political party system where there will be campaign of calumny to ascend to the position. The position of Vice Chancellor is a sensitive position that demands every sense of responsibility. Those who must ascend to the position of Vice Chancellor must have been seen to be disciplined. They must have what it takes- academic excellence is very important and community service is very crucial. All these are the demands for the position of a Vice Chancellor of a university. We are going to follow the rules closely.Whoever that emerges must follow the laid down process. I have also been telling our people that in terms of leadership, it is only God that chooses leaders. I have firm believe in God’s words and promises. You see people who are in the eyes of men very qualified and for one reason or the other, God may choose another person. Let us watch the process closely and not necessarily to heat up the polity. I said that a university is a place where the administrative acumen should be exposed at all times, coupled with academic excellence the university is supposed to showcase. Then, if that is not demonstrated,it is not proper. We must follow things accordingly because the template are very clear and everybody can see that. It is not something that is hidden. The template for appointment of vice chancellor of a university is clear and it has not been changed. I am assuring that every step and stage will be transparently done.
Recently, a professor hurriedly obtained a PhD apparently to qualify to contest for the VC position in the university. How old will a PhD be before one can qualify to contest for vice chancellor position?
When you said hurriedly obtained a PhD, it is not correct. PhD, is not obtained hurriedly. PhD is a process that last minimum of three years to get. For one to qualify for a PhD , he must have spent at least a minimum of three years, some times it could last for four, five years or more. His PhD this time may be coincidence. It was possible he could have finished last year and maybe because of the strike , the programme was delayed till this year.
Once you have a PhD, whether one year or more and you are a professor, you are qualified. The criteria do not stipulate length of years. What it stipulates is the length of time you are a professor.
In medical field , if you are a fellow, you are equivalent to a PhD holder and you are qualified to be Vice Chancellor. In our commission, it is enshrined that with a fellowship, you are assumed to be a PhD holder.
But, recently, because of evolution in the National Universities Commission (NUC) which is our parent/regulatory body , there are moves that before you are made a professor, you should have a PhD. It is not yet uniform-different universities, different establishment and format.
Even here at Unizik, we are still operating the same system because our condition of service has not changed. Here at Unizik if you have a fellowship, you can be promoted up to a professor in the medical field without a PhD.
As the Vice Chancellor of the university , are there some professors you think that cannot succeed you?
Yes, of course. Just like I told you that we have laid down procedures. I know that a professors who are not up to ten years can not be vice chancellor because we shall follow the laid down rules strictly.
The rules says that for you to be a vice chancellor, you must be a professor for at least ten years. That was what raised issue during the selection of my predecessor, that was responsible for the rancour. The NUC template that says at least ten years was being tampered with by the council because some were fronting a particular candidate who was about seven years as a professor. We said no, it was not what NUC gave as procedures for selection of vice chancellor.
I know for sure any professor who is not up to ten years can not succeed me.
We also know that there are those who have gross academic deficiency. A vice chancellor must have certain level of academic excellence. Some of the professors since they were made professors went to sleep. You are not supervising PhD students and not publishing. Why are you looking for the position of vice chancellor, just manage the position the management gave to you and go and rest. These people are the people I can say clearly, they cannot meet the criteria to be vice chancellor of this university.
Apart from length of professorship and poor academic performance , honestly, every other professor is a potential Vice Chancellor.
When you assumed office as VC, you promised of taking the university to greater height ,making it the best in Nigeria and 200 in the world , have you been able to realize that?
You know when I started with project 200,the project was to make Unizik among the best 200 universities in the world ,first 10 in Subsaharan Africa and first in Nigeria. That was the mission , the vision and the overall goal. We anticipated that within the five years,I will serve as a Vice Chancellor,that is accomplishable. As we speak, we are moving up. We are fourth in Nigeria today , we are moving closer on – in Subsaharan Africa,we are number 13 and in the world we have moved from 4494 to around 1200. In Nigeria we are fourth There are a lot of issues responsible for this visibility. Some of these issues create challenges – the first is the digital update,the world is digital and whatever you want to do to be visible you must be able to go digital. Our system has changed , the method of administration, academic delivery, the method of interaction has even changed,they are digital now.
I see that as one of the things that actually helped us to move the institution up.
Right now, our appraisals are done digitally. One of the things I did was to make sure that all staff and student have their signature email, bearing Unizik identity.
You see before now,the principle officers were having yahoo mail or Gmail and I said no we need to rebrand our university.
We now have Unizik.edu.ng as our emails, we were able to streamline that to everybody. I made sure we have our institution name in our emails and other digital devices. If you are talking about international visibility and they cannot identify you with your emails,that is already a minus.
That was a major thing we did. Though,it was difficult to change the psyche of both the staff and students to that because they were already used to their yahoo and Gmail. I insisted on institutional email because it is a brand we needed to sell our university.
On our appraisal system, which is recent development. Our appraisals today are now done digitally. When we wanted to start it , it was a big issue, people did not want it ,they wanted to remain the old way, the analogue. You know that digital traffic is a major factor of our visibility. Right now, our external accessors will not carry big bags of documents. The digital revolution is where- I saw we made much improvement, but then, we have a lot of challenges. I can see that students clearance are no longer problem, our transcripts have also gone digital. For a student to do clearance , we want to launch something within next few months.After the launch , students don’t need to queue up to do their transcripts. Once it is launched,you can do your clearance and transcripts in the comfort of your rooms,hostels or anywhere. That is an area we want to focus on now, that will also enhance our university visibility..
The key one , apart from the academic is infrastructure. If you visit any institution where the infrastructures are planned it will be seamless. What I want my successor to focus on is to plan the infrastructural development, not just building structures rather to plan them before building. If it is a classroom, he should make sure that it is connected to solar system. Maintenance of the structure is a big problem in our university, we just have structures that are not maintained and are decaying because we did not plan them well. I want to advise him,that anything he wants to build let him plan it very well,that it is connected to power and water reticulation and putting them into standard. I am trying to do that now, but I hope I will be able to complete them. We want our system to be synchronised and be connected together. When I came to the university ,I did not know that there is no power , no network and if something went wrong, it was difficult to detect. It was also a big problem and that is the reason we now have solar system and we wanted the solar to be loaded and shared. Maybe that is the reason when we get power problem in the hostel or classroom it takes us one and half years to ratified.We have to bring in a consultant, who told us that the university right from inception had no networks and everything was done in adhoc approach. No electricity network and that is what we are correcting now. We want to build the network so that if anything happens we can go to the system and find the fault. That is how it is done abroad but in our own case, they do trial and error for over six weeks. The same thing with our internet connectivity.
We are now mainstreaming it and clearing it and once that is done any building that is constructed will just be added to network. We will also check if it will add to overload. We don’t need all these generators here and there again in the university.
We have also come to realise that getting funding to run the university is becoming increasingly difficult , so we need to focus on two things- Endowment and Alumni. We are strengthening the alumni .Alumni is a big financial base ,I have checked every where. We are talking about school fees increment , it cannot even solve the problem of funding in the universities. Endowment and Alumni are bigger than all these school fees and other things we’re talking about. We are strengthening our alumni to make sure that anybody that has passed through the university will contribute , even if they contribute N100 each ,the base will solve the university administration.
I discovered this very late into my administration, but we are working on it. I will like my successor to focus on it and if he does that , there will be a lot of fund for him to run the institution.
Whether you like it or not ,university funding is dwindling and without fund nobody can run a university. As I got a lot of endowments, many things I did in the university were from endowments. Almost all the major structures, you are seeing in the university are done through endorsement. The endowment is either from government,national assembly ,private organisation and individuals. However , we have not been able to tap fully into the alumni. If we succeed in the alumni, it will help in the sustenance and building of the university. Getting every alumni is our priority and we are creating a website where we showcase our alumni of the week,month and of the Year. They will see where their money are being channelled into. I have interacted with the Vice Chancellor of Oxford University, London and others,they said that their major sources of funding is the alumni , not even for what the British government gives.
This is big financial base we are losing. I met some of our alumni in diaspora, they told me that I should just call them , the only thing they complained is that they need an organisation. We are going to have a better alumni and powerful website. The money from that source alone can be more than what students are paying as school fees.
Do you mean that could remedy the hike in school fees in Nigeria?
Yes, that will be the remedy. With that, we don’t need hike in school fees any more. If we organise it well the revenue base of this university will be massive.
There is one issues reoccurring in the University about one Afam Ezeoku sexually harassing students. There have been various committees that indicted him.You also set up a committee that indicted him, he is just suspended for three months, what is happening?
I did not set up Prof Obi Oguejiofor’s committee . The case of Afam Ezeoku never came up under me as a Vice Chancellor. It was not under my tenure and I won’t be able to say much about it. It maybe possible under any of my predecessors,I can’t say exactly.
But on Afam,what I saw was a social media report -suspending him is the way to go. Due process is important in handling such an issue. First, is to suspend the person, investigate. What we are doing now is investigation and once it is completed and he is indicted by the committee, it will then go to the joint council senate disciplinary committee and that is the committee that whatever it says will be presented to the council -the final decision.
If we do otherwise, he will go to court; even it stays 10 years and that is what we have had. The previous VCs did that and those who had come back , we are paying heavily because due process was not followed. Once you suspend a person, we investigate properly. There is no emotions ,no sentiment about it, if you use emotion and dismissed the person, no problem,one year after, he will approach court for damages. We have paid N75 millions and N80 millions for something we knew were oblivious but we did not follow due process.
We are following due process in this case, once he is found culpable , he will leave the university, there is no two ways about it.
You are planning to install CCTV cameras in the staff offices and classrooms and this is generating issues, how are you handling the issue?
The CCTV project is a phase thing. It is to save the students. When you see that some people are just so careless about some of these key issue of sexual harassment, extortion and sorting to pass exam. We are starting with classrooms. We are still deliberating on that of offices. They have given their reasons why CCTV will not be installed in their offices but I told them that office is not a private apartment of anybody. However some people have one or two reasons but then we will look into those reasons. We will sit down again and look into their reasons. In modern offices , they use what is called open offices. I was telling some of them that the project is to help them because some of them don’t want to hold themselves in one way or the other. We don’t want to heat up the system because of that.
Meanwhile, we have installed CCTV in many classrooms. Also students are messing up the system . It is not just lecturers and staff.
I won’t like to impose anything on them, we will sit down and talk. They also need to understand . We are not happy with the social media reports about the university. This administration need to do something to show we are intolerant about the negative activities.
We have had a town hall meeting with students ,with all the student union in the university. We encouraged and asked them to speak out. We are going to launch operation speak,if you are oppressed. Majority of the students are afraid of speaking out because some of the lectures are threatening them.
Some of the students have spoken out and I have set up a committee to investigate them. We are investigating them, if any is found guilty,at least we start from those ones. We have five or six cases of harassment, we are investigating. I told the students that what we are doing is to protect them. I assured them that nobody will harassed them under my administration and go free. All along this had been happening ,only that students don’t come out to speak out. I have said that once I see the case I will follow it up. I have zero tolerance for sexual harassment, even in my faculty, the faculty of pharmacy I sacked one of my boys. I brought him into the university from a company and nobody believed I could sack him. He did not even believe I could sack him.
Everybody knew he was my boy. We followed due process, investigated him and we found him guilty , I have to sack him. If you like be my brother, my wife or anybody once you are found in that position, you are gone.
I told the students that they should be rest assured that if they give information it must be followed to a logical conclusion. Once any person’s name is dropped in any of these issues, he will be investigated and if found guilty ,the person will go.
I also urged the students to come forward and give evidence because without evidence we cannot do anything. We must have evidence to do our investigations. I also told them not to be afraid of giving evidence, that the university will protect them. We are embarking on total cleansing of the university.
Recently, there have been a lot of security challenges on campus, even EEDC cable was vandalised in your institution,what is happening?
Honestly, when I saw that I was happy on the one hand. The issues of security has become a great challenge for two reasons. For now, security is outsourced.Government said you can outsourced. The people who are being outsourced to do the job are not there because of the same problems of funding.
The agency that actually handles the security , we have been having problem with them for some time. Actually, we owing them. It is a big shame, but that is the reality. Because of the issues,their service cannot cover everywhere in the university. We have made some arrangement last two months to engage causal security. There are also, sometimes volunteer staff who want to work in the safety unit. We have trained them,though some of them have not been deployed.When they are all deployed , they will cover the whole of the campus.
When security was being mainstream in our salary , we had about 600 security personnel,today we can not afford that number, anymore.