A view of the University of Abuja under Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah

For several years, my view of the University of Abuja remained that of a small community, so timid to embrace the warm touch of the 21st century advancement in tertiary education.

The main campus of the University which sits strategically on the Airport Road looked too quiet with scattered, aesthetically poor buildings and structure dotting the large expanse of the over 11,000 hectares, while students and staff tended to have no sense of pride among themselves. I often wondered whether it was not only those who lacked a decent taste that usually chose the University for their studies.

Then three weeks ago, I attended the matriculation ceremony of a friend’s daughter, Nnena, who was offered admission without knowing anyone in this institution; and I took time to listen to the vice-chancellor’s address, went round the campus, engaged in chats with some students and staff, and my view of this University changed positively.

First, as I got through the gate of the main campus of the University, the infrastructural development here struck me immediately, especially since it was in early 2019 that I last visited the campus.

There were big physical structures rising everywhere, large trucks carrying heaps of sands and gravels and dumping them somewhere deep into the campus; new roads stretching several kilometres; portions of land getting cleared in preparation for more works, making the university look like a huge construction site, while electricity poles are adorned with boards showcasing the unique selling points of the University in various forms.

I could not fail to see the new building of the Academic Conference Centre by the right of the gate, Academic Staff Office Complex for Faculty of Agriculture, a new Senate building under construction, Indoor Sports Hall, Lecture Theatre for Faculty of Law, Academic Staff Office Complex for Faculty of Law and the long fence round a reasonable part of the front view of the main campus. I could also notice that series of repairs and maintenances of structures were being carried out on buildings bringing out their beauty.

Furthermore, I saw the edifices of some faculties that the University has recently set up. They are those of the faculties of Pharmacy, Environmental Sciences, Communications and Media Studies, though I leant later that the results of the verification exercises for these programmes including Nursing and Allied Health Services, and over 20 others more were being awaited after the recent visit of the National Universities Commission (NUC).

Now all of these massive changes taking place on this campus, were brought about in the last four years that the present vice-chancellor, Professor Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah, has presided over the affairs of the institution. Na’Allah seems to be a chief executive in a hurry to change the face of the University for the better, fast-tracking the slow pace of development that characterised the history of the university since it took off in 1988 from the temporary site in Gwagwalada.

Of course, the University of Abuja has suffered in the hands of a couple of lazy uninspiring leaders in the past who rather than work to notch it up almost strangulated its growth and development. That such a university strategically located in the Federal Capital Territory is not able to capitalise on its closeness to the seat of power and has remained backward is distastefully shocking, a development which has given some concerned people like me nightmares.
Ordinarily, given its slow spate of development, one little effort from any vice-chancellor would seem so great and likely to earn such a leader much accolade, but it is incredibly remarkable what we see happening to the University at the moment: great strides, different from a one-off touch, something like combining the performance of three administrations together or the first big rain after a prolonged drought, something like a product of pragmatic, effective and transformational leadership.

Perhaps all this is possible because Na’Allah isn’t your ordinary leader and administrator. The passion and tenacity with which this professor of Comparative Literature spoke at the matriculation ceremony about raising the University to enviable heights, leading it to join the league of world class university and empowering the students to be global citizens, demonstrated that he would not forgive himself if he failed to achieve such promises.

It is good to know that part of the ways to ensure this global citizenship of the students is making mandatory the study of a foreign language such as Arabic, French, Japanese, Portuguese and recently, Kiswahili. In studying Japanese language, particularly, the students are said to be travelling out and winning awards.
I am amazed that despite the twin effect of covid -19 and almost one year of strike that paralysed the activities and finances of most universities, the University of Abuja tends to have come this far. I wonder what this vice-chancellor would have done without the strike by the university staff, without covid-19 that have conspired to steal almost 22 months of his five-year tenure.

Despite these massive developments, there are things that worry me. One is the increasing encroachment on the University land, which is being launched from various axis of the campus including Ido, Gwagwalada and Giri, especially the last two where I leant the local government authorities have employed every instrument, including thuggery to confiscate swathes of land and selling them off to cronies. If the pace at which these intruders into its land is anything to come by, the management of the University will soon find itself in great shock if it does not declare a more holistic and virulent war against these encroaching forces.

Another issue that worries me is the high cost of fees being charged by the management of the University. Many students complained to me about the difficulty they face in paying, while some are dropping out. Though this review in school fees is understandable and somehow forgivable, especially given the high inflationary trends in the country and the evidence of the value internal revenue generation in the university is adding to the system, it will not be out of place if the management can come up with alternative means to cushion the effect for the students.

Lastly, I am worried about what may happen to the institution when a new vice chancellor takes over in the next one year and drives the university back to the path of yesterday. On this, we can maintain a let’s-wait-and-see attitude.

Moving forward, one remarkable thing that can happen to this institution is for the present management led by Professor Na’Allah to work harder to consolidate on the great developments so far and ensure that they remain very sustainable and difficult to be reversed by even the most vindictive leader, if they ever find themselves in the seat of power here.

Dr Toorchukwu I. Kipuchi writes from Mabuchi, Abuja.

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