By Eze Anaba, Deputy Editor & Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
IN just three months, the fairy-tale is changing at the Federal University of Petroleum Resources, FUPRE, Effurun, Delta State, which had been in the news, since last year, for reasons other than academic proficiency.
Before now, it was one contract scandal or the other, or the students were on the streets, protesting non-accreditation of their degree programmes. In fact, final year students shunned their final examination, last year, demanding definite word from the authorities of the institution on their fate after writing the said examination.
It is, therefore, a bolt from the blue to learn that in 90 days the issue of accreditation was no longer a problem in FUPRE and that its students will participate in the next batch of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC scheme. Clearly, new things are happening in FUPRE.
Vanguard met the new man at the helm of affairs, who has brought a sense of focus and direction to the beleaguered citadel of learning. For what many in his position would straightforwardly claim credit for, the acting Vice Chancellor, Prof. Alhassan Bichi, declined to score himself for the newfound peace in the institution. However, with what we saw on ground, the journalist, academic and administrator, is unquestionably on a salvage mission. Excerpts:
ONE of the sour matters with this university has been the issue of non-accreditation of programmes for which the final year students even refused, at a time, to write their final examinations. What is the position today?
Let me make it very short and sharp and say that those programmes that were due for accreditation, which are the programmes in the college of science had been duly accredited and students in the final year have already taken their final examination. In addition, their results have already been approved by the Senate and had been released to them. It has been communicated to the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, headquarters and they are going for their NYSC in the next batch, not the current batch. So the story of accreditation for programmes that are due, that one is over.
Can you be specific on the ones accredited, how many and the ones left?
All the programmes in the college of science, which are due for accreditation, had all been accredited. The programmes we are now working for their accreditation are the programmes in the college of technology, which, as against the science programmes, which are four- year degree programmes, four years in terms of length of residency of the students – the engineering programmes, we are working towards their accreditation. Prof, so the position is still that some programmes have not been accredited?
Because they are not due.
Which means that the school is still offering courses that are not accredited?
That is not the issue and let me make it clear because from my antecedents as the Director, Academic Standards, National Universities Commission, NUC, the academic studies of all the 120 universities in Nigeria were ordinarily under my care and what happened to university programmes is that before a university starts a programme, it gets approval.
Basis of NUC’s approval
The approval is based on its human and material resources at the start, which is sufficient to handle the number of students taken in initially. Without approval, no university can start a programme. That is number one, let us understand that.
All the programmes of the Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Effurun are approved by NUC. Now, after three years of establishing a programme because if a programme had been approved, you do not have to start the programme immediately, this university was given approval to start programmes in science and engineering technology.
It started with science and then brought in technology two years later. So, it is after three years for every programme that it will mature for accreditation. And accreditation is the process by which a panel made up of professionals in the area from different universities will come and look at what the university is doing, both human and material resources, library facilities, etc.. All these will be looked at and based on that, you get accreditation and there are three different types of accreditation. You can have short accreditation, which means your accreditation can run for five years from the date you obtained it before it will be subjected to another review.
Secondly, you can get interim accreditation, which means your programme can run for another two years before it will be subjected to review; and you can get denied accreditation, which means automatically, you stop admitting students into that programme. And if you are debarred, you may have to take the students to other universities to conclude the programme or alternatively, you have corrected that defects that were identified and you contact the NUC at your own time to come and inspect.
Now, the situation in this university is not the issue of accreditation. As at now, all the programmes in this university, whether college of science or technology are approved programmes. All the programmes that are due for accreditation that have not been accredited are being accredited and the students have concluded their examinations as I told you earlier.
The programmes in the college of technology are going to be due for accreditation, we started with the college of science and it is a five-year degree programme.
Therefore, that is what we are now working towards, getting accreditation for the technology programmes.
So, bluntly, did you meet a perfect child?
The definition of a stunted child, I will say probably that if applied to this university, it will not be exactly out of order because a stunted child is one that has not reached the growth status that is expected of it. That is commensurate to his chronological age and I think honestly, at any level, academic , students’ population, academic staff, administrative staff, infrastructures development levels, according to master plan of the universities, this university should have been far beyond what it is by now. So, the analogy of a stunted child could be acceptable.
Can we know the deficiency and the prescription that ought to be applied?
Well, the deficiency I have already enumerated. Like in the area of student population, if the university is growing the way it should have grown, it is now in the sixth year of establishment and there would be a minimum of students that it is expected to have admitted and that number has not been attained. Now, infrastructure … the number of students will depend on the infrastructure.
Infrastructure on ground
The infrastructure that should be in place five years after establishment is not in place, the number of academic staff that should be on ground are not there, so also the number of administrative staff, whether in the registry, library, health clinic, etc are not in place. These are the deficiencies.
This university was started without any form of grant, without even light, because it started in borrowed rooms at the Petroleum Training Institute, PTI, Effurun. Staff of the university were sitting under trees. They rented a facility which is now being used as temporary office accommodation for all the university staff. It also started without a critical mass academic staff. Of course when you want to start petroleum, marine engineering and all that, you must have a critical mass on ground before you start the actual accreditation, so it had to do with borrowed robes because it did not have them. People came in from other universities, Port-Harcourt, Benin, etc. To add to that, visiting lecturers, part-time lecturers and all that. Now getting the land itself to start the university involved a lot of things because land is a very precious item, especially in this community.
300 persons signed FUPRE land acquisition deed: I can tell you that the first document I have seen is that there were 300 signatories with thumbprints to release land to this university. Therefore, to have the land available to start infrastructure development is another thing, but when the land became available, to start the infrastructural development also became another thing. You came here, you saw the access road to the university, it is just a little over one kilometre, which should not have taken more than three to four minutes to get here, but it will take nearly 40 minutes or so to get here.
Okay, how has it been running this university in the past three months?
When I came in three months ago, students were at home, there were no hostels to accommodate them. The hostel accommodation that was available had been given up by the university. The intention was that the students should find their accommodation but from the master plan of this university, it is supposed to be 100 per cent resident because it is a specialized university with a specialized nature and that is why that some of the structures that are going on in the campus are hostel facilities.
So, I had to go back to the owners of those property, all the property were in fact given to the university and it was used to accommodate over 250 students for two years at no cost to the university, but it was given back to the owner. Therefore, I had to go back to him and say sorry sir, can we get the facility back.
Who gave it back?
On what grounds were it given back?
On grounds that they thought, they would have their own hostels ready by March, which did not happen, and so, the students were asked to stay at home and the proposed date for resumption had to change. Therefore, when I came in, I decided that students would resume. First, those who were to graduate must resume and the owner of the property had already started constructing some things when I came to beg him that I still needed the facility.
Then, I had to rent another facility because for the first time, the university admitted a number that more than doubled the number of students in the university. The old students numbered over 400 and the university admitted over 660 new students.
Therefore, I had to find accommodation for all of them because I know that what was put in the master plan was put there for a reason. The issue of accommodation for these students in this environment is necessary. Those who know the Warri-Effurun environment know that you must be ready to take care of people’s children to bring them here to school. Moreover, the university must be able to do that, especially by virtue of the nature of the programmes it offers.
As soon as were sure of our accommodation, we recalled our graduating students – those students who had reached examination level, but who could not finish their examination in December 2011. We called them back and while they were doing their examination, we put in the process to bring back others, which are 200, 300 and the new 400-level students. They now came back, once these ones had come back; we now looked at the new students, who we requested to come in later.
We registered over 800, but discovered later that a number of them had changed to other universities when they found that there were problems in the university last year, and then suddenly, realized that there were no longer problems and they want to change again.
Then there were those students who chose it as second choice or maybe, they had not received their admission letters, and you know, without an admission letter from JAMB, we cannot admit any student here. What has happened so far is that we got the students back, got accreditation for them, got the students to sit for their examination and graduate, we contended with new intakes who took last year’s JAMB and now, we have to contend with the next admission, that is 2012/2013. For the first time also, we have sent a number of staff for training.
Did you sack any of them?
I have not shown anybody the door out because I operate based on certain parameters. I have also not employed because there was an interview for academic and non -academic staff before my resumption and in the absence of the governing council, that can only be approved by the minister and that is what I am pursuing now. So, once I have the approval of the minister ,we will appoint academic and administrative staff. And that will relieve the school of some of its inadequacies?
Definitely, that is what I told you. The deficiencies cut across the board.
Can you say that you have brought normalcy back to FUPRE?
I think I will be the wrong person to say that. I will prefer that you go round the university, observe things by yourself, talk to the students and staff and get the feedback yourself. You have entered the university now, what is your observation, is it indicative of a semblance of peace and has there been any more crisis since I came here in the last three months. A person in my view does not bring normalcy, it is brought by the system. There is a management and that management has to carry everybody along with it, and I think from what I am seeing, that it is left for you to judge whether we are carrying everybody along.
As is already known, you had intervened in the affairs of this university in the past. There is this belief that there is a cabal in the NUC that wants to hold on to the running of this university, particularly in contracts and all that. It is alleged that you are part of this cabal, is this correct and what have you found out about the contract scams the public was treated to before you resumed?
Let me put it this way, you said I intervened… I was here November/December, 2011 to look at the affairs of the university and it was my recommendation with members of my team that a strong administration and financial panel to look at in detail the issues pertaining to FUPRE. I think that panel was set up with the approval of Mr. President.
It did its job and submitted a report, which was received on behalf of the President by the Minister of Education and subsequently, a white paper panel was set up, that panel had looked into all aspects, including those issues that you are talking about the so-called contracts, etc.
Supposed NUC cabal: And whoever said there is a cabal from NUC, it is not for me to defend NUC or otherwise. Let the presidential panel report come out, it will indict who is to be indicted, it will clear who needs to be cleared if there is need to it. But I can tell you since I came here, I have not seen one single project. How many projects do we even have here? We have two hostel projects, one academic staff project, we have electrification and water supply projects.
But the contracts were lucrative enough for the war of words between the former Minister of State for Education and the ex-vice chancellor?
Well, like I said, there is a panel, which made recommendations and I am sure both parties made representations. Some of the representations were in public domain and I do not think I need to comment on that.
FUPRE started in a rush
Mine is to move the university forward and I think I should pay more attention to that. When government releases the white paper, if the demand is for me to implement the white paper, I will act.
With the benefit of hindsight, do you think it is right for government to allow universities to take off without minimum infrastructures on ground?
You can see that the Federal Government recently announced the establishment of nine new universities, but because of the minimum infrastructures that ought to be in place before take-off, none of them has been allowed to start. They would have started with temporal facilities, which in Nigeria, will turn to permanent facilities sooner than later. Therefore, the wind of change is blowing.
FUPRE was started in a hurry in 2007. It was to have been a College of Oil and Gas, but there were problems, it was to be under the supervision of University of Benin, and then that matter died. Therefore, in the absence of any other federal university in this environment, it was conceived to be a federal university to service this environment.
Basic mistakes: However, but in a hurry to get it moving, I think a number of fundamental mistakes were made, which culminated in a number of issues we have been discussing. Even, the laws of NUC establishing universities have changed. Before you could start a private university with some minimum number of buildings and then you continue, but now, you must have a certain critical mass before you will be issue any recognition to submit application.
So, things have changed and I am sure if it were now that the concept of FUPRE came up, the university would not have been allowed to start without a number of critical mass.
It was obvious to many that your predecessor found the seat of the vice chancellor of this university to be a hot seat. How do you find the seat and what should be done to take FUPRE to where it ought to be as the first of its kind in Africa?
(Laughs) You know, there are people you may have seen in documentaries, I am sure, that walk on hot charcoal with barefoot, and they do not call it hot. In addition, there are people who put on the fan and even shiver and feel cold, but rarely, there is subjectivity and objectivity when you talk about temperature of a place.
Nothing abnormal in seat
As far as I am concerned, there is nothing abnormal about the seat I am sitting, I do not feel hot and I do not feel cold. I have a mission, I am sent on a particular mission and I am trying my best to carry out that mission. Therefore, I am not feeling uncomfortable in any way.
… Bemoans abandonment by stakeholders
On where the university ought to be, candidly, I expected to see in this university, roads named after banks, petroleum industry organizations, particularly as Nigerian economy is driven by petroleum. But this is the only university of its kind as you rightly said in Africa, I would have thought that everybody who benefitting from the petroleum resources of this country would have jumped on board to see that this university moves forward, but everybody pulled back.
Whether it was because of the noises that were being made or for whatever reason, but people should have been there right from the beginning. I have not seen a single festivity, not even a calendar from an oil company or from any of these major industries in Nigeria.
People, who are making money from petroleum, talk less of a building from organizations that are making money from the petroleum industry. We only have one bus that was donated, long ago, by Wema Bank and even that bus, somebody, decided to steal the brain box sometime ago.
Therefore, the fact is that attention should and ought to be on this university from the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Petroleum Technology Development Fund, PTDF, Central Bank, etc; all these make their money from petroleum. They should give something to this university. I want to hear the oil companies say they will build library, this and that complex for us, I mean by now; FUPRE ought to have state of the art facilities.