By Festus Ahon
PROFESSOR Chinedu Mordi is the immediate past Provost of the Oleh Campus of the Delta State University, Abraka. In this interview with the Vanguard, he spoke on his stewardship and his experiences.
You were Provost of Delta State University, Oleh campus, how was it when you were there?
It was a wonderful experience and I thank my former Vice Chancellor, Prof. Eric Arubaye who gave me the opportunity to serve in that capacity and I also thank the Senate that also voted me in. I said wonderful because I learnt a lot and I also made a lot of good friends there that will remain people I will not forget.
When you were there, what were some of the achievements you recorded?
The campus at the time I came was agitating for what we now call the Law site and then Engineering was in what essentially is the skills acquisition centre given to the university by the state government. During my stay there, it was possible to move into where the Administration block now is and where the Engineering faculty has moved into.
I can’t say this without actually thanking the then Commissioner for Higher Education, Prof Hope Eghagha who was untiring in his efforts because when I was there the DPP which was the main opposition political party took a page of a newspaper to lambast the PDP government and actually showed that the faculty of Engineering as it were at that time was bushy.
I remember vividly the day the Commissioner came visiting and had to do some clearing to get him into the place and from then on, he ensured that contractors were regularly on site and they delivered the Administrative block and on other block and made sure that a second block was ready with one of the two laboratories.
So, I won’t say we succeeded without the assistance of the then Commissioner for Higher Education who took a personal interest to make sure that those things were done. In spite of our dwindling finances, we did a lot then we had our e-library, we had our second block of KG classrooms as at that time.
Renovation of a hall, the hostels for the boys and the girls and them the B block of the Health Centre; the Administrative block which I talked about was furnished and everybody who came there was amazed, so we did quite a lot and then I must say that it was a collective thing and I will continue to give thanks to the then Commissioner for Higher Education because he took more than casual interest and I had no difficulty in calling him to complain about anything.
Again, I also want to thank the current SSG, because the first set of solar power street lights we got in the campus were as a result of his efforts. At a point, he donated a 100kva generator to the campus not from the ministry of power but his own personal donation to the campus and the infrastructural development going on now in the Engineering site were largely by his own efforts.
Now that we are talking, I also want to put on record the contribution of the Oleh community and other individuals like Hon Leo Ogor who through his contacts got us a 137 solar power light and there Engr Edano who was forever willing and Engr Matthias Ete, these are people I will always remember. I must put on record the Odion-Ologbo who saw the school as his own and always willing to help in any capacity.
During your time as Provost, was the campus starved of funds at anytime by government?
If you talk of funding, the campus was not funded directly by government, but the government has a lot of intervention projects in the campus, so our funding essentially came from the university and then the ETF, so the campuses generally, if you ask me would do with a lot of funding, but again, it is a general university issue, so if you want my advice on what I think on the way forward, I will talk about that.
You talked about the Engineering Faculty without mentioning the Law Faculty; are you therefore saying that government did not do anything in that faculty? The university campus started with the law faculty, so Engineering was a later introduction, so in the law faculty, there is a law faculty complex that was ongoing at the time I was there and we problems because the Council for Legal Education and the National University Commission insisted that if that complex is not finished they are going to withdraw the license, so the law faculty had its own challenge and the main thing was the faculty complex;
but I must say also, that the Commissioner for Higher Education severally came there to see that work progresses but somewhere along the line, the contractor handling that project died and in trying to re-assign the contract from one contractor to the other, there are many legal issues that had to be sorted out, so because I was not privy to most of those things, I suspected that probably what delayed the work.
You have been talking about the former Commissioner for Higher Education; when you were there as provost what was your relationship like?
Apart from newspaper columns that he wrote for Guardian before he became a Commissioner, I never knew him one on one. It was the job that brought us together and I must say that is why I keep mentioning him, because he took more than ordinary interest in the affairs of the campus; perhaps he also saw the damaging advert by the DPP that time as to how the Faculty of Engineering was neglected and then he took it up as his contribution to salvaging the image of the PDP.
He was always there and what really surprised me why I will continue to mention him is that on one of his visits, he scheduled that he will be back on a particular date and before that date he was kidnapped and you needed how people were calling to say ‘Provost, your friend, your friend’ that was how I got to know because he made himself part of the campus, warmed himself to the campus and you know, everybody now felt for him. What surprised me most was that at his release, within a short while, he was already there to continue with what he was doing.
When he told me he was going to come, I was afraid for him, but he kept coming all the time, that is why I keep talking of him because you see, one, your schedule and the other thing is your person. Your schedule is different from your person. He was a friend of that campus I must tell you that and towards the end, they appointed a Project Director for that project and the young man is the one now handling the issues there.
When was this damaging advert placed?
I think it was placed either 2011 or 2012 and it was a full page of the Vanguard and they tried to show that the government was not doing anything in Isoko and then lampooned the government.
I remember that the first day the commissioner visited that site was the day Prof Mabel Osakwe was giving her inaugural lecture, because I was on my way to the campus for the inaugural lecture when a call came from the then Director of Research and Statistics that the governor was going to visit the next day and because I knew there was no way the governor was going to enter the place without me clearing a path for him, I had to come back from attending the inaugural lecture and then phoned the Vice Chancellor to tell why I was not attending the lecture so that I can make the then commissioner to have access to the structures then
What are some of the things you think the campus will remember you for?
I won’t know because you can’t talk about yourself, but I know they will remember me as a Provost that was easily reachable and a Provost that anybody can lie to because everybody had access to me.
Do you have any regret while at the helm of affairs of that campus?
Well, there will always be. I wish I had the kind of funds that I would have needed to do a few things, but again, haven served as a provost of a campus, you need to ask me about moving higher education forward in the state. I will suggest that the state does not need campuses because running a university along campus line is more expensive than having the university at a location, so if the university was squarely at Abraka it would have been cheaper to run;
but now that we are running the university the way it is, going forward if you ask my view I will think that the Oleh campus should be made a university of its own and the Asaba campus another university of its own, because if you go down to look at what is going on, you that the campuses replicate what is in the main campus and if you see the state polytechnics, the state government got it right that way because the polytechnic at Otefe-Oghara is independent of the polytechnic at Ozoro which is also independent of the polytechnic at Ogwashi-Uku and you that they have al thrived. If the university was like that you will be surprised that they would have thrived and I know that the state has the resources to run them.
Talking about resources, do you think that the state government will be able to run three full fledged universities?
Yes; you see it is a question of priority. Look at the United States of America; the California State has University of California in Los Angeles and in four other locations and they run as independent universities. You see, if you are playing politics with education, the state should be bold enough to charge appropriate fees for as long as the quality is there.
Look at the number of Deltans you don’t get admission every year and you will see that what I am saying is just it and the state can cope with two more universities at least. Like I said, everything in the main campus is replicated; the Office of the Provost which stands for that of the Vice Chancellor, we have the Registry, we have Finance and Audit, we have Health Centre; everything is replicated. You, see, the higher institution provides a lot for the development of any locality and the economy of Abraka now as it is has developed to the extent that it has done because of the university.