WEAKENED by delusion and battered by technology, the university world is going through a difficult period generally. At a deeper level, less obvious to the lay observer, disquiet is spreading among dons, together with a degree of dissatisfaction among students even more profound than their occasional speculators seem to indicate, in almost all universities across the world.
But the good news is that there is a breath of fresh air in Abia State. Established in 1992 and commenced academic activities on the premises of the defunct Federal College of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia State with just 82 students in the 1993/94 academic session, the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, MOUAU, is now an institutional Mississippi.
In terms of infrastructure, administration and academic programmes, the MOUAU can compete favourably with its counterparts anywhere in the world.
The university whose vision is to be the foremost institution in Nigeria for producing highly rated graduates in agriculture, science and technology and to be a vehicle for the attainment of the primary goals of the National Agricultural Policy of self sufficiency in food and fibre production is living its dream.
First, as an institution located in a traditionally agricultural environment, the home town of the late Dr. Michael Okpara, first Premier of the defunct Eastern region of Nigeria, there exists excellent understanding between the university and its host communities. It would be recalled that under Chief Michael Okpara, the economy of the Eastern regional government which depended wholly on agricultural produce was the fastest growing amongst countries under the Commonwealth of Nations.
There is currently easy extension of research findings to its host communities for the improvement of their farming practices and methods. Indeed, the task of growing a new university from foundation is daunting. The change is most immediately visible in the new architecture. The mellow cloistered charm of the ancient foundations and the stately dignity of redbrick of old British universities are giving way to the foundational building with its calculated allotment of space, its science fiction design, its managerial aura and the vision of ‘boiler B.A.S’ it automatically conjures up.
As an institution whose membership is absolutely based on a purely intellectual franchise, the university has grown by leaps and bounds.
With the appointment of Prof. Placid Njoku its pioneer Vice Chancellor on May 27, 1993, the MOUAU had assumed a municipal status. But first let us look at what it has changed from, especially since 2011 when the current Vice Chancellor, Prof. Hilary Odo Edeoga mounted the saddle.
Before Edeoga’s emergence as Vice Chancellor, the university was heavily anchored in the past. It continued to enjoy the prestige of social worth and outstanding standards of scholarship, but was still the haunt of wealthy but not necessarily very talented men and women who went there as a matter of course, and a more numerous group of serious students, mainly drawn from the middle class.Aside from the negligible number of professors (not more than 25) from all the faculties combined that Edoega inherited in 2011 and a student population of less than 5,000, one could easily count the number of structures in the university premises.
Four years down the road, not only can the school boast of over 100 professors and a student population of over 25,000, the institution has established a full-fledged College of Agricultural and Science Education as well as Department of Chemical Engineering.
The school has successfully split the Department of Computer Science from the former Department of Computer Science/Mathematics/Statistics. The Department of Plant Science and Biotechnology and Department of Zoology and Environmental Biology have also been split from the Department of Biological Sciences. In spite of his enormous charisma and other outstanding leadership qualities, Edeoga, a Professor of Plant Taxonomy and Cytogenetics has manifested great magnanimity in his capacity as Chief Executive Officer of this citadel of learning. The outcome is that his administrative years has witnessed no strike or student riot.
A man of nimble intelligence with enormous capacity for reasonableness, Prof. Edeoga came into the office of Vice Chancellor with a string of academic qualifications and experience. He has about 71 outstanding awards to his credit, and still counting. In 2012, the students of the university honoured him with the Most Outstanding Student Friendly VC Award.
In addition to the many pluses, Prof. Edeoga has turned the MOUAU to a community of learning. With its partnership with world acclaimed universities across the world, the university is drawing from a pool of knowledge available in the larger community of knowledge. But the question is: With the high standard Prof. Edeoga has set at the MOUA, Umudike, how do we ensure continuity as he leaves this exalted position come March 2016?
Mr. Dan Amor, a journalist, wrote from Abuja.