Outgoing Vice Chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN, Prof Benjamin Chukwuma Ozumba, spoke to a team of Vanguard reporters on his achievements and challenges. Ozumba, who would be bowing out after a term of five years, said his ambition was to make UNN financially self-sufficient and stop it from going cap in hand to the Federal Government for funds for research, salaries and allowances. Excerpts:
Can you tell us the highpoints of your five-year administration?
I don’t even know where to start. When I came into this university, it was in the throes of anarchy as everybody knew that the Chairman of the Council had just been sacked. The administration was quarrelling with the host community; quarrelling with the alumni and so on. But by the grace of God, this administration was able to snatch peace and professionalism from the jaws of anarchy and disunity. We now have peace and prosperity despite the few upheavals in the community. Then, we have produced the first waste-to wealth energy facility in the sub-Sahara Africa, constructed by the innovative system of the UNN where waste is classified, cleansed and used to produce gas to maintain the 105 KVA generator that will revolutionize power generation and distribution in the country at modular generation.
You know that in Nigeria, we have a lot of gas and there is problem in piping it to the equipment. There is waste everywhere, dirtying the whole place. First of all, it’s going to lead to the cleanliness of the environment, students will be empowered to collect waste, separate them, and they will be bought cheaply. All the animal waste that we don’t know what to do with, even waste from cassava, corn and so on shall be converted to electricity. Remember that no country can really progress without sustainable energy. This will be sustainably achieved at least for the mean time. This is as a result of innovation. And we also set up the first technological incubator and Science Park in sub-Sahara Africa. We have been duly accredited by International Association of Science Parks. We have Garri processing company funded by students.
We have set up Fintec International Company at Enugu campu. Fintec is a financial technology group. We produce the Lion laptops with the software company. What else do you need? We want to produce what can be used by the plant because what innovation is all about is using new technology to solve local problems. We also have cattle ranches which is an innovation system in agriculture. Again, you hear that dry bone shall rise again and come back to live. In four weeks’ time, a massive construction will start in Ziks flats hostels. And we will also start dealing with abandoned projects in the university. A lot of construction activities will commence here and the programme that we have at hand will be completed. When I assumed office as Vice Chancellor, 40% of the university’s programmes were accredited and we have more than 100 programs and now all of them are accredited. Above all is what we have done on staff and students’ welfare.
Before I came in, students did not have internet and water in their hostels. Now they have internet and water in all hostels. Meanwhile, we still have challenges on hostels. Most of the buildings built in the university in 1959-1960 are not in good shape and we are tackling that challenge. Within the next two months, we shall start renovation of some hostels. You can see what we are doing on infrastructure. We attracted the alumni to do some buildings. Talking of structures, you can go to LMG lab; engineering lab. LMG lab was an abandoned property in Enugu campus but we have completed it. They almost denied accreditation for medicine because of hostel and we had to finish the hostel at Ituku/Ozalla and did massive construction of offices for the College of Medicine. Even here, new buildings are in progress in the Department of Agriculture, Faculty of Education, and central laboratory. They’re springing up and before the end of next two months: you will see the permanent site of the Science Park.
Is it possible for UNN to produce enough electricity to serve the university community in the nearest future?
We already have work-plan. We have 150KVA power generator and we are scaling to 250KVA power generating plant as Professor Ejiogu has promised to deploy about 12 sub-units in the campus to provide all the energy needs of about the mega watts, but that is not all. Now we have talked about mixing it with solar so that electricity will give us light in the night and solar in the day time. I am happy discussion has started and it’s not what you can do overnight. I believe that within 12 months, we can be at the conclusion of it. The equipment is good enough to give energy to the university community when mixed with solar.
Recently, I was in Germany and Germans are coming here to deploy solar to power a building for agriculture and student facilities. It will give us energy while we wait for waste to power plant.
Are you thinking about sourcing waste from outside the university community for the power project?
You know we are just starting. There is a company we are already forming in Enugu campus. We are talking about vocational and entrepreneurship. We are going to set up a company and urge students to be a part of it. We are going to liaise with them because this project requires a lot of waste. Sweden is importing a lot of waste from Britain. We will make contact across the country and get agricultural waste. This is something that will help the community a lot, their children will make money and the environment will be cleaner. That is why we are in a hurry to set it up. All we do here is to show that it’s possible. Before we leave, we will show what is in other parts of the world can be done here.
Dr Azikiwe set up this university to be the best and show light to the country. He didn’t set up the university that we should always go to government and ask for money. That’s why we have started innovations from Science Park, we are partnering Innoson Motors to produce tractors that we will use and earn profits. This university was set up to use our brains to make money.
What are the major challenges of the university administration?
I don’t have any obstacle. When I have challenges, they serve to throw me up to bring what is possible. I started by providing an answer, the moment they give you a job and you start complaining of too many problems, they will remove you from that job. The major challenge we have is normal financial constraints but we have to face it. The issue is to solve almost all the problems. As I told you, there are means of achieving it. There are some universities that government does not give money to run. That’s the level I want UNN to get to. There is what we call institutional grant. Like the University of Cape Town in South Africa is coming number one in ranking. I had a meeting with Enugu Electricity Distribution Company, EEDC, because their monthly bill for this university is N60m, if you check it, it’s almost N1billion in a year. Will the student school fees pay this bill? This is just for electricity alone. We are not the only university that has that problem, some universities pay more than that and don’t have money to run their operations. If I tell you what Vice Chancellors pass through… but challenges give you the drive to embark on innovations as you can see what we are doing now and so on. I had to climb a 20 storey wind turbine building in Germany and saw what it was all about. This is the area we can go into.
What exchange programmes does the UNN have with other foreign universities?
I initiated collaboration with the Chinese. As you can see, the time we sent our people to China, the Chinese university was very happy and said they needed more even in the basic sciences because English language is not their national language. They were happy with the standard and requested that we could send people on exchange in all courses. I didn’t go to that extent. What we did was to open the collaboration because we are now a world innovative university. When I came here in 2016/2017, I was elected one of the seven best VCs. By November, 2018, I was invited by Townsend Education to receive an award as one of the best universities in the world and, about six weeks ago, l was invited to Qatar to receive an award as one of the best universities in managing the economy.
You see that our university is quite rated, that is why we are doing collaboration and it’s collaboration that powers the university. They call it cross fertilization. By April, we are receiving three electric vehicles from the Federal Government. It’s not only this university that was selected for it, two other universities, Lagos and Sokoto, because these are the universities that have electricity projects. My own group is already working on how to produce electricity as we expected when we came in. The young man who did his PhD on electric solar in China was picked immediately he came in to show how we want to make the university proud. These are the type of people we need in the school, people who are going after innovative initiatives and so on and so forth. China is not only the university we are collaborating with, we collaborate with all universities around the world.
Now, I have been made a member of the Board of African Union on Agriculture and, with that, I will interact with other universities across the world, especially in Africa, on agriculture. I am also a member of African Alliance for Partnership, AAP. It’s a form of collaboration where we access grants, interact and so on and so forth. It’s through that collaboration that I went into relationship with Kelos Foundation which has promised to bring cattle that we shall use in our ranches.
As you wind up, are you thinking of who will succeed and probably do better than you?
The good Lord brought me here. When I came in, it was with the help of God. Did any of you imagine that I will be the Vice Chancellor? It was a journalist that brought me here. I won’t tell you the person but someone came and told me that he sent her to come and ask me how I become the VC. So I know what journalists can do. The person is my friend today. So, these things don’t work out the way our people think. You can work it out here and someone will go to Abuja and spoil it. When I was coming, I announced it to everybody that I am coming to do my own bit.
Despite all the achievements, the university still has issues of leadership tussle such as in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.
Can you tell me the criteria for appointing a head of department in the university? The Dean submitted the list of three available high ranking professors and I picked the first name in the list. I didn’t even know him but I chose him because he is the number one in the list and he has proven himself as the best candidate. Does it mean I didn’t do it well? I chose a name from the three names submitted to me. I don’t involve myself in anything that is not done well. Three names were submitted to me and I chose one, number one on the list for that matter and someone has started making stories.