By Benjie Ihenyen
At the Ambrose Alli University (AAU), Ekpoma, Edo State, great things are happening at top speed. Prof. Ignatius Onimawo, the Vice-Chancellor, is carrying out unprecedented reforms, which has seen the university soaring to new heights. With e- Senate, e-learning, computer-based examinations, e-results, e-transcript, re-admissions and groundbreaking research initiatives and actions, the university is fast attaining the vice-chancellor’s vision of making AAU one of the best state universities and one of the ten best in Nigeria.
Upon assumption of office on May 11, 2016, Onimawo said: “My vision is to make the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, a first-class university that would be rated as the best state university and among the best ten in Nigeria in knowledge and skills for service delivery to the society.”
The VC set for himself the task of repositioning governance, deepening infrastructural development, attaining academic excellence, deployment of ICT to every aspect of the university’s administration, improving staff and students’ welfare and the provision of adequate security within and around the campus.
Three years into his tenure, AAU is today reputable for its unique deployment and application of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in every aspect of the day to day running of the institution. Prof. Onimawo has infused a new model in lecturing and examination at the university.
The AAU was once notorious for cultism such that it got the attention of the international media, the American- based CNN television over a decade ago. Today, that negative image is history.
“We came together and said things cannot remain the same,” said Onimawo. “So we came up with strategies and solutions to curb the menace. Through these efforts and by the grace of God, the issue of cultism has been addressed. We have a good relationship with our students and our staff unions have also been very cooperative and we have had a smooth working relationship”, he said.
To ensure that such practices are banished, he resorted to the use of technology. The first step was to introduce computer-based examinations, which had checked many vices associated with examination malpractices. Vouching for the workability of the system, he said: “when the students go to write the exam, as soon as they finish writing, all they need to do is to press the submit button and their score will immediately pop up on the screen. It is not a matter of go home and we will process your result.
“When we did that for all 100 and 200 level courses, we discovered that the issue of missing results was completely eliminated. The issue of some lecturers expecting some students to bring money before they do their job was completely eliminated and that has brought a lot of sanity to the university system.
“We started this initiative with 100 and 200 level students because these are people who can easily be cajoled. They do not know they’re left from their right. In fact, when they come in, people can tell them, if you do not do this or that, you cannot pass. But now, they have realised that they can pass and that all they need do is study; their exams will be written on a computer and their results will be right there on their screen.” An elated Prof. Onimawo said glowingly: “There is no other Federal or State University in Nigeria that has been able to do this.”
The university’s e-Library which accommodates students for computer-based examination currently boasts of 1,300 computers which are grossly inadequate. But the reprieve is coming with the donation of an examination centre by the Tony Elumelu Foundation, which will soon be equipped with 1,000 computers in addition to others from other alumni in the diaspora. ICT has also helped in the seamless collection of school fees.
“In the past, we had what we called, Task Force on School Fees. They move from one exam hall to another, asking students for their school fees receipt. This new ICT method has helped us to collect our school fees with ease because if you login with your computer, without school fees, you cannot access the questions. So apart from the fact that it has brought sanity to our academics, it also has helped us in the collection of school fees”, he said.
The ICT innovation is also being used in Senate screening of final exams and has helped in the collation of results, in cutting costs and better management of resources. “You know, the university is not only about academics and students. Infrastructure is also a major part of it. When you go to a university, the first thing that catches your attention is the infrastructure on the ground and AAU has suffered in that area over the years,” he said.
Besides, the university has effectively deployed ICT in conducting student union elections. The last two SUG elections were conducted electronically. There is a dashboard and as the votes are being cast, it is displayed on the screen and students can see who is leading and how all candidates fare. “It is not a question of counting results, everything is displayed as the voting takes place and all the candidates’ agents are there with their laptops and are monitoring. Whoever wins, we already know. There have been no issues, very transparent and we have told our colleagues from other universities to adopt this method,” said Onimawo. Indeed, the Independent National Electoral Commission has a thing or two to learn from the AAU.
Onimawo said the use of an electronic voting system in SUG elections has stemmed the tide of killings, vandalism and insecurity on campus. “Students don’t need to queue up anywhere to vote. All that is needed is your smartphone. Once you login to the portal, you cast your vote and that done, it counts. You can’t vote twice from the same phone. We developed the app here and that is what we have been using for our student union election”, he said.
Strides in infrastructural development
Prof. Onimawo is also investing lavishly in infrastructural facilities. Determined to put an end to the ramshackle buildings that once dotted the campus, Onimawo wrote, pushed and negotiated with federal agencies, foreign donor bodies to access funds for facilities’ upgrade on the campus. As a result, the university was able to access intervention funds from the Tertiary Education Fund (TETFUND) and other public institutions like the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the National University Commission (NUC), individuals and faith-based organisations as well as alumni bodies both home and abroad.
“For you to be able to access TETFUND, you must be able to show what you have done with previous funds you accessed. We passed their criteria, and they gave us the opportunity to access their funds and we have also completed the building of Physical Science Faculty. As we were doing this, we were also able to, through some contacts access special intervention from TETFUND. Last year, only six universities were selected to benefit from them to build and AAU was one of them. If TETFUND gives you money and you don’t spend it well, it is not encouraged to talk to you if you come again for another Intervention. The speed with which we completed the Faculty of Life Sciences made it easier for us to access fund for the Faculty of Physical Sciences. We have about 33 projects on-going at the moment and they are at different stages of completion. We are also very lucky that NDDC came and started helping as well. SHELL came and donated an ICT centre for us. Tony Elumelu came and donated a project to us as well.
“We were also able to access the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) Assessment and that gave us the opportunity to also upgrade some of our facilities and build some few structures. We are lucky that AAU also benefitted from the 2018 High Impact Assessment Intervention. We are building two new Faculties of Education and Faculty of Management Sciences. We are also building the Department of Mass Communication.”
Tessy Edokpu, a Biochemistry student is overjoyed with the development in the university. For her, the atmosphere of learning is improving daily.
The VC has meticulously deployed strategic initiatives in driving his vision for the university. This includes deepening research and teaching to make the university a centre of academic excellence. Harping on capacity building for the teaching staff, Prof. Onimawo said: “As we speak, we have a lot of money in TETFUND set aside to train our lecturers in the best universities in the world. Last year, about five people were outside the country. As for research, we have about six clusters. The Director of Research and Training is doing a lot of jobs. We have had seminars on how people can write proposals that can win grants. We are making progress in the area of research.”
Provisions of adequate hostel accommodation had been a herculean task and intractable challenge in Nigerian universities. Out of the over 27,000 student population, only about 4,000 are accommodated in the hostels. Propelled by the quest to address the deficit, Prof. Onimawo has triggered fundamental reforms in that direction by bringing in private partners with whom Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has been signed to provide more hostels for students.
Chris Adamaigbo, Registrar, AAU said of the VC: “He has that rare capacity to listen to all shades of opinion that are one quality that has endeared his administration to the students and staff. The ability of the VC to accommodate the diversity of ideas, listen to others and build a consensus based on consultation.”
According to Professor Julius Azelama, Director Center for Strategic and Government Studies, the VC is very aggressive in sourcing for the fund. “The Governing Council is also on the same page with the VC since he came on board, and TETFUND is happy with the University because of short period for project execution and transparency,” he added.
Dr Omorogie Nosa, Head of Department, Accounting said: “The Vice-Chancellor is much focused. Dormant TETFUND now releases the fund to AAU through his efforts and properly utilized. At AAU, it is now a case of projects, projects and more projects all over campus. He is dynamic, innovative, and creative. He had revamped our internally generated revenue.”
With two more years in his tenure, Onimawo said he would want to be remembered as the VC who propelled AAU to its peak in terms of service delivery and academics. “I want to be remembered as the Vice Chancellor who moved AAU’s ranking from a 56th position where I get it to either second or third in Nigeria and of course number one State University. I think we can achieve it. I also want to be remembered as the VC who brought about e-senate to the University. It has never happened before, that you conduct your Senate meetings without papers. I want to be remembered for being the VC who developed the university infrastructure.
“I want to be remembered as the VC who did the fencing of our lands because we are talking about perimeter fencing now and I want to be remembered as the VC who had all the university’s programmes accredited before I leave.” For all his accomplishments, Onimawo is not asking for too much.