UniAbuja: Plight of 15,000 students

1 Comment » April 11th, 2008 posted by // Categories: Higher Education in Nigeria


UniAbuja: Plight of 15,000 students

Written by Tadaferua Ujorha,   
Tuesday, 01 April 2008

One contact mentioned that if a student from a good home begins to dwell at the Students Villa,he will soon begin to behave like a thug.The congestion on campus,as well as the glaring infrastructural decay is responsible for this,he says.A female student who resides at one of the Villas agrees that the Student Villa does breed thugs.Igwe Ude –Umanta,the immediate past president of the Student Union Government says that some very decent and hardworking students reside in the students Villa, and objects to the classification of the villa as a den of cultists.Abubakar Kari agrees that there has been a resurgence of cultism on the campus,and says that some cultists were rusticated from the campus some years ago ‘and their return coincided with the beginning of the current administration on the campus.Since 2004 cultism has been a reality here.Since then virtually every year students have been killed.The most devastating one was last year when around 8.00pm,some people simply walked into a restaurant and shot some people.The school was forced to act’.He explained that the appalling conditions on campus breeds a culture of cultism. Another lecturer opines ‘Children from rich families spend whole days and nights partying and engaging in shocking anti –social activities. Rather than study,they come here to demonstrate madness.Because of cultism,incidents of robbery in Gwagwalada has become a normal thing.’But the Vice –Chancellor as well as the Dean,Student Affairs hold that cultism is on the retreat at the University, which has come down firmly on such activities. In this regard the Vice Chancellor salutes the efforts of the security agencies, as well as the security officer of the University.

No new books here

The University Library suffers from a paucity of new and current journals and textbooks,as Dr Innocent Ekoja, the University Librarian tells me. It can accommodate only 1,200 students,he says, which means there is simply no space for the thousands of students.He says that the University needs between 11 and 15 million naira to procure new foreign journals. ‘There is the problem of sourcing current literature, and journals are not forthcoming. The books are not available in the quantity we want. With respect to journals, we recently put up a request to the Vice –Chancellor to subscribe to 49 foreign journals. This will go for about 11 to 15 million naira’. According to Dr.Ekoja one group that has helped the University is the MacArthur Foundation which pays $7,000 each year for the University to access Jstor, an online data base of 20,000 journals. He says this has helped a bit in circumventing the absence of foreign journals.

The Dean, Student Affairs, Dr Suleiman Mohammed on the other hand, says that the Library is stocked with current journals and new textbooks. ‘Our library can boast of current collections, the books are there.We have current and up to date materials. We have current foreign journals, academic culture has taken root here’.Ibrahim Sani,(not real name) and a fresh graduate of the University says ‘The books we have in the library are outdated,and the library cannot hold up to 300 students.It is impossible to study in the library during the hot season, the airconditioning system is awful. Even when the students desperately want to use the library, the situation of the library is discouraging, very discouraging’. The library is quite noisy and the great population inside, which is crammed into a little space, worsens the problem.On the problem of electricity supply,the Dean says ‘Around 10.00 am if there is no light ,the generator would come on.If light is not back by 4.00 pm,then we switch off the generator,putting it back on by 7.00pm till 10.00 pm.Our thinking is that three hours is long enough for a serious student to read’.

We need 77 billion naira

Professor Nuhu Yaqub is Vice –Chancellor of the University of Abuja.He explains the population explosion in the following words ‘One thing we have to put in context is the fact that this University is a catchment University to all states in Nigeria.There is no state that is not represented here.In terms of recruitment ,you can hardly find a state that is not represented here.This University is for the whole country’. He adds that if 80% of students are accommodated on University campuses, this would reduce cultism, and insist that the present government policy of accommodating just one-third of this population, creates space for anti-social activities. But he adds that the congestion problem being experienced will soon be over, as the University is making concerted efforts to move to the permanent site located along the airport road. He laments the attitude of the contractor handling the administrative block of the University ,who made a promise to complete the project in time,but who has failed. ‘He gave me a completion deadline of March 17,2007.Today is March 14,2008 ,when we ought to have been using the administrative block.We wonder on what basis he made the projection.What worries me more is not the current contract,but the fact that the same contractor has been adjudged to be the one that would do the second phase.I would not like at that point to be taken on a wild Goose chase again’. He says ‘If we get anything between 3 to 5 billion naira, we would be able to finish the ongoing projects and consolidate on other projects. At a point in time, it was estimated that we would need about 77 billion naira to complete the permanent site of the University, but up till now we have not accessed up to 10 billion naira, which means we have a long way to go’.

He added that funding to the University is quite irregular and insufficient ‘Its like a drop in the Ocean. Last year we got about 1.2 billion naira’. According to him the building for the faculty of Arts is virtually ready on the permanent site, and this was funded through internally generated revenue. The faculty of Science building will soon be ready. ‘In 2 to 4 months Science should be ready to move,and two faculties are likely to move this year’. He tells Daily Trust that it has been necessary to recruit additional academic staff, for if as we are expanding we fail to recruit, the burden would be on the very few lecturers on the ground who would be complaining of being overworked. Because we have expanded we cannot get accreditation without the necessary manpower that would help us power the various programmes that we have’.

The Dean Student Affairs expresses similar sentiments on the permanent site. ‘The single most important challenge facing the University is the movement to the permanent site. Movement to the permanent site would solve most of our problems,and would give us 4,000 additional bed spaces.It would give us more lecture theatres,classrooms,and more staff offices’.Arguing that Abuja easily ranks as the political capital of Africa,he stated that it is logical that a University sited in Abuja ought to reflect the level of development and the infrastructural standard found in Abuja. ‘A University is a center of learning.Some statesemen would come to Abuja,and would want to interact with the University community .He adds ‘The mini campus is congested, and there is nowhere to expand.NUC at a point directed that there should be no further expansion on the mini campus, and that if new structures were to come up, these should be at the permanent site’. According to the Dean ,the FCDA has done the waterworks at the permanent site,but unless they connect Abuja to the Gurara dam, there would be no water at the permanent site. ‘So ,when they would connect ,we don’t know. We are working to get NEPA to connect, but in the interim, just to facilitate movement to the permanent site, we would make do with generators’.

Dr Abu Mallam,Head of Physics Department and ASUU Chairman, shows that the movement to the permanent site by the University would turn around the fortunes of the University. ‘This University can move forward if the government comes and develops the permanent site, which would give us larger lecture halls.The structures we have now certainly cannot accommodate the student population .Dr Mallam presents a dramatic picture of the crisis by describing just one moment in the Physics laboratory. ‘I had to teach a 100 level course in the last academic year,and the students were over 800 in the class, because Engineering and other Sciences had to come and take a course in physics.But the laboratory we have is made for 60 students.So we now group 20-30 students to one laboratory apparatus,and you can only get one student to do an experiment at a time.All the others would just be waiting for the results.They would not be interested in how he manipulated the equipment to get the results’.He shows that the department is forced to create an alternative to practicals ‘We now set questions and give the data to students to now do the reporting,when ideally we are supposed to test the students on what they really learned in respect of the practicals.So, they graduate unprepared. The labs cannot accommodate them,and there are not enough lecturers.If there were enough lecturers,we would spread the 800 students among them,and all of us would do our work with joy,and they would leave with something qualitative’.Dr Mallam also believes that Nigeria is rich enough to fund free and qualitative education at every level, arguing that the same government that left the University in its present state, is going ahead to build more Universities.He says that 4 students were allowed to stay in a room in the early 90’s,but today 25 students are made to reside in the same room.According to him the students are no longer bothered about comfort again ‘No student in our hostel would tell you he is comfortable as far as accommodation is concerned’.

An enchanting place

Daily Trust visited the permanent site of the University which sits on 11,800 hectares along the airport road, in the company of Dr Abubakar Bafeto.The male and female hostels are virtually ready. The male hall has a number of rooms specifically built for physically challenged students.Each hostel can accommodate 1,000 students, and the setting is enchanting even in its unfinished state, with the nearby Kuku hills rising above an undulating landscape.The Sun rises in the East,its first light falls upon the hills like a greeting, and slowly spreads across the entire campus. The rays of the Sun rest gently upon the skin here,and they lack the harshness of the rays witnessed at the mini campus, creating the impression that there are two Suns in the skies above Gwagwalada.One Sun is masculine, coarse and firm,the other feminine, tender and soft. One lecture theatre is ready, and it can seat 750 persons.The faculty of Arts is almost ready,while work has advanced on the massive administrative block,and the faculty of Science building. The water works was pointed out, and on the day of the visit work was progressing on the extension of electricity cables in the vicinity of the male hostel. Work continues at the University Press building which will soon become a temporary office of the Vice –Chancellor when he moves there this march.The Vice –Chancellor says that a number of groups are funding some projects at the permanent site.These include the Central Bank of Nigeria which is constructing the Students Center,and First Bank which is putting up the Enterpreneurial center.He adds ‘We are also making efforts to move to the permanent site. From April we will begin to see practical movements to the site .As we have expanded, we have also had to recruit more teachers, that’s why we are having problems of office space, because of the non commensurate development of facilities.’

Going down memory lane

Abubakar Kari, a pioneer student of the University, was also the first President of the University Student Union. ‘When we started in 1991, we were just about 500 students, including remedial students. The mini campus used to be a primary school ,it is a converted primary school,and it was okay for us in terms of hostels,and

things were okay for the next 6 or 7 years. The administration then was careful of the number of students admitted,and always admitted a reasonable number’. He says that the University faces a significant problem,in the sense that it is located in Abuja,and the rich and powerful would naturally like their children to study there.This puts a lot of pressure on the authority,he surmises. ‘There has been pressure on the authorities to admit more students.Up to 2001,the population of the University was not more than 5,000 .Then we had 6 faculties.Since the coming of the present Vice-Chancellor,we witnessed a population explosion.’

Going down memory lane, he stated that when he was admitted as an Undergraduate into the University, there were only 13 members of his Sociology class.But when the current Vice Chancellor came, he admitted 250 students into the department of Sociology. ‘The class that just graduated, I was the level coordinator, and they were 120 in number. The present 400 level are 250, the 300 level are 300, while the 200 level are 290 in number.Meanwhile 80 % of classes in the University are those that were part of the primary school which once stood here.The reality is that whenever they are having lectures, over half of the class are outside.Sometimes, 200 students are made to enter a space meant for 100 students.’

Identifying the completion of the permanent site as a way out of the present pass, he lamented the fact that the first Vice- Chancellor of the University had a golden opportunity to develop the permanent site,but he seemed to have frittered away the opportunity. ‘When Professor Laraba came she did a few things .To the best of my knowledge, she built two hostels at the permanent site, and some roads were constructed.’

According to Abubakar Kari the facilities at the University of Abuja are in very deplorable state. ‘I don’t think Abuja University library is bigger than the Social Science library at ABU, not to talk of the SGRS library at ABU. Our library at any point in time cannot accommodate more than 300 students, and the books are certainly outdated. Only 10 % of students make use of the library. The library is just there in name’. He also said that 60 % of staff at the University do not have offices, drawing attention to a world renowned Scholar, who carries an impressive resume, presently on the staff of the University, who still does not have an office. But he also goes ahead to say ‘The conduct and character of the students we produce in this University ,leaves much to be desired. Enter a class and see how some people are even dressed, what they look like, how they dress. It is terrible, and they believe they can do anything and get away with it. Studying is the last thing on their minds. The environment here anti-socialises and it is anti-scholarship. It takes somebody who is really serious to concentrate here’.Finally, Abubakar Kari avers that the way forward lies in a swift development of the permanent site by government, which should pour monies into the project as quickly as possible. He also suggests that the authorities should cut down on admissions, until such a time when the facilities can accommodate the number of students.

‘I am a mobile lecturer’

On account of the fact that he does not yet have an office to operate from, Dr, Shima Atimga of the Department of English and Literary Studies, describes himself as a ‘ mobile lecturer’, and there are quite a number of ‘mobile lecturers’ on the Campus,he assures this reporter, adding that people actually become acclimatised to the situation called ‘mobile lecturing’. ‘I am a mobile lecturer.I am on the staff of the University,and arrived here August last year,but up till now I do not have an office.I come from home only when I have lectures.Once I get into the lecture hall and I have finished teaching,I have finished with the University for the day.I do not have a place where I could sit and look at students assignments,or do further research for myself’.He says that on several occasions he has had to take his students to the Convocation ground of the University for lectures.But he describes the University of Abuja as a big shock in many ways. His words ‘The University is a big shock to me, because you have to struggle for everything.The level of despondency is greater here than I have seen anywhere’.In his opinion the University should be a model in the Federal Capital Territory ,and because the Abuja population is scrambling for admission at the institution, he says the University has to expand.Dr Abu Mallam of the Physics department ,adds that he also knows of a lecturer who had no office for three years ,and during that period the lecturer used his car as his office. Daily Trust gathered that even when Deans have offices, these do not befit the status of the office of Dean.But the Dean, Student Affairs disagrees with this position. As the Vice –Chancellor later explains, the effort to improve quality on the mini campus means that a need exists to recruit more hands, which has resultant effects on the office space available. This has led to the sharing of a single office by 3 or 4 lecturers.Daily Trust was able to confirm that the present Vice-Chancellor has made tremendous progress in terms of recruiting Academic staff into the various departments of the University.

Cut down on admissions

Dr G.B Kumo is the Deputy Director Students Support Services, NUC.While quietly stressing that the opinions he expresses are his private views, and not immediately those of the NUC, he showed that for the two years or so that he worked at the University of Abuja ‘It was a small compact University, with a small insignificant population. In my department, the counselling and Science Education department, we barely had more than 300 students in the entire department’. According to him the need to admit more students into Universities has affected all Nigerian Universities, and overstretched facilities in all the nations Universities. In his opinion the University has stagnated right from the very beginning ‘I think the University of Abuja is experiencing a sort of stagnation since its commencement of programmes .The mini campus where the University is,is still the same campus students are operating from up to this particular moment.Since 1997 when I left,I have not seen infra-structural development on the mini campus,and the population of students has tripled over the years.I am aware that the student population on the mini campus is between 18-20,000,which means that in the no distant future,the University of Abuja would be competing with the mega Universities like the University of Ibadan, ABU, Nsukka,and that is not going to be healthy .’ The tenure of the first Vice – Chancellor was uneventful in terms of infrastructural development. He says that serious development began in 1999, with the appointment of Professor Gambo Laraba,who made concerted efforts to open up the permanent site with the construction of two twin hostels. But he says that Professor Isa Mohammed’s reluctance to work on the permanent site may owe to the fact that the admission rate was very low at that time, and the infrastructure up to a point in time could be said to be adequate ,vis a vis the students on the ground.

Dr Kumo adds that with internally generated revenues reaching the sum of 1 billion naira annually, the University is positioned to independently make giant strides in the near future. ‘If I were the VC, for the five years that I am to serve as VC, half of a billion naira, would be dedicated to the construction of a faculty each year. By the time you are leaving the University, at least five faculties would be ready. The abuse of the admission quota is another problem afflicting the University and the system generally, he says.The quota gives the University a figure under 3,000 students,but the current admission list surpasses this by reaching a total of 3,500 new intakes. ‘To worsen the situation,the University management was conservative in the creation of additional programmes and faculties.In 2005 they contemplated the establish-ment of more faculties which include Agriculture, Engineer-ing, Pharmacy, Science, Medicine and Veterinary Medicine.These are the most capital intensive faculties in any University around the world.The ideal department of Mechanical Engineering should have at least a minimum of four workshops and each workshop needs a minimum of four lead machines,and a lead machine costs about 7 million naira.The NUC had cause to say at that time you cant open these faculties,because they are capital intensive, and you don’t even have the space. Where are you going to start it? But they had their way ,and students are on all these courses. What will happen to them in the future is what we don’t know’.

According to Dr. Kumo the academic brief and masterplan for the University of Abuja was not ready until the year 2000 when Professor Laraba was the VC.The academic brief tells one a stage by stage development of the University, from the time one is starting the project to the ultimate growth of the University, which is normally not less than 25 years. According to Dr Kumo,it was based on the academic brief that Professor Laraba began to open up the permanent site. ‘I don’t see any miracle that would get them out of their present predicament, unless a strategy is devised to address the current problem, and that would not be achieved overnight.’ He advised the University to cut down on admissions as a sure way of tackling the obvious population explosion problem.

The Vice –Chancellor thinks that the way forward for the University is for people to have great ambitions about it. ‘The way forward for the University is for people to think big about it.The University has great potentials which are quite inexhaustible. I cannot see any University that can compare with it, either now or in the future’. According to him he wants the University to take advantage of its proximity to the federal capital. He thinks the University of Lagos did not make maximum use of its location when Lagos was the federal capital years ago, and affirms that the University of Abuja would not make this mistake ‘What I think the University of Lagos did not take advantage of when Lagos was the nations capital,which they did not exploit,this is what providence has brought to the University of Abuja.We wont make that mistake’.


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One Response to “UniAbuja: Plight of 15,000 students”

  1. dayo says:

    IAM A student my post ume results from the school authority i just want to no is keeping the result.

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