By INNOCENT KALU
When five years ago at the age of 50, he delivered the annual Odenigbo lecture, an intellectual harvest instituted by the Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri, aimed at sustaining the Igbo language while at the same time dissecting the problems of Ndigbo generally, I predicted that Prof. Chinedum Uzoma Nwajiuba was just beginning his services to the people and that he needed a higher pedestal to accomplish that. As the Dean School of Post Graduate Studies, Imo State University, Nwajiuba had set an academic standard that rescued the image of the University. Before his appointment, students spent between three and five years to complete masters or doctorate degrees. Few months on the saddle, he changed the narrative. Students were leaving within one year of enrolment.
With that kind of antecedent, the man who distinguished himself as a delegate to the national conference in 2014 only needed an expanded environment to unleash his unfettered creative mind to metamorphose into his dream university administration. Often times, he would return from the western States and bemoan the backwardness of Universities in the East not just in academics but infrastructures.
I was not surprised that God answered our prayers when he was appointed the Vice chancellor of Federal University, Ndufu Alike (FUNAI) in 2016. It was as if God Himself threw a challenge to him because the University was very young, a gushing virgin in need of the strong and loving hands of a suitor.
Three years after, the story of the University has changed remarkably. I remember encountering a desert of sorts with dust enveloping me when I first visited FUNAI sometime in May 2016. There was not an inch of a tarred road. That has given way to asphalted roads. There was no perimeter fence in the entire campus. Now there is one and the beauty of it is that the exercise is being executed by engineering students of the University. There was no staff quarter but now there is one. A green revolution launched by the VC is changing the landscape of the University.
It is worth mentioning here that Nwajiuba initiated this novel idea of offering practical training to engineering students with the active participation of their parents. Fully aware of the funding challenge being experienced in public Universities, the parents volunteered to chip in money which they manage for the students to enable them execute their practical and research projects. Only a visit to the University will adequately explain how this process has helped push up the academic standard of these lucky students.
A similar approach is being adopted for the training of medical doctors. With the help of relevant institutions and the Ebonyi State government, Nwajiuba is forging ahead to ensure that only the best emerge from the school, the discipline notwithstanding. This is also perhaps the greatest challenge he is facing with his staff especially those whose attitude does not favour hard work.
Because the University is first and foremost an academic institution, Nwajiuba is determined to ensure that every product of FUNAI reflects the high academic standard he has set for the school. To make that happen, lecturers must necessarily work hard. Sales of hand out and unauthorized textbooks attract outright sanction. Indolent staff are having a hard time and it is quite natural that such a people would not be the best fans of the Vice chancellor. Because he is highly principled and firm many misconstrue this to be harshness. But he has always been just in the exercise of power.
And nobody will deny him the credit of having turned the University around within such a short period of time. There are projects that he had done which ordinarily he should do because that is what he is being paid for. But there are others which he has attracted through his goodwill and networks. Several prominent Nigerians have been attracted to the school and they have made quality contributions towards the growth of the school. He has networked with federal government agencies which have also made their contributions.
One thing that is also going for Nwajiuba is the cordial relationship between him and indigenes of Ebonyi State which has rubbed off positively on the University. The Governor, Chief Dave Umahi has made donations to the University. Immediate past Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu has attracted projects to the University. Former Governors Sam Egwu and Martin Elechi are also on ground in the University.
The Vice chancellor has by these actions told Ebonyi people and indeed Ndigbo that AE-FUNAI is theirs. He has also demonstrated to the entire Igbo race that a University can have an identity to reflect its roots and the value of the owners.
It is on that score that he initiated and hosted the first conference of Vice chancellors of Universities in the South East. The idea is to ensure exchange of ideas, linkages and wide range collaboration among all the Universities located in the South East region of Nigeria. The second meeting just took place also in AE-FUNAI. My prayer is that the meeting be sustained because it will help our people appreciate their strengths and work on their weaknesses.
I have carefully refrained from commenting on what is generally considered to be the greatest pitfalls of many administrators which is the arrogation of wisdom to themselves in the running of an organization. It is only an accomplished academic that will know how to run away from that disease. I am happy that Nwajiuba right from inception ensured that Heads of Departments, Deans and Directors of schools are appointed strictly on academic performance and seniority and based on the academic calendar of the school. In this way the chain of command is established and respected.
Because he is only human, Nwajiuba may not have satisfied all the strata of the University. But grumbling is allowed. His greatest weakness is that he is too blunt. In fact he can never be a good student of diplomacy. When he is angry, he shows it. He suffers no fool, reason some people may not actually like his administrative style. But beyond the exterior of a tough guy lies a benevolent spirit, always willing to help, never hesitating in opening his wallet to give out the last naira note.
In his drive to push up the students’ population which stands at above 6,000 from the 2,000 he inherited in 2016, he has created employment for many young and not too young Nigerians. Many of these he does not know personally. Both in admission and employment, he emphasizes merit and that has endeared him to many people. You can accuse him of anything, but not corruption. Money to him is only a means to an end and not an end itself. Many of the people he has helped can testify to that. It is only when the good will starts rolling in, like it did when he was building his house in the village, that he realizes how positively he has touched the lives of others.
As Chinedum Uzoma Nwajiuba, Eze mmuta gburugburu, a Professor and Knight of the Anglican Church celebrates his 55th birthday, let me use his own words to tell him that it is not all about money but humanity. Congratulations Eze Ikonne.