OPINION: UNILORIN: The making of a Centre of Academic Excellence, Bastion of Community Service. By Kunle Akogun and Arowona Abdulazeez

Date: 2016-04-13

The University of Ilorin started in 1975 as an affiliate of the University of Ibadan. It was one of the six second generation universities established by the Murtala/Obasanjo regime. Occupying a land space of over 75, 000 hectares, it is arguably the largest in Sub-Saharan Africa. It kicked-off with two Faculties and just 200 students. Forty years on, the University now has 15 Faculties with over 35, 000 students spread across over 90 academic Departments.

The institution, which is fast emerging as the nation's most preferred University due to the influx of applicants seeking admission through the Universal Tertiary Matriculation Examinations (UTME), has no doubt, paid its due in the past and is still ensuring a sustainable academic excellence among its contemporaries.

Unilorin has been blessed with a succession of God-fearing administrators, who have always ensured prudent management of its human and material resources. This legacy of conscientious management has been sustained by the incumbent Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin, Prof. AbdulGaniyu Ambali (OON). Barely three years of his appointment as the 9th Vice Chancellor of the University, Prof. Ambali, a veterinarian, has not only succeeded in sustaining the tempo of high academic profile, human and infrastructural development as well as up-to-date research and innovations, he also ensured that the maintenance of the management, staff and students' working synergy continues to top the agenda of the University's activities for better growth.

There is no doubt in the fact that University of Ilorin has proved itself as 'better by far university' because of its outstanding academic prowess. It is pertinent at this juncture to highlight the milestone development in University of Ilorin since its establishment over forty years ago in order to prove apropos to its undisputable and one of the leading universities in the contemporary world.

TEACHING AND RESEARCH INNOVATION

It is a truism that teaching and research have been given right priorities at UNILORIN since the beginning. This of course continues till today. A major hallmark of the Prof. Ambali-led Administration since he mounted the saddle of leadership is its unrelenting pursuit of excellence in teaching and research. Prof. Ambali has sustained the tradition of heavy investment in human capital development through the massive sponsorship of deserving academic staff members to learned conferences within and outside the country. More staff members have also been sponsored or supported to acquire higher degrees.

Added to this is the judicious use of the various research grants by the University researchers, under the efficient supervision of the Vice-Chancellor. This has resulted in various research breakthroughs, one of which is the discovery of new anti-malaria compounds by a Professor of Inorganic Chemistry, Joshua Ayoola Obaleye. All things being equal, the ground-breaking discovery by this STEP-B funded researcher will soon find its way to the pharmaceutical industry.

Apart from its regular inaugural lectures aimed at justifying research and academic competence among erudite scholars (Professors) of the University and in line with the tradition of Universities aimed at proffering solutions to the lingering societal problems, the Senate of the University has approved a proposal to establish a centre for renewable energy.

This will be part of the University's contribution to the government's concerted effort to find a lasting solution to the nation's energy challenges that are fast assuming intractable dimensions.

When established, the Unilorin Renewable Energy Centre (UREC) will conduct research and training that will enhance the development and application of renewable energy resources as important component of alternative energy sources that is desired for the realization of a stable and reliable energy sector in the country. Above all, the centre will promote renewable energies development with the aim of making rural areas self-sufficient in energy and food production. The University Senate has also approved the establishment of a Laboratory to Industrial Product "LABTOP" Centre to create a link between the University and industry for the purpose of promoting wide knowledge and application of the outcomes of research with potential for industrial application.

It is worthy of note that most researches carried out in most universities in the country have remained largely academic exercises that are often left to gather dust on laboratory shelves.

They don't always serve any utilitarian purpose other than journal publications for the career advancement of concerned researchers. But with the Laboratory to Industrial Product initiative, the University of Ilorin is well on the path to impacting more positively on the Nigerian society since the research efforts of its researchers would soon be turned into products that would be locally and internationally relevant.

According to the Steering Committee of the Unilorin Laboratory to Industrial Product Project, the envisaged partnership between the University and industries would be a logical strategy for building technological capacity and growth of industry within and outside Nigeria and the world at large.

Also, the establishment of the LABTOP Centre will be in synch with a strategy for the involvement of the University in the industrial development of the country. It will also expand the scope of the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the University and at the same time enhance Town and Gown collaboration and further improve the quality of the University graduates.

Closely related to these laudable initiatives are the University's well-documented giant strides in the area of advancing the vistas of the nation's revenue generation efforts. The University is already engaged in certain economic ventures that, at maturation, could directly enhance its internally generated revenue and, indirectly, boost the nation's larger economy.

The UNILORIN palm plantation, the Moringa plantation and the Moringa industry, the Jatropha plantation, the Teak plantation and other economic trees that are the wonderful initiatives of the University administration are some of the potential revenue earners that will, in due course, take Unilorin to greater heights, revenue wise.

STAFF DEVELOPMENT

It is a fundamental truism that no institution can survive with its staff being underdeveloped. The University of Ilorin is at the front burner of developing the capacities of both the academic and non-academic staff through training and re-training both within and outside the country. Recently, the University Senate ratified the appointment/promotion of no fewer than 43 new Professors across the various Faculties of the University while it also approved the appointment/promotion of 96 lecturers to the position of Readers.

Staff development as one of the motivational factors has improved the quality of both academic and non-academic staff of the institution. It has gas also contributed tremendously to organizational productivity.

STUDENTS' WELFARE AND UNIONISM

Similarly, the welfare of the students is given priority attention by the University. At the beginning of every session, the Student Affairs Unit organizes an orientation programme for new students. This largely ensures peace and tranquillity on the campus.

As part of measures put in place to further maintain peaceful co-existence on campus, the University management made it mandatory for all the students' clubs and associations to register with the Student Affairs Unit to ensure the proper monitoring of their activities.

Also, in an attempt to bridge the gap between the University Administration and students and to inculcate leadership ability in them, membership of some committees is extended to the students. Such committees included Students' Welfare, Sports, Students' Disciplinary, Library and Publications, and Ceremonials.

At the University of Ilorin, student unionism is a tool for progressive transformation of the lives and status of the generality of the institution's student populace. Unlike what obtains in sundry other institutions of higher learning in the country, student unionism at the University of Ilorin is not a tool used by a cabal of student mafias and their external sponsors/collaborators to perpetrate acts of indiscipline and unwarranted antagonism to constituted authorities, thereby putting the academic pursuit and social well-being of the majority of the student populace in jeopardy.

The sort of synergy that exists between the student body and the University administration here is such that engenders mutual trust in a no-hold barred atmosphere of openness. The prevailing harmony at the University of Ilorin is not as a result of lack of conflicts between the students' body and the University management but it is a function of the deployment of effective mechanisms for prompt resolution of sprouting conflicts.

Once a potential conflict situation is identified and properly brought up, remediation measures are promptly set in motion and without undue hard-line posturing or unnecessary grandstanding, the situation is often resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned.

The secret of the reigning harmony at the UNILORIN could also be located in the existence of a body of realistic rules and regulations and, upon all, a succession of thoroughly student-centred administrations that would not condone the undue exploitation and harassment of students by any staff member, whether academic or non-academic.

The UNILORIN Students' Union has perfected the art of seamless transition from one exco to another in a country where elections, in general and students' union election, in particular, are often characterized by unbridled brigandage and widespread violence! This is a big lesson to Nigerian politicians: We need not necessarily look up to the US or UK or even South Africa to unravel the secrets behind rancour-free elections and crisis-free transition. Let the University of Ilorin students show Nigeria the way!

TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENT

UNILORIN is not left out in the race for technological advancement. In fact, another landmark achievement of the administration of Prof. Ambali is its visible commitment to the rapid development of technological infrastructure in the University.

One clear evidence of this single-minded commitment is the timely completion of the STEP-B funded fiber optics project coupled with the upgrading of the bandwidth from 15 megabits per second to 155 megabits per second. With the completion of the N95.8 million fibre optics infrastructure in February this year and the massive upgrading of the bandwidth at the end of July, through the prompting of the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the University Governing Council, Prof. (Obi) Chukwuma Okonjo, the strength of internet connectivity in the University community will be more efficient, more reliable and more accessible.

In his sustained drive for excellence, Prof. Ambali pulled through another feat with the introduction of a new multi-functional staff and student identification card. The special thing about this initiative is that it is not just your run-of-the-mill means of identification. Indeed, the UNILORIN's new ID card is one of the products of the new wave of technological revolution blowing across the University. The one-stop smart card is at the same time an ATM card, an access control card while also serving the traditional function of identification of its holders.

The University of Ilorin is at the forefront of innovations. It is on record that the University pioneered the Computer Based Tests (CBT) for the screening of its potential students. Not only has this initiative been widely adopted by universities in the country today, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) has now fully adopted the CBT format for its Universal Tertiary Matriculation Examinations (UTME). In its usual pioneering effort, the University, under the administration of Prof. Ambali, has introduced a new policy of one-student-one-IPAD beginning from the 2013/2014 academic session.

According to the Vice-Chancellor, the policy is aimed at boosting the University's ICT drive and enhancing e-communication between the students and their lecturers. The PC tablet would be a virtual classroom with all the curriculum and courseware pre-uploaded on it.

With the University's highest policy making body, the Senate, already operating paperless sessions and the Registry already toying with the idea of paperless memos, the one- student-one-IPAD initiative is a welcome extension of the wave of paperless revolution already sweeping through the University operations.

EXPANSION OF ACADEMIC PROGRAMME

In its sustained quest for excellence and to widen the scope of career choice for admission seekers, the University Senate, presided over by Prof. Ambali, approved the introduction of new academic programmes with the establishment of three new Faculties and the unbundling of some 'unwieldy' Departments.

While a brand new Faculty of Environmental Sciences, with the full complement of Departments, was established, two other Faculties, Life Science and Management Sciences, were excised from the old Faculty of Science and Faculty of Business and Social Sciences respectively.

Also, some Departments in the Faculty of Education have been unbundled to widen their academic programmes. In this regard, the Department of Arts and Social Science Education was split into the Department of Arts Education and the Department of Social Science Education .

The Department of Science Education has also been split into the Department of Science Education and the Department of Educational Technology.

However, the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine is also one of the recently created faculties while the Veterinary Teaching Hospital of the University is nearing completion. With this, it is expected that there will be influx of animal-patients into the state from other states both from far and near as being experienced in the Human-Medical care at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital (UITH).

OIL PALM PLANTATION

The University recently flagged off a massive oil palm plantation covering about 1000 hectares of land. The immediate past Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was on hand to perform the ground breaking ceremony. The plantation will provide training and laboratory facilities for students in the Faculties of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences as well as the Departments of Forestry, Plant Biology and other related disciplines. At maturation, it would also be a good source of internally generated revenue for the University.

ACCELERATED INFRASTRUCTURAL DEVELOPMENT

The University has, over the years, been innovative, not only in academics, but also in its physical environment. It has witnessed phenomenal growth in the area of physical facilities ad aesthetics development. Today, the University is a huge construction site where several projects are being executed as part of achieving its vision and mission statements.

In addition to maintaining the culture of prudent management of the limited resources available to it, the University has been able to secure substantial additional funds. This is in addition to the improved Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). With the improved funding, particularly from the Tertiary Education Trust Funds (TETFund), the University was able to provide the physical facilities required for the movement of the remaining faculties on the mini campus to the main campus.

Physical developments on the main campus have been monumental in the last few years such that more regular visitors to the campus wonder if structures grow like trees on the campus. It is noteworthy that there are no abandoned projects in the University. The recorded structural development was carried out within the limited resources of the University and the unlimited goodwill of philanthropists.

About 22 projects executed by the University administration within the last one year have been completed while many others are ongoing.

The projects include: the four-storey Faculty of Arts Complex; the new Senate Building Security Gate; the Centre for Entrepreneurial Studies Building; the Faculty of Education Lecture Hall; the Faculty of Science Phase IV; Faculty of Science Phase V; Animal House Building; Department of Optometry and Vision Science Building and the Faculty of Engineering and Technology Workshops. Others are: the new Faculty of Engineering Lecture Hall; the Faculty of Agriculture Laboratory; the Faculty of Management Sciences Lecture Hall; Access road to the Researchers' Village; Water supply from Main Campus to College of Health Sciences; Electricity supply from Main Campus to College of Health Sciences; Six Sit-out for students; Medical Assessment Centre; Offices for Physical Planning Unit; as well as a number of private hostels.

UNIVERSITY/LABOUR RELATIONS

There is no disputing the fact that the University of Ilorin is a pathfinder in the area of industrial harmony. This manifests in the stable and uninterrupted academic calendar of the institution for close to two decades.

It is on this premise that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Unilorin Branch, restated its commitment to a stable academic calendar in the University, assuring the University administration of its continuous support towards taking the institution to greater and enviable heights.

The union also donated N3, 078,092.91 to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as part of their contributions to the efforts of the Federal Government to make lives bearable for the victims of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-eastern part of the country. This is the first time that any university workers' Union would be showing this type of gesture. The Union had earlier in 2011, made similar monetary donations to the victims of the Tsunami earthquake in Haiti. All these philanthropic gestures are indeed the hallmark of responsible unionism.

CAMPUS OF HARMONY

As a corollary of the prevalent industrial harmony at UNILORIN, the university community also enjoys relative peace and security. This manifests in the peaceful co-existence among the diverse ethnic and religious groups inhabiting the community. Unlike other universities bedeviled by serious crime, especially campus cultism, University of Ilorin is free from all forms of student crime and violence.

INTERNATIONAL REPUTATION

The University of Ilorin has continued to maintain close tied with the international community with a major target of becoming a world-class citadel of learning and belonging to the hierarchy of world best varsities in few years time.

The Professor Ambali-led leadership has also established close working partnership with world leaders as well as institutions in the areas of diplomatic contacts among others. This was evident in the institution's 40th Anniversary/31st convocation ceremonies lecture delivered by the President of Ghana, Mr. John Dramani Mahama.

This, among other giant strides, has also encouraged the delegation of the European Union (EU) to Nigeria and ECOWAS to find the University worthy and considering the possibility of facilitating the establishment of a Centre for European Studies at the University.

The student exchange between UNILORIN and Kenyatta University, Kenya, is another major boost to the university's international rating.

ENCOMIUMS

In the history of Nigeria, University of Ilorin remains the only institution whose current and immediate past ?Vice Chancellors are bestowed with National Honours on the same day. In 2014, Prof. Ambali, the current Vice Chancellor was honoured with the Officer of the Order of Niger, (OON), while his predecessor and current Secretary-General of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Professor Ish-aq Oloyede, was awarded with the Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR).

In attestation to the competence and widespread endorsement cum acceptability enjoyed by the University from all and sundry, President Muhammadu Buhari could not hold his breath as he showered encomiums on the University of Ilorin on its academic stability, quality education and unprecedented infrastructural development even as he confirmed that the University is indeed "Better by far" for attaining the milestone age of 40 years.

Acknowledging the distinction of the University as "being the most stable and peaceful among Federal universities in Nigeria, President Buhari, who was represented at the last University's 31st Convocation and 40thAnniversary Ceremonies by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Engr. Babachir Lawal, said, "because of this, it (Unilorin) is one of the most sought-after University by parents and students alike".

RECREATION AND TOURISM

Apart from the glowing academic excellence, University of Ilorin is another centre for tourism with dynamism and attractions. The University zoo houses a wide array of animals and birds that are always a delight to the visitors to behold. These animals and birds include: assorted snakes, lions, giraffes, hyenas, birds, crocodiles, antelopes, goose to mention a few. The zoo is a most pleasant recreational experience with automated gate-passage.

At the zoo, there is also an overhead walkway at the gate, which is also most impressive

ROYAL ENDORSEMENTS

The new Chancellor of the University and Emir of Katsina, Alhaji Abdulmumini Kabir Usman, could not hide his joy when he was recently appointed as the new Chancellor of the University.

He said: "I received the news of my appointment with surprise. I didn't receive any letter. I just heard it on radio and television news. It came to me as a surprise and joy."

The monarch said, "I have been hearing from people that the University of Ilorin is one of the best universities in the country. So, the appointment is really a source of elation to me. I am really happy and Insha Allah I will do my best to see that I take the University to even greater heights. The sky is our limit and by the help of the Emir of Ilorin and the state governor, I think and confidence that I will find things very easy".

Also, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, commended the love and unity among the staff of the University of Ilorin, saying this was responsible for the stable academic calendar being enjoyed by the institution.

The monarch said: "I see love from Ife spreading to Ilorin and among University of Ilorin staff. You are working as a family and your oneness is the reason behind your progress".

TOWARDS A BRIGHTER FUTURE

In view of the past and present achievements of the University of Ilorin, it is a truism that the future of the great citadel of excellence is bright. The university has continued to march forward under the able and dynamic leadership of Prof. Amdulganiyu Ambali (OON).

As Prof. Ambali told newsmen in a recent interactive session, the sky will just be the beginning for this citadel of excellence.

According to him, "I think if we continue at the pace we are going now we are going to leave many people behind in terms of doing what we are doing right, reaching where we want to be, comparing ourselves with the best in the world.

"The University Council, under the leadership of Obi (Prof.) Chukwuka Okonjo, wants us to be among the first 500 universities or even among the 200 universities in the world. I know it is not a small challenge; it's a big one and at the pace at which we are going now, I think we are on the right track and if we continue at this pace I'm sure this assignment will be achieved".

 


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