Thursday, March 18, 2010

Rediscovering the UNN

By Emeka Nwosu/This Day/All Africa

Lagos — My recent trip to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), the great citadel of learning located within the ambience of a conclave of seven rolling hills was a good home coming of a sort, being the second time I was visiting the institution 26 years after graduation.

The previous trip was in 1996 during the funeral ceremonies of the founder of the University, the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Owelle of Onitsha and Great Zik of Africa. On that occasion, I was detailed by the Daily Times in my capacity as the Political Editor to cover the momentous event.

By that singular responsibility, I followed the funeral train from Lagos through Abuja and Nsukka to the Inosi Onira Retreat, Onitsha, the final resting place of the great African Nationalist.

By coincidence, my recent trip to Nsukka was as a result of another funeral involving the mother of Dr. Emeka Enejere, a renowned Political Operator, who incidentally was my lecturer in the Department of Political Science.

I took advantage of the funeral which was happening at Ibagwa Aka, on the outskirts of the University town, to undertake a first hand visit to my great alma mater.

To say the least, the picture that greeted me was not cheering enough. It is true that some major strides had been made over time to reposition the University infrastructure wise, the present state in which I found this great citadel of learning leaves much to be desired.

It would appear that after the exit of Professor Frank Ndili as the Vice Chancellor in 1985, whose tenure could be likened to the golden era in the history of the institution, the UNN has found itself in a state of arrested development. Except perhaps for some modest achievements that were reportedly recorded by the immediate past Vice Chancellor, Professor Chinedu Nebo, the degradation and degeneration in existing infrastructure remain very appalling.

Nevertheless, I can report that some key structures that were initiated by Ndili which defied succeeding administrations had been conclusively completed. My investigations revealed that the feat was recorded by Nebo. They include the Nnamdi Azikiwe Library, reputed as the largest in Africa, South of the Sahara; the Arts Theatre; Faculty Building for the Social Sciences etc.

Other areas where impressive achievements had been recorded are the sporting facilities on the campus. They include the famous Akanu Ibiam Sports Stadium, the Olympic size swimming pool and several training pitches etc.

Beyond these, it was observed that some serious decay had eaten deep into the University. It is sad and regrettable to note that 40 years after the Civil War, the vast landscape of the University is still dotted with abandoned structures including those that were destroyed during the Nigeria-Biafra War.

There is no reason on earth why structures that were conceived to enhance learning and research should still be allowed to remain in their derelict form 43 years after the end of the war, unless they are being preserved for succeeding generations as the physical evidence of the defeat of Ndigbo by the victorious Federal forces.

It saddens the heart to see the majestic Library Building within the Ziks Flats Hostels, Onuiyi Haven donated by the Great Zik of Africa along with the flats to the University still standing as a carcass more than 43 years after it was looted and destroyed by the invading federal troops.

We want to know from the University authorities why this is the case. For Christ sake, why can't that building be restored to its original status? Is there any legal instrument that imposed any restrictions on the restoration and rehabilitation of the structures destroyed in the University as a result of the unfortunate Civil War?

The popular Princess Alexandria Auditorium, which was the Centre of intellectual activism in the University before the War, suffered a similar fate. For ages, the roof of the building blown off during the war could not be replaced. It remained in that condition for a very long time.

We the alumni of this great citadel of learning that was conceived to restore the dignity of man cannot shy away from asking the necessary questions. Unless there is a legal instrument somewhere that ties the hands of the succeeding Governing Councils of the institution, the University authorities owe the UNN alumni movement and in deed Nigerians an explanation on why some of the infrastructure on campus have remained decadent.

I also wish to report that the entire Ziks Flats which at the moment house female students are in a state of disrepair. Until not long ago, the Ziks Flats were the abode of fresh male undergraduates coming into the University for the first time. That place, from what I saw, is no longer fit for human habitation.

The inhabiting students need to be evacuated from the area to make room for total reconstruction and rehabilitation.

Even, the several hostels that dot the campus are in vey bad shape. Those that cry for urgent attention are Akpabio Hall, Isa Kaita, Okeke, Okpara, Balewa and Mary Slessor.

I also observed with disgust that the Students' Union Building and the adjoining Multi Purpose Block initiated in 1982 are still standing at the heart of the campus as abandoned projects.

For those that graduated from the University several decades ago, they would be surprised to see that temporary wooden structures otherwise known as prefab buildings are still very much pronounced. For instance, the Medical Center still operates from makeshift structures in the name of prefab buildings. This certainly is not dignifying.

The current Governing Council of the University must initiate moves to apprehend the prevailing decay on campus. Excuses for non-performance will be unacceptable.

To the glory of God, an alumnus of the University, Dr. Sam Egwu, is the Federal Minister of Education. Admittedly, he holds a national position of trust; he also has a moral responsibility to his alma mater which is a federal institution.

As an institution crippled by the war, I am not away that the University has benefited from any Marshal Plan by the Federal Government to upgrade its facilities. A case can be made for the setting up of a Special Fund for the purpose of mitigating the lingering effects of the war damages.

Dr. Egwu, as a 'Great Lion', has a big role to play in this respect. It is my prayer that Go will give him the enabling grace to do so.

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