Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Our Graduates are Among the Best


Boniface Egboka, professor of environmental hydrogeology and vice chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, spoke to Anthony Akaeze, principal staff writer, about the vision and achievements of the university 30 years after it was established. Excerpts:

Newswatch: Nnamdi Azikiwe University will be 30 years this year. How much progress has been made since then?

Egboka: Right from the beginning, even when it was a state university, the university had very high aims, high ideals, vision and mission. What it is today, followed the initial concept. We are only improving on the past effort. So, Nnamdi Azikiwe University is growing and developing into an international institution of higher learning, an institution that is going to be one of the best in the world. It’s not a tall dream, it’s a realistic dream. So, the university has a dream, founded on father of Nigerian nationalism-Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Zik of Africa. A very good man, a very good Igbo man, a very good Nigerian and African. A brilliant fellow and noble black man, a philosopher, administrator, journalist. This university is modelled around him. So, what Zik was, we are trying to become and eventually we shall be, in terms of citadel of learning in contemporary Africa and international academics. So, it’s a university that is worth the name. We have already attained a high status, such that we are now highly admired, not only nationwide but worldwide.

Newswatch: How easy has it been, managing the affairs of students as their Vice Chancellor?

Egboka: It has been very easy. I’m being frank. I love children, whether in the home or the university. We are here because of them. Our administration is student-centred. When you find yourself in the university as teacher or administrator, you are ever young. You are ageless and innocent. If you treat them well, you will be very happy with what you get. Give them their rights and privileges, recognise that they are humans, and that one day, they would be fathers and mothers. There may be few bad ones, but it’s your primary duty to change them. Eventually, you may succeed in changing 80 or 90 percent of them. The remaining ones you cannot change may turn out to be the bad eggs in the society. There’s nothing you can do about it. But the fault could be traced to their background. Because a child who comes here at say, 18 years, has already come of age.

The university system is the last for mature stage of adolescence. By the time a child comes out of the university, he or she is an adult. So, a child you cannot reform in the university system must have been damaged inexorably from the home. That’s why we insist here that when you bring your child here, once in a while, you should come and know what your child is doing. I call my students children because that’s what they are.

In Igbo culture and tradition, we are children to our parents and seniors. One’s age doesn’t matter. So, here, we regard them as our children. And many of them, 99 percent are good and happy and we try to provide them what they need within our minimum available resources, ensuring that there’s water supply, electricity and that sanitary condition is okay. We also ensure that they are taught by good lecturers who wouldn’t harass or intimidate them, who must release their results as and when due, and try to build them up as human beings. The university is the best place one can work in life.

Newswatch: What would you consider as the main contribution of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University to Nigeria’s development?

Egboka: This university has provided huge manpower to Nigeria. Go to many of the ministries at Abuja, Anambra, Imo and Abia states, go to London, Canada, go to the United States of America, you will find our students in different fields or professions, including banks, ICT centres and universities. We’ve got professors in many Nigerian universities. In post graduate institutions overseas, you will find them. You have our alumni in different parts of Nigeria and the world. Very brilliant men and women. You come to the university itself, the professors and lecturers indulge in lots of research that have led to academic breakthroughs. Our students usually come out tops in interviews. Both the lecturers and students have won many awards and also written many books.

Newswatch: We have heard talks about declining or falling standard of education. We have heard some people talk of half-baked graduates for instance. Do you share this view?

Egboka: I don’t. Whoever holds such view is not well informed. How can you say the standard of education is declining? Where? It’s stronger.

Newswatch: Stronger?

Egboka: I am not kidding. It’s the truth. And I am in a better position to say it. When I was a Geology student at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, do you know how many credit courses I took compared to the situation today? Today, our geology students are engineers equivalent because they take almost half courses that engineering students take. Our engineering students on their part take many courses in the physical sciences. Even those in the arts, who used to dread mathematics like a plaque, you can see the way they manipulate the computer and do their analysis. I think, instead, what is failing is the governmental system. Those who are sharing resources should look back at how they share resources and know where priorities ought to go. Education is key. Maybe the materials and facilities to support education is weak. That is apparently the problem.

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