ADDRESS BY THE VICE-CHANCELLOR, PROFESSOR NIMI D. BRIGGS AT THE 18TH CONVOCATION CEREMONY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF PORT HARCOURT ON SATURDAY, 17TH MARCH, 2001
The President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, His Excellency, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo GCFR, who is also the Visitor to this University, who is represented by Professor Babalola Borishade, Hon. Minister of Education.
His Excellency, Dr. Peter Odili
Executive Governor of Rivers State, who is unavoidably absent.
His Excellency, Sir Gabriel Toby
Deputy Governor of Rivers State. Here in his own capacity and also representing the Executive Governor of Rivers State.
His Excellency, Chief Dieprieye Alamieyeseigha
Executive Governor of Bayelsa State, who is unavoidably absent.
His Excellency, Dr Goodluck Jonathan
Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State representing the Executive Governor of the State.
HRH Alhaji Mustapha Umar El Kanemi,
The Shehu of Bornu and Chancellor of the University.
Emeritus Professor L, Ayo Banjo. JP, FNAL.
Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Governing Council.
Other Pro-Chancellors of Universities.
Members of the Governing Council of the University.
Vice-Chancellors of various Universities.
Rectors and Provosts of various Polytechnics & Colleges.
Members of Senate and Congregation of the University.
Your Royal Highnesses, Chiefs and Traditional Rulers.
Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, Speaker, Rivers State House of Representatives.
Dr Abiye Sekibo, Secretary to the Rivers State Government.
Members of the Rivers State Executive Council and House of Representatives.
The Chief Justice of Rivers State and other members of the Bar and Bench present on this occasion.
Distinguished Guests of the University.
Members of the Press.
Great Students of the University of Port Harcourt.
Ladies & Gentlemen.
Those of you who are conversant with contemporary events in this university will readily agree that there is no better note for me to commence this address than one of intense gratitude. Firstly, I am grateful to the Visitor to the University, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces for appointing me Vice-Chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt on three different occasions. This has remained matchless in the annals of Nigerian tertiary educational system.
In January 1995, following an acute administrative problem in the university, the then Head of State approved the recommendation of the then Honourable Minister of Education and the then Chairman of the University’s Governing Council, Chief Folarin Coker, OON, and appointed me Acting Vice-Chancellor until further notice. I served in that capacity for a period of fourteen months. Again in the dying days of 1999, the incumbent President of the Federation, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR, found me worthy for appointment as Acting Vice-Chancellor with effect from the 30th December 1999, a position I held for six months before my substantive appointment as the 5th Vice-Chancellor of this institution on the 10th July, 2000 for a period of five years, on the recommendation of the Governing Council. For this unflagging confidence in my ability, I remain intensely grateful to the Visitor.
If the acting appointments in 1995 and 1999 arose from confidential reports and information, the substantive appointment of July 2000 was the climax of a keen contest and due process in which members of the University Community, the Senate and the Governing Council, led by an accomplished, and fine gentleman with a tremendous wealth of knowledge in university administration, in the person of Emeritus Professor L, Ayo Banjo, JP FNAL, all made imputes. To say therefore that I am grateful to all staff and students of this University, especially its Senate and Congregation is to say the very obvious. I wish to assure you all that I cherish your support and goodwill which I do not take for granted. I want to reiterate that both in the conduct of my personal affairs and those of the University, I shall, at all times, act in a way as to continue to earn your respect and confidence. As for the Governing Council, I find myself short of words with which to express my level of indebtedness to you. Our mutual interest lies in the fact that we appear to be persons of like minds who providence has brought together at this point in time to work in consonance in order to improve the fortunes of this university. Above all, glory must be given to the Almighty God who sanctioned these multiple appointments and by whose grace I have been sustained. May that grace remain sufficient now and even forever more.
Let me now advance to the main text of my address which shall be delivered in three parts. In the first part, I shall examine the fortunes of this university since it was established through a Statutory Provision: The University of Port Harcourt Act [Decree 84 of 1979]. What has been its successes and failures and what factors determined these outcomes. With the lessons learnt from this self audit, I shall, in the second part of my address, place before this august Convocation a blueprint of where we think this university should go in order to be relevant in the coming years. Some of the issues we shall raise in this portion of the address, are already being tackled by this administration; others we hope to conclude within the five years of our mandate and the remaining, we expect subsequent administrations to follow assiduously for sustainable development of the institution. The final part of my address will, expectedly, focus on our distinguished guests and all those for whom this year’s Convocation will remain a memorable event: Certificate, Diploma, First and Higher degree awardees and of course, our highly respected and only Honorary Degree recipient — HRM King Alfred Papapreye Diete-Spiff JP. Although the Certificate, Diploma and First Degree Awardees have had their day yesterday, a word or two of exhortation and encouragement are still germane here; they will find quite a difference between life within the four walls of a university and that outside. To my mind, this comprehensive approach to today’s presentation, which does not confine itself to the annual ritual of handshakes and delivery of scrolls, is justified by the opportunity offered by the advent of a new millennium, a nascent democracy in the country and the corresponding opportunities these offer for reappraisal and restructuring.
The Journey So Far
It was the Ashby Commission which in the 1950s recommended the urgent need for the establishment of a Tertiary Educational Institution in the Southern part of Southern Nigeria to compliment the efforts of the University of Ibadan in the task of producing high-level manpower to cater for the administrative, commercial and industrial needs of the emerging nation of Nigeria. But it took over twenty years for any such institution to come into being. Thus, when the University of Port Harcourt was established in 1975, it did so on high hopes. The founding fathers stated as objective of the university:
To contribute to national development, self reliance and unity through the advancement and propagation of knowledge and to use such knowledge for service to the community and to humanity.
From the humble beginnings of commencing life in a two-room apartment at Aba Road in Port Harcourt as a College of the University of Lagos, this institution has evolved into a full-fledged university with two colleges, seven faculties, a graduate population of over 30,000, full-time student population of over 10,000 living in a community with a land mass of approximately 4,000 hectares, which currently harbours more than 30,000 persons. Its scholarly activities in the Liberal Arts, Medicine, Science and Engineering are acclaimed globally and its products have attained commanding heights in government, politics, industry, commerce and the academia. For example, our Creative Arts Department can now quite rightly, be christened the “Hollywood of Africa” in recognition of the exceptional performance of its graduates in the Drama and Film Industries in Nigeria, which they have almost completely sequestrated to themselves. One of Nigeria’s foremost comedians Mr Michael Okbolosinga, is a graduate of Creative Arts Department of this university. These indeed are impressive results by any standards.
However, the university ought to have done better and should have avoided the negative actions that have, to some extent, tarnished its image. In the first place, the basic infrastructure needed to provide an enabling environment for serious academic work are absent. For example, the university has neither a permanent library building nor a senate block; an administrative building nor an auditorium. Only the Faculty of Science has a permanent edifice; other faculties are either squatting or are in makeshift structures. The laboratories are depleted of the needed tools, equipment and reagents. The compound is left bare without a perimeter fence. The few available roads lack maintenance. Accommodation for staff and students are not only inadequate, the few that there are, are grossly dilapidated: leaking roofs, broken down doors and windows, decaying walls. Electricity, water supply and telecommunication are rudimentary and function in fits and start. Recreational facilities are almost totally absent.
Staff and students of the university have not fared better. Low morale in the system has pushed some staff into actions that are unbecoming and unexpected of university workers. Students themselves take to violence, cultism and sharp practices at examinations. The net effect of all this is that the system became compromised, scholarship suffered and our competitive edge as an institution plummeted.
Insufficient funds to run the system and the general decay and decline that have griped our beloved country Nigeria in recent times especially in the area of energy supply, remuneration for workers, youth restiveness and violence, could be responsible for this downturn in the fortunes of the university. At the commencement of this administration therefore, it became clear to us that some general steps needed to be taken urgently for the university to continue to survive. These are:
1. A reorientation of the attitude of staff and students to learning and scholarship.
2. An improvement in the infrastructure within the university to enable it sustain an academic environment.
3. Enhancement of the revenue base of the institution so that it can remunerate its staff as and when due, equip its laboratories and uplift the morale of staff and students through appropriate welfare packages.
Additionally, we all felt that, in order to be relevant in this era of stiff competition, the university must carve a niche for itself and develop expertise in an area of its choice for which it will acquire local and international acclaim.
Some Achievements of this Administration
I am pleased to announce that the University has sprung into action on all these issues. First, we set up a Think-Tank that deliberated extensively on the fortunes of the university. From their comprehensive report, Senate is putting together a Blueprint by which we shall all abide. In addition, Senate has taken far reaching steps to stamp out examination malpractices, admission racketeering and academic fraud, as well as the twin monsters of violence and cultism among students. Furthermore, Senate is taking measures to inculcate into staff and students, the need to take their academic work seriously.
Regarding improvement in infrastructure, action has also commenced. Firstly, the Governing Council toured the university extensively and produced a document entitled, Urgent Infrastructural Needs of the University of Port Harcourt which spelt out the stark realities of the extent of deprivation and neglect in the university.
On its part, this administration has reached out to the Federal Government and also State Governments in its catchments areas, companies and organisations as well as well-meaning members of our society. In this respect, please permit me to single out for special mention the following persons and organisations for the tremendous assistance this university has received from them since I assumed office as Vice-Chancellor:
1. His Excellency, Dr Peter Odili, the government and people of Rivers State.
2. His Excellency, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, the government and people of Bayelsa State.
3. Chief Precious Ngelale of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources.
4. Chief Ebitimi Banigo and the All States Trust Bank and
5. Chief O. B. Lulu Briggs and Moni Pulo Ltd.
Due to the benevolence of these persons, their governments and organisations:
1. Telephone services are now being extended to virtually all sections of the university.
2. Electricity supply has improved to some extent save for major breakdowns.
3. Proper street lighting has been instituted in some sections of the university.
4. A campus-wide water distribution system is about to commence.
5. Plans to start the construction of a 5,000 seat auditorium has been concluded.
6. Some computer machines, office and teaching equipment have been received.
7. A fire fighting unit within the university is about to be established.
8. We have signed Memoranda of Understanding for collaboration and exchanges with some Canadian and British institutions of higher learning.
9. The foundation of a 200-room Clinical Students’ Hostel is nearing completion.
While thanking you all on behalf of all staff and students of this university most sincerely for what you have done for us, we urge you not to relent but to cement more strongly, your ties with this great university. May I also take this opportunity to plead with all those who have made various promises to us to redeem these promises.
The same vigour is being expended on our efforts at expanding the financial base of the university. It is our expectation that before long we shall be able to do a lot more for ourselves outside the usual government subventions. For this, I am calling on the organised private sector and the major multinational companies to come to the aid of this institution.
On the issue of the development of an area of special interest, the university is proud to announce that it has declared the Niger Delta of Nigeria, the nation’s sole repository of petroleum and related products, the arrow head of its activities and within that context, it will develop the industry of petroleum engineering and technology to a point of excellence—its exploitation, research and manpower production. Again I am proud to announce that we are well on our way to some success in this direction. A UNESCO Chair in Cultural Heritage which will incorporate studies on the Niger Delta is being established. Through a generous grant from the Petroleum Technology Development fund [PTDF] we have appointed the first Professor to a Chair of Gas Engineering in Nigeria and probably the whole of the West Coast of Africa. When we admit our first batch of students next session, we shall be the only university in Nigeria that will be teaching courses in Gas Engineering. Considering the future role gas is expected to play in the economy of our nation, you will all agree that this indeed is a quantum leap by the university.
I cannot end this section of my address without drawing your attention to yet another good fortune that recently came the way of our university— our selection, along with the universities of Ibadan, Bayero, Kano and Ahamdu Bello, Zaria, by a consortium of four foreign organisations: MacArthur Foundation, Ford Foundation, Rockefeller and Carnegie Corporation for long-term special assistance of our university’s developmental efforts.
I am now left with the third and final part of my address — that of welcoming all our special guests and sharing in the joy of the occasion with the graduands, their parents, guardians and loved ones. This I believe is the easiest and most pleasant of my tasks.
The Visitor to the University and President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR, is not here today. But only yesterday, he was next door in Bayelsa State, The Glory of All Lands and probably the epicentre of the Niger Delta of Nigeria. That suffices for us and so we say to him, even though in absentia, welcome to the Niger Delta; welcome to the University of Port Harcourt.
This is also an appropriate point at which to thank him, Mr President, for finding two of the pioneer graduates of this university worthy of appointment into important positions of responsibility. I am referring to the appointment of His Excellency Emmanuel Otiotio as Nigeria’s Ambassador to Japan and that of Prince Shedrach Akoloku as the Commissioner, Niger Delta Development Commission, to represent the Rivers State.
Professor Babalola Borishade, the Hon. Minister of Education is here to represent the Visitor. We wish to observe that this is the first Convocation of any university, the Hon. Minister is attending since his appointment. So, we congratulate you on your appointment and welcome you to the unique University of Port Harcourt.
His Excellency, Dr Peter Odili a man with a big heart, the greatest benefactor of this university, the host Governor of the state where our university is located — Rivers State of Nigeria — is unavoidably absent. But his Deputy, Sir G. T. G. Toby is here. When we consider the very close relation between Dr Odili, the Governor, and Sir Toby, the Deputy, we come to only one conclusion— that both Governor Odili and his Deputy Sir Toby are here. Sir, kindly carry my own deepest gratitude to him for his support for this institution ever since the mantle of leadership fell on me. I welcome you both and plead with you not to be tired of us. The Almighty God will continue to endow you sufficiently for you to make life meaningful to others. Permit us then to take advantage of your presence here to make one or two other requests. You see, universities are enriched when their retired staff continue to live close by. Such persons avail the institutions of the advantage of their wealth of experience from time to time but especially so, when things go wrong. I refer all of us to the example of “Bodija” in Ibadan where most of the retired staff from the University of Ibadan reside, including, I dare say, our amiable Pro-chancellor and Chairman of Council, Emeritus Professor L. Ayo Banjo JP, FNAL. So, I wonder Sir, if Your Excellency can approve the allocation of an appropriate parcel of land on the new expressway that joins the Omagwa International Airport to the East-West Road for the University of Port Harcourt to form its own “Bodija”. Secondly Sir, we are pleading that the Gas Turbine Generated Electricity that will soon commence from Trans Amadi, should call at our university as a matter of utmost priority. We will then be able to fight hoodlums at night, run our laboratories better with the 24-hour power supply this will provide and “smiles shall return to our faces”.
I welcome His Excellency, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State; himself a great alumnus of our university. Please convey our gratitude to His Excellency, Chief Diepriye Alamieyseigha for all he has done for us. We are pleading with him not to relent but to continue to assist us.
May I also take this opportunity to recognise and welcome Engr. Godwin Omene, the Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission [NDDC] and also, other top ranking officials of the commission who are here: Timi Alaibe, Executive Director of Finance and Administration, and Commissioner Prince Shedrack Akologu of Rivers State. As you all already know, our expectations from your commission are immense and I am sure that the good things will soon start flowing in.
My focus now turns to HRM King Alfred Papapreye Diete-Spiff JP our only Honorary Graduand for the day. I am sure you will agree Sir, that the fact that this is not the first honorary degree you are receiving, is an eloquent testimony of the gratitude we all owe you for putting together the framework that built the old Rivers State of Nigeria. But on this occasion, we are honouring you for something more: your contribution towards the establishment of the University of Port Harcourt. By this award, it is our expectation that you will take up the mantle for the propagation of the interest of our university at all times.
There are many other distinguished ladies and gentlemen who have left all other assignments in order to be here with us today. We appreciate your kind gesture and we welcome you as friends of the university.
Finally, to the graduands: yesterday, five hundred and twenty-six  persons received Certificates and Diplomas for the 1998/99 and 1999/2000 Academic Sessions while a total of seven thousand, one hundred and fifty seven [7,157] were conferred with first degrees in the various faculties and our College of Health Sciences. In congratulating them on their success, we implored them to conduct their affairs in such a manner as to bring honour to their alma mater. Today, we shall confer the following higher diplomas and degrees also on the graduates of the 1998/99 and 1999/2000 sessions:
My exhortation to you, higher degree and diploma holders is similar. You are fewer, so the share of honour is greater. On the average, you are older, so the commitment to your alma mater should be stronger.
I will now address the alumni of this great university whom I wish to recognise and congratulate in a very special way. Your support for this administration since it came into being has been noteworthy; equally so are your efforts at galvanising all alumni to come together to be one another’s keeper and to further the interest of your university. Only four days ago, you had activities that spanned one full day during which you laid the Foundation Stone of a fifty million naira [N50,000,000] Students’ Hostels as part of this year’s Convocation Ceremony. I wish to assure you that the university will continue to be by you and will always offer you the appropriate environment in which to function satisfactorily. As for the Alumni Students’ Hostel whose foundation stone you just laid, please rest assured that the University will make its own contribution and also plead with well meaning persons to contribute to the completion of the hostel.
Lastly I thank everyone present for being part of this great event. I wish to assure you that the University of Port Harcourt is determined to restructure itself and to evolve into one of the greatest Institutions of higher learning in Africa. In that match forward, we are counting on the support of all of you.
May the good Lord grant you journey mercies as you return to your respective homes.
ADDRESS BY THE VICE-CHANCELLOR, PROFESSOR NIMI D. BRIGGS AT THE 18TH CONVOCATION CEREMONY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF PORT HARCOURT ON SATURDAY, 17TH MARCH, 2001