ADDRESS AT THE 24TH CONVOCATION LECTURE, UNIVERSITY OF PORT HARCOURT – FULFILLING THE MANDATE

FULFILLING THE MANDATE, RIVERS STATE UNIVERSITY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY. 24th CONVOCATION LECTURE By Nimi D. Briggs. JP,KSC, OON, MB, BS (Lag); MD (Lag); FRCOG; FWACS; FICS; FMOG (NIG); FAS. Emeritus Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Port Harcourt on 3 may, 2012

OPENING REMARKS

To be invited to deliver a university convocation lecture is a unique privilege and an honour. I thank the authorities of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST), especially the Governing Council, Senate and Congregation for this recognition. It seems only a couple of weeks ago, when many of us, including I, sat in this hall to listen to the erudition of the cerebral Hon. Odein Ajumogobia, SAN, OFR, as he delivered the 19th – 23rd combined Convocation Lecture of this university, the preceding one to today’s lecture Enthralling and exhilarating, his words at that lecture on the Challenge of Nation Building, still strike a chord in my memory (Ajumogobia 2011). How indeed time does fly!. Let me also take the opportunity to congratulate all those who would be convoking at this year’s ceremony. I thank your teachers and also congratulate your parents and guardians as you all savour this happy occasion.

At the Convocation ceremony last year, some distinguished speakers drew attention to various significant achievements of by this institution in recent times including advances in E-technology and human resources development, even as the Governing Council reaffirmed its determination to rekindle the Vision and Mission of the University (RSUST 20011). How far down this track have we tread? Furthermore, I observe that a quiet revolution has been in progress in the education sector of Rivers State since His Excellency Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaaechi got in the saddle as the Executive Governor and declared a state of emergency in the sector when he saw schools – primary and secondary – that were so dilapidated and dysfunctional that it was preferable for the children to study under trees, which at least afforded some shelter from the elements, however tenuous. Impressive buildings of exceedingly high quality-.primary and .secondary schools- are being constructed at huge costs; some have been completed. Realizing that it is not the hood that makes the monk, nor buildings, education, His Excellency has additionally embarked on a number of other measures, including the retraining of teachers, domestication of curriculum, and the provision of books which are collectively aimed at revamping education at the primary and secondary school levels. These audacious steps, if pursued tenaciously and successfully, portend well for the future of this State and should situate education as the major engine for development. The process should turn out pupils who have been sufficiently prepared to take advantage of, as well as benefit from tertiary education within and outside the Sate.

RSUST, the apical tertiary educational institution of the state, is destined to play a major role in this burgeoning educational project – a completely new university at an entirely new site is even in the offing. So, part of the process of preparing the university for this important role ahead, is to carry out some audit of its activities, especially with reference to the extent to which it has fulfilled its mandate as the premier University of Science and Technology in Nigeria. At today’s lecture therefore, I will speak on the Mandate of this University, which serves as its compass, and some issues surrounding it.

THE MANDATE

The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary (8th edition) that I consulted defines mandate as an authoritative command; an official order to do something. Viewed from the context of this university, the Mandate can be seen as being covert and overt and derives from three sources:

  • the wider and global family of “University” of which RSUST is part,
  • the implication of its name,
  • and the many declarations that were made by its founding fathers during the gestation and birth of the institution.

Let me explain.

University

Everywhere in the world, the term “university” automatically bequeaths a legacy to all institutions of higher learning that wear its toga. The university is a community of teachers and scholars who commit themselves to the dissemination of knowledge through teaching and its acquisition through learning, research and scientific enquiry. Such a body awards degrees, relates to the local and international environments, and sets up structures to self-regulate its activities.

From this remit which is common to the other 123 universities in Nigeria, the 800 in Africa and about 25, 000 in the world, the mandate to this university is clear:

  • it should pursue scholarly activities that would expand the frontiers of knowledge and lead to innovations, inventions and discoveries .
  • it should educate and transmit knowledge to deserving students and scholars and award degrees and diplomas
  • it should seek relevance within the local and international community by participating in those activities that would enhance the common good and well-being of all mankind..

The Implication of its name

Being the premier University of Science and Technology in Nigeria, there is no doubt that the choice of words in ascribing a name to the institution, was advisedly done. There was no attempt made at aping the conventional universities before it, as this was to be a specialised tertiary educational institution with some bias and focus in its mandate. That bias and focus is on Science and Technology and by this emphasis, it was the wish of the founding fathers, that apart from its wider operations in the convention and culture of a university, RSUST obligates itself to exploiting the benefits of Science and Technology and to apply these benefits to improving the quality of life of all Nigerians but especially those in Rivers State.

Declaration by Founding Fathers

If the two previous aspects of the mandate that have been described are covert as they are implied, the declarations by the founding fathers are overt as they are expressly stated. These declarations are contained in a number of documents including ” Rivers State University of Science and Technology Gazette (extraordinary) Vol. 1, January 1982 No. 1″, “Rivers State University of Science and Technology Law” which was assented to by the late Chief Melford Okilo, the then Governor of the Rivers State of Nigeria on the 6th day of August, 1980 and “University Motto”: which is ” Excellence and Creativity”, as contained in the 1996-2000 Calendar of the university.

In one of these documents, seven Objects of the University are stated and clear directives given as to what should constitute the trajectory of the university. Let me quote some excerpts:

a unique and uncommon university that should be structurally and philosophically oriented to solving practical, and in particular, the peculiar and difficult problems of the Rivers State; and that the university should be ultimately dovetailed into our development processes -industry, agriculture, commerce, provisions of infrastructure, etc and it should serve as the engine for the generation of indigenous technology

The documents state further

that the Rivers State University of Science and Technology would unleash the creative and innovative capabilities of our people for the solution of our problems and enhance the quality of life ; it should train both the mind and the hand.

As it pertains to this university therefore, it is from these three elements – membership of a global body called “university”, the preference for “Science and Technology” in its name, and the directive to solve the “practical and peculiar challenges” of the region- that the corporate mandate of the institution can be synthesised. It is also from these three elements that the content of the proverbial Teaching, Research and Community Service which universities often see as a description of their scope of work, can be aggregated . Accordingly, it can be stated that

for the Rivers State University of Science and Technology to fulfill its mandate, it must bring to its fold deserving students with aptitude and appetite to learn and systematically, as well as with conscience, challenge them, taking them through courses of studies to acquire knowledge and skills in order to become responsible and useful members of the community. A search for the truth through rational and deductive reasoning on all spheres of the universe must be its preoccupation even as it exploits, acquires and applies the benefits of Science and Technology to solving the peculiar problems of the people in the drainage basin of the River Niger. In doing all this, the university must be creative and seek excellence at all times.

EXTENT OF FULFILLMENT OF MANDATE

When the RSUST converted from its forerunner, the College of Science and Technology, into a full- fledged university through a statute in 1980, it did so on an upbeat note. The words of Professor T. T Isoun, the first Vice-Chancellor of the university, on the occasion of the formal opening of the institution on 31st October, 1980, said it all and I quote: “The University is starting on firm grounds”. ” I believe that we have good staff, good infrastructural facilities and equipment and highly motivated students to start the long-awaited Rivers State University of Science and Technology” (Isoun 1980).

The assets, liabilities, administrative system and a number of physical facilities , described as uncommon in many other universities in the country, were transferred to the new institution. From the Schools of Basic Studies, Applied Biology, Engineering, Business and Social Sciences and Education that it inherited, the University ultimately structured itself into seven faculties comprising 30 departments and a postgraduate school ostensibly to meet the requirements of its robust mandate. In addition, eight Institutes and Centres, including the Institute of Geosciences and Space technology (formerly, Institute of Flood, Erosion, Reclamation and Transport – IFERT) and the Institute of Pollution Studies. which were to serve as veritable organs for engaging the community, were set up. The staff were cosmopolitan in nature and rich in those who taught, even at the professorial level, and those whose duties were largely administrative. There was therefore no doubt that RSUST was in some good standing to fulfill its mandate when it commenced activities on the 31st of October, 1980. But how has all this translated into actual results and achievements, especially, in the areas of teaching, research and community service? How many students have been admitted? and how did they fare through their courses? What number of disruptions to their studies did they suffer? How well do the staff apply themselves to their duties? How often do they teach their classes? What is the volume of meaningful research that emanates from the university? Which peculiar problems of the environment has the university been seen to have addressed successfully and came up with tangible and lasting solutions. The answers to these and much more would have been useful in our deliberation today but sadly, I cannot provide satisfactory answers to all of them due to a number of factors, not least, the dearth of well-kept data. And here I must hasten to add that this is not peculiar to this university. The same situation will most likely be found in many other places, perhaps, in line with the penchant of Nigerians for poor record keeping.

Information on students is vital because one important way of assessing the value of university education, is to evaluate the quality of the educational process experienced by students. While it is accepted that several factors such as location and fees, determine the choice of a university, all will agree that the quality of the academic standing of the institution in the eyes of the student, constitutes a major factor. I assessed the issue of choice of University with respect to RSUST by obtaining information on the 2010, 2011 and 2012 matriculation examinations from JAMB. (see Annexure I, II, and III) The information rank-ordered the number of candidates seeking admissions as first choice, into various universities in the country (JAMB 20012) and from this, I calculated the percentage of students who elected for RSUST as first choice amongst all universities, amongst State-owned Universities and amongst Universities of Science and or Technology. Table I ( 1.1, 1.2, 1.3) below shows the results so obtained.

TABLE I

STUDENTS REQUEST FOR ADMISSION AT JAMB EXAMINATIONS INTO UNIVERSITIES OF FIRST CHOICE 2010-2012

TABLE 1.1

ALL UNVERSITIES

YearTotal no. seeking admissionNo. choosing RSUSTNo. of UniversitiesRanking of RSUST% of students seeking admission into RSUST
20101,433,1176,427137430.49
20111,595,5243,412139560.21
20121,455,4829,808160400.67

TABLE 1.2

STATE-OWNED UNIVERSITIES

YearTotal no. seeking admissionNo. choosing RSUSTNo. of UniversitiesRanking of RSUST% of students seeking admission into RSUST
2010255,5406,42719112.52
2011295,4413,41224181.16
2012314,0049,80824103.12

TABLE 1.3

UNIVERSITIES OF SCIENCE AND OR TECHNOLOGY

YearTotal No. seeking admissionNo. choosing RSUSTNo. of UniversitiesRanking of RSUST% of students seeking admission into RSUST
2010126,6006,4271265.08
201196,7973,4121683.52
201293,7489,80816610.42

Having been in existence for almost 32 years, to draw conclusions on information based on three years may be difficult to defend. So let the interpretation of these results be guarded and only used to make very general statements

In the Nigerian university system, probably less than 1% of students seeking admission, choose this university as first choice but preference for the university increases when compared to other state- government- owned universities and those with a specified bias towards science and/or technology.

From a student population of 2,974 at the inception of the university in 1980, the population grew exponentially to the extent that at the combined 19th – 23rd Convocation in October 2011, the university graduated 25, 917 of which 23 had first class and 1,744, second class upper division, while 138 obtained Doctor of Philosophy degrees. In some instances, the admission process was characterised by over admission – well beyond the carrying capacity of the programme, i.e., the number of students allowed to be admitted into a particular programme as determined by the available number of staff to teach the students. For instance, in the 2000/2001 academic year, the Faculty of Management Sciences admitted and registered 1,687 students for a quota of 225, while for the 2006/2007 academic year, it admitted and registered 891 students for a quota of 423. The 1999 Visitation Panel which was led by Emeritus Professor Ladipo Ayo Banjo frowned at this situation when it stated : ” Degree programmes have been expanded beyond what the academic staff population can carry, and to the detriment of Science Courses. Part time courses have also been expanded beyond the dictates of academic excellence” (Ayo Banjo 1999). In addition, the academic programmes of the students were not infrequently interrupted due to forced closures of the university. Table II shows the occasions of forced closures of the university between 2006 and 2012.

TABLE II

FORCED CLOSURE OF RSUST 2006-2012

S/NOSUBJECTDATE
1THREE DAYS NATIONWIDE ASUU WARNING STRIKE31 MARCH – 2 APRIL, 2006
2INCESSANT ASSAULTS AND THREATS TO LIVES OF LECTURERES BY STUDENTS10 – 15 MAY 2006
3ONE WEEK NATIONWIDE ASUU WARNING STRIKE14 – 20 DEC. 2006
4ONE WEEK NATIONWIDE ASUU WARNING STRIKE16 – 23 FEB. 2008
5ASUU STRIKE ON ERRATIC PAYMENT OF STAFF SALARY20 -27 APRIL 2009
6TWO WEEKS NATIONWIDE WARNING STRIKE OVER 2009 FGN/ASUU AGREEMENT18 – 31 MAY 2009
7TOTAL/INDEFINITE NATIONAL ASUU STRIKE. THIS LED TO LOSS OF 2008/2009 ACADEMIC YEAR23 JUNE, 2009 – 9 OCTOBER, 2009
8STUDENTS DEMONSTRATION1 NOV. 2009 – 10 JAN. 2010
9ASUU TOTAL AND INDEFINITE INDUSTRIAL ACTION8 MAR. – 19 MAR. 2010
10ASUU NATIONWIDE INDUSTRIAL ACTION4 DEC. 2011 – 2 FEB. 2012

Source: Registrar, RSUST.

Again to further evaluate the quality of the educational process in the university, bearing in mind that the mandate of the institution demands of it to pursue excellence, I sought information on the accreditation status of the programmes offered by the university from the National Universities Commission (NUC). see annexure IV) The summary is indicated in Table III (NUC 2012)

TABLE III

ACCRDITATION STATUS OF PROGRAMMES OFFERED AT RSUST

YearDeniedInterimFull
1990275
1999/2000080
2002091
200541121
20070010
2008014

source: NUC

What is clear is that from 1999 when most of the programmes in the university either had interim or full accreditation, there was a gradual loss of accreditation which climaxed in 2005 when only one of the programmes was fully accredited. Regaining accreditation for the programmes in the university recommenced in 2007 and was complete in 2008.

Still by way of feeling the academic pulse of the institution, I had a cursory contact with compilations of Inaugural Lectures in Nigerian Universities by the NUC for 2000 and 2001 The document for 2000, contained one lecture from this University – that by Professor Mildred Alali Amakiri titled Microbes: Moving the World Forward in the millennium out of thirty from eleven universities. Similarly, that for 2001, contained three from this university – Nitrogen: Vital Element For Sustainable Agriculture and Environmental Quality by Professor Nnaemeka Ogu Isirimah, Pavement Maintenance Management Systems: The Pragmatic Decision-Making Tools for Highway Engineers by Professor Telimoye Mathew Oguara and Window Into the Anatomy and Dynamics of Poverty Among the Neglected Rural Minority of Rivers State, Nigeria .by Professor Michael Sunday Igben. These three were part of 26 reported for that year from 11 universities (NUC 2012).

On investigating further , I discovered that for the 32 years of its existence, Professors in this University have delivered 23 inaugural lectures and that a number of the professors, have not done so. While it is accepted that Professorial Inaugural Lectures are not formal methods of teaching, they however, as public lectures, constitute part of the large pool of informal ways of knowledge propagation which are so evident in a vibrant university and which enhance the vital contact between town and gown.

Research was the most difficult to evaluate as journal publications do not necessarily equate to the volume of meaningful research that is going on in an establishment. This is more so when one considers that one important factor that is taken into consideration in the promotion of academic staff, is the number of publications they have made in local and international peer -reviewed Journals of repute. The onus is on the academic staff to show publications and not necessarily, evidence of research. However, Table IV below, which is provided by the office of the Vice-Chancellor, is a list of publications from various departments. From it, one can surmise the level of research going on in the various faculties.

TABLE IV

RESEARCH OUTPUT 2005 – 2011

S/NO.FACULTY2005200620072008200920102011
1.Agriculture13121018202021
2.Engineering11172310303020
3.Environmental Sciences587710105
4.Law (24)18131310137
5.Management Sciences (7)1112318143
6.Science (9)1917122020208
7.Technical & Sc. Education (27)31634855283942

source: Vice-Chancellor’s office, RSUST

Regarding infrastructure which serves as the backbone for academic activities – faculty buildings, laboratories, student hostels, municipal services, and others, the University inherited “fifteen buildings of high quality for the Faculties of Science and Engineering”, (Isoun 1980) some laboratories and little else by way of the other structures. With difficulties, the institution has improved on these but still has to build the Faculties of Law, Management Sciences and Environmental Sciences. As for student accommodation, facilities exist to accommodate only 10% of the students while the rest rent accommodation outside the campus. Two large bore holes supply potable water to the university just as four giant generators supply electricity when the erratic supply from the national grid fails (fakae 2012). By far, the jewel on the crown of the university’s achievement in the area of infrastructure, is the establishment of a world class ICT facility which the institution has successfully utilized in streamlining student admissions, university examinations, financial management and of course in enhancing overall academic activities.

Outside academic work, the founding fathers of this university used fairly strong words in demanding of the institution to solve the “practical, and in particular, the peculiar and difficult problems of Rivers State” (Okilo 1980). They stated, inter alia, that ” Rivers people occupy a peculiar and difficult terrain with special problems” which include flood and erosion, lack of all-seasoned roads in deltaic swamps, dredging, reclamation, canalization, drilling for drinking water, agriculture in deltaic environment as well as environmental pollution caused by crude oil exploration and exploitation. And it was largely for these reasons that the university was prompted to set up the various specialised Centres and Institutes like those of Flood, Erosion and Reclamation Studies as well as Pollution Studies to enable these specialised agencies “to address themselves to the long-term and systematic investigation and solution of the problems” of the area. In fact, so strong was the government of Rivers State, the proprietor of the University, in encouraging the new institution to make an impact in solving the peculiar problems of the State, that it “formally appointed the RSUST as technical consultants to the state government on all matters relating to civil and hydrological engineering, flood and erosion control”. The Government even indicated its readiness “to pay fees for technical and professional services rendered beyond” the standing financial commitment it had to support the initiation (Okilo 1980). The founding fathers were confident that “these problems could be solved and controlled by the hard cutting edge of Science and Technology as institutionalised in a University” (Turner 1980).

With such unambiguous support and encouragement, the Centres and Institution rose up to the demands of their calling and initially tackled the peculiar problems frontally, making a number of impressive achievements including Environmental Impact Assessments for a number of major projects in the State, master plan design of flood and erosion control in the Niger Delta, New Finima Town relocation project, reclamation of Okrika Island shores. protection of Sagbama shore from erosion in collaboration with a Dutch company, Zinkon BV, survey and the design of River Bank erosion protection of the embankment in Odi ( Fubara 2012).

However, evidence that is currently available suggests that these specialised agencies may not be working at the same level of proficiency as was the case hitherto. For instance, an invitation from the Energy and Environment Committee of the Rivers State Economic Advisory Council, through the Vice-Chancellor to some of these agencies to show interest in evolving waste management strategies for the State and in defining a response by this State to the issue of “Green Economy” and the recent UNEP report on Ogoni, have not elicited any response (Fubara 2012). Furthermore, despite the firm assurances of patronage that were given in 1980, Government is currently engaging the services of a number of consultants in activities that should be within the competence of staff of these agencies probably because the government no longer has confidence in their ability to carry out the assignments.

From this cursory audit I have done as well as my long-term association and interest in the affairs of this great University, a picture emerges before me. RSUST was established in the best tradition of universities, by a group of visionary leaders whose concern for the plight of the people of Rives state, was unmistakable. They set it up properly and not hurriedly, first as a College and then as a full-fledged university which they expected would bring to bear, the culture of discipline, logical enquiry and systematic methods of universities on the approach to the solution of the problems of the State. They indicated a bias for Science and Technology predicated on the nature of the peculiar problems of the State and on their understanding that the knowledge of Science and its application in the use of technology constitute the bedrock of sustainable development. On its part, the university, as conscience of the people, responded with great admiration to the challenge before it. Cosmopolitan staff with widespread linkages within and outside the country who valued hard work and productivity, lean student population committed to learning and the emancipation of the state and by extension, the country, and a dogged effort at tackling the unusual problems of the state, comprised the forte of the institution . Reading through the address of Professor TT Isoun, the first Vice Chancellor on the occasion of the formal opening of the university, on the 31st of October, 1980, the pride, jubilation and confidence, are not only palpable, they are infectious.

However, this head-start and exuberance faulted after a couple of years and gave way to malaise, dwindling productivity, forced university closures and other social vices making the match towards the fulfilment of its noble mandate slow and unimpressive. So, what went wrong?

WHAT WENT WRONG?.

In my view, several factors; but let me very briefly touch on only four::

  • Decay in the Nigerian Polity,
  • Neglect of the institution by its proprietors,
  • Poor work ethos of staff, and
  • Student hooliganism.

Decay in the Nigerian polity

Nigeria at independence in 1960 consisted of proud hardworking people with sound moral values. Agriculture – groundnuts in the north, cocoa in the west and palm oil produce in the east- constituted the basis of the country’s national economy and its earliest post-independence efforts at development, were through Five Year National Development Plans: 1962-1968(first), 1970-1974(second), 1975-1980 (third), 1981-1985 (fourth), and 1988-1992 (fifth). Crude oil that was discovered in commercial quantities just before independence, increased the national coffers and sadly, not only pushed agriculture gradually into a recess, but also fueled corruption. The military intervened in the body polity and seized power, ostensibly to purge the nation of corrupt practices into which, it also, unfortunately, sooner than later, fell culprit. Additionally, as if to add salt to injury, the nation fought a three year fratricidal war and had Structural Advancement Programme (SAP) imposed on it, which drastically devalued its currency.

The net effect of all this was that hard work and merit were jettisoned for other considerations and the nation lost its core values of honesty, integrity and accountability. This kick started a rat race for inordinate financial acquisition as the main stake in the life of many Nigerians. With time, except for a few, poverty deepened paradoxically and the gap between those who have and those who did not, widened remarkably, giving rise to complex social upheavals which have not been extinguished till this day.

So, even at the time that RSUST was established, the malady of corruption and other societal vices had taken such root in the country that it was to the credit of the founding fathers that they were able to create an institution with such sterling attributes. However, it did not take too long for the rot of corruption, lack of integrity, and aversion for accountability to break the barriers of even the Ivory Tower and infest the minds of some of its inmates. It is therefore plausible to argue that this state of affairs in the nation may have made it difficult for some in various universities in the country, this university inclusive, to abide by those noble ideals of universities, which commit them to discipline, hard work and search for the truth that attracted them initially to the institutions and to go along with others in the direction of the current.

Neglect of the Institution by its Proprietors

No one who is conversant with the history of RSUST will doubt the sincerity of purpose and strong support which successive Rivers State Governments that played major roles in the establishment of the institution had for it in the early years of its existence. Not only were these governments passionate in stating the short, medium and long term goals they had for the university , they matched their words with actions and released necessary funds for the operations of the university and the proper construction of many important facilities , many of which are still in service till this day. Unfortunately, subsequent governments did not appear to have shown that level of keen interest and support for the university as was the case earlier. Until recently, there were many projects that had been commenced but abandoned due to lack of funds. The massive loss of accreditation of its programmes by the NUC that the university suffered in 2005 was partly due to the dereliction and decrepit state of most of the faculties and departments in the university due to long standing disregard. Furthermore, staff welfare was not given any serious consideration as salaries and emoluments were not regular and this resulted in the withdrawal of services by staff of the university in April 2009 (Registrar 2012).

While it is difficult to give reasons for what could be taken as neglect of the institution, it is important to state that a derelict work environment dampens morale and diminishes productivity and it would be asking for the moon to expect the best of workers in such an environment. As for the non payment of wages as and when due, this should be considered as inconceivable as it incompatible with the high standards and morals demanded of university staff.

I must at this point express my appreciation to the current government of the state led by Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi for the support and interest – not just financial, that it has shown in the affairs of the university that has enabled the institution to complete a number of the abandoned projects and also to give the institution the ambiance of a proper university. In this regard, I wish to observe that there can be no better manifestation of the interest of government in the furtherance of the splendid ideals as captured in the mandate of the university, than the decision of the current Government of Rivers State to build a modern RSUST at an entirely new site at the up-coming Greater Port Harcourt City.

Table V below shows the pattern of funding of the university between 2005 and 2011

Poor Work ethos by staff

Reference has been made to the issue of bad work environment and epileptic payment of salaries as some of the factors that may adversely affect morale and productivity and may even make staff to withdraw their services to the institution. While this is understandable, I am here concerning myself with miscreants who are unable to come to terms with the culture of universities of self discipline, honesty and hard work and who use their presence in the university to commit malfesciences like trading money for grades, angling for strike action at the flimsiest of excuses, plagiarising and failure to carry out their responsibility. Unfortunately, such persons are present in a number of universities. They, most probably crawled into a university degree and also staggered into a Master’s and a Doctorate. Not really being intellectual and having little to impart, they seek relevance in the university in other ways. The point must be made that a career in the university is not for every Tom, Dick and Harry.

Students Hooliganism

Admitting students beyond the carrying capacity of a programme and not in accordance with university admission policy, has a number of disadvantages. It places undue pressure on university facilities – library, laboratories, hostels and municipal services, and also allows persons who are not sufficiently motivated to gain access into a rigorous academic exercise that training in a university is expected to be. Not infrequently, it is such students that engage themselves in cult and other violent activities, including examination malpractices. They clog the training process and often end up as drop outs. RSUST has had more than its own share of problems from this sort of students. For instance, records from the office of the Chief Security Officer of the university reveal that in 2005 and 2006, there were a number of cases of students being shot dead from clashes amongst cult groups and several students were arrested with guns and other dangerous weapons like axes and knives on campus. The Convocation arena, International School and laboratories were popular sites for these nefarious activities. On the 4th of August, 2006,there was a murder on campus and an attack on the Vice-Chancellor’s residence which necessitated his hurried evacuation to another location outside the campus (Chief Security officer 2012). Happily, since 2007, there has been no reported incidence of cult-related killings in the institution.

The four issues that I have discussed in this section of today’s lecture must be understood in their correct perspective. They are not confined to RUST as they occur in almost all universities in Nigeria, albeit, to varying degrees and they are not in themselves, insurmountable problems. So, where should we go from here?

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

My answer to this question is that we can only go in one direction: forward; because the course is right, the time is opportune and the environment, favourable. The choice of a Univeristy with bias for Science and Technology as a veritable instrument with which to assist in the solution of the peculiar and difficult problems of this part of Nigeria which were identified even in the pre-independence era, remain as compelling in 1980 as it is today. Furthermore, judging from all that has happened in recent times and the manifestly obvious support for this university by the present Rivers State Government, there can be no better time than now for us to launch forward with project RSUST. All that is needed is for us, individually and collectively, to bring forth the best in us in order to make this institution the uncommon University that its founding fathers wished it to be. I will expatiate in the next and final part of today’s lecture.

Consolidate on Science and Technology.

Dagogo Fubara and Nimi Briggs In a recent paper to the Rivers State Economic Advisory Council on The Way Forward With Science and Technology in Rivers State, Dagogo stated that ” The adoption of Science and Technology in national life marks the difference between development and underdevelopment. For those who have endorsed them as a major tool in nation building, the salutary effects have been far reaching. The national economic system becomes more stable. The provision of social and cultural amenities and other basic requirements of life, to all citizens at acceptable levels, is assured. National security becomes more certain. And, indeed, the welfare of the state becomes well within reach. The means to such national wealth and prosperity lie in ingenious and effective combination of technology, materials and capital to generate a solid industrial base. The key is technology because the creation and adoption of new scientific techniques can, in fact, make up for any deficiency in natural resources and reduce demands on capital” (Fubara and Briggs 2012).

They further stated:” The purveyors of technology are the human resources of a nation. Their education in Science and training in technical skills must thus become an inviolate preoccupation. It is through the growth of a large scientific and technical manpower base that the development of science and technology can be assured. This in turn will ultimately guarantee the efficient utilization of Nigeria’s abundant natural resources and greatly reduce the drain on capital during the early and critical stages of industrialization.” (Fubara and Briggs 2012).

It is this understanding of the place of technology in national development that is behind the current drive by the Economic Advisory Council for the establishment of a Niger Delta Energy Development Corridor where technology would be used to process locally the most abundant natural resource in the region – crude oil, and the proceeds used to develop the region. It is also what led the Council to recommend and to get the State Government at its 2009 Strategy Retreat to accept to work towards becoming the Technology Hub of Nigeria by:

  • pursuing knowledge as an enterprise,
  • targeting technology innovation strategically,
  • acquiring technology infrastructure
  • emphasising research and development
  • and using technology innovation to drive research and development.

RSUST should therefore consolidate on its efforts not just on the teaching of Science and Technology but also on its application to solving the difficult problems of the State.

Make Research your forte.

Of all the distinguishing features of a university, it is its volume of research and their class that constitute the strongest point by which the quality of a university is judged. So make meaningful research a strong point in this university and in doing this, partner with the private sector as the synergy between university, government and the private sector, creates an environment for innovation.

As was stated by Dagogo Fubara as Guest Lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Alumni Golden Jubilee celebration on April 14, this year, it is through Research that God makes a gradual revelation to us on how He created the universe and all that is in it. He also reveals to us, how we can unravel His mysteries to the benefit of the human race and inhabit the world in a sustainable manner. For example, it was through research that the mystery of extra corporeal fertilization in humans was revealed and it became possible to obtain an ovum from a woman’s ovary, fertilize it outside her body in a Petri dish and then transfer the embryo into her womb for its growth to maturity – a revelation that has since benefited thousands of women, including Nigerians, who before then could not bear children because their fallopian tubes were blocked. (Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edward 1978)he perfect environment for innovative, mutually beneficial work. This dynamic marriage of expertise and intellect is a strong magnet that attracts businesses to the Research

Work Towards a Stable Academic Calendar

It would seem that you would have to “fight against principalities and powers” ( Bible passage) to do this. But let us face it; it can be done and it used to be the norm in this country.. There are two major causes of closures in our universities in Nigeria: strike action by staff and violent student protests or cult related matters. The latter, this university appears to have surmounted – there has been no such incident since 2007. As for the former, it arises from the inability of proprietors of universities to honour agreements which they had freely endorsed and also the insensitivity of some university administrators to the issue of welfare of their staff. Both, to my mind, can be dealt with through skillful negotiations as the advantages of stable academic calendar far outweigh the burden of establishing it – it reduces waste and the cost of running a university, instils discipline, and “keeps hope alive” in students. .

I had my undergraduate studies in a university in Nigeria – the University of Lagos. On my arrival on campus on September 1964, following my admission to study Medicine, I was given an academic calendar by the Secretary of the College of Medicine which indicated the date on which I would graduate in June 1969, should I pass all my qualifying examinations at first sitting. I did and qualified as a Doctor in June 1969, exactly on the date that was stated in the calendar that was given to me five years ago!

Revamp the Institutes and Centres

For some reasons the many institutes and Centres that were formed at the commencement of the university, lost steam and their zest for hard work; some are hardly operating – the 1999 Visitation Report said that much. These Institutes and Centres were set up to tackle the special problems of the state which are not only still there, but are worsening. On any day with a heavy down pour, a number of places in Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, get flooded. A particularly worrying site that has been there for ages is on Aba Road, just behind Oroworukwo market, opposite St. Johns. Furthermore, the recent UNEP Report on Environmental Assessment of Ogoni land of this State showed that the environmental damage caused by over 50 years of oil and gas operations in the region, has penetrated further and deeper than may have been supposed. The same situation will most probably be found in the other parts of the state where oil exploration activities have been going on. Again at the forthcoming Rio+10 summit in Brazil, the BRACED Commission will be presenting a position paper on “Towards Ensuring Sustainable Development in the Niger Delta Region”. It is for these purposes that the some of the Institutes and Centres under discussion were set up; but they are just not there anymore.

Complete the New RSUST

Some persons are of the opinion that it is unnecessary to build a new campus for RSUST – the same type of feeling they harbour for the monorail project that is also under construction in the state capital. Such persons consider these projects as white elephants that may never be completed and if completed, will be difficult to manage and maintain. But the State Governor, who is also the Visitor to this University, has always been strong in his defence of the value of these projects. With respect to the new site project for the university, the Visitor affirms that ii is part of the process of “restructuring of our education sector, to enable us stem the rot and begin the match towards a rebirth”. He said further at the 19th-23rd Convocation of this university in 2011, ” In keeping with our commitment to higher standards, government is committed to the relocation of this university to its permanent site. Work is in progress in this regard and we are certain that when the new campus is completed, it will redefine tertiary education in Nigeria just like Rivers State did when it begin the first ever University of Science and Technology. From our calculations, we should be able to move the first set of students to the new campus by 2014″. (Amaechi 2012). The University must apply the appropriate persuasion on government so that this project is completed by 2015 as there is no telling what the priorities of a new governor will be when he or she comes into office in April 2015, just shy of three years from now.

However, completing the new RSUST must not only be in physical structures; it must also be in the mind. Staff and students must change those habits of theirs that are obnoxious – being in possession of guns and other dangerous weapons on campus, assassinations, examination malpractices, sorting, full-time moonlighting, sexual harassment, and others. We should only carry “new wine” into the “new wineskin” (bible passage).

Let me at this point thank and congratulate the students of this university for the marked reduction

Challenge your Alumni

After 32 years of manpower development, there should be a large number of persons outside the university who feel indebted to this university for the education they received here. They constitute an important source of resource for this institution. If a database of them does not exist already, we should produce one quickly so as to challenge them on:

  • the promotion of the advancement of the university,
  • encouragement of communication and fellowship among themselves, students and friends of the university, and
  • supporting on the one hand, community and regional participation in the goals of the university and on the other, the university’s contribution to the community.

Seek multiple Sources of Funding

RSUST must diversity its funding base. You cannot be asking for all the funds you need to run the institution on the one hand from government and ask for autonomy on the other – the two are not compatible.

Endowment, patency rights, students” charges, and entrepreneurship are all legitimate ways by which the university can expand its revenue base. The truth is that the higher the opinion people hold regarding the institution – its academic rating, ambiance, notoriety or otherwise for cult activities, perception of how much harassment students suffer in the hands of the teachers regarding compulsion to purchase lecturers books, among others, the easier it is to raise funds from the public,

In this respect, government should disburse funds to the university with which it could pay its staff directly as was recommended by the 1999 Visitation team

Incorporate Entrepreneurship in your Programmes

While delivering the 27th Convocation Lecture of the University of Port Harcourt last year, Peter Okebukola OFR, former Executive Secretary of the NUC, stated that due to a number of factors, graduate unemployment in Nigeria declined from 60% before the 1980s to about 35% in 2010 prompting the NUC to request of universities to incorporate entrepreneurship in their academic programmes, partly to stem the dire consequences of graduate unemployment. Since then, entrepreneurship – teaching students to acquire mindsets, idea generation, innovations and skills that could enable them commence a business for the purpose of making money and offering employment opportunity to themselves and others, has taken root in a number of universities. RSUST should take advantage of the concept of entrepreneurial education as its mandate, Science and Technology, trains both :”minds and hands”

Craft a Strategic Plan

Use SWOT Analysis or any other instrument that the gurus in your Faculty of Management Sciences can bring forth to craft a Strategic Plan around your mandate for short, medium and long term operations of the University. The input into the plan should be university wide, including the voices of the younger ones, who rightly, have a greater stake in the university. The plan should also lay emphasis on the core values of the university; excellence, leadership, integrity and innovation. However, be realistic in making the document especially with respect to funding prospects so that it does not become a useless document tomorrow. Once in place, refer to it often and try to follow its content to the best of your ability..

CLOSING REMARKS

Established as an “uncommon university with commitment and mission”, few there are whose birth circumstances were healthier than RSUST, Nigeria’s premier University of Science and Technology. Its forerunner, the College of Science and Technology, ensured its gestation was properly supervised with a delivery, taken by some of the best experts in the land, that was totally devoid of trauma. Jubilation rent the air, the stars foretold and the drums, big and small, were rolled out. With strong support and clearly defined mandate, the nutrition and strategy for the survival of the neonate were assured; more importantly its growth, future, and ability to contribute positively to the common good and especially to solving the peculiar problems of the locality were virtually guaranteed.

But alas, some childhood disorders came, due to some unfortunate failure of care, making the child to limp with his walks, whoop with his coughs, with skin covered with rashes and muscles so spastic that they ached badly. Hope dimed, the future blurred and uncertainty reigned. But, praise God, the child did not die.

Thankfully, happy days are here again with parents that love, hug, embrace, kiss and show empathy. That child, now adult, must reciprocate, reinforce and return the passion being lavished on him. He must stretch out his open arms for an embrace and return a smile that is strongly reassuring.

The Vision, Mission and Mandate of RSUST are probably some of the best thought-through in the Nigerian University system. They are still relevant today as they were over thirty years ago. So the time has come for us, stakeholders in this grand project, to kick the doom and work towards the boom. The time has come for this university to put out itself to be counted and be judged by the the quality of higher educational process experienced by its students and the quality of the contribution that it makes in terms of producing knowledge for the solution of human problems. And for me, there is no better way to summon us to this charge, than to remind ourselves of the words of the University Song:

UST, UST we sing of thee

Flower of knowledge and Peace

In the Garden City stands a tree

From whence inspiration comes

Worlds and Peoples of many a tongue

Come and search and find the golden fleece

All for a simple and humble song

All for excellence and creativity.

UST, UST we sing of thee

Flower of Knowledge and Peace

Busy we all toil much as the bee

Fruitful, science and tech we grow

keeping in motion the wheel of truth

Waters of the rivers always now

To build a state and nation in truth

All for excellence and creativity.

FULFILLING THE MANDATE, RIVERS STATE UNIVERSITY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY. 24th CONVOCATION LECTURE By Nimi D. Briggs. JP,KSC, OON, MB, BS (Lag); MD (Lag); FRCOG; FWACS; FICS; FMOG (NIG); FAS. Emeritus Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Port Harcourt on 3 May, 2012