Address at the 19th Convocation Ceremony of University of Port Harcourt


The Visitor and President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

His Excellency, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo GCFR,

Represented here by Ambassador Godfrey Perewari,

Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education.

The Executive Governor of Rivers State

His Excellency, Dr Peter Odili.

The Honourable Minister of Education

Professor Babalola Borishade.

The Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission

Professor Peter Okebukola.

HRH Alhaji Mustapha Umar El Kanemi,

The Shehu of Bornu and Chancellor of the University.

HRH King Alfred Diete Spiff. DSc Honoris Causa. Uniport.

All Royal Highnesses that are present on this occasion, especially all Royal Highness and Chiefs of Ikwerre land, the University Landlords.

Emeritus Professor L. Ayo Banjo. JP, FNAL.

Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Governing Council.

Pro-Chancellors of other universities that are present on this occasion.

Members of the Governing Council of the University.

Deputy Vice-Chancellors.

Provosts, College of Health Sciences.

Provost of other Tertiary Educational Institutions.

Deans of Faculties.

Heads of Departments.

All other Professors of the University of Port Harcourt.

Staff of the University of Port Harcourt.

Members of the Electronic and Print Media.

Great Students of the University of Port Harcourt.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is indeed a great pleasure for me to welcome you all to the 19th Convocation Ceremony of the University of Port Harcourt. Being the second Convocation for the conferment of certificates, diplomas and degrees since my assumption of office as Vice-Chancellor of this university, I feel honoured that we are here, once again, to celebrate today’s occasion.

The period of Convocation serves many purposes. Some see it as a harvest, especially for those who have laboured so hard in the classrooms, libraries and laboratories. For such persons, the Convocation is a welcome climax; an open recognition, as evidenced by the diplomas, certificates and degrees that are awarded to them. For the university management, the event affords an occasion to inform stakeholders of how the university is living up to its mandate of extending the frontiers of knowledge and the exploitation of acquired knowledge for the improvement of the moral fibre and quality of life of all mankind. Lastly, a Convocation offers the opportunity for a university to bare its mind on issues of national importance, since universities, expectedly, habour some of a nation’s most enlightened and best trained minds.

Let me therefore start today’s address by congratulating the graduands for whom today will remain truly memorable.

The Graduands

We are today awarding 4042 certificates and diplomas and degrees to deserving persons. Of these, 574 are postgraduate degrees while the rest are for predegree and degree programmes. Among the first degrees are four first class: one in mathematics/statistics, a female and three in philosophy.

Having gone through all the scrutiny of your departments, faculties and senate, I can say that your certificates, diplomas and degrees have been earned. But in itself, the paper you have with you is not worth much. Its import, mission and value are incorporated in the message it carries. By it, the university certifies that you have gone through a programme of studies and have ultimately acquired proficiency and knowledge in that particular field. The university is also making a proclamation that by awarding you the degrees and diplomas, it certifies that your morals are satisfactory. And so I congratulate you most heartily on your achievements, and I wish you all the advantages that should accrue from the acquisition of a tertiary education that is: an enhanced quality of life and an increased ability to contribute to the common good. You must stay close to your university and seek after its progress at all times. Membership of the alumni association is a time-tested way of doing this.

The University

As for the university, we all know that the quest for and exploitation of knowledge which constitutes its principal brief is executed through a search for fresh knowledge, dissemination of acquired knowledge and the application of such knowledge to societal wellbeing. To be able to do this satisfactorily, a university must acquire those irreducible standards which determine its operational environment. Staff and students must be disciplined and show commitment to their calling, while the environment of work — the university premises — must be sufficiently endowed to support such high level academic pursuits. Cognizant of this fact, universities everywhere strive to put in place and to constantly review a composite set of rules and regulations which are designed to bring about an orderly society where true learning can thrive. Additionally, universities institute a conducive environment where basic utilities, municipal services and other infrastructure are required for learning are firmly established.

It is with great pleasure that I announce to the stakeholders of this university through the medium of this Convocation, that the Senate and the Governing Council, the two major organs that regulate the affairs of the university, carried out these functions satisfactorily in the last year.

Senate identified and expunged from the university’s registers the names of those persons who had used improper means in gaining access to various programmes of the institution. Council complemented this action of Senate by visiting appropriate disciplinary actions on members of staff who aided and abetted such dastardly acts. By Senate’s directive, results of all examinations conducted in the university are now made available to students within five weeks of the conclusion of the examinations, thus frustrating the actions of those ill-motivated staff and students who took advantage of the opportunity offered by the absence of such strict guidelines to perpetuate the evil of examination malpractices. To further enforce academic discipline, Senate instituted the Ethics Committee of Senate which is to serve as a watchdog on the attitude of staff to their responsibilities, especially those that relate to the students under their tutelage. Furthermore, to enhance the academic and professional relevance of the programmes and courses the university offers, especially in the context of the Niger Delta of Nigeria, Senate approved the establishment of three vital institutes: The Institute of Petroleum Studies, the Centre of Excellence in Gas Engineering and the Institute of Maternal and Child Health.

The Institute of Petroleum Studies which is being funded solely by TotalfinaElf is to be run in conjunction with the IFP School in Paris. Taken together with the Centre of Excellence in Gas Engineering, to which both the Education Tax Fund and the Petroleum Technology Development Fund have made heavy financial commitments, the two establishments will reinforce the academic and professional capabilities of our Department of Petroleum and Gas Engineering, which is reputed to be one of the best in the West Africa sub-region.

As for the Institute of Maternal and Child Health, its major focus will be to acquire basic data and to train professionals of all cadres so as to ensure that pregnancy, childbearing and childhood are safe for all mothers and children in the Niger Delta of Nigeria. The contributions of this Institute to the fortunes of our College of Health Sciences, again one of the best in the country, are expected to be immense. Furthermore, with the coming on stream of, the Faculties of Pharmacy, Nursing and Dentistry, as directed by Senate, our College of Health Sciences should really be strengthened.

Indeed, so active was Senate in the past year that its directives and decisions touched on virtually all the academic components of the university. For instance, Senate approved a modification of the Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery, degree programme at the Part III to abrogate the attrition suffered by students as required by the previous curriculum, and also approved a professional linkage between our Department of Finance and Banking and the Chattered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN). By this arrangement students who obtain the Bachelors degree from this University will only need to sit for three papers at the CIBN to become full Associates of that Institute.

With all this, we were not surprised when we got the news only two days ago that at the recently conducted reaccreditation exercise of academic programme by the National Universities Commission, all the programmes at University of Port Harcourt are now accredited and that University of Port Harcourt came first among all other universities in that exercise.

Now to the issue of infrastructure or shall we say campus development.

The point has been made that a conducive environment is required by staff and students for academic pursuits, and here all would agree that the situation in our campus falls short of the ideal. Electricity and water supply are still erratic. Communication is poor, and the living and working conditions of the staff and especially students are very harsh indeed. But the university is not resting on its oars; it is continually improving the prevailing circumstances in the institution. With the completion of the permanent site of the College of Continuing Education at Nkpolu Oroworokwo in Port Harcourt, our part-time students can now study in a purpose-built structure. Three big classrooms, whose construction is being financed by the Central Bank and the Education Tax Fund, are in their final stages of completion. Construction work will soon commence on a third one, which will also be financed by the Education Tax Fund. Work has advanced on the two blocks of Clinical Students Hostels which His Excellency, Dr Peter Odili, the Executive Governor of Rivers State, is graciously putting up for our medical students. Construction work will also soon commence on the Gas Engineering building as well as the Institute of Petroleum Studies.

Regarding Information and Communication and access to the outside world through electronic technology, if all goes well, our university should make an unprecedented breakthrough in the very near future. Through a Local Area Networking and Wider Net Access, we plan to interconnect the three parks of the university, the Teaching Hospital, and the College of Continuing Education in the city of Port Harcourt. An Information, Communication and Technology Centre, which is to be totally financed by Shell Petroleum Development Company, will come on stream within the next few months. Our university is one of nine owned by the Federal Government in which the Virtual Library project which will connect various universities within and outside the country and provide access to books and journals electronically will be instituted. Netxpress, a properly run privately owned cybercafe, is now operating on campus to the satisfaction of staff and students alike.

From all this, what is clear is that the university is focused and is making a determined effort to solve its problems on a short-term as well as a long-term basis. This effort is beginning to bring about some obvious positive changes. And so, this appears to me the appropriate point to express the university’s profound gratitude to those persons and organisations who have supported it in its efforts at effecting a change for the better.

The Rivers State Government and its able Governor, His Excellency Dr Peter Odili, are in the forefront of this support. The federal nature of our institution has not made them treat us as different. Rather, the government has taken us as an important organisation that operates within its sphere of authority, and so has extended to the university an unsurpassed goodwill and understanding. Construction of students’ hostels, provision of electricity generating plant, expansion of telecommunication facilities, provision of vehicles for transportation, assistance with Health Care delivery and outright financial support are all areas in which the University has benefited from the present Rivers State Government. Bayelsa State Government and its Governor, His Excellency, Chief D.S.P Alamieyeseigha, follow closely. Special mention must also be made of a number of organisations, philanthropists, and government parastatals which have functioned so well that their names have become household words not just in this university but indeed in most tertiary educational institutions in Nigeria. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (represented here by Dr Oke Ibeanu), Chief Ebitimi Banigo and the Allstates Trust Bank, TotalfinaElf, Schlumberger Nigeria Ltd, Shell Petroleum Development Company, the Education Tax Fund, the Petroleum Technology Development Fund and the Central Bank of Nigeria. To all of you, I express the university’s profound gratitude for your benevolence and I wish to call on you to do even more.

Let me not in the process of recognising those outside, forget those inside. For irrespective of the level of external assistance, internal cohesion and peace are necessary ingredients for anything tangible to be achieved. To the great Uniport students I say thank you for keeping the peace. Above all, I thank you for understanding that an orderly society is a prerequisite for learning and scholarship. I also express my gratitude to all staff for working so hard and for your de-emphasising the element of strikes and lockouts as an instrument of union/management interaction. What has become clear is that within us we have tremendous expertise which can be positively exploited. As staff and students, working together, and with abundant goodwill from outside, we can uplift this university to become the best amongst its peers.

To close this chapter of my address, I must now give thanks to the proprietor of this university, the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Visitor, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR, who is also the President of the Federal Republic. We thank you for the quality of the men and women you assembled to serve as members of the Governing Council of this university. It comes as no surprise that they are carrying out their assignment so satisfactorily. Next we wish to thank you for the release of funds to run the university. Although the funds released have always fallen short of actual expenditure, we appreciate the circumstances of government and the fact that in the midst of confounding variables and pressures, government has always looked at the universities, ours inclusive, with some understanding. Our expectation is that by next year, things should be better as government makes good its resolve to subvent the university’s recurrent expenditure in accordance with the findings of the recently concluded pay-parade exercise.

The Country

Let me now very briefly speak to the third and final section of my presentation and so bring this address to a close. Early next year, Nigeria will once more attempt the process of moving from one civilian government to another civilian government. All who are familiar with contemporary events in this country know that this remains an acid test as Nigerians, unfortunately, have been so used to military governments and the militaristic way of doing things. As a large community and one with a stakeholder interest in the affairs of the country, our wish and prayer is that, Nigeria should go through the process successfully. For it is only by so doing that Nigeria can build on the nascent democracy which is beginning to take root in the country and so propel itself to its rightful place in the comity of nations.

A related matter of national interest is the issue of autonomy for the university— a much flaunted phrase currently in Nigeria. The bill to bring about this autonomy, to which all stakeholders have made contributions, is now before government. As expected, people’s views on how best to run the universities will differ depending on their persuasions and experiences. But it is government that has the ultimate responsibility of passing a bill that meets the concerns that brought about a full consideration of university autonomy – concerns of governance, funding, discipline, functions, and so on. The quicker the universities receive such an autonomy, the better.

In closing, let me report two recent events to Convocation – one sad, the other happy.

On Wednesday 23 October 2002, the university was thrown into a great melancholy following the totally unexpected death of Professor Jaiyeola Martin Kosemani, who until then was the Dean of the Faculty of Education. Professor Kosemani was an adroit, decent and hard-working gentleman who served this university meritoriously. Had he been alive, the responsibility of presenting the graduands from the Faculty of Education at today’s Convocation would have been his. The university mourns the death of this fine man and wishes his soul eternal rest.

The other report, a happy one, has to do with the arrival of a UNIPORT Radio. This has been made possible through the ingenuity of two alumni of this university: Richard Akpan (Electrical/Electronics) and Armstrong Lee (Petroleum Engineering), who came together and established UNIPORT Radio on 95.5FM station. The entire arrangement is yet to be concretised and appropriate licensing carried out. But in the meantime, we are trying out some test broadcasts which can be picked up in the campus between the hours of 7.00pm and 11.00 pm. The station is very popular as it has injected new opium into campus life.

All that is left then is for me to thank you all once again for being here today. This university, in its determined effort to fulfill its mandate, will continue to count on support from every one of you. May the Almighty God grant you journey mercies as you return to your various destinations.