Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow – Address at the 25 Years Anniversary and 20th Convocation Ceremony


It is with tremendous pleasure that I welcome you all to Silver Jubilee Anniversary Celebrations and the 20th Convocation Ceremony of the University of Port Harcourt.

Between 1975 and 1977, the then Federal Military Government of Nigeria established seven new universities, some initially as colleges. The University of Port Harcourt, which was first established as a college of the University of Lagos in 1975 and later as a full-fledged university in 1977, was one of the seven. If the “Second Generation Universities”, as they are labelled by government, were established in order to expand educational opportunities at the tertiary level, there were additional reasons for establishing the University of Port Harcourt. For one thing, Port Harcourt was already a thriving commercial centre with a seaport and road links to many parts of the then Eastern Nigeria. Furthermore, a group of well-educated and informed men and women who were vocalising their thoughts on aspects of tertiary education had emerged from the vicinity. Accordingly, the Report of the Ashby Commission in 1960, which recommended the establishment of a tertiary institution in Port Harcourt, was seen as the culmination of a long and sustained demand by the people of the vicinity. At 25, therefore, the University of Port Harcourt has attained a level of maturity that should provoke a reflection on its past, a consideration of its present, and a direction for its future; today’s address is aptly titled: The University of Port Harcourt — Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.

When the university opened its doors to all who were in quest of knowledge a little over 25 years ago, with the admission of 382 students, who were to be taught by 72 academic staff including nine Professors, the academic objective or mandate of the institution among others, was

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.

To this end, the university was

to offer degree programmes with the objective of producing persons who are well grounded in contemporary culture, have sound knowledge of at least one branch of learning, and are intellectually well-equipped to make an effective contribution to national development, self-reliance and unity.

With this as a focus, the university set to work with only an uncompleted Trade School Building, in a rather swampy field, with no good access road, water or electricity supply at its disposal. It set up five schools with units of studies rather than the conventional faculties/departments, commenced the development of the permanent site, and set itself on a trajectory of rapid development. In doing so, the university was determined not to ape the “academic or administrative practices, traditions or programmes” of the older or more famous universities, but “to determine policies only on first principles”. This approach to the establishment of a new university was novel, and so not only earned the University of Port Harcourt the slogan: Unique Uniport, but also an encouraging tribute from General Olusegun Obasanjo Military Head of State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and ipso facto, Visitor to the university, who today, as Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, is by a happy coincidence, the elected President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of this great country. On his maiden visit to the university on the 25th of March, 1977, he initialled the Visitors’ Book with the following comment and I quote: A very impressive and pioneering effort – keep it up.

So, how has the University of Port Harcourt fared over the past 25 years or so, following those words of exhortation from the nation’s primus civis? In answering this question, there can be no pretence that the institution has not had its own share of difficulties and problems, but so have all nations and organisations. With the burst in the oil boom of the 80’s, the nation’s economy dipped steeply and ignited a chain of negative reactions. Infrastructure collapsed, violence and corruption became more common and the value system of Nigerians changed for the worse as poverty in the land soared. It was not possible to completely isolate and shield the university system, ours inclusive, from these terrible events. The university’s development stalled and the existing structures became dilapidated as they could not be maintained. Unwholesome practices amongst staff became evident even as students’ deviant behaviour epitomised by the monsters of cultism and examination malpractices took centre stage. But the university did not just lie prostrate in the face of these daunting odds; it used its various organs and bodies to effect appropriate corrective measures which have ensured that the institution has thrived to this day. Along the way, with the advantage of experience, it revised some of the earlier policies of the institution which, it felt, were militating against the progress of the university. For example, the school system gave way to the traditional faculty/department system. Furthermore, from the humble beginnings of the 70s’ and despite all the difficulties, limitations and inadequacies, the university now has two colleges, one school of graduate studies and nine faculties. Student population stands at about 26,000 and staff strength just under 4,000. The university has so far graduated close to 50,000 good quality students at the predegree, undergraduate and postgraduate levels, some of whom are high flyers in academia, politics, business, sports and the professions. The contribution of the alumni of this university to the film industry in Nigeria is legendary. Only a couple of weeks ago, one of the alumni, the Rt. Rev. Tubo Abere, was uplifted to the status of a Bishop by the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion. Mr. President, and Visitor to our University, it is these collective achievements, among many others, that are making us sound the trumpet of our Silver Jubilee, and we find no better way of doing this than by bringing up before this august body, for recognition, four very distinguished Nigerians whose lives and times encapsulate the motto of the University— For Enlightenment and Self-Reliance:

1. His Excellency, Dr. Peter Odili, Nigeria’s Golden Governor, the Obuagwu of Orashi region, the Ibiyekoribo of Kalabari Kingdom, Doctor of Doctors, the liberator of the oppressed and a major benefactor of this university, who realises that in supporting the University of Port Harcourt so tirelessly, he is advancing the enlightenment of not just the people of Rivers State but indeed that of all Nigerians.

2. Ambassador Joe Tonye Fubara Iyalla, Ambassador par excellence, a man who can address this gathering fluently in Greek and Latin as well as in many other languages, a cultivated and fine gentleman who for several years made it known at the United Nations that Africans can be self-reliant if only they are spared imported corruption and the piracy of their God-given natural resources.

3. Mr. Alex Ibru, impregnable even to high velocity missiles called bullets, let alone to the evil machinations of men, a simple, self-effacing and self-reliant man whose Guardian newspapers today stand out as the major source of enlightenment not just for Nigerians but for all blacks in the diaspora, and finally to the;

4. Vivacious, ebullient, vibrant and energetic Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke, who has shown by her exploits that what a man can do, a self-reliant woman can do better.

I congratulate and implore you all that as you formally become part of this university today, you associate yourselves subsequently with its aims, aspirations and advancement.

All that, Mr. President, was yesterday. But what of today? And here I hasten to announce that the university has continued its march on the path of excellence it has set for itself. To do this, I am happy to state that the Senate and the Governing Council, the two apex internal regulatory bodies of the university, have lived up to their responsibilities. Senate set up a Professional Ethics Committee, which is handling the issue of university examinations, and the attitude of academic staff to their responsibilities. It instituted severe measures to deal with students who act outside the letter and spirit of their matriculation oath and also against those who falsify records in order to gain admission into the university. As for the Governing Council, under Professor Emeritus L. Ayo Banjo, the quintessential quality of its general supervision of the operations of the university can be rightly cited as the pillar behind the progress that this institution has made in recent times. We are therefore not surprised to note that:

1. This university produced the first ever black Miss World in 2001.

2. Realising that gas is Nigeria’s foreign exchange harbinger of tomorrow, this university was the first to set up undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in Gas Engineering, thereby committing itself wholeheartedly to Nigeria’s future development.

3. Students of this university have been the best for three consecutive years in the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) Students Technical Paper Contests.

4. The Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery degree Programme of this university has been adjudged by the NUC to be among the best in the country and following this, the College of Health Sciences of this university has been requested by the National Universities Commission to produce a prototype curriculum for the teaching of the MB BS programme in all Nigerian universities.

5. The Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) is collaborating with the university in the training of “Associates” – a privilege which that institute has extended to only two universities in the country.

6. This university has placed second in two consecutive periods among contestants at the Nigerian Universities Games.

7. Athletes and staff from this university made substantial contributions to the outstanding victory of “Team Nigeria” in the recently concluded All African Games.

8. Miss Obia Inyengiakabo, a student of the Faculty of Education of this university, has become the first Nigerian ever to win a gold medal in swimming at an International Competition; a feat Obia achieved at the October 2003 Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad, India.

9. This university has been given the right to host the Nigerian Universities Games (NUGA) in 2004 for the second time in recent years.

10. The NUC this year adjudged the University of Port Harcourt along with the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta as No.1 among all Nigerian universities in the quality of academic content of first degree programmes.

This is not all. The Council and Senate have done more. They have seen to it that the university’s ailing parastatals are revamped, and several new institutes and centres established. The Institute of Petroleum Studies (IFP) commenced classes on the 17th of November this year with twenty students after two years of planning and preparatory activities. The twelve-month programme, which will lead the students to a Master’s Degree in Petroleum Engineering and Project Development, is a combined postgraduate programme between the University of Port Harcourt and the Institut Français Du Pétrole, Paris. We thank Totalfina Elf Nigeria and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation not just for the finances but also for the logistic support that has made this glorious project, which we in this university are very proud of, to see the light of day.

The Institute of Maternal and Child Health was established as the university’s pragmatic response to a very pressing issue in its locality. The death of women in pregnancy and childbirth is an extremely agonising situation which more often than not has several knock-on effects. Family life is disrupted, children are orphaned and parents thrown into acute despair. Some children also die during birth or shortly thereafter, an event that makes meaningless the travails of motherhood, let alone the effects of such deaths on the nation’s population profile. It becomes all the more unacceptable when it is realised that in the vast majority of instances, the causes of these deaths are preventable. The Institute of Maternal and Child Health will therefore address itself to a drastic reduction of Maternal and Perinatal Mortalities.

The Centre for Conflict Resolution and Ethnic Studies (CENTECS) is concerned with an equally urgent issue — conflicts in the Niger Delta; the frequency of their occurrence is reaching endemic proportions. From oil to land, fishing rights and chieftancy matters, conflagration has become a common factor. And so, CENTECS will face squarely, the identification and resolution of those issues that cause conflicts in the Niger Delta of Nigeria.

The Nomadic Education Centre of the university continues to make satisfactory progress in its mandate for Research, Teacher Training and Materials Development for the Education of Migrant Fishing Communities in the riverine areas of the Niger Delta. Through the assistance of the World Bank under the auspices of the UBE PEP II Programme, the Nomadic Education Centre, Uniport, has acquired equipment worth millions of naira for the installation of a Radio Studio for the recording and transmission of instructional lessons to the target groups. The Distance Learning Programme is billed to take off early in 2004.

Again, the University of Port Harcourt was also selected by the NUC in consultation with UNESCO as the seat of the UNESCO Chair in Cultural Heritage. This is only the second UNESCO Chair in Nigeria, out of a total of about 500 worldwide. An appointment has been made, but the Chair needs a gift to erect the simple but dignified building which has been designed to house the activities of the Chair.

Furthermore, new Faculties of Pharmacy and Dentistry, and a new Bachelor’s programme in Nursing are being established. Through our University Advancement Centre, the university made it possible for bright scholars to undertake their sabbatical leave here, and we have signed several Memoranda of Understanding with notable universities outside Nigeria which are paying off handsomely. Two of our students are currently at the University of Pittsburgh in the USA on exchange programmes. In the past two years, many of our staff have undertaken trips to various universities in the USA, Germany, Japan and South Africa to improve their academic and professional competence. Advancement of the university through international interactions is currently regarded as one of our most important growth points, and I am confident that much will be achieved in this direction in subsequent years.

As for our immediate community, which I wish to commend for the very cordial relationship between them and us, I would like to observe that as we prosper, so do they. Only recently we preferentially offered employment to six of their sons and daughters, some of whom are already distinguishing themselves in their service to the university.

But we did not achieve all this on our own. We have been lucky to have had substantial help and assistance. The Rivers State Government, a real treasure base of Nigeria, was sufficiently farsighted not to regard us as strangers in their midst. The government and people of the state have been lavish in their support to this federal institution and I thank them most sincerely on behalf of all staff and students of the university. In assisting the University of Port Harcourt so substantially also, the government and people of Bayelsa State realise that the glory of all lands in Nigeria can only be achieved through single-mindedness and egalitarianism. I thank you, Your Excellency, Governor Diepriye Alamieyeseigha.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, whose path crossed ours by divine intervention early in 2000, deserves our very special gratitude not just for what we have received from them but moreso, for the overall goodwill they have placed at the disposal of the university. From an outright donation of two million dollars, to financial support for our Strategic Planning, to the equipment of our library, to the spearheading of our bringing together of various major organisations operating in Port Harcourt and environs for the common purpose of supporting the developmental efforts of the University of Port Harcourt. We thank you most sincerely. SPDC established the university’s Information and Communication Technology Centre; and reference has already been made to the role of NNPC and Totalfina Elf in the establishment of the Institute of Petroleum Studies. As for the ETF, PTDF and Central Bank, buildings financed by them now adorn the university landscape.

Mr. President and Visitor, it is the totality of these positive events that have climaxed into the 20th Convocation Ceremony of this institution which, all will agree, the university should celebrate with tremendous exhilaration. And so, I congratulate you all, the graduands at this 20th Convocation Ceremony. Yesterday, we awarded certificates and diplomas to 504 of you, and Bachelors degrees to 229 of you in the Humanities, 221 of you in the Social Sciences, 134 of you in Education, 408 of you in Management Sciences, 247 of you in Engineering, 105 of you in the College of Health Sciences and 95 of you in Medicine. Today we shall award 116 Masters and Postgraduate diplomas and 32 Doctor of Philosophy degrees. To share the joy of the moment with you, I am pleased to announce that the Senate has made it possible for all of you who are graduating with one degree or the other to receive your certificates which are all ready for collection, after the Convocation and Silver Jubilee Celebrations, and this underscores the level of seriousness with which various organs are currently facing up to their responsibilities in this university. As you leave us, I urge you not to become just graduates but also active alumni, who from this day will take a positive interest in all issues that concern their alma mater.

Now to tomorrow, the last section of my address. If getting to the top is difficult, staying at the top is more so, as all who have faced the challenge would readily agree. Having got there, this university intends to remain there and to re-situate itself permanently among the top-rate universities in Nigeria. To be able to do this, it has planned and charted its course for the next ten years, as contained in a well-researched document entitled: Building The Future: The University of Port Harcourt Strategic Plan 2003-2013. The plan envisages a sum of N30 billion to establish excellence in teaching, training and research, for the establishment of new faculties and departments, for human capacity building, for upgrading of infrastructure and utilities, for internationalisation of the university, for strengthening of university governance and for extension of educational opportunities to the wider society — a tall order you may say. It is precisely for this reason that we have ensured that the Chairman of the N30 billion Endowment Fund Raising part of today’s event is a man of tremendous standing in the society whose heart is given completely to philanthropy. May I therefore in a very special way, on behalf of Senate, staff and students of this university, welcome and thank Alhaji Abdulwahab Iyanda Folawiyo, OFR, CON, the Baba Adini of Nigeria, to the University of Port Harcourt. Those of you who know him well will marvel at how we managed to get him here. His presence therefore marks the seriousness of today’s events and our belief that as he talks to you and you empty your purse for the university, your hearts will be filled with satisfaction.

In closing, let me thank you all for your individual and collective contributions to this university and for leaving everything else to be with us today. It is my prayer that the Almighty God will grant you his peace that passeth all understanding, and journey mercies as you return to your various destinations.