Non-release of take-off grant retarding UniJos VC
In what academic areas would you say the university has achieved excellence?
The University of Jos has done very well in some core areas. In the things we do at Centre for Conflict Management and Peace Studies, we’ve been able to cut our teeth by the quality of training we give. We have also been able to bring non academic population and the university community together in the community relations that we have, particularly with our immediate neighbours and other parts of Plateau state. And in recognition of this, we have received tremendous goodwill, particularly from the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Abuja which has supported our Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies with funds to the tune of almost N50 million. His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, has also given us funds in furtherance of activities of the centre.
The university has made other modest gains in researches, in the area of vital medicines. The group in pharmaceutical sciences has patented some products with NOTAP (National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion) in Abuja. Particularly, I refer to the case of anti-snake venom. There is a snake belt between Plateau and Gombe states where there are a lot of very poisonous snakes. The university team researching into anti-snake venom led by Professor John Aguiyi has made tremendous achievement in the area of anti-snake venom development.
There is another group in the pharmaceutical sciences led by Professor Frances Okwuasaba. They have developed a lot of candidate materials for the production of substances used in the treatment of neglected tropical diseases. If we move from there to the Centre for Biotechnology, we have a very large farm of nearly a thousand hectares in Langtang South where, with the fund we received from Step B of the World Bank, we’ve been able to demonstrate that Artemesia, source of a medicine used as combination drug treatment for malaria, can be grown in Nigeria and on the Plateau and in commercial quantity. We’ve been able to carry out studies on the soil properties; we’ve been able to study the seedling physiology and germination. We’ve been able to look at and are continuing to look also at the pests that affect that particular plant that we don’t know let alone control that can affect the yield of the plant.
These show that the University of Jos is clearly fulfilling its mandate and playing its role in researching into how to curb malaria which has always been a problem with us in the tropics.
The university has been sensitizing communities in southern Plateau, specifically Langtang, to grow Artemesia and some other viable but little appreciated plants. Are you getting results there?
Ever since we went down to Langtang South to start some agric-biotechnology activities, the support from the local authorities has been excellent. All the chairmen that have been in office and their council members as well as the traditional institutions have been very supportive. On our part we have always strived to see that the local people are the first to gain from whatever project we take to communities, especially for the support we get from them; first for the land they gave us and also for ensuring that we are safe whenever we go there for any activity.
Only last year we organized an agricultural show in collaboration with the local authority in Langtang South. The agric show was organized to point out to the people the many bio-resources that abound in that part of the state that are potential wealth spinners. Some of them don’t know that what they are seeing and playing around with can be turned into money. For instance, we showed them that the plant, Jatropha, which is commonly used as a hedge round our compounds here on the Plateau is valuable and people have taken this plant and done all manner of precious things with it, including producing diesel. And you know how much a litre of diesel costs.
These are things that we will continue to research on, but we can’t at the same time be manufacturers. We hope that when we do the research, industries will come to us over the issues of patent and royalty and then the university could gain something back from those developing the research result. Such benefits would improve the university environment for more researches to be done.
Are you getting encouraging responses from potential investors, especially because we recall that last year you called on pharmaceutical companies to come in and partner with the university?
People are usually skeptical when such calls go out; something about a prophet not being honoured at home. So, the responses have not been too impressive, but we have one that we are looking at, and we don’t really need too many. If the one that comes is the right one, then we don’t need more than one to split our focus.
You have discussed some of your triumphs. What have been some of the challenges?
The general insecurity around Jos sends wrong signals to people who may wish to come here. To worsen things, you keep seeing negative reportage of happenings. We know that no soul should be lost but we can also talk about some positive aspects of life around the Plateau. Many communities in Plateau and Jos have broken down the barriers of ethnicity and religion and are working together. There should be the positive reports in the media that we are working on our differences to strengthen peace.
Another challenge we face is irregular power supply. For the sciences, we need very steady electricity. Some of the apparatuses we use have to be recalibrated each time there is interruption in power supply. This affects precision, among other obvious effects of constant power cuts.
The other issue is funding, which is a particularly serious one with us.