Professor Umar Kyari Sandabe is the pioneer Vice Chancellor of Borno State University which recently matriculated its maiden set of students. In this interview, he spoke about in running a new university in the troubled environment.
You are the pioneer vice chancellor of the Borno State University. What challenges are you encountering in this capacity?
Challenges come in different forms. There are the challenges of encountering and dealing with a new set of people and dealing with a new place where you have new structures on ground. This is by no means an easy task. When we came, we had to be running helter-skelter, trying to see what we need to put on ground first. These are academic structures. When we say academic structures, they do not necessarily mean physical structures. You have to form a senate, committees of heads of departments, committees of deans and so on. These are essential committees for you to take off as a university. You cannot do this without staff. You have to go out looking for professors, readers, senior lecturers and other lecturers that can come and work with us.
Also, new universities mostly face the challenges of funding and finance. Luckily, we are not facing this one now because we have a governor who has a passion for the university. Any time we knock at his door, in need of funds, he immediately approves the release of the funds.
One of the problems bedevilling the university system is gathering the required quantity and quality of staff for proper take off. Do you have enough staff?
You have to convince and persuade people on why they should come, and show them that you really mean business. We have never gone to sleep about this. We had to go out, banking on our good relationship with the people. We had to make them change their sabbatical from other universities to this university. We also had to persuade others to change their visiting position. All these took concerted efforts on our part.
Did you go abroad to shop for some of them?
No. You know there are limitations on this now. But we have made some contacts with lecturers in Europe, America, Canada, and even in our neighbouring countries. Even in some of the emerging world economies like Malaysia and Indonesia, we have made several efforts so that they will not only come to help us set up the university, but they will also come with essential equipment that we can get at cheaper and affordable prices.
What are the academic disciplines you are focusing on?
Our main focus is on science courses. But because of the problem we are facing in this country now in terms of various forms of crises here and there, in terms of poverty and other social problems, we have to look at all such problems that can be tackled under the social sciences. So, we have now introduced courses like conflict studies, peace studies and security studies under the Faculty of Social and Management Sciences for now. We have quite a good number of capable lecturers, especially for the security, peace and conflict studies. Yes, we have formidable, competent and amiable lecturers.
The university is sited far, on the outskirts of Maiduguri; it is close to Auno, a community recently sacked by Boko Haram. Amidst the insecure environment, how are you securing the campus?
What happened at Auno is an isolated case. The community used to be very peaceful and safe, unfortunately, that attack happened. However, the military and other security agencies have taken a lot of interest in the university. They have surrounded the entire campus with a lot of security personnel. Even the governor has been very mindful of this situation. He has held talks with security agencies, and they are helping us.
As management, we also visited all the security forces, we brought them here, they analyzed the area, and they are ensuring adequate security. You can see that the area is sparsely populated for now, but the governor is executing a housing estate project near the university. It is our hope that by the time the estate is completed, it will increase the population of residents around the university, and the place will be safer. The advent of the university has led to the development of many housing estates around; this is by private developers. By the next two to three years, you may only recognize the university by its signpost, because it will have been surrounded by a lot of other structures.
In the next few years, how many faculties do you project to have?
We had a very serious discussion with the governor, and he has shown interest that if we are going to establish a college of medical sciences, he will fully support us. To that effect, he has, in fact, set up a committee to see how a teaching hospital could be built to support our aspiration of establishing the college of medical sciences. Preparations for establishing this college have reached advanced stage. Currently, we are working on the NUC requirements on how we can design the architecture of the college, the courses and so on. We have been having discussions on this with the NUC.
Definitely, we are going to establish this college. We are also working towards establishing the faculty of engineering. We have got basic requirement for establishing the engineering faculty. Then we will also establish the faculty of law. For now, these are the three areas we are focusing on, to see that we expand the scope of the university.
Talking of expanding the scope of the university, how far have you gone with your merger plans with Kashim Ibrahim College of Education?
That merger has been completed. The committee responsible for that has decided that the academic staff of the college that are fit to join the university should be integrated into the system. Those that are not qualified should go to other colleges of education. So far we have completed all the implementation processes of the merger. The implementation report will soon be signed by the governor.
What are your plans toward opening satellite campuses of the university in other sections of the state?
These are legal issues. The law permitting the establishment of the university, for now, restricts us to establishing only one campus. If we are to establish other campuses across the state, first, we must amend the law; second, before we even do that, we have to contact the NUC; control and management become difficult, because of issues of funding as well as the proper application of rules and regulations and the maintenance of order. This can be allowed only in exceptional cases, especially when you don’t have sufficient space in the state capital, within your premises of main establishment.
Considering the Boko Haram insurgency that has thrown hundreds of thousands of children out of school over the last 10 years, how possible is it getting the required students population?
This is a multifaceted problem of education in the state, and not only this state, but the entire northern region. When you have a great percentage of out-of-school children bourgeoning by the day, then you must have problem with your system of education. Coming back to Borno, you can see that the state government is establishing a lot of primary and secondary schools to accommodate those children into the school system. At the university, we are trying to introduce a remedial programme this year to bring those secondary school leavers ;having deficiency in one area or another to reorient and teach them so that they can meet the national requirement of getting admission into the university.
Is the university’s catchment area for admission only Borno State?
For now, our catchment area is only Borno State. In our first admission list, we have a lot of students from Borno State. All the local government areas were represented. But there a few from other states. If you want your university to be rated high, you consider the national outlook. Our vision is to be among the first 10 universities in the world. If you want to achieve your vision, even if it will take you 20 years, you have to start working right now.