I left JOSTUM better than I met it – Prof. Kimbir

Professor Richard Anande Kimbir is the sixth Vice Chancellor of the Joseph Sarwuan Tarka University (JOSTUM), formerly known as the Federal University of Agriculture Makurdi (FUAM). In this interview with EDITORIAL TEAM of The Voice Newspapers, the professor of Mathematics, spoke on his many achievements and on how hostility from the host community became the most challenge while piloting the affairs of the agrarian university.

You have spent five years as VC of JOSTUM. What are your achievements?

Yes, I have done a number of things and I am proud of them.  In the area of infrastructure, when I came on board, the issue of accommodation for staff and students was very bad, but now, I can beat my chest that we have increased the number of hostels for both male and female students and we have also constructed a number of lecture halls and offices especially for senior staff. Then in the area of programmes, we have split the College of Sciences into two colleges; Physical Sciences and Biological Sciences. We have also put on board new programmes in the school of Agricultural Science Education.

All our programmes have full accreditation. The NUC came and looked at them and gave us full accreditation. This is to say that we are doing very well. Then, in the area of staff welfare, I have been able to promote a lot of staff. At a point, before I came on board, some staff went for studies without permission, got higher qualifications but they were denied promotion because they didn’t take permission. So I talked to the council and they graciously approved that we should promote such people. In other words, they were given amnesty. Apart from that, we have also done some professorial assessments and promoted many people to the professorial ranks; Associate Professor and Professors. Then the general promotion, we have been able to do that for 2021, for 2022, because of the ASUU strike, we have not been able to do it but we sent out notices for people to complete their forms which they have done. But I will now hand over to the next person or to the Acting Vice Chancellor who will complete the process. So we will be up to date in the area of promotion which is the welfare of staff.

In the area of ICT, we also have very good facilities, especially networks. We have a Centre of Excellence, we call it CIPESS, Centre for Innovation in Procurement and Social Standard. We also have another centre from the TETFUND, Centre for Agricultural Value Chain Development. For the CIPESS, we were lucky, we have a connection with NUC so we have gotten assistance from them, they are upgrading our ICT. So, our ICT can be accessed anywhere despite the large campus. Recently, when the TETFUND executive secretary came to the campus, to commission some projects, he saw a project that was suspended, an ICT building that was supposed to be completed as far back as 2014 but was suspended and he promised that by next year, work will start on it and when that is done, definitely, we will not be talking of  any problem in the area of ICT and you know ICT is very important. Without it, you can’t do registration online, you can’t even do online teaching which is what we are moving into because we learnt from COVID-19 that you don’t need to have people on campus to teach them. They can be in their homes, they can be anywhere. So we are developing that too and we need ICT a lot to achieve that.

We also have improvement in other activities like security which is very important. You know, generally, all over the country, we have problems with security. Here, we have a very porous border and we have a very large land mass of about 8000 hectares and it is not fenced. So when I came on board, I made some special requests and we started fencing. As you came in you would see part of the fencing, we are doing it on a yearly basis but this year, we asked for a special budget so that we can do much because a lot of encroachment is going on from the Agan axis. We are hoping that by doing so, we will enhance security of staff and students on campus. But apart from that, we have employed people in security and we are training them and we have a very good link with the police and the military. As a matter of fact, there is a military checkpoint along the road from here to Gbajimba just by the border of the University and they told us that they are specifically there for us, so if there is a problem, they will come in. There was an incident during the 2021 convocation when two students were kidnapped but by the grace of God, they only stayed there for three days and they were brought back. After that, we have not had any incidents. So we thank God that the security system is working.

Your tenure has been one of the most challenging as VC of this institution. We had COVID-19, and we had the ASUU strike. How were you able to scale through all these and achieve that much?

Actually, those periods were very challenging and in fact, some people even told me that I have done only 3 years out of the 5 years as a VC. You Know, we have a tenure of five years and COVID-19 almost took a year and the strikes almost took a year too, because this one took 8 months and the other ones took some months that if you put together cumulatively you will have up to six months. That has affected our academic calendar, we are now down by two calendars, we are still in the 2020/2021 second semester academic calendar and that is not good. JAMB continues to do admission whether you are working or not because you are not the only university, there are private Universities. But all the same, we have worked so hard, whenever we have an opportunity to resume, we work hard to cover a lot. Like now, as soon as we resumed, we came up with a revised calendar and we have been working very hard, computing pending results to ensure that those students who were supposed to have graduated about a year or two ago are able to go for service

What is responsible for the delay in the NYSC mobilization of some of the students?

Well, it’s not unconnected with these disruptions. You know, when a calendar is disrupted, you have to cover what was not done and in the process, there are certain things that are not brought out. You have courses that you are doing at the lower level and if all of them are not in, you can’t compute your result. Apart from that, we also have our internal problems. When we went on strike, our portal went down because there was nobody to man it, it went down and a lot of data was lost. When we came back we had to work on the portal and we are still recovering some data. So that too contributed to delay in the computation of results. Then of course, some staff didn’t work on their results during the long Strike because a hungry man is an angry man. Even if they worked on their results, the committee that is charged with the responsibility of computing results did not sit because whenever the unions are on strike, they suspend all activities. They will tell you no committee meetings and so on. In fact, for the non-academic staff, they even stand at the gate to make sure nobody comes in. By doing so, the committees did not sit and when we came back, we had to start afresh. Then the students themselves because sometimes have to carry over and when the time is lost, you have to make it up because you need to have a full complement of results before it is computed. So I can say interruptions basically are responsible for this.

The state of the road infrastructure in the university is very poor but you made several appeals for the roads to be fixed, however, the situation is still the same. What could be the reason?

The road from the junction to the gate is not really our own road. In 1982 when this University was established, there were problems, problems of compensation and all. Those problems persist even today. I faced the first Vice Chancellor even though he had a lot of money and could not construct the university road which is from Agan. This road is a local government road going through the university which is not even supposed to be so. If we had our own, we would have been thinking of how to divert it because it is even too risky for the university. So the road not being our own, federal government will not give us money to do it. TETfund is only inside the university, hostels, lecture halls, books, library and things like that. Even inside the University, roads are funded by other areas, not TETfund. Basically, it is not our road and cannot be funded. The University road is still there, we are making appeals to the government to give us a reasonable amount of money so that we can open it up and make it more befitting. I can tell you, we are the only university in this country without a befitting road. Ilorin is farther inside the bush than us but they have dualized their road into the university. Right from the beginning, there was a problem, the community wouldn’t cooperate. In fact, when they started the development in the South Core, the then Tor Tiv, the late Akperan Orshi had to come to intervene before work could continue. So that problem with the community is still there, they alleged that we haven’t compensated them, which is not true. It is the resettlement which the government of Benue State was to do and is yet to that is the reason behind this situation. How we wish we could have money from our IGR so that we can fix the road. For now, we have made so many appeals to the government. During the Gabriel Suswam’s tenure, they worked on the road but this present administration is yet to do anything further on the said road, maybe because of paucity of funds, they have not been able to assist us, irrespective of our many requests through the Commissioner for Works.

The university enjoyed lots of TETfund projects during your tenure. Does this have to do with your negotiation prowess?

 I don’t think we have more TETfund projects than other universities. You know TETfund is for all tertiary institutions with emphasis on federal universities. So if you are comparing us with a state university, yes we have more than them but if you compare us with federal universities like Kano, ABU, then we have far less than what they have. But I can tell you during my tenure, we have more of these projects coming in because we were able to execute them on time. You know, you get more projects if you are able to finish the old ones allocated to you. We have been lucky, we have been working very fast. Our Directorate of Physical Planning is doing very well, so we have timely completion of projects.

What was your major challenge?

My major challenge has been the problem with the host community. When I came on board, I had good plans. Looking at the landmass, 8000 hectares. This can feed the whole of Benue State and even beyond if commercial farming is engaged. With the permission of the university council, I signed MOUs with three major farming investors. They came in with their equipment – tractors, graders, harvesters. One of the investors who was to work from the Agan side was even willing to integrate the local farmers, while he supplied every farm input and implements needed. With this arrangement in place, we called the host community members, they agreed but to our greatest surprise, when the investor moved into the farm, they damaged his grader and burnt down one of the tractors. The other one that was to work on the eastern side of the university also suffered the same fate. To give you a practical example of what I am saying, today, some farmers in the southern axis came and reported to me that members of the community invaded their rice farm and stole about half hectare of rice that was planted. I was hoping that if we farm here, we can integrate the community into it, we will even integrate the students into it for their hands on lessons, we won’t have to send them out to do their industrial training, get money thereby improving the revenue generation capacity of the institution.

Our IGR is down and we have all the potential to beef it up but the host community will not allow us.

We have had countless meetings with the leadership of this host community. Recently, the new council met with the traditional rulers of this area. In the past they said their problems are that the university is not providing jobs for them, same as electricity and water, they have not been paid compensations and they have not been resettled. All those things are not correct except that they have not been resettled but that was not to be done by the university; it was to be done by the state government. The state government gave us this land, we have a C of O, we have a boundary that is properly marked, everything is well digitalized. The compensation was paid, we have documents to show for that, and we are offering scholarships to their indigent children. We have basically two communities, the Nyiev and Mbawa. Every year, we invite both chiefs and give the scholarships in their presence. The scholarship covers our primary school and the university. We are also providing some of these amenities. Last year, I sunk a borehole in one of the communities. So really, they have no reason to be disrupting some of our activities here because the issue of resettlement was supposed to be done by the state government but I can tell you on good authority that those who are supposed to be resettled are already accommodated in some areas around the boundaries of the school. If you ask me, this is simply mischief. Unfortunately, no serious efforts have been done by the state government because this matter has been reported to them. The governor even set up a committee but up till now, there is no report from that committee. I think the government is not doing well enough on this matter.

Your students call you talk and do. What brought about the name?

 I don’t know how they got that but I think it is connected to my statements to them and corresponding actions. Normally, when I say something to them, it works. Let me cite one example. I went to South Core area of the university and I saw students who were sitting on the floor, I was furious, I went in and asked, I was told they are students of Agronomy and they did not have enough lecture space that is why they were on the floor. Mind you Agronomy is in the North Core area, but they had to go far down there to look for space. Incidentally, at that time, we had an allocation from TETfund to build a lecture theatre, so I told them, “don’t worry, six months from now, you will have  lecture  space of your own and now the lecture hall is there. So maybe from such statements and actions which includes every aspect of their welfare and studies, perhaps, that is why they call me “Talk and Do.”

What specific areas can you recommend for more attention from your successor?

 I would like the person to improve on the area of computation of results. That’s a very important area. In fact there have been agitations but it is not unconnected with the disruptions in the system. There are a couple of them that their results are hanging. They have even made presentations to me. I will like the next person coming after me to work very hard to ensure that is normalized. Also, steps should be taking to avoid a complete breakdown of the university portal to prevent loss of vital information. They may have to put in place an arrangement so that even when we are on a long strike, some people will still be working on the portal.

The other issue has to do with the host community. I will encourage him to sit together with the new council and fashion out a different approach to end the conflict apart from the use of force. Initially, the use of force came to mind but I thought that will not help, also that I am like an indigene here, I wouldn’t want to harm somebody. He could see the governor to see that the committee report is released.

What is your position on how best the ASUU/FG feud on incessant strike can be put to end?

ASUU is not asking for too much. ASUU is protecting the university system. ASUU is protecting the autonomy of the university system which is even in the law. They are not saying anything outside the law. Let me give you an example, I as a Vice Chancellor cannot employ at the least a messenger, but in the past, the VC could give a temporary employment and then regularize after one year. The university system is different from other systems where employment is done after a period of time. For instance, we have lost very senior lecturers in some departments of this university, those are not people you can replace easily. The question of who will take over their courses arises. This is not like primary school where you have one teacher taking all the subjects. Here, you have people who are specialized and without one course, even the issue of computation of results will not be possible, you need the full complements of results to be able to compute, so when you have cases like this, the best thing to do is to quickly replace. The process of employment is very difficult but for a university, it is not supposed to be so. Avenues like part-time, visiting or contract basis is how the university system can work. Let me also tell you one other thing, federal government is not giving loans of any kind to anybody in the university. No housing loan, no furniture loan, no car loan. So people have put themselves together and formed a cooperative society. We put in money there deducted from our salaries and in return get loans, that’s why when you come to the university, you see people riding good cars, building houses and of course, some people even marry from that money. If you go to the banks to borrow, the conditions are too hard. So people have set up a mechanism to survive and you want to cut it off? You want people to die? Because under IPPIS, such cooperatives are not captured but in the past, people borrow money and at the end of the day, it is deducted from source and you don’t even feel it. And such loans come with human face. These are some of the things that ASUU has been fighting for and then improving on the university system. For instance, we don’t have any foreigner in our university. The university is supposed to be a universal organization. Here, we don’t have people coming in because the salary is not attractive, the conditions for service are not in place for instance, there is no provision for accommodation. All these lapses tell on the productivity of a person and I think this is the message ASUU is communicating. These brains in advanced countries are not better than us, only that they have better working conditions. I give you an example; during COVID-19, engineers here developed a ventilator that the presidential task force on COVID-19 vetted good and that was all. Today, it is lying in one of our stores as prototype, nothing was done further. Meanwhile, we are complaining of lack of researches and people are going abroad for treatment. ASUU is saying give us a good environment so that we can work and catch up with our counterparts in other countries. Sadly, the relationship between FG/ASUU has been that of master and servant, otherwise government is supposed to sit down with the unions, hear their problems and if you are not able to solve the problems because of paucity of funds, at least talk to them in way they will understand or phase the actions. But as you can see, after the strike, there is nothing ASUU can point at saying this is what the government has agreed to do.

There is a proliferation of universities in the country. Do you think this is an impediment to educational excellence?

This trend has a lot to do with academic excellence. Look at it this way. How many teachers do we have in this country? Do you know that many lecturers are moving from one university to the other, either in form of visiting or part-time lecturers. In fact, some people have retired but because they need them, they are still teaching. Most of the private universities you see don’t have staff of their own, they rely on part-time teaching and there is a limit a part-time lecturer can do because he has his own place. Some even visit more than one school because of the need, how can you expect them to put in their best. This proliferation is a major issue and should be discouraged. People tend to compare it with the western world where you have many universities in one area but we are not there yet, we are still developing in several areas like the e-Learning that I just coming up. Secondly, if the existing universities are properly equipped and developed, more students can be accommodated and you will even lessen cost, because with new universities, you need to employ principal officers but if the capacity of existing ones is boosted, we can triple the intake.

What is the role of Nigeria Universities Commission, NUC in this aspect?

It is not in the hands of NUC to establish a university. It is the doing of politicians, so that they can show to their people that they have done something for them. They put it there in the law and nobody can stop it. Once the law is made at the National assembly, you just have to comply.

What would be the next line of action hence your exit as VC?

The next thing is to go back to my department and continue with my teaching. When I handover, I will drive to my office and report to my dean and head of department.

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