Biotech will be Driving Force at Our Varsity, By UniBorno VC Umar Sandabe

*Vice-Chancellor, Borno State University, Prof. Umar Sandabe.
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Interview | By Sam Kayode | 25. 08. 2021
*Borno State University
The major problem associated with establishing a university is how to set the ball rolling. Especially because of peoples’ expectations. Once they hear that the university is on, they will be looking forward to when students will be admitted. And secondly, when will courses start running and these are two major challenges and unless you get approval from the NUC to start programmes, Joint Admission and Matriculation Board JAMB may not give you a chance to admit students. And for you to get approval for each course, we applied for over forty-five or so courses but National Universities Commission NUC approved 32. And the process of the approval of this 32 was so demanding. You have to show them how you can get your staff. You have to show them concrete evidence that these staff will be available to kick start the programmes. You must show them your facilities, and they must be convinced that you are not going to bring some ramshackle or haphazard facility somewhere because they have to see them and being a new place, you can imagine what we went through. And for you to assemble all those facilities on ground was a challenge, but we overcame these problems and attended to the issues with speed, coupled with the support of resources from the government, the result is what you are seeing today. Without the resources we would not have achieved what we did. And ongoing challenges are challenges of everyone coming here to look for employment. ‘Please employ me, I have a diploma, degree, PhD and all that’. And then those who have employment would come for ‘we want sabbatical; we want this or that’. So, with the retinue of people coming, you may need some of them but most probably you don’t need all of them at the moment. So, for you to sieve out those you need and take only the ones you need is also a challenge. But you know, you cannot run away totally from challenges posed by politicians and all that. All you need to be is to be diplomatic and tell them the true situation of things and the right thing you are doing so that they can understand you.
You have to meet the national requirements in admitting the students. The national requirement is that 160 scores averagely has been fixed by JAMB. And then a student must have five credits or five credits in two sittings including Math and English. These are the criteria you use, but you see sometimes, these are all paper qualifications. What we are trying to do is that when we bring them, we take some extra measures in the University so that our classes would not be over populated. If the class is over populated certainly, we cannot control them. And then when you admit much more than the number you can handle you cannot really be assured of the quality so we try to maintain a sizable number in a class. For now, probably because we are new, we don’t have more than forty or fifty students in a class and this is a very good number. With this we track and monitor each one of them, and then we have put a programme like continuous assessment whereby now and then they are being tested and then, we try to monitor those coming to class and those who are not. With this number it’s possible. We try to give them the best we can. Especially in terms of the audiovisual and modern learning facilities which we are already using. We employ all the major facilities. These days, if you don’t have very good simulation technology in the class, and you don’t take them around to see things for themselves, you may not likely get qualitative Education. So, for now, we do all these things. We take our students for outside programmes for them to go see things for themselves, when we are teaching them. We try to bring outsiders who lecture them, like a public lecture or so where somebody will come and give them a talk on what should be done and how to achieve it practically. It’s a way of encouraging our students. These are some of the measures we have taken to see that our students are brought up to be qualitative students who have the prerequisite to face up to the challenges of society.
*One of the complexes on the campus, Borno State University.
Our strong point is technology in my perception. Technology in all its ramification, whether its physical or biotech. These days if you are offering science whether it is Physics, Chemistry, Biology or even Geography. If your knowledge in biotech is limited, you cannot achieve anything. This is because it has now zeroed down to molecular level. Whatever you are studying. It’s now zeroed down to the molecular level. And I foresee that in the next twenty years or more, if we are not conversant in this field, we would be left behind. If you take even social sciences now, whether its geography or history, Islamic studies, Archeology or whatever, without the biotech for instance, even in history when you want to establish certain historical facts you must go to biotechnology. Forensic studies, these are all biotech studies. So, my vision is that biotech will be the coordinating factor to all the courses that you want to do and then without this, you cannot achieve anything. But with biotech you can go to any length in any field you choose. So, we have to strengthen that one and make it a culture in the University so that it would be seen all over the world.
You see, even in mass communication, NUC has now split it into several departments. But by and large, whether it is split or not, technology has already gone to that department. Today if you compare people getting news through social media and conventional, you will see that eighty percent of our news items come from social media. So, what we want to do is to get the people in mass communication to re-orient, redirect and re-strategize some of these courses to suit the current trend, whereby people opt for social media. You can see that even Governors have opted for that space. You see, in the future what I see is that people will start believing that what is coming from social media may not be true. Still, people have more confidence in the traditional media than the social media, maybe because the traditional media has a process of seeping out the truth from the false. For instance, in the conventional media even if the news is true, if they realize that that news might bring confusion, they don’t carry it.  In social media, who cares, everything goes. So, we are looking out for people who are trained and yet can handle social media with caution, with the same caution applied to the traditional media.
Exactly, our current crisis was mostly perpetuated by social media. This is because it is the fastest means of communication. Something happened, the last time when they commissioned this place, even before the President left this venue, someone called me from Lagos congratulating me. That he just saw the President leaving our place. No other media can do that.  It means that, since it’s the fastest media and it’s now being accepted, let’s see how we can sanitize or make our youths use social media to the benefit of everyone without causing a crisis, so let’s transfer the knowledge from the traditional to the social media. There are some rules and knowledge from the traditional media which we are not emphasizing in the social media. Let’s take to social media and start informing people, when you want to post something, you must be very careful by verifying your facts because if you are taken to court, you are still going to face the consequences of perpetuating falsehood.  Here in this country, it’s because in most cases, we are not prosecuting people, we just use iron hands. Somebody gives false information on social media. You go and arrest him and then you lock him up, so that gives him strength and a name which promotes his activities and then tomorrow he comes out he continues. But if you take him to court, they invite him, you posted this on social media. What are your reasons? He can’t defend it; he goes to jail. If he goes to jail and comes out tomorrow, he will not do it again and then other people will not come out to print anything they want just like that.  Another thing is someone will forward documents to you and you’ll keep on forwarding without checking or reading what is inside before you forward again. Somebody will forward something to you and you will not read what is inside and you then forward the same and on and on without reading. All these mistakes should be corrected by the informed public.
Not really. The last time we talked with the department of mass communication, it’s only this year we will begin to think of that because last year, everything was introductory. We will apply for the license after this year. It’s not very expensive. All they need is that you have a department of mass communications. And then they will come and examine what we have because we already have a design for the studio. We are likely to begin to build the structure soon for our students.
Yes, we have a plan for one but you see, these days, even the maintenance is going to cost you a lot, but when the need arises you pay and get services. This is because the global trend now is to save cost in governance. If you must establish one, the maintenance will cost you a lot, but when the need arises you pay and get services.
I have spent two years and as I always say, some people believe in physical achievements, but for me virtual achievements are important too. Now, universities are known for academic contents. When I was first appointed, within the week, we met and within the month, we had to draw our plans, and in that same month we approached the NUC for approval. Because we knew it would take a long time. At that time, everything about JAMB had been concluded but then if we could stay from March to the following March, without activities on campus people would be expecting so much like where are the students? Where are these or that? So, we said let’s do whatever is possible to get students by October. We had to run helter-skelter, pillar to pole to get NUC to approve the license and we started the programmes by October and to me that is one of the greatest achievements. There were Universities that were established with full licenses yet after two years they could not start any programme. And there are some in which the Vice Chancellors were appointed and they stayed four years without making any impact. So, if in the first six months, I had mobilized students on campus, it’s an achievement even though it’s virtual, but it is an achievement. Secondly, working together with the Governor to see that all these uncompleted faculty buildings were completed, we worked assiduously to see that all these projects are completed and now they are all completed no longer abandoned. So, within the first two years, having worked to see that all these buildings were completed, we achieved a lot. Thirdly, we approached some government agencies for interventions and we were lucky. We worked very hard to showcase the university, and they intervened and we got support from National Communication Commission NCC, they provided some computers for us. And then we contacted the National Information Technology Development Agency NIDA and they came and fixed an internet hub here, one of the biggest in the country. And we have approached North East Development Commission NEDC and they agreed to build a faculty building for us. We approached NNPC and they inspected the land and promised they would soon start a building for us.  We had to convince the Tertiary Education Trust fund within that period that we were eligible. This is because sometimes, it takes two to three years for a University to even get enlisted but within that period they were convinced seeing our progress made within just six months. They came and saw our progress and by and large, they were so impressed that we had students and lecturers on ground at the time of the visit and we were enlisted. And it is with this TET fund that the College of Health sciences is being built. In fact it is being built with about 1.3 billion naira. His excellency has promised to equip the building as soon as it is ready. The College of Health Sciences as we choose to call it is a broader name because it will have all the departments and it will also soon be completed.
*A block of building on the campus.
The Teaching Hospital is also being built by the Borno State government, alongside the College of Health Sciences by TETfund. Even now we have approached the National Biotech Center to start a collaboration with them. As I said earlier, I want to say that the biotech factor has a firm root in the institution. We have entered into an MOU with the university of Maiduguri and we have reached finalizing stages with the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital UMTH. All this is in an effort in making progress, you see the global trends now is that you do not behave as if you are an island to yourself. You have to co opt those who have excelled in it. If you want to run a programme and we have students reading biotech and then they need a laboratory to do practical work, they will go there. Let’s say for now, you have students that are reading Biotechnology. And then they need a laboratory to do some practical work, they go across and come because now we are in the process of establishing ours already. This is because it will cost so much to build and we do not have that kind of resources to start one right now. Before we establish one, the MOU will allow you to use theirs and it is allowed by the law. And if you go for instance, you need visiting doctors which should come from somewhere. And that is how MOU’s can work to bring collaborations.
We have about 5000 students including the remedials, because the new ones have come in and by the time all of them have finished registering, we will have about 5000 students or more by the end of this registration process. And then the medical personnel. You see, we tried our best to bring qualified medical personnel. What we did was to rely on visiting doctors here, we are envisaging that the UMTH will build an outpost here one day, so that is why we believe they may use that memorandum as the basis to extend their outpost to us and we may be lucky a lot of things may come after. And then we have entered into another memorandum with two foreign universities in Bangladesh and these are people who are heavily involved in ICT in several parts of the country. They have done this in Nasarawa and Abuja etc. If it was going to be cheaper and easier, to enter into these MOU’s they will help us. So these are some of the things we are involved in so far. We expect that they will do theirs separately and even be involved in training our personnel.
Indeed, we are up to the second year for now. If you go to the ground floor of the Zenith building, you will see massive computer classes going on. It’s a very big place where we enforce the students into computer practice on a daily basis. And everyone knows he or she must be computer literate while here. The Zenith building, built by the Zenith bank is meant to expose every student to be involved in computer business. You will see a lot of computers for our students on a single day.
*A faculty building
You know when the government decided to merge the two institutions, there was a committee which sat down to work out the modalities of the matter. At the end, it was decided that first, before the Kashim Ibrahim College of Education COE ceased to exist, they should phase out the students. So, they will start with no admission and gradually they should phase out the students before the university can take over. But as long as those students are there they should be addressed as students of the College of education not Borno state University. But by the time the last student leaves, then that College will cease to exist, and a law will be passed to that effect. In the interim, the committee suggested that the state university should examine the profile of the lecturers, and those qualified to teach should be moved over to the university and those that cannot be moved should either go to other COE’S or be shipped out to join the mainstream civil service. Then,the problem started actually in the transition. We have identified and said Dr A and B, Mr A and B and C are qualified to come over but once you uproot and bring them to the University, then you have created a vacuum at the COE staff who should see those students into their graduation. So, we said, in the interim, if there is a need they can come and handle those courses. But their jobs should be scheduled so that they should not be overworked. Meanwhile the University will depend on its sabbatical and visiting. Even then if we are to admit all those qualified, they can’t be enough to manage the university. As most of them are from education rather than some from pure arts or science background. But then now, administration of that place still belongs to the management of the COE and not under the state University. That is why the crisis came about. You know, maintaining students on campus and in the hostel. We wanted to accommodate some of our remedial students so they gave us one or two blocks there and asked us to use that one temporarily. So, we started using that temporarily and these students were complaining about the administration of the rest of the hostel, but it has nothing to do with the University.
NUC itself is discouraging multi campuses. They have forced certain federal Universities to close down some of their satellite campuses because they say management of multi campuses is causing more trouble of accreditation. So unless they see the need as a reality, multiplicity of campuses is discouraged. So this University is working towards a single campus. But a time will come that the land will not be sufficient and by that time we would have established substantial reasons for NUC to accept another campus. But for now, they want everything to stay in one place so this university is working towards a single campus.
Maiduguri electricity generation to be located in the campus
It would be a good idea for the University to have such a facility. But you know we have in our blueprint, a design for a substation. In fact, when we were following all these intervention agencies, when we went to NNPC itself and other agencies we always forwarded our blueprint for substations, whichever one that is appropriate. Because that will ease our electricity problems. Well, the suggestion you made is a good one, I would like it…..general laughter..
*One of the many structures on the campus.
For now, we have organized them because many problems do arise from hosting students on campus when you allow things to deteriorate. So, we realized that before things start to deteriorate let’s organize them to form a student union government. You know once you start interfering, it’s another problem, so they came up with their leaders and we gave them free hand. So that if they have problems, they know where to go. We gave them these orientations. We are here for them which is why every morning, I ask the sanitation officer if he has gone round to ensure that they are fine, even the toilets. I have a sanitation officer and naturally he will tell me yes. We have some staff and sometimes we hire those who wash the toilets. Water is not an issue but getting water around this area is a big problem. When we came, we inherited one haphazard bore hole and then water was a problem so we sank one borehole which was producing water but it was not enough, we discussed with the government, so they said let us sink another one, so we did. These two bore holes are meeting our water needs for now. We dug the second one about 400 to 500 meters to last for a long time. Our aspiration in the next two to three years, we want to have about five deep boreholes on campus in the future. It’s better to have too much water because when we start hosting students on campus, their water usage will triple what we have now.  If this university does not have a bore hole, where do we expect the kids to get water? Even in Moronti, a nearby village, they don’t have water. People come here all the way to fetch water. I see them come around to see if they can get drinking water and we have been helping out.
The first license was obtained in 2016. So by March 2019, he set up a technical committee, and the committee met and went into limbo and was resuscitated and continued meeting and we were appointed by March 2019.  I came in, so we started counting the real age of the university from 2019. This is because at a point, even when the building stopped, the contractors had stopped working for over two years. So, by 2019 when he appointed us, he came on assessment and almost all of them were completed. At one point, even the buildings were stopped. For over two years there was no work. So it means we start counting from the year we took over the abandoned building and that is 2019. The licence was obtained in 2016 and the age is 2019.
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