Salem University in Lokoja Kogi state is the only private university in The Confluence State. In an interview with SALIHU OYIBO, its vice chancellor, Professor Alewo Johnson Akubo, is asking the federal government to extend grants and intervention to private universities, just as it does to public universities since both of them are doing the same thing in the interest of the country.
What can you say is the reason behind the conceptualisation of Salem University?
The university was founded and licenced on May 15, 2007 as one of the visions of ArchBishop Sam Amaga. The vision is a product of the fact that the Chancellor got the inspiration to establish a university and do something different from what is obtainable in the university education system. It is apparent that over a reasonable period of time now, the university system has been bedeviled with a number of issues such as cultism, interruption of academic calendar, extortion and molestation of female students by a particular section of lecturers. Our Chancellor felt that there can be a paradigm shift by introducing positive revolution into university educational system. Salem has a vision of raising global leaders that are spiritually alive, mentally alert and intellectually developed to change their world.
What is the enrolment status of the university?
I cannot be specific in terms of number, but part of the challenges the university has to grapple with since inception is enrolment. We are not where we ought to be, but we are not where we used to be and there is room for improvement.
How many convocations have you organised and numbers of students that graduated?
The university had organised 12 convocation ceremonies. In all, we should have graduated about 4, 000 change agents (graduates).
How many faculties and departments are running?
The university has six colleges. They are College of Management and Social Sciences, College of Natural and Applied Sciences, College of Information and Communication Technology, College of Humanity, College of Education and the College of Law. We also have the College of Post Graduate School.
Considering the numbers of ‘change agents’ the university had produced, would you say the institution has met its mandate?
In very concrete terms , I will say, yes because the university has been able to fulfil it vision of the founding father. We had a lot of testimonies of our change agents. When they came into the institution we told their parents that they were raw materials and by the time we returned them to their parents, we return them as ‘processed and finish product’. To the glory of God, we have series of testimonies and they begin at the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) orientation camps and their respective places of primary assignments. When students enter the university, we don’t only load them with academic knowledge; rather, it is a total package; for instance, we take care of the spiritual need and academic needs. So, when they come here, we would ensure that they graduate in character and learning.
What about the issue of accrediatation of courses by NUC?
Every programme in Salem University is fully accredited. We have eight programmes in the College of Management and Social Sciences. Two programmes in the College of Information and Communication Technology, then we have two departments in Law and we also have three in Humanities. All of these are fully accredited. The last NUC accreditation we had was for Law and a follow up to that was the last visit of Council of Legal Education. We are glad to say that the council has given our first graduates the nod for Law School. So every programme in the university is fully accredited.
Cultism has been a menace in many tertiary institutions across this country, how do you handle it in Salem University?
We have never had a cult group in this institution; infact, we have never experienced anything close to cultism in this university. The reason is because the moment they come into the university, there are structures we mount in place to ensure that it does not have a hold here. In addition, God has blessed this institution with crops of staff members that have what it takes to produce the global leaders we churn out every year.
What is the level of infrastructure in Salem University?
In Salem, we have superb structures that pave rooms for our courses being accredited by the NUC. We have spacious, large and well equipped classrooms, standard library and laboratories with state of art equipment. Our hostel can conveniently accommodate over two 2000 students. We have a functional clinic with medical personnel, we have sporting facilities for our students, but we can do more than what we have right now.
What effort are you putting in place to ensure your students acquire entrepreneurship skills?
We have a programme called Transformational Academic Revolution (TAR) simply refered to as TAR mission and we have five of them. One of such is geared toward developing global leaders to become self employed and employers of labour. We have a whole building dedicated to entrepreneurship skills here in Salem University.
ASUU has been on strike for upward of seven months now. What is your advice to the union and the federal government?
ASUU’s strike is an ill-wind that blows no one any good. I am appealing to the federal government to bear in mind that they cannot achieve lasting solution in the absence of sincerity of purpose. The federal government need to show more sincerity of purpose than what Nigerians are seeing right now. Also ASUU should in the interest of parents and students come to some level of compromise. A little to the left, a little to the right; but priority should be given to the centre. Forcing the academic union to go back to class without any concrete agreement is a disaster just waiting to happen. I have never seen in any part of the world where arm-twisting has ever resolved any crisis. Therefore, my candid advice is that the government should engage ASUU on more dialogue. I am sure they would shift ground. For as long as university lecturers continue to embark on strikes, universities would be producing half-baked products that are not employable and many lecturers trained by the government will be leaving Nigeria to other countries in search of greener pastures.
Why are private universities not beneficiaries of TETFund projects?
It is high time that such level of discrimination stopped in the interest of fairness and I am calling on the federal government to see to it that private universities become as much beneficiaries of TETFund as public universities because we are all working towards the same purpose. Frankly speaking, if there is any university that is supposed to benefit from TETFund, it should be the private universities in terms of ranking because funding private university is just like extracting water from stone. I am opportuned to head a private university and I understand the dynamics of funding. Public universities have a budgetary allocation, they have TETFund, they have grants and all kind of subventions. Those who does not have anything at all are the private universities and I don’t see reason why private universities should not be integrated into scheme of things particularly on TETFund. So, I would advise the federal government to bear in mind that private universities remain the brightest hopes for university education in Nigeria.
How would you rate education system in Nigeria in term of global competitiveness?
In terms of global competitiveness, Nigeria is lagging behind. To put it succinctly, the education system particularly university education system in Nigeria is on life support and government needs to put the enabling environment in place because there are people who have the resources to develop the university education system in the country, but nobody puts money where there is no hope of recovery.