Professor Benjamin Chukwuma Ozumba, immediate past Vice Chancellor, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) spoke exclusively to Ugonna Anejionu, Assistant Editor, Verbatim Magazine, in an interview session in his office at Nsukka, last week, a few days before his five year tenure ended .
Ozumba, variously referred to, by members of the academic community, as Mr. Projects, Father of Innovation, Pillar of Innovation and Innovation Guru, spoke on his achievements, programsand activities which endeared him to many. Excerpts:
Verbatim: I will like to start this interview by looking at your stewardship in UNN, adjudged by many as successful .What strategies did youemploy to achieve this?.
Ozumba – Thank you so much. Well, there is nothing else apart from strength analysis. I examined my strength and abilities and then recharged and revitalized them. Then I prayed to God to give me the strength to be able to run a university as complex as the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, with three campuses, that is the Enugu campus and the teaching hospital at Ituku Ozalla. To succeed, I knew immense resources are required so I went into partnership with the alumni of the university, having realized that UNN has the largest alumni in the country. This is one of the best decisions I took as the alumni drove the university largely as regards funding. I also gave listening ears to my subjects and stakeholders and insisted on adopting only straight forward policies and decisions. These are the secrets.
In addition, I worked hard to create a suitable and harmonious environment for academic activities and also employed a number of strategies to encourage and motivate the staff to be at their best and also to achieve a lot more. I did this by promptly and regularly promoting deserving staff of the university.
I am sure posterity will forever remember my administration as one that promoted the highest number of professors in the university while at the same time ensuring that other staff in the lower cadre are not left out. It is on record that I have admitted the highest number of professors into the exclusive and prestigious club of emeritus professors in the university. This was my own way of recognizing their contributions to the greatness of our university. These, am sure, were some of the achievements that gave huge prominence to my administration.
Verbatim : Sir, we heard that you also planned to establish an energy plant using coal and recyclable wastes. How far did you go with that initiative?.
Ozumba : Yes. Another thing that I know every leader needs to excel is vision. In this regard, I always try to place myself on the same page with global developments and trends. The power plant project you talked about is very much on course. Just recently, a research team led by Professor Ejiogu, a Japanese trained electrical engineer developed a new means of electricity generation by using organic waste to install 100KVA Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) gasification plant at the Nsukka campus of the university. The research team is set to produce 250KVA plants which will supply the energy needs of the entire university and its environs. Let me tell you that it has been estimated that UNN’s power demand is currently at 3 megawatts. This means that (12) 250KVA of RDF plants would meet the electricity supply needs of the university. Note that this has the huge potential of creating a cash spinning opportunity if funded and fully supported. Let me also tell you that the 100KVA RDF project was designed and fabricated by laboratory of industrial power devices and energy systems under special grant by my administration because I recognize the fact that this step if encouraged will enable UNN generate its own electricity with organic waste that will serve as fuel. I did this because I believe that making record breaking innovations will transform the university and also place it very strategically on the world’s academic radar.
Outside this, I also established a technology incubation hub where students of the university are supported and mentored to develop their innovative ideas into reality and I am proud to announce to you that this hub which we aptly named The Roar Nigeria Hub has now successfully birthed over twenty business startups. While some of these are already in the market place with the potential of recording huge financial returns, many more are currently at various stages of incubation. One of these incubations simply known as Arone has shown a lot of promise. This startup company has successfully developed a drone prototype for the delivery of medical supplies to rural communities.
The UNN science park is another project that is related to the Roar Hub. As I speak, the UNN science park has been incorporated and has taken off in earnest as Lion Science Park Limited/ GTE. Presently, a number of notable companies like Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing, IVM and MiraiDenchi, a company with Japanese parentage have positioned themselves as worthy partners. In recognition of the huge potential inherent in this project, we have been inundated with requests for collaboration from all around the world and we recently became an affiliate member of the International Association of Science Parks. Remember our science park is the first in the entire sub Sahara Africa.
Verbatim : We saw samples of the laptop computers that were produced in the university under your leadership. We were told that some were given to important guests of the university as souvenirs and are also used by both students and staff of the university. Is the project still on?.
Ozumba : Yes, the project is still on and making huge advances. In fact I recently challenged them to find local substitutes for some of the components of the laptops for better efficiency and durability. The project I must tell you is a huge success.
Verbatim:Could you define the potentials of the Roar Hub, the science park and the Laptop Assembly project?.
Ozumba: The potentials are simply enormous and that is why I had passion in the first instance and then invested in them. I am very certain that they could turn the fortunes of the university around if sustained. Up till this moment, I still solicit the collaboration and support of industrialists and angel investors who can partner with us to achieve the full potentials of these initiatives. UNN has a total student population of over 45,000 who are all capable of one form of original idea or the other. It is my belief that with the enabling environment, the right incentives and proper motivation, these young Lions and Lionesses can be great inventors that will take our country to the next level. From recent achievements and activities in the university, it is very obvious that our staff now have all it takes to compete effectively with their peers across the world and also achieve the much desired improvement in the ranking of our university in the global academic terrain. Remember our university is one of the best in global web matric ranking.
Verbatim : Tell us more about the partnership with Innoson Motors to produce brands of tractors for the university. Is it real?
Ozumba : It is real. We have concluded plans to commence the project. Am sure you know that Nigeria is a tractor less country. We always talk of diversification of the economy and agriculture is the most considered in this regard. I am convinced Nigeria cannot be at its best as regards veering into agriculture if it does not have the basics. I feel tractors are very much needed in this regard so I didn’t hesitate to strike the deal with Innoson to produce our own brand of tractors for Nigeria and Nigerians. It is a very lofty project and I am happy I was able to pull it off.
In also contributing to an agro based economy for Nigeria, I have established a cattle farming and diary business for the university just as I have previously done in fishery, poultry and also snailry. This I ventured into to put food on the tables of Nigerians and reduce hunger, starvation and also stunted growth of the body and brains of our children. If we want our children to be mentally and physically sound, we must feed them well and I know a glass of milk a day will help their brains to develop to be able to think, create, and invent like their peers across the world. That, apart from helping to boost the Nigerian economy, is basically why I developed the interest in diary business and am happy to announce that states like Jigawa, Delta, Bayelsa and others have bought into the initiative. I also set the platform for the university to delve into partnership with prominent pharmaceutical companies to produce generic drugs. You see, most countries that have sound and viable economies do not depend on crude oil. Japan, China and South Korea are good instances. They only have an economy that is powered by Other People’s Money (OPM) policy. I think that is the way we should go and am happy I tried my best in that regards. I do not believe in limitations or complexes. We can do what they have done and that is where vision comes in. Remember Hitler and his Volkswagen and also John Kennedy’s belief that man will conquer the world. These and others are my motivation and driving forces. Already, certain Swedish firms like LundaVission have found our university worthy of their partnership and we are reaping from it now.
Verbatim : We would also like to know about the results or promises that your partnership with the Michigan state university and some in China hold for your university. Please tell us.
Ozumba:Well, I have continued to revitalize some of the old collaborations of the university in addition to establishing new ones. Recently,we hosted collaborators from our mentoring university, the Michigan state university, as part of the efforts to expand our reach and also improve our global visibility. Their visit is a very strategic step towards revitalizing the historic relationship that exists between the two universities. Let me tell you that one of the direct fallout of this effort is our admission into the Alliance For African Partnership (AAP). As a person, I am particularly excited about this development as itwill increaseour global visibility and also create more opportunities for fruitful collaborations andalso open doors to additional research funds.
On the other hand, our collaboration with some universities in China is definitely the largest and most fruitful collaboration ever entered into by this university. At the moment, 12 staff and Phd students of this university are at different Chinese universities as part of the research exchange programme. I am also excited to inform you that two of our staff recently won the highly coveted Young Scientists Prize in China. Honestly, I, like Oliver twist , have explored the possibility of expanding the scope of these collaborations with Chinese universities to accommodate many more researchers from our university. These efforts I must tell you are beginning to yield results.
Verbatim : In September of last year,it was reported that the UNN had broken into the very prestigious Times Higher Education (THE) top 100 world rankings for 2018/2019 edition. UNN was also ranked 23rd in Africa. Could you tell us how all these feats were achieved ?.
Ozumba:Well, I think it is because we have appeared again on the world academic radar from where we disappeared for some time. I must tell you that our achievements here are being monitored globally and I feel they are impressed with what they see. Remember that the Times Higher Education ranking which was established in 2004 is the most prestigious and most objective platform for ranking universities globally. I am positive that the ranking will improve if the present levels of academic activities and tranquility are maintained.
Verbatim: We also heard that the UNN won the bidding to host the African Center Of Excellence on Sustainable Power and Energy Development (ACE- SPED).while a very lucrative new research center, the Environment For Development (EFD) was also established under you. What do you think will be the impact of these and their benefits to the university?.
Ozumba :I will say they will further add to the global visibility and prominence of our university. Already, I must remind you that our university is the best in Nigeria and one of the most respected in both the entire Africa and the world. These opportunities and projects will further give us fame, popularity, acceptance and recognition. The EFD for instance which will be fully funded by the Swedish International Development Agency(SIDA) will serve as a Research And Environment Policy Research Center (REPRC). This center is the only one of its kind in Nigeria and it was approved after a very competitive bidding in which only 3 out of 20 universities were successful.
Verbatim :Sir, we observed that you are still commissioning projects and also breaking the grounds for commencement of fresh ones in all of the three campuses of the university even when you are at the verge of leaving office. What is the driving force?.
Ozumba :Determination is the secret to success. I was determined from the start to change the face and rating of the university and I thank heavens I was able to achieve that. However most people wonder how I succeeded owing to paucity of funds but I am proud to tell you that I succeeded by sheer determination, meticulousness and sound financial engineering. Remember I operated during the height of economic recession and hyper-inflation but I was able to maneuver through and deliver.Let me tell you that I met a lot of projects abandoned on my assumption of office but am bold to say that they have all been delivered whilethose I initiated have also been delivered with some at completion stages.I amvery proud to say am leaving with no abandoned projects trailing behind. Honestly, my dreams are fulfilled and I am leaving with no regrets.
Verbatim :Could you list some of the projects you delivered in the university.
Ozumba: At the last count, about 17 projects have been delivered so far under me while 10 new projects including the central laboratory and the reconstruction of the Zik’s flat have been flagged off. Note that the Zik’s flats are duplexes built by the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, our founder to ease accommodation problems for our students. The structures were left to rot and dilapidate. I moved in to recover them in partnership with individual business men under a Build, Operate and Handover (BOT) arrangementwhere the investor will hand over the buildings back to the university after recovering money spent. I am happy I was able to achieve these. However I will add that I achieved most of these with international grants and internally generated revenue, IGR.
Verbatim: What other achievements did you record in the university.
Ozumba – When I came in, our accreditation was on a very poor 40% but Iam proud to announce that we now have 100% accreditation for all our courses from the National University’s Commission, NUC. I planned to run a modern university and am happy I achieved it. Remember that cultism and other crimes were totally eliminated during my administration as there was no single incident. This I achieved with my support for the school security department. By that, students were relaxed to study and excel and parents were also relaxed. Sometime ago, I was invited and honoured inDoharCatar as the Vice Chancellor of one of the best universities in the world. There are many more of such instances in Mumbai India and many other countries of the world. I started the institute for public health, infectious diseases and others here in our university in my desire to advance health related courses. Remember I am a gynecologist and also a Dean and later the Provost of the UNN medical school before now.
Verbatim:What really prompted you to do all these for UNN?.
Ozumba It is nothing but the quest for excellence. Remember I told you that I planned to run a very modern university. That is all. However, I also want to establish the fact that universities are not just learning and research centers. They should also bemade partnersof the government towards improving the economy of the country. To achieve these, the basics must be put in place and that was just what I tried to do.
Verbatim :Sir, it appears Nigeria, going by your track record of ingenuity, resourcefulness and achievements needs your kind for the growth of the country. Will you be ready to serve the country in any capacity if called upon to do so now that your tenure is ending?.
Ozumba : Why not. I will be prepared to serve my country to the best of my abilities.
Verbatim : Do you have any message for your successor sir?.
Ozumba:Yes I appeal to my successor to sustain the tempo on ground and even improve on it. We must continue to aim and work to ensure that the university we will hand over to the next generation is better than the one we inherited from our forebears.
Verbatim :How do you feel after a very successful tenure?.
Ozumba :Like I told you, my dreams have been fulfilled and I am leaving with no regrets.I have placed the University of Nigeria on irreversible part of growth and excellence. I did not come to paint buildings but I rather came to leave legacies. I will say I came, I saw and I conquered and I will also add that my projects and legacies should win international awards and even the nobel for UNN.
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