Na’Allah’s silent revolution at the University of Abuja
Until perhaps, in recent times, not many candidates seeking admission to Nigerian universities were eager to apply to the University of Abuja. The 35- year- an old institution which took off from three blocks of building at Gwagwalada was once dubbed a “glorified secondary school,” especially for its pristine and not- so promising environment.
Now, that image belongs to history. The University has, over time, risen – albeit slowly and steadily – bestriding two campuses in Gwagwlada and Giri. From a few thousand applications for admission in the early 90s, it presently boasts of between 38,000 and 40,000 candidates applying to the University to study different courses of their choice.
What has changed?
The University’s strategic location in the country as well as its status as the only Federal university in the capital city, Abuja; the management’s insistence on admitting from every state of Nigeria and Abuja; and the rapid development and expansion embarked upon by its present management, are factors responsible for this change. In the last three and half years, the institution’s management under the leadership of the vice-chancellor, Professor Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah, has been working around the clock to change the trajectory its story.
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Na’Allah’s dream to leave a legacy of leading the University to join the ranks of world-class Universities is well known. He is often quoted to have said, “If Abuja is number one city in Nigeria, the University of Abuja has to be the number one University in the country.”
To actualize this dream, he had begun his tenure by strengthening academic and physical development in the University and creating an enabling environment for the students and staff, among others. As of today, several projects dot that have taken off from 2019.
Most recent development is the founding of four faculties which will bring the number of faculties in the University to 16. The new faculties include Faculty of Nursing and Allied Health Services, Faculty of Communication and Media Studies, Faculty of Environmental Studies, and Faculty of Pharmaceutical Science. There are also at least 80 departments across these faculties.
A related progress in the University is the introduction of centres and institutes which were hitherto non-existent, and the strengthening of the already existing ones when Na’Allah assumed office in 2019.
They include the Centre for Paramedics & Emergency Health Services, Centre for Security and Legal Studies, C e n t r e f o r C o m m u n i t y Development, Institute of Natural Medicine, Centre for Spanish Language Studies, U n i v e r s i t y C e n t r e f o r Sustainable Development, Abuja Leadership Centre, Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Research, Institute of Advanced Medical Research & Training, Centre for migration, International Centre, Centre for Undergraduate Research, and Centre for Sponsored Projects.
The centre for Sponsored Projects and Centre for Undergraduate Research, particularly, have been central to boosting the research base of the University. Last year alone, the University raked in more than 1 billion research grants. This has never happened in the history of this university before. Besides, 10 undergraduate students in the same year also won the sum of N3.7 million naira as research grant covering thematic areas including economic prosperity, quality health issues, food security, climate change, and governance.
This recent journey has its set back in the eight month-old-strike by the unions and the COVID-19 pandemic as the academic calendar got disrupted and the internally generated revenue plummeted. The university struggled through to complete some its projects including academic conference centre, indoor sports hall, staff social centre using its IGR, but projects such as the building of 25,000 bed spaces through public private partnership for its teeming students have suffered delay.
While the management of the University was recovering from the disruptions in the calendar and trying to stabilise, the National Universities Commission (NUC) ordered a three-week closure of universities for the 2023 election.
That decision, according to the vice-chancellor has a devastating implication as it dealt a big blow to the UofA’S effort to recover from previous disruptions. Na’Allah’s attempt to close this gap with virtual lecture which he experimented at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic isn’t paying much as the combined forces of occasional glitch in digital technology, lecturers’ deployment as observers in the 2023 elections, and students’ general apathy to the break, have stymied its effectiveness. It is probable that when the students return to school next week, following the conclusion of the gubernatorial and house of assembly elections, they might be starting again from where they stopped last month.
Though Na’Allah’s leadership experience as a long serving vice chancellor will be brought to bear on this disorder, how his management balances the crisis of depleting revenue, disruptions in the academic calendar and general infrastructural development remains for time to decide.