Professor Abdullahi Bala, the vice chancellor, Federal University of Technology, Minna, is a fellow of Soil Science Society of Nigeria and a renowned scholar of international repute. In this interview with Adelowo Oladipo, he speaks about his achievements in office in the last one year, the university’s plan on the N3billion high impact fund from TETfund and other issues.
How would you describe your experience in the last 18 months as the vice chancellor of FUTMinna?
So far, we thank God for His mercy and guidance. There have been challenges and there have also been successes, but in all, it has been a wonderful experience. I have been lucky to have come in as the vice chancellor as an insider. I have been working in the university for 30 years and within this period, I have served in different capacities and occupied certain positions, such as a head of department, director, deputy vice chancellor (administration) and later deputy vice chancellor (academics); but I have also at different times been a member of the council. All of these experiences have contributed to helping me in hitting the ground running.
In your address at the last convocation ceremony, you spoke about series of functional Memoranda of Understanding the university has signed with notable organisations. Can you share with us what the university is out to benefit from this move?
The MoUs we have signed are geared towards providing platforms for us to operate jointly with different notable groups. They are most importantly based on the Public Private Partnership (PPP) idea and they help in addressing a whole lot of issues, starting with the mandate of the university, which is teaching, research and community service. This is also applicable in the area of staff’s and student’s welfare. They are also needed for the university to be able to generate income from other sources. For instance, when I came on board as the VC, we knew that we would be faced with a serious shortfall of students’ accommodation because we have a students’ population of about 23,000 but we are only able to house just about 4,000 of them on campus. So, we were encouraged by the fact that we were able to quickly get partners in this regard. Urban Shelter Limited came in and it has signed an MoU with us to provide about 5,336 bed spaces within a period of four years, starting with about 1,344 for the first year. They have mobilised workers to site. We signed an MoU with estate developer, Harmelio Nigeria Limited. They are providing about 960 bed spaces and they have also mobilised to site. This move will increase the bed spaces by 6,000. We shall continue to engage others.
Moreover, we have been able to secure an approval by Huawei Technologies Limited, a Chinese multinational company, in the area of communication and they have granted us an ICT status. To this end, we shall train about 56 of our students in networking and give them certificates. There are other sets of MoUs that we have signed in order to enable the youth get access to education. They come under our affiliation programmes with polytechnics and colleges of education that have the mandate of running diploma and NCE (Nigeria Certificate in Education) programmes so that they can begin to run degree programmes. We got the approval of the National Universities Commission (NUC) on affiliation programmes with the Federal Polytechnic, Bida, Federal Polytechnic, Offa and Federal College of Education (Technical), Gusau.
Recently, your university got the Tertiary Education Trust Fund’s (TETFund) high impact fund of N3billion. What is the university’s plan for the money?
The university has not taken a final decision on what the money will be used for. We have three months to decide and make proposal to TETFund. Very soon, we are going to have a meeting with the Physical Planning and Development Committee. The committee will come up with a proposal, while the council takes the final decision. However, the ideas we are aggregating are coming from the retreat we had last year. We held a retreat on transitional committees and one of the issues discussed bordered on how to set our priorities right on the infrastructural projects the university should look at. Whatever decision we are taking will largely be guided by that particular recommendation. Some of those priorities range from relocation of the School of Life Sciences, School of Physical Sciences and getting a building for the School of Entrepreneurship and Management Technology; and then, there was this issue of 7.5 MVA step-down transformer and school auditorium. All of these issues will be looked at. Regarding the high impact fund, there are rules to accessing the money and TETFund expects that the money be expended across a minimum of two faculties and maximum of three faculties. So, we are looking at things in that manner.
Knowing that your predecessors, Professor M. S. Audu and Professor M. A. Akanji made several attempts during their tenures to get this fund, how did you feel about getting it in your tenure?
I was elated. This is something that is long overdue. Most of the other universities in the North-Central zone have had the high impact fund at different times. Each of the times we hoped the university would get it, it was instead given to another institution within the zone. I really appreciate the chairman of the governing council, Professor ‘Femi Odekunle, and other members of the council for their efforts. We all work hard for the fund to be released, so we all felt fulfilled that at last we were able to get it.
How has the university fared in terms of research and development under your leadership?
I think we have done well in the last one year. We succeeded in getting the partnership of the African Centre of Excellence for Mycotoxin and Food Safety. This is a World Bank-funded programme. So, that guaranteed us a minimum of at least $4 million, likely rising to the tune of $6 million dollars, and this will be on for about four to five years. This is a major achievement. Within the last one year, the university got another N9 million grant from the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development for the geological assessment of metallic minerals and mapping within the north central zone. Just recently, one of our staff also succeeded in getting a $12,000 grant from the International Foundation of Science (IFS). We also have a number of our staff who are at the verge of getting TETFund’s National Research Fund. At least, two of them are going to get a minimum of $30 million each from it. They have already been given letters to this effect, only that there are some adjustments that need to be made.
There is a team led by Professor Z. D. Osunde that recently got a grant from the Raw Materials Research and Development Council. We also have a team from Mechatronics that are also going to get a grant from Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). So, we have a number of grants coming in terms of research and development.
What about the area of staff training and development?
I’m happy to say that in the last one year, 48 of our staff were sent out for a postgraduate education. Currently, in all we have about 118 of our staff out there on various kinds of postgraduate education. We would have had more, but we are beginning to encounter some problems in the aspect of accessing funds that are allocated to us by TETFund for staff training and development. This is due to some of the strict conditions involved. So, we are working on how we can increase access to the funds. I think we have close to $40 million available to us to send our staff on trainings. We have also sponsored about 117 or so to conferences within and outside the country. To address some areas of needs in the university, we have as well sent quite a number of both academic and non-teaching staff members of the university on short-term training and courses. The university is really doing well. Thanks to the staff, students and the governing council for their cooperation. The present council has been the most active and facilitating in recent times. It has not only given us quite a chunk of its support, but has also gone out of its way to facilitate and fund some projects in the university. I believe we are doing well. I pray and hope that we will continue along this trajectory.