Might Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria aka ABU be walking towards own moment in terms of regaining lost glory through a culture of debates and critical analysis? That is what its brand new Vice-Chancellor, Prof Kabir Bala is saying when he eventually took over the office earlier today in Samaru, Zaria. His assumption of office brings to a close the tenure of the immediate past Vice-Chancellor, Geology professor, Ibrahim Garba who is leaving in disorderly circumstances even as the latest university Bulletin claims that the out gone VC has congratulated his successor.
Should the new VC follow through his words, then the university system in Nigeria might be returning to the era of healthy competition within each one and within the system. As things are today, even the NUC hierarchy talks openly about the University of Ibadan being ahead in terms of keeping alive basic university traditions basically because, as someone puts it, “no matter who you are, you cannot go to Ibadan and start doing just what you want”. Majority of the universities are perceived to be non-starters in this wise, substantially submerged by the values of extreme parochialism and inwardness as well as intellectual and academic corruption.
The new VC spoke specifically about taking ABU to regaining lost glory. His formula for achieving that is following due process, being guided by rules and regulations as well as abiding by the statuses establishing the principles and practices of the university.
There is consensus among ABU, Zaria academics that, of recent, the university had been operating like a local government. Asked to explain such claim, it was argued that the university has been grounded on subversion of due process, non observation of rules or regulations.
It is not just on the immediate past VC that the blame of the decline is being heaped but the past three successive administration, the SAP regime and the Northern establishment that, woefully, failed to insulate a place like Ahmadu Bello University from the vagaries of Nigerian politics. According to an interviewee, “when you say that no individual can just walk into Ibadan and start doing whatever he wants, it is connected to what the bourgeoisie of the catchment area of University of Ibadan would tolerate or not tolerate”.
The expectation now is that with someone such as Adamu Fika as Chairman of Council, the era of anyone walking into ABU, Zaria and beginning to do what he wants would be over and the university would find its way to do exactly as that particular paragraph in the late Sardauna’s speech as its first visitor. The Sardauna had said, amongst others, in a 1962 speech inaugurating ABU. Zaria’s that “The cardinal principle upon which our University is founded is to impart knowledge and learning to men and women of all races without any distinction on the grounds of race, religious or political beliefs. These principles are enshrined in the University Law. Only through freedom of membership and freedom of enquiry and research can a university be drawn into the full ferment of thought from which new knowledge comes. Only if it adheres to those freedoms can it become truly great. If our staff and students are drawn from all parts of the world, then the mixture of international minds working together in an atmosphere of academic freedom can produce a university true to its ideals and meanings”. I shall return to these enduring words later”.
This was a particularly striking paragraph in the Sardauna’s speech and which ABU, Zaria was basically living up to until the years of excessive authoritarian intrusion in pursuit of lecturers suspected to be radicalizing students by teaching “what they were not paid to teach”. A few decades after that, the North begot Boko Haram. The lesson is similar to the wisdom that says, ‘if education is too costly, try ignorance’.
This is not the first time that a versatile member of the Northern establishment was expected to put things right in Zaria. The late Mallam Adamu Ciroma was there under Umaru Musa Yar’Adua but he threw in the towel. When Intervention met him subsequently and asked why he did that, he said he could never have expected to hear some of the things he came to hear. He was frustrated by the degree of rot to the point of throwing in the towel, a move that surprised many: If an independent minded Adamu Ciroma could not clear the rot, who could do it better.
Some of the academics express certainty that their new VC will not acquire new mentality in office saying the idea of the university being led in a manner that it could regain lost glory is a shared sentiment in serious quarters within the campus as well as outside of it. Intervention understood that an informal caucus of senior professors who witnessed ABU’s rise to glorious height as well as its descent into crisis and fall are already at work in line with the new VC’s determination.
Intervention was reminded of a line in the new VC’s speech saying that the lack of voices signified by that of the late Bala Usman measures the loss of glory in question. Not everyone agreed with Bala Usman. Such a consensus would have been an anomaly in a university but Usman was tireless in problematising.
As he did that and others replied in agreement or disagreement with him and his camp, the university sustained living up the billing handed down by the late premier of Northern Nigeria under whom the university came into existence in the speech mentioned above. The wonder is how the Sardauna could say this in 1962 but not his successors 20, 30, 40 years later.
That is why it is trite at this point to say that all eyes are on ABU when its new VC has the courage to admit publicly that the place has been so rotten and there is need to work on regaining lost glory. But how far can he go if the rest of the society is not bothered? Prof Kabir Bala is a professor of Construction Management in the Faculty of Environmental Sciences. Described as a moderate, his educational journey has taken him from Barewa College, Zaria through Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and spending time at a UK university. Only time would tell what he makes of the opportunity!