Opinion

Abdulkareem And His Revival At Unilorin – By Best Agbese

In those days, the graduates of the University of Ilorin (Unilorin) pranced the land with mercurial elegance as proud products of one of Nigeria’s best second-generation universities. But this aura suddenly faded and over the years graduates of the varsity faced character discrimination in the labour market.

The decades of bickering between splinter factions of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) within the university, which led to the severance of ASUU-Unilorin branch from the national body shattered academic excellence on the campus. It insidiously affected public rating of the university by moralists.

Although, the duration of internal confrontations among factions of academic staff of the university spanning over 20 years, entrenched an uninterrupted academic calendar for the happenstance of exclusion from incessant ASUU strikes, it nevertheless, adversely affected the varsity in other areas. The coherence of teaching staff, necessary unity and the cordial interpersonal relationships between students and lecturers suffered strains. And in some cases, outright bruises on both parties.

Ostensibly, the cat and dog atmosphere on campus, ennobled by warring ASUU factions affected the quality of research and learning as well as the time-tested culture of collaborative understanding in the pursuit of academic excellence. Students were also aware of the redlines among their teachers and, proper intellectual development and moral upbringing also suffered some blot and drawbacks as a consequence of the union members’ fisticuffs.

Successive Vice Chancellors of the university, frequently boasted of a stable and sacrosanct academic calendar timeline as “the hallmark of the university,” which attracted a sea of admission seekers within and outside the country. But deep down their hearts, there was a void of an unstable workplace steep in cold animosity.

The scenario groomed students who probably could have been fit in academics. But the students must have been possibly defective in character, as they rather saliently learnt from their teachers, bitter unionism, irreconcilable differences and mastery of endless feuds as a way of life. The sacred universal doctrine of universities is that degree certificates are awarded only to students found worthy in “character and learning,” and the latter virtue was unwittingly abused by decades of bickering in ASUU-UniIorin.

Interestingly, before the incumbency of Professor Sulyman Age Abdulkareem as the Vice Chancellor of the University of Ilorin, (VC-Unilorin), successive ASUU leaderships in the university made series of fruitless attempts to reabsorb itself with the national body of ASUU. And Prof. Abdulrasheed Adeoye’s led leadership of ASUU-Unilorin held several reconciliation parleys with the national ASUU under the midwife of the ASUU Zonal Secretariat.

Similarly, desperate efforts were made by Dr. Usman Raheem (now, a professor) to reunite ASUU-Unilorin with the national ASUU family. Unfortunately, these attempts flopped as a result of the stiff terms and conditions thrown up. But apparently, majority of teaching staff of the university were enthusiastic and willing to reintegrate with their parent national body.

The eagerness of ASUU-Unilorin to rejoin the national body was spurred by the years of humiliations, alienations and discriminations its members suffered from colleagues in other universities across the country. It dealt a heavy psychological blow on most of them. That the ultimate reintegration happened under Prof. Abdulkareem’s tenure is a coincidence that has confirmed his sincerity of purpose and passion for staff development in all nuances.

So, early in Year 2020, ASUU Unilorin branch regained its membership of the national body and participated in the strike declared by the national body to protest the failure of the federal government to implement the 2009 ASUU-FGN agreement, the 2013 Memorandum of Understanding and the 2017 Memorandum of Action and the subsequent other activities of the ASUU national body.

So, the 2017 emergence of Prof. Abdulkareem, a renowned chemical engineer, thoroughbred academic, and inventor per excellence, as the VC- Unilorin descended blessings on the institution from different angles. No doubt, he was confronted with daunting multiple challenges. But unfazed by the enormity of challenges, he trudged on confidently with a principal focus on staff and student’s welfare as well as human resources development.

Prof. Abdulkareem recognized the importance of quality human resources development to drive development in the varsity’s immediate host community and the country generally. And so, he prioritized staff and student’s welfare as the main drivers of this agenda.

The ideal and motivating work environment which eluded the Unilorin campus was restored comfortingly, as expressed in the frustrations while it lasted, clearly lamented by a former branch Chairman of ASUU-Unilorin, Professor Salihu Ajao. He excitedly bawled the sentiments; “It is a good omen for the branch to return to the national body as his members had suffered various discriminations and embarrassments during the twenty years of fighting the national body.”

Consequently, UniIorin rebounded back to its glorious days as a leading citadel for learning, research and technology as well as the giant of students’ academic excellence. In the last one-year, Unilorin has re-ebbed its niche on home-grown technological solutions to the multiple local challenges in the country.

The duo of researchers at the varsity, Professor Bamidele Owoeye, the Head, Department of Physiology, and a Ph.D candidate in the department, Ahmed Bakare have established the potency of Bromelain derived from pineapple fruits in the effective management of COVID-19 cases in patients. The publication is entitled: “Bromelain reduced Pro-Inflammatory Mediators as A Common Pathway that Mediate Antinociceptive and Anti-anxiety Effects in Sciatic Nerve Litigated Wistar Rats,” which further scientific medical scrutiny and endorsement would add to the multiple other subsisting options of managing the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.

Through the tireless efforts of the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Abdulkareem, the famed inventor of the” Age Sulyman’s oil spillage clean-up machine,” UniIlorin has recorded other numerous major research breakthroughs by both staff and students of the institution. These include, the development of a speed breaker device; invention of an anti-electricity power- theft device and the innovation of an oil spillage management product which is already in the market and effective.

Also, a machine capable of producing different shapes of pencil in commercial quantities has also been fabricated and Unilorin is at the verge of the discovery of a potential treatment and cure for the deadly Tuberculous disease.

An excitingly manifested result of a revived and stabilized Unilorin has seen a proportionate rise in brilliant academic performances of students. At the university’s 35th Convocation Ceremony, 130 students bagged First Class degrees in various disciplines; whilst 2,902 graduates bagged Second Class Upper Division.

The laurels of excellence to Unilorin, under Prof. Abulkareem who recently emerged, the Chairman, the Committee of Vice Chancellors in Nigeria have kept expanding. In the 2019 Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) awards for excellent performance in admission processes in the country at the Second edition of the National Tertiary Admissions Performance Merit Award for 2019 held in Abuja, UniIorin cornered two awards. The institution outshined others in the categories of Most Subscribed Institution by Candidates and, the Institution with Highest Number of Admitted International Students. It earned the varsity a cash reward of N75 million.

The outbreak of COVID-19 was a major setback to most institutions of higher learning in the country, but UniIlorin outsmarted it. Long closures of schools or lockdown compelled the varsity to resort to e-learning for the convenience and safety of both staff and students. Lectures and assessments were smoothly conducted online and, all necessary arrangements were put in place for a hitch-free online classes or contacts between lecturers and students.

In recognition of the plight and economic hardships caused by COVID-19 lockdown nationwide, the Kwara State Government through the directive of Gov. AbdulRahman AbdulRasak reached out to staff of UniIorin with palliatives to cushion the effects of the hardships on the university community.

In his usual magnanimity and concern for the welfare of low cadre staff, the Vice Chancellor identified 643 staff on CONTISS 1 and 2, and other departmental staff of the university as the most vulnerable, and graciously shared the COVID-19 food palliatives to them. The palliatives comprised assorted food items.

Additionally, Prof. Abdulkareem perceived the Unilorin university community as very susceptible to the COVID-19 epidemic and a formidable vector of its spread. Therefore, the Vice Chancellor has placed an eagle eye on policing the varsity campus in this period.

He constituted and empowered a Coronavirus Prevention Committee of the University of Ilorin on COVID-19 to fully enforce all COVID-19 protocols and very strictly on campus. He ensured the ceaseless supply of disinfectants to the university community, soap and water, hand Wash spots, face masks and sanitizers.

Prof. Abdulkareem has not relented on his oars in sticking to standard practices in the university. He has attached ultimate premium to the promotion of deserving staff of the varsity. Academic staff are happy and encouraged to put it their best because the university management under Prof. Abdulkareem institutionalized timely and unhindered promotions once the rules are met. He is celebrated on campus by both staff and students as a symbol of fairness and justice as well as uncommon passion for staff welfare. He believes in the doctrine of give to Caesar what is Caesar and to God, what is God’s.

Therefore, Prof. Abdulkareem has set UniIlorin on a high operational pedestal to the point of emulation of his entrenched standards by other upcoming universities. Recently, Prof. Noah Yusuf, the Vice-Chancellor {V-C} of Al-Hikmah University, also located in Ilorin, Kwara state led a team of delegation to UniIlorin to understudy the secrets of its success story in varsity administration. The team also inspected UniIorin’s Entrepreneurial Skills Acquisition Center, which Prof. Abdulkareem has transformed and magnified into a national asset for practical skills acquisition for young Nigerians.

With these measures by the Prof. Abdulkareem administration, actively backed by the university management, coupled with the sustained focus on the welfare of students and staff, UniIlorin has graciously reclaimed its lost glory. It is now cruising higher on the crucible of academic excellence.

Agbese, Unilorin Alumnus is a researcher at University of Dundee, Scotland.

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