By Ibrahim Sheme
When Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu was appointed on February 10, 2016 as the Vice-chancellor of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) by the federal government, he came with an uncommon zest to lift the institution to the next level of its development. He did not just come to do it “the way it has always been done”. Playing on the university’s acronym, he told anyone who cared to listen that he had come to move the premier Open and Distant Leaning (ODL) institution “from NOUN to verb”, clearly indicating that he had come for action.
One of the many groundbreaking actions he took was moving the university from its temporary headquarters in Lagos to its permanent site in Abuja. This singular act was one of the most revolutionary moves seen ever since the university came on stream in 1983. So many things had taken place under the previous two Vice-Chancellors, but this one was unique in its ripple effects. Some may equate it with the movement of the nation’s capital from the same city to the same city, which had some drawdown but was in large part the most sensible to do at the time.
To begin with, it was not even Adamu’s idea to relocate NOUN to Abuja; it was a move that had been in the pipeline for years. Under the former Vice-Chancellor, Professor Vincent Ado Tenebe, the land given by the government for the construction of the permanent headquarters in the Jabi area of the city had been fully developed, complete with Senate building which serves as the administrative block, faculty buildings, a teaching hospital and other structures.
The construction was funded by the Buhari Administration under the TETFUND programme. In fact, Adamu was taken aback when he first visited the site and discovered that the headquarters was almost ready to be occupied. All he needed to do was to connect it to electricity grid! With government approval, the process of moving from Lagos to Abuja was begun within the month he took over.
While some inconveniences were suffered, especially by staff who had to physically relocate to a “strange town”, the overall benefits to the university in the long run cannot be quantified. Those who conceived the idea of the relocation prior to Adamu’s appointment couldn’t have made a better judgment. The Abuja site was more spacious, modern, closer to the key government agencies NOUN has to relate with on a constant basis, and cost-effective.
Of course, some Nigerians who have been used to NOUN being in Lagos may have found the relocation unwelcome. It was a change matter, and some people naturally find change unsettling. They fear that change in whatever form can affect them negatively on a personal basis, not minding the overall benefits to both the institution and the nation. And they ask: what happens to the old structure?
Where NOUN is concerned, however, the old structure in Lagos remains. Administratively, the vice-chancellor as the chief executive officerhas moved, as well as many of the principal officers and support staff. But the former headquarters, located in Victoria Island, continues to be an integral part of the university. In fact, the Deputy Vice-chancellor (Academic), Prof. Patrick Eya, remains in Lagos to superintend the university’s many operations in the city.
This strategic move aims at ensuring that the relocation to Abuja is not felt adversely by the thousands of students of the university within the Lagos area and indeed the Southern states. All the academic activities of the university in Lagos are going on uninterrupted. The students there have seamlessly participated in the recent e-exams conducted by NOUN nationwide.
In Lagos, NOUN has six study centres. Two of them, McCarthy and NN Apapa, have 15,000 and 15,328 active students respectively. This makes Lagos the hub of the academic life of the university. None of the six study centres has been shut down or was affected by the relocation of the headquarters because, like in other states, the study centres are institutionalised in the states.
It would be interesting to know that many of the NOUN students in Lagos did not even know that the headquarters had moved to Abuja until several months later. That was due to the nature of the university’s distant learning system whereby the students scarcely find the need to visit the administrative centre for anything. All their needs are met at their study centres and online.
For them, even if NOUN was sited on the moon it would not make much difference since all their study needs are met. No shaking.
Sheme is the Director of Media and Publicity, National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN)