Alhaji Abdulrahman Idris is the Chairman of Board of Trustees of the newly licensed ATIBA University Oyo, in Oyo State Nigeria. In this interview, he traces the origin and the history of the University, the challenges envisaged and the plan to stand ATIBA University out as a world class university. Excerpts.
What do you think can stand ATIBA University out among the numerous private universities in Nigeria, in view of the competitive natures of these Institutions?
That we have ATIBA University licensed today has been hectic and a very long journey of 15 years. Ordinarily, in view of what we passed through, we should value the license and coming into being of the University. The longer and difficult the journey, the sweeter the success story. We shall strive to put in our best in ensuring that ATIBA remains one of the best Universities in Nigeria and even beyond – Amen.
After all, it was not something we got on a platter of gold. We really worked hard for it and thank God Almighty for enabling us to achieve the success story that it is. Accordingly, it is our ardent desire and hope to give ATIBA a superlative and competitive edge over its contemporaries and even the older Ivory Towers. What then shall be our selling point over and above the others?
Firstly, we have put all the relevant machinery at our disposal to make it work. This is due to the fact that we have long years of preparations and in the process identified the major and specific problems/crisis of the Nigerian University System. We specifically came up with responses on each specific concerns. We have put in all necessary working structures and facilities in place. We have dealt with the all-important issues of space by acquiring a vast expanse of land for future expansion.
Secondly, we intend to have a university that will answer in clear and emphatic terms the functional and practical needs of the society. We shall have courses on Entrepreneurial Studies so that we have creators rather that seekers of job
Thirdly, we intend to adopt an Inter-disciplinary approach in our curricular as to make our graduates well rounded. In the fourth stead, we intend to integrate teaching models and modules. These are our selling points which will give a cutting and competitive edge. We intend to hit the ground running, Insha-Allah (God willing).
Now that you have obtained the license and ready to take off, what are the expectations from your end?
With my response to the first question, the Nigerian public should definitely expect the best. Though we are starting with only three faculties, 11 departments and 19 programmes, the best should be expected. We will begin our admission with only 500 students.
This is a solely to ensure that the existing structures and facilities on ground adequately meet the demands (or needs) of the students. It is improper to admit more that we can serve efficiently. By this, we are simply avoiding and averting one of the major crisis (or problems) of the Nigerian University System where the crisis of space (and accommodation) is prevalent because the existing facilities on ground cannot cope with the number(s) of the students. People should expect the best in terms of quality teaching, quality learning environment and quality facilities. Qualitative education is our prime objective. Ours is a world class citadel where global University standards, procedures and bets practice will not be compromised but strictly observed. Let it be emphatically observed that there is a clear nexus (or causal link) between the progress of a nation on one hand and the quality of education of its citizenry on the other.
There is no doubt that running a private university is capital intensive, unlike the public universities that get assistance from government through the Tertiary Education Trust Funds (TETFUND), what efforts are proprietors of private universities making to access or enjoy this fund?
You have stated a fact. We know it and are assiduously working on the issue. The crisis of finance is the major problem of the entire Nigerian University System (be it the public or private universities). We had detailed discussions with all relevant stakeholders on the subject.
Indeed, the present Government has, at the highest level of officialdom decided that very soon the issue of financial assistance to private Universities will be looked into by the Tertiary Education Fund (TETFUND). We trust the Government. Additionally, Consultancy Services and such other strategies for raising funds are being marshalled out and articulated by our Team of Consultants and Implementation Committee (Take-off Committee).
In view of the fact that the university is ready to start admitting students in readiness for academic programmes, what are the criteria for admissions?
Admission into universities is one matter that the latter acts in conjunction with the National Universities Commission (NUC), the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and such other stakeholders. There are laid down criteria and requirements alongside specific procedures and we (at ATIBA) resolve to strictly adhere with them so as to ensure quality standards.
What are the challenges that you think the university may face at this initial stage of take-off and if there are any, how do you intend to confront such challenges?
There is not one challenge but challenges. First, there is presently the challenge of time. We have a short time to swing into full action.
We have to complete the admission processes as soon as possible and time is insufficient. The admission process needs to be done articulately, meticulously and equitably (or justly). These are difficult and time-consuming acts. We must avoid emotions and sentimentalism in all that we do. This is yet another challenge. Thirdly, there is the challenge of external pressure either for admission or employment. I must confessthat our human challenges daunt us more than other kinds of challenges (e.g. operational challenges). But, we are coping well with both categories of challenges. We are facing all these at our own pace.
ATiBA University Oyo is located in the South West and you, as the Chairman of BOT, are from the North. Is the principle of Federal Character not going to play a crucial factor in selecting the principal officers of the university?
The principle of Federal Character will not be a crucial factor in the management and operations of ATIBA. That, I am a northerner has nothing to do with quality education. There is no better legacy one can bequeath than good quality education. That is why we are in. we want to get the best and go by the best. We shall endeavor to operate the best academic market anywhere in the world. Accordingly, the Federal Character principle will not be a fundamental but incidental factor. By this, I mean people in the catchment area of the University will be accorded some measure of consideration but only after all fundamentals of meritorious cases have been considered.
In other words, while the interests of the people of the locality will not be ignored, local interest will not be of immediate and prime relevance. The best and only the best will be accorded such priority relevance.
Having said this, it is however, instructive to add that the University will operate in such a way to give the governments within the jurisdiction of the university revenue. Since we also intend to expand the frontiers of agriculture as a major discipline, you can be rest assured that the people of the locality will be gainfully employed.
Is the university going to adopt the scholarship approach in sponsoring indigents but brilliant students, or are there any measures to cushion the effect of high school fees?
That is a very good question. The issue was recently tabled at our stakeholders meeting. We have set up a Committee comprising eminent and seasonal scholars. We call the “Take-off Committee”. They are currently working on this and other relevant concerns. At the end of the day, they would come up with acceptable positions or arrangements that are practically workable and in tandem with contemporary realities. Definitely, we are going to put indigent students in our consideration and agenda. We must give them chance. Indigents (or poverty) is a reality. And it will be a tragedy to allow it to obstruct the educational or any form of personal development. After all, education is a social service. It is a national tragedy for us to continue to allow poverty to remain an obstacle to education.