Professor Hilary Odo Edeoga is the immediate past Vice Chancellor, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture Umudike, Abia state. In this exclusive chat, the university administrator told LINUS ALEKE that his contribution to the fiscal; academic, development and advancement of the Ivory tower is un-rivalry. He also spoke on other sundry issues concerning university administration while refuting in strong terms some allegations by his successor that he is responsible for his inability to deliver on his mandate as Vice Chancellor.
Your successor said that you amplified your achievements in the office through the use of propaganda, how valid is such allegation?
Last month made it exactly twelve months that I left office as the 4th Vice Chancellor of the university and the incumbent Vice Chancellor took over the mantle of leadership of the institution. Luckily, there are documented evidences of the debilitating and backward condition of the university when I took over leadership of the school in first Match 2011, as well as the condition I left the university on February 29, 2016. Before I handed over power to the current Vice Chancellor, I pleaded with him to strive hard to surpass whatever achievements I recorded during my tenure so that Nigerian university system, particularly Umudike would have a place in the world map when universities are been ranked. Because mine, was just the humble effort of a university administrator who worked hard to actualize his vision and philosophy of building a mega university in this part of the country. A super institution of higher learning that you can walk in; and find every facet of human knowledge to the benefit of the society and mankind in particular, so I am really surprised and dumfounded to hear that there are allegations of lack of performance against my administration. But I can assure you that these allegations are diversionary and incorrect. The incumbent Vice Chancellor is a gentle man, an academician and of course a professor, I do not believe that he can tell lies, I do not believe that he is capable of distorting fact to achieve preconceived end. The evidences are visible and verifiable that any person who cares can go round the university to investigate and cross check the facts so as to know who had really paid his dues as a university administrator. My achievements in the university are indelible, so I do not need to blow my own trumpet.
Did you really overstaff the institution with personnel from your state while you reigned as Vice Chancellor in the school?
That is also far from the truth. I inherited student population of less than seven thousand when I assumed office in 2011, but I left the school with student population of over twenty nine thousand. So my critics are being economical with the truth or they are erroneously expecting the university to continue to maintain the same number of staff that taught less than seven thousand students to also attend to thirty thousand student populations. That would be irrational in my humble opinion. Besides, if you are to judge the issue on the basis of staff to student ratio, you will discover that the institution is still understaffed. To be frank with you, no staff was employed or promoted under my watch without strict adherence to the laid down guidelines. In fact, the Federal Character Commission’s officials were always in the school to ensure that our employment adhere strictly to the stipulated principles and procedures whenever there is need to employ new staff. Secondly, no staff was employed under me without budgetary provision in the university wage bill. Thanks to the Treasury Single Account (TSA) because no staff is paid differently from the TSA platform. It is also on record that I did not leave any wage bill unpaid when I left office as VC. The few times I had shortfall, I had to augment with Internally Generated Revenue, so their allegations are baseless.
Is it also true that the institution could not access the 2014 TEDFUND because of your inability to account for the previous funds released to the school while you were in office as Vice Chancellor?
There is no iota of truth in such blind and blatant allegation, when I took over as Vice Chancellor, the university was still battling with the 2007/08 TEDFUND project. I came in, completed it, accessed 2008/09; access 2009/10, access 2010/11, access 2011/12, and access 2012/13. But the condition for accessing 2013/14 is that you must have retired the previous funds. Meanwhile, it is on record that the administration I succeeded could not even retire the 2007/08 fund. So I inherited it and completed it and access the fund till 2013 without obstruction. What the new administration ought to do is to retire the 2013 fund by continuing with the ongoing projects just as I did when I assumed office rather than this cheap black mail and blame game he is engaged in currently. Why should I be blamed for his inability to complete the documentation of the 2013/14 in order to access new fund from TEDFUND. It is indeed imperative for academicians and professors to scrutinize record of files correctly before making spurious allegations, after all there are hand over note that contain most of these information. You can go round the institution and see some of these TEDFUND projects and my name are boldly crested on them. And at the end of your evaluation tour, you will then decipher who is telling the truth.
Is it true that you used your position to favour Enugu indigenes in post graduate admission thereby overpopulating the institution and overstretching the facilities, a situation some critics said led to the fall in standard of postgraduate studies in the school?
I do not understand what they meant by the phrase ‘fall in standard of postgraduate studies’, listen very carefully, in a university system, the Vice Chancellor does not have the power to admit postgraduate students. The department, faculties or colleges as it is referred to in this school, and the academic board of postgraduate screens, select and shortlists the candidates that would be forwarded to the university Senate which I was just one member and Chairman of Council and requests that they be admitted having satisfied all the criterion of the school. I do not have direct dealing with postgraduate admission, so how would I have populated the PG programme with my people from Enugu. In fact I had contributed tremendously to the advancement and development of postgraduate studies in the university by attracting a special funding from TEDFUND that we used to construct lecture theatre, library and laboratories. It was because of my contribution to the development of post graduate studies in this school that the council of the university recommended that the postgraduate school should be name after me as a parting gift to me but the new VC refused to implement that resolution. The council’s decision to name the building after me was born out of their desire to appreciate my enormous contribution in the development of the institution.
Do you have any issue with your successor?
Not at all, in fact since I left office I had not asked him of any favour and he refuses to give me.
Why in your own imagination is all this trouble steering up from?
I do not believe that the Vice Chancellor have anything against me because I do not have anything against him, I am a Christian and I believe he is also a Christian but I suspect that it might be people who want to obtain one favour or the other from him that are feeding him some of this false information in an effort to get what they want but it is unfortunate that he seem to be yielding to such deceit, if some of these allegations are something to go by. I make this assumption out of experience because I had also traveled this same route as a leader. When I was the Vice Chancellor, some lecturers would come to me to tell me that Mr. A or B did so, so and so against me but what I did to ascertain the veracity of the stories, complaints or blackmail is to call the person involved and asked the story teller to repeat himself before the alleged evil man who want me out of office.
You had been accused of using the student union to destabilize the current administration in the institution, how valid is such allegation?
You called it allegation and that is exactly what it is because it is unsubstantiated, how can any reasonable fellow allege that his inability to perform his responsibility is hinged on distraction from student unions orchestrated by a former Vice Chancellor. That is laughable. What is my relationship with the student union? Is he reducing me to a student or what? If he has issues with the student union, he should devise a strategy of tackling it and not dragging innocent people into his personal failures. Be that as it may, I do not believe that the Vice Chancellor made such porous allegation against my person because he has no basis to do that. We are not struggling over anything; I had contributed my best to the development of the institution so it is his turn to do his best. If really he made such allegation it is unfortunate and an insult to my person.
You were also alleged to have introduced courses outside the core mandate of the school for pecuniary reasons?
Well, the question would be which are those courses that were introduced outside the school’s core mandate? I introduced some business courses like accountancy to train our students to be able to write proposal and a bankable business plan because agriculture is now a business. We had to move away from the concept of training students on how to produce food and it ends there, agriculture is now a great business and we are obligated as school administrators and academicians to upgrade the scope so as to move with the rest of the world. We also introduced Mass Communication to advance the cause of extension services. The radio station of the department of Mass Communication is received by all the communities surrounding the institution and you and I know the impact of radio on villagers. When there is a new method of farming or improved seeds and they get the information from the radio, they take it seriously. So we do not need to employ extension workers to be able to disseminate new innovation in agriculture to the general public. They also queried the rationale behind the introduction of philosophy and peace and conflict resolution. The fact that philosophy is a mandatory course for every student in their first year irrespective of course of study underscores its importance in academic development. We are also not unmindful of the incessant clashes between the Fulani nomads and farmers across the country. So there is need to train a critical mass of intellectuals and professionals that can step in to broker peace between the warring factions. Therefore, my decision to introduce those courses was anchored on genuine intention to advance the school and not any pecuniary interest as been alleged.