Ayodeji Ake highlights the efforts of Prof. Abubakar Kundiri’s rapid transformation agenda, which has transformed young and ‘obscure’ Federal University, Wukari, Taraba into a globally recognised citadel, boosting business activities in the Wukari community
In addressing the problem of access to quality tertiary education, the Federal Ministry of Education decided to implement educational development policy across Nigeria. Subsequently, the establishment of federal tertiary institutions in every state where they did not exist.
The Federal University Wukari was formerly the Wukari campus of the Taraba State Polytechnic, housing the school of administration and business studies until it was donated to the federal government for the take-off of the university initiative under ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. In 2011, Federal University, Wukari (FUWUKARI), was established. In 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Prof. Abubakar Kundiri as the university’s vice-chancellor. Since that time, Kundiri’s name has been written in gold for spurring academic and infrastructural development.
The Federal University, Wukari Prof. Kundiri Met
In 2016, when Kundiri assumed office as the vice-chancellor, the institution could not boast of accredited academic programmes. For the almost six years that followed its founding, the university could only boast two faculty buildings, ICT centre, library and central administrative building.
Residents of Wukari and neighbouring communities were not keen on sending their youngsters to the university. “It was just like a glorified secondary school with many of its courses not accredited, so our young people were still going to other places in search of higher education,” a resident Yunus Akwana said.
Kundiri told the story better.
“When I took over the university, there were no real physical infrastructures that qualify it to be called a university. However, one infrastructure that stood tall was a good road network. The vice-chancellor that I succeeded actually invested mainly in the construction of roads but did not pay attention to building the real physical infrastructures that make up or characterise a university,” disclosed Kundiri.
There are other problems.
The university’s vice-chancellor further revealed there was no “form of accreditation, whether interim or full, for all the courses that were offered in the university; violation of due process and lack of observance of appointment,” including promotion rules and guidelines of universities.
“Largely, when I assumed office, the Federal University, Wukari, had experienced stunted growth compared to the other federal universities established at the same time,” he pointed out. “I did not dwell much on the situation but sought to reverse the challenges that were responsible for the problem.”
Armed with a blueprint to change the university’s fortunes to a citadel of quality education for not only Taraba youths but for all Nigerians, Kundiri was not for a moment mistaken about what he needed to do.
“I came to the university to ensure that it should strive to attain the objectives for which it was established. To do this, there must be strategic planning,” explained Kundiri. “This was why the first thing I did as vice-chancellor was developing a strategic plan to support a coordinated approach to attaining our goals. This plan helped us to identify our goals, assign responsibilities and the timeline for achieving them.”
Today, FUWUKARI is among the best and finest tertiary institutions Nigeria can boast of, with increased and accredited academic programmes in serene and conducive lecturing theatres for applaudable academic performances of the students. The institution now boasts of faculties like Agriculture and Life Sciences, Humanities, Management and Social Sciences, and Pure and Applied Sciences. The Faculties of Education, Engineering and Technology, Law and College of Medical Sciences were established, and a School of Postgraduate Studies.
The university currently has 25 academic departments offering 27 undergraduate degree programmes under Kundiri’s watch.
“Infrastructure is key to the university attaining the objective of being first-rate in the country. For this reason, we have transformed the campus from a small entity featuring buildings inherited from Taraba State Polytechnic to a vast expanse of edifices housing the various faculties of the institution,” the VC stated. “There are also lecture theatres and classrooms of varying sizes. We have completed the new Library and Information Centre, ICT Centre; two computer-based testing facilities, a convocation square and professorial offices. There are also new students’ hostels for males and females.”
In addition, Kundiri’s administration constructed several kilometres of roads linking different parts of the university, set up water generation and supply systems, and install electricity supply facilities, including alternative power systems.
“Accommodation has also been provided for all principal officers of the institution encompassing both academic and non-academic staff at all levels including professional, technical and junior staff,” he added. “Another key area is the development of human resources, which led to the training of academic staff to the doctoral levels as well as capacity development of all cadres’ academic staff. We have also been being doing well in forging partnerships with relevant agencies and institutions as a strategy to develop the university.”
This has attracted a lot of support in terms of physical and material development. Furthermore, the institution has been engaging in community development and outreach activities, reducing tension in the community and preparing local students for entry into higher education.
Recounting lessons learnt from his experience, Kundiri stated, “To always have an open and objective mindset and be committed. These have helped me throughout my personal and professional careers.” Kundiri highlighted the importance of human resources management, explaining how he could harness human resources to yield positive results.
“It is necessary to note that in leading people and working to maximise their capacities, adequate attention must be paid to identifying strengths as well as supporting the transformation of weaknesses to strengths,” the university honcho mentioned. “There is also the challenge of those that may not, no matter how you try, share your approaches to making progress. In situations like this, you have to ensure that their approaches do not disrupt the objectives sought for the wider good.”
He paid attention to addressing the challenges. One of the issues dealt with was ensuring that all staff “are properly placed” according to their capacities. “To do this, Kundiri and his team had to develop, “using the expertise of diverse professionals within Nigeria,” the necessary documents to serve as a guide to placement of staff, both academic and non-academic.
Following that, the university management set about correctly placing all staff in their merited positions. This entailed that many had their levels reviewed upwards, while others had theirs reviewed downwards. “Coupled with this was the timely assessment,” explained Kundiri, “of all staff so that they were promoted as and when due. What all these did was to bring about increased productivity, and when you have productive staff, it supports the growth of the institution.”
University autonomy is meant to grow Nigeria’s universities, allowing the institutions to search and identify the best hand to provide leadership according to their requirements, said Kundiri.
He added, “This is opposed to the old system whereby a number of considerations outside the university system were allowed to interfere with the processes. I would say that the principles of autonomy in the university system are still a work in progress. As such, each university, through its governing council, should continue to strive to bring about the best for their respective institutions.”
With an increasing student population of over 7,000, the Federal University Wukari recently won the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board’s (JAMB) National Tertiary Admissions’ Performance-Merit Award (NATAP-M Award) as the most improved institution in gender balance across the country.
“I naturally felt good and proud for us all in the institution. It is not only recognition of our commitment to excellence but also the drive to enhance equitable access to higher education. Equity or gender balance is essential to the development objectives of Nigeria. Be it the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or other global commitments to development, and gender balance is key,” the VC noted. “Our university is working to put this at the front burner because it will help in ensuring that every section of the citizenry has the opportunity to contribute to national development.”
Bringing Glory to Wukari
Kundiri’s impact has been felt within and beyond the walls of the institution. First, the increasing population has been a blessing for business owners in the host community, with many saying the university under his leadership brought glory to Wukari and environs. The Aku Uka of Wukari and Chairman, Taraba State Council of Traditional Rulers, Dr Shekarau Angyu Masa Ibi II, while presenting an award of excellence to Kundiri recently, commended him for transforming the university.
“Today, we are all proud of what you have done at the federal university. You brought glory to Wukari Land because of how you transformed the university from a glorified secondary school to a world-standard institution of higher learning,” said Ibi. “The university is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with in the northeast, placing the community on a global map. We are always proud of you and grateful for your contribution to the development of the university.”
Also, the Vice-Chairman of Wukari local government, Tijani Sale, said: “Aside from our yams that attract people from all over the country, the Federal University Wukari has added glory to us. The university now comfortably competes with other institutions anywhere in the country.”