ABU Convocation Series: Technological Impacts and Opportunities (I) Breakthrough with Professor MK Othman

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Annually, university communities in most Anglophone countries look forward to the Convocation ceremony. Usually on this day, graduating students, lecturers, parents, other students and well-wishers gorgeously dress to charmingly look different from the usual working days. It is on this day even the old professors who are not fussy about the expensiveness of their dresses have to ransack their wardrobes to fish out the most expensive suit or Agbada to mark the momentous occasion. The day is extraordinarily jubilated by all and sundry with smiles worn by everyone including the supposedly security personnel who should look stern and business-like at all times while on duty. This was the scenario played at the Convocation square of Ahmadu Bello University Zaria in the morning of 25thNovember 2017.
The graduands, their teachers, relatives, guardians/parents and the entire university and surrounding communities waved at the Convocation procession while thousands of handset-turned-cameras were used for capturing the historic moment. The senate members, Deans and Directors, Council members, Visiting VCs and Important dignitaries led the Convocation procession from the Senate Building to the famous Mamman Kontagora Square, the venue of the event. We were all elated and momentarily forgot our worries and challenges of life until the event was over and then back to stack reality.
ABU convocation ceremony, a supposedly university annual ritual is by no means a national affair, which makes stakeholders to reflect on the past and plan for a better future. From January 2016 to November 2017, ABU had conducted three consecutive Convocation ceremonies; 38th, 39th and 40th convocations, respectively. In 2016 alone, two convocations were celebrated, the 38th on 30th January while the 39th on 26th November 2016. The 40th convocation was observed on 25th November 2017. During these convocations, a total of 41,338 students graduated with different categories of degrees (first and postgraduate degrees) from various academic programs of the university. Among this number, there were 850 PhDs (305 PhDs in 38th, 289 PhDs in 39th and 256 PhDs in 40th) 188 first class and thousands second-class upper division graduands. The 40th Convocation was the most memorable as it produced the most highly rated first class degree with CGPA of 4.93; a momentous feat that was only attained in the entire 55 – year history of the university. Al-Amin Bashir Bugaje from Katsina was the most coveted graduand who earned the highly graded CGPA of 4.93 from Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. He automatically won an NNPC scholarship to read MSc and PhD in any university of his choice within or outside the country. Thanks to the auspicious presence of NNPC Group Managing Director, Engr Maikanti Baru, himself, a first class graduate of Mechanical Engineering of ABU in the early 1980s.
Marking these convocations are certainly a giant achievement and unprecedented contribution of highly skilled manpower to national and international labor markets. ABU deserves loudest ovation for this unparalleled accomplishment! This marvelous achievement was attained notwithstanding the economic challenges facing the nation with education sector receiving the heaviest blow. The achievement is largely attributable to the leadership of the indefatigable Vice Chancellor of the university, Professor Ibrahim Garba who is uncompromising in making students graduate as at when due.
First, Prof Garba added flavor to the convocation ceremony by changing the traditional way the convocation lecture was hitherto conducted and made it very attractive to the general public. At the 38th Lecture series, he pulled the richest African, Alhaji Aliyu Dangote to the university to deliver special convocation lecture. When you say Dangote is a busy man, it is a gross understatement. Undoubtedly, every minute of Dangote’s time costs thousands of Naira and yet, he was brought to ABU, made to spend more than 48 hours and deliver a very educative, thought-provoking and inspiring lecture to the general public. That singular act of bringing Dangote to ABU opened a window for Dangote to demonstrate his generosity. He denoted ten blocks of students’ hostel to accommodate over two thousand students at the ABU Phase II. As I am writing this piece, the hostel accommodation donated by Dangote is about 90% completed and may likely attract more generosity from this great man of Africa.
At the 39th convocation lecture series, the VC brought yet another ever busy and famous Jelani Aliyu, as the speaker of the Convocation lecture. Jelani is the legendary Chevy Volt (American) designer of General Motors. That gathering assembled the “who is who” in the nation’s automobile industry, technocrats, politicians and academia. At the 40th convocation lecture series, Engr Dr. Maikanti Kachalla Baru was the guest speaker. Engr Baru is the Group Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), an alumnus of the university who graduated with a first class degree from Mechanical Engineering Department in the early 1980s.
Let me take a slight digression to briefly talk about ABU Phase II. Let me mention that Dangote’s donation is parallel to the pledge made by General (Rtd) T. Y. Danjuma during the university’s fiftieth anniversary in 2013. He pledged to make infrastructural development worth N2 billion for the Faculty of Science at the site of ABU phase II. While the pledge is yet to materialize, five years after, all the ABU communities are looking up to the General to redeem his pledge. Yes, I am confident that the General would walk his talk sooner than later. This is because T. Y. Danjuma is among the few most generous Generals we are blessed with in this country. In addition, he is a complete gentleman whose positive impacts are felt nationwide. Perhaps, someone should whisper into the ears of the General as a reminder. We fervently thank you for a swift action, General.
Back to the convocation, Prof Garba’s achievement became possible because of the untiring efforts of the staff, students and the unflinching support from the surrounding communities. These factors provide a relatively perfect working environment, which raised the productivity of both university’s staff and students. It is certainly a difficult accomplishment considering the historical antecedent and relative size of ABU.
The university has over 3,500 academic staff with around 600 Professors (if not more) of various disciplines in addition to more than 7,000 non-academic staff. Sometimes, the size makes it difficult to successfully govern ABU and achieve desired a goal.
Historically, ABU Zaria is one of the first generation universities in Nigeria. It was established in 1962 by the Government of the then Northern Region of Nigeria to impart knowledge and learning to men and women of all races without distinction on the grounds of race, religious or political beliefs. The founding fathers expected the university to aspire to the highest international ideals of scholarship and to provide learning of a standard required and expected of a university of the highest standing while reflecting the needs, the traditions, and the social and intellectual heritage of the society in which it is located. The university was taken over by the Federal Government of Nigeria in 1975 and has since then assumed a national mandate although its ties with the 19 states created out of the former Northern Region remain very strong.
In the over forty years of its existence, the ABU has grown to become the largest, and the most influential and diverse university in Nigeria. It consists of over 100 Academic Departments, twelve Faculties, and twelve Research Institutes and Specialized Centres. The University offers undergraduate and postgraduate courses in diverse fields of Agriculture, Public and Business Administration, Engineering, Environmental Design, Education, Biological and Physical Sciences, Medical and Pharmaceutical Sciences, the Humanities, Law and Social Sciences. The university has two campuses: Samaru and Kongo covering an estimated area of 7,000 hectares of land. Another unique feature of the University, as opposed to other Institutions of its type in Nigeria, is that it has both staff and students from all nooks and cranny of Nigeria, neighboring countries and few other countries across the continents. The university alumni cut across the social classes from former Nigerian President, Vice President, serving and former governors/Deputy governors of virtually all the 36 states plus the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja down to hundreds of local government councils nationwide.
Currently, the university has 13 faculties; namely–Administration, Agriculture, Engineering, Medicine, Life Sciences, Arts, Social Sciences, Education, Law, Veterinary Medicine, Environmental Design, and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
What are the impacts of ABU’s accomplishments on the society? This is a difficult question to answer in a society like Nigeria where record keeping and retrieval are herculean tasks and sometimes impossible to accomplish. This Column focuses on the manpower contribution and technological breakthroughs in the last few decades.
Professor Othman is the Executive Director of National Agricultural Extension and
Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), ABU Zaria.

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