“The responsibility of ABU has been changing. From producing trained manpower for government, universities are now required to produce learned and skilful people for the open market and self-employment”.
(Professor Abdullahi Mustapha, the then Vice-Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University-ABU, Zaria at the Golden Jubilee convocation ceremony of the prestigious institution held on 24th November, 2012)
The above quotation basically highlighted the relative shift in academic orientation and focus that one of Africa’s most famous and successful universities-Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria is undergoing in the last few years.
This shift is aimed at keeping the academic programmes and graduates of the university dynamic and in tune with all development trends in today’s fast-changing world, while not completely deviating from its original mission of 57 years ago.
At inception in 1962, ABU was essentially meant to serve as a feeder school to the Northern Nigeria Region’s civil service by running Degree, Diploma and Certificate courses germane to the needs of the North as envisaged by the founding fathers of the university, particularly the Premier of the Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, the first and only Prime Minister of Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and the then Governor of the Region, Sir Kashim Ibrahim.
This initial focus was instituted based on the academic programmes designed by the pioneering management staff of the university under the guidance of the first Vice-Chancellor, Dr Norman S. Alexander and faithfully implemented in the lecture halls and tutorial classes by the first set of lecturers.
It was a time when highly educated and well-trained personnel of Northern Nigeria’s extraction were in short supply and desperately needed to address the realities of independence and associated necessities which have begun to stare the region in the face vis a vis its comparative disadvantage in this regard to the other two (2) regions of Western and Eastern Nigeria that already have the University College, Ibadan and University of Nigeria, Nsukka respectively.
In a way, the establishment of ABU was the region’s answer to development trends of those peculiar years just as its purported shift in academic orientation and focus is the answer of the university’s present management to development trends of today and any evaluation of ABU’s achievements and under-achievements in the last 57 years must be done within these two contexts.
Considering the gaping hole or public offices that were suddenly rendered vacant or largely occupied by “unqualified”, under-skilled or weakly-trained personnel in Northern Nigeria following the exodus of mainly expatriate officers that trailed the attainment of independence in 1960, ABU has performed exceptionally well in providing the much-needed highly educated and well-trained personnel who, overtime, made it possible for the top echelon of the region’s civil service to be run by skilful, competent and effective manpower that laid the foundation for the accelerated development of the region especially in the first decade of independence.
For over half a century now, Sardauna’s or Gamji’s (in reference to Ahmadu Bello’s laudable legacy) model of administration is acclaimed worldwide as one of the most successful and result-oriented in post-colonial Africa, but part of the credit of Sardauna’s unparallel achievements should go to those administrative officers (Provincial Secretaries-PSs, Parliamentary Secretaries-PSs, Divisional Officers-DOs, Directors and their subordinating staff) who diligently, intelligently, correctly, tirelessly and patriotically provided the Sardauna administration with the pre-requisite technical know-how and general operational guidance which led to its overwhelming success.
A significant number of these indigenous administrative officers were ABU products even though some of them were not Degree holders.
Aside the civil service, ABU also contributed excellently to the rapid educational development of the North through the secondment of its relevant academic staff to set up or oversee the take-off and subsequent operation of several tertiary institutions in the region, most of which have since been upgraded to full-fledged universities such as Bayero University, Kano (BUK), University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID), Abubakar Tatari Ali University (ATBU), Bauchi, etc.
The ABU intellectual machinery also saw to the production of scholars, politicians, administrators, diplomats and professionals of international repute who left their indelible mark in the footprints of history such as the legendary and eloquent historian, the late Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman, the effervescent sociologist and orator per excellence, the late Dr. Ibrahim Tahir (Talban Bauchi), the distinguished historian/diplomat, late Prof. (Amb.) Sa’ad Abubakar, OFR (Ubandoman Muri and immediate-past Chairman of Governing Council of Taraba State University), the vibrant political scientist/skilled diplomat, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari (former Nigeria’s representative in the United Nations) and the fiery politician and distinguished academician, Prof. Jerry Gana (a former Minister).
This revered list also includes immediate past and first graduate President of Nigeria, the late Alh. Umaru Musa Yar’adua, GCFR (Matawallen Katsina), two successful politicians and former Vice-Presidents, Alh. Atiku Abubakar, GCON (Turakin Adamawa) and Arch. Mohammed Namadi Sambo (GCON), the former Chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), the late Chief Sunday Owoniyi, the erudite economist, former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and present Emir of Kano, His Royal Highness (HRH), Alhaji Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, CON (Sanusi II) and host of other traditional rulers including the present Emir of Muri, HRH, Alhaji Abbas Njidda Tafida (OFR).
Also in the list are former Chief Justices of the Federation, Justices Idris Legbo Kutigi and Mahmud Mohammed, a host of former and serving members of the National Assembly including Senator Dino Melaye (who was my senior in the university), a host of former and serving Ministers of the federation including the immediate-past Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Distinguished Senator A’isha Jummai Alhassan.
A host of former and serving Governors including the present Executive Governor of Taraba State, His Excellency, Ach. Darius Dickson Ishaku (FNIA), a host of former and serving Deputy Governors including the current Deputy Governor of Taraba State, His Excellency, Engr. Haruna Manu (who was also my senior in the university), former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, former Seretary-General of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Alh. Rilwanu Lukman, the fearless politician/social critic and first female president of ABU Students’ Union Government (SUG), Haj. Naja’atu Bala Muhammad, etc. (I mentioned only those that I am sure they once studied there).
Products/graduates of ABU from the 1970’s upto 1980’s had equally performed relatively well in the aspect of private enterprise with the most notable one been in the success story of the privately-owned Media Trust Ltd; which is today, the leading newspaper production company in Northern Nigeria and among the top three in Nigeria in terms of quantity and quality of production, columnists (who can compete favourably with the very best in any part of the world) and professionalism.
With about four (4) different newspapers-Daily Trust, Weekly Trust, Sunday Trust and “Aminiya” being released respectively to newsstands nationwide on daily and weekly basis, Media Trust Ltd has positioned itself as an attractive choice to be considered for a contracted consultancy work by the management of ABU in order to provide a practical edge to the university’s sensible shift in academic orientation and focus by way of conducting workshops and seminars for students on the necessity of acquiring entrepreneurship skills while in campus and applying same after graduation.
Understandably, not much could be seen or said in respect of the achievements or otherwise of ABU in respect of this revealed shift in favour of equipping students with entrepreneurship skills to enable them become self-employed as graduates since, it is, relatively, a new thinking that was brought to bear in the academic programmes of the university few years ago and it is expected that those who graduated thereof are still toddlers in the North/Nigeria’s competitive market.
Based on the immeasurable contribution of ABU in the appreciable development of Northern Nigeria especially in the 1960’s up to the late 1990’s, it is tempting to ask thus; what went wrong that the region is still lagging behind when compared to the other two regions of Western and Eastern Nigeria in certain critical areas of national development?
(To be Continued)
Written by SA’AD ABUBAKAR ZONGRE