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AE-FUNAI @ 10: From unknown institution to the most serious public varsity in Nigeria

By Elom Aiyke Ubochi

Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu-Alike, Ebonyi State was established by the Federal Government of Nigeria on 26th February, 2011 with the goal of expanding and improving access to quality university education to every part of Nigeria. It had the name, Federal University Ndufu-Alike, Ikwo up till 2nd February, 2018 when it was renamed in honour and recognition of the contributions of the first elected civilian Vice President of Nigeria, the late Dr. Alex Ekwueme.

The university sits on 438 hectares of land, geographically located on latitude 06ⱷ 8.29N, longitude 08ⱷ8.627E and altitude 55m (AMSL). AE-FUNAI is situated in Ikwo Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, which is about 25 kilometers from Abakaliki, the state capital. The motto of the university is Excellence and Integrity.

Though, the university came into being in 2011, it did not join the other eight universities established with it to commence academic activities immediately. There was rather a deliberate decision by the pioneer Vice-Chancellor, the late Professor Oye Ibidapo-Obe, and his team to take their time in order to develop a sound and robust academic brief, and also build a solid foundation for academic excellence and manpower development to ensure the university achieves its vision of becoming a world-class institution in the nearest future. Consequently, the university commenced academic activities on the 5th of November, 2012, with three faculties (Basic Medical Science, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Science), 10 academic departments and 41 programmes.

At the expiration of the tenure of the pioneer vice-chancellor, the Federal Government, on 10th of February, 2016, appointed Professor Chinedum Uzoma Nwajiuba as the 2nd vice-chancellor of the university. His tenure witnessed numerous extraordinary and landmark achievements, especially in the expansion and reengineering of academic programmes and activities, and massive infrastructural development unprecedented in the history of the institution.

On Tuesday, 17th January, 2021, after a rigorous, flawless and transparent selection process, Professor Sunday Oge Elom emerged, as the 3rd vice-chancellor, signaling a new dawn in the university.

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Elom, a professor of Medical Biochemistry, brought on board over 14 years of post professorial and uninterrupted academic and administrative experience in the university system.

On assumption of office on 11th of February, 2021, he promised to sustain, consolidate and expand on the successes of the past administrations, assuring that he would keep the flag of the university flying at full mast at all times and that under his watch the vision of making AE-FUNAI a world-class institution would not be allowed to die.

The university, over the past 10 years, has witnessed rapid academic development and extraordinary infrastructural transformation. In the academic front, the university presently has 11 faculties, 41 academic departments and 57 programmes as well as a College of Medicine and School of Postgraduate Studies. The Faculties are Agriculture, Basic Medical Science, Biological Science, Education, Engineering and Technology, Environmental Science, Humanities, Law, Management Sciences, Social Sciences and Physical Science.

It is also worthy to note that all the 57 programmes of the university have received the National Universities Commission’s approval and accreditation. In addition, the Engineering, Medical and Accounting programmes have also been accredited by their professional bodies – Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), Nigeria Medical and Dental Council (NMDC) and Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) respectively.

These have helped our students to graduate on time without hitches, even as they are also mobilised for the National Youth Service Corps programme every year, because management has continued to insist on the timely release of students’ results. There is also a yearly convocation ceremony for graduating students where graduands receive academic certificates on the same day.

This culture of seriousness has been maintained since the first set of our students graduated in 2016.This has positively rubbed-off on the attitude of staff and students, as they return immediately school resumes for a new semester and session to teach and learn in order to be part of the Inception Quiz – a test usually taken after two weeks of school resumption in the university, and to ensure that the academic calendar is followed to the later.

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The students’ population has risen from 293 in 2012 to about 9,500. The staff strength has also increased from 200 personnel as at the time the university started to 2, 230 people made up of 755 academic, 865 senior non teaching and 610 junior staff.

This strategic increase in the number of both students and staff has provided ample opportunity to thousands of Nigerians to gain both admission and employment opportunities in the university, and this has helped in jump-starting the local economy of her host community and other surrounding towns. This has further promoted the town and gown relationships.

More importantly, at a time when most graduates of Nigerian universities lack the capacity to communicate in English language of basic level, the introduction of the Language Enhancement Programme (LEP), a first of its kind in the Nigerian University System, by AE-FUNAI, has set the students and graduates of the institution apart from the crowd, distinguishing them from students and graduates of other universities in Nigeria because of their command of written and oral English as well as capacity for logical reasoning.

Due to the high quality of the university’s academic programmes and deft delivery of intellectually rigorous research as well as an excellent teaching and learning environment and the outstanding performances of her alumni in various spheres of life, the university is increasingly being recognised by strategic actors and stakeholders within and outside Nigeria, as a serious university.

Underscoring this fact, the former German Ambassador to Nigeria, Dr. Benhard Schlageck, in 2018, described AE-FUNAI, as the “most serious public university in Nigeria” whiles the French Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Jerome Pasquier on 8th February, 2021 described the institution as the “best public university in Nigeria.”

AE-FUNAI is the only university in Nigeria that has a postgraduate scholarship partnership with the French Government, and the collaboration has led to the travelling of 42 young academics of the institution to France where they are pursuing their Masters’ and doctorate degrees in celebrated universities. Some of these scholars have already returned to the university after completing their PhD programmes and are contributing to the academic development of the institution.

More so, the PG partnership is geared towards training a critical mass of academics that are proficient in, at least, two international languages – English and French. And this has started yielding dividends, as the university presently has 22 foreign students, mostly from French speaking nations.

In the nearest future, it is expected that AE-FUNAI would be the most sought-after university in the Gulf of Guinea because of the capacity of her staff and students to teach and learn in English and French languages, respectively.

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In the area of infrastructure, the university has also made some quantum leaps. It started from a few rusty buildings vacated by a secondary school – Ikwo High School, without access roads and electricity. In fact, at the outset, dust and mud were common sights on campus during dry and rainy seasons. However, in spite of the initial daunting infrastructural challenges faced by the university at inception, it has been able to bridge the gap to a large extent. Many faculty buildings, office blocks, lecture halls and theatres, laboratories, senate building, administrative block, hostels, etc. have been completed and are in use. This has ameliorated the challenge of accommodation on campus. In addition, the university now has over five kilometers of asphalt road network fitted with drainages around the campus.

AE-FUNAI runs on green energy courtesy of 2.8 MW of hybrid solar power plant, the 3rd biggest in Africa. With it, the university is the first higher institution in Nigeria with 24 hours’ uninterrupted power supply, making it a wonder to behold at night due to its well-laid out street lighting system, and also encouraging research and innovation, teaching and learning, and entrepreneurship among staff and students.

In concluding, in the past 10 years, Alex Ekwume Federal University, Ndufu-Alike, Ebonyi State, has metamorphosed from an unknown institution located in an agrarian suburb of Ikwo to the most serious public university in Nigeria. This was made possible by the seriousness of its academic activities and the quality of leadership as well as the enterprising workforce the university has had from inception till now.

As the university celebrates this milestone, the  Vice-chancellor, Prof. Elom, is not unmindful of the onerous tasks still ahead, as he strives to take the university to the next level. That is why on assumption of office; he vowed that all his actions and decisions, as vice-chancellor would be hinged on Colossians 3:23 – “And whatever you do, do it heartily as to the Lord and not to men”, and charged all staff to imbibe the guiding principle in the discharge of their official responsibilities. With that, he left no one in doubt, and quite early too, that the university would move to the next level under his leadership.

…Elom Iyke Ubochi is of the public Relations/Information Unit of AE-FUNAI