By Sunny Awhefeada
Professor Andy Ogochukwu Egwunyenga was appointed as the seventh substantive Vice Chancellor of the Delta State University, (DELSU), Abraka, with effect from 1st December 2019. It was a befitting gift to end the year, not just for Professor Egwunyenga, but for the DELSU community. As it has become in virtually every Nigerian university, the contest for the Vice Chancellorship was fierce and characterized by schemes. However, once his emergence was confirmed and announced, a therapeutic ambience enveloped the University. The new Vice Chancellor took over on a Saturday and formally resumed work the next Monday with a thanksgiving at the St. Paul’s Catholic Church on campus. A flurry of activities was to follow. Meeting with Principal Officers, meeting of the University Senate, meeting of Congregation, meeting with Deans and Directors, visits to the different faculties and campuses took place in quick succession during which Professor Egwunyenga unfolded his vision for DELSU. The Professor of Zoology and veteran unionist told the University community that his vision was, “to LEAD, INSPIRE and ADVANCE the repositioning of Delta State University to emerge as the best state university in Nigeria.”
Professor Egwunyenga delineated his development plan into six decipherable prongs namely; building an effective and motivated workforce, pursuit of innovation using ICT, strengthening faculties, departments and units, students administration and services, improving revenue base, and university administration and governance. It took him no time to announce three committees to drive a new vision for the University. The committees were the: Advisory Committee chaired by Professor C. P. Aloamaka, the Strategic Plan Committee headed by Professor Nelson Akpotu, and the Environment Committee headed by Architect Michael Asiafa.
One year on the saddle as Vice Chancellor, Professor Egwunyenga, is able to look back and count his achievements. In doing so, he is not alone as members of the university community and even the general public without prodding, are able to point at the concrete and visible changes that he initiated in the last 365 days. At the 175th Senate meeting, held on Wednesday 25 November 2020, Professor Egwunyenga reeled out his achievements to the applause of a satisfied audience. Most significant so far is the reality of being the only public university in Nigeria to successfully complete the 2019/2020 session. A number of factors made this feat possible. First, the DELSU Chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is yet to be reintegrated into the national body after a misunderstanding put them asunder some years ago. Secondly, despite the setback to human activities occasioned by COVID-19 lockdown, Professor Egwunyenga inspired DELSU lecturers to adopt the virtual learning mode to ensure that a substantial portion of the different course outlines were taught online. Thus, besides using zoom for lectures and seminars, the ICT unit evolved the DELSU Learning Management System (DLMS) as a medium of instruction which kept academic work going during the global lockdown. The net result of this innovation was that students resumed in two streams for revision and examinations. This is a rare feat for Nigerian universities.
Combating the COVID-19 pandemic is another landmark achievement in the last one year. The pandemic gave no warning and it took the world and especially Africa by surprise. As the pandemic spread like a raging fire, the scientist in Professor Egwunyenga went to work. He insisted on observing the World Health Organization (WHO) prevention protocol to the letter. He began by initiating an enlightenment campaign on campus with the Public Relations Unit issuing regular news bulletins. Practical measures were taken such as; the production of hand sanitizers, face masks, provision of water stands at strategic locations on campus and observance of social distance. Billboards proclaiming the necessity of adhering to the preventive protocols sprang up all over the campus just as a holding centre was also put in place. Some categories of staff were asked to remain at home. The surge in the pandemic coincided with the end of first semester examination and as such students were advised to remain at home. As a university that is conscious of the imperative of research, Professor Egwunyenga set up a COVID-19 research group to come up with a report on the pandemic. The group did submit a report that was received to great acclaim around the time the lockdown was eased.
The Vice Chancellor’s focus on leveraging on ICT has yielded more dividends than he could have imagined. Besides the development of the DLMS, the policy of ensuring that every staff maintains a presence on the University website has had a salutary effect on DELSU’s visibility. As staff after staff registered a Google scholar profile, the University’s online presence grew in leaps and bounds. This has enabled the University to enjoy the favourable ranking of being the 38th best university in Nigeria from her hitherto 78th position. This phenomenal leap remains unprecedented. To give fillip to ICT engagement, the Vice Chancellor ensured that staff are trained and brought up to date with contemporary trends in digital technology. About two of such trainings have been carried out. It is anticipated that the skills acquired from these trainings will come handy when the University begins to run its Open and Distance Learning (ODL) programme.
As usual with every new administration, Professor Egwunyenga was inundated with a plethora of protest letters by colleagues who felt shortchanged in the past. He didn’t gloss over those letters and neither did he confine them to the KIV file. He set up a committee to look into the merit of each case. The committee went to work and submitted reports. Professor Egwunyenga did not treat the reports as personal items. He brought them to the relevant university organs and they were debated in a robust and transparent manner. What followed was tantamount to “setting academic captives free” for those with a just cause. The humane gesture of redressing injustice was far reaching. The postings, of non-teaching staff, that were deemed punitive were reversed and what followed was a sense of relief and joy for many.
A significant strand of Professor Egwunyenga’s vision is the transformation of the DELSU environment. He envisioned an idyllic setting of expansive green lawns, parks, and well laid out roads with birds and other elements of nature commingling in a delightful manner. So far, the main entrance of the University has been transformed beyond what everybody thought was possible. When the modified entrance appeared on the internet many people doubted if it was DELSU’s main gate. The work for the landscaping and beautification of the environment is ongoing and it certainly will make DELSU alluring on completion. In sync with Professor Egwunyenga’s eco-friendly disposition is the drive to make the environment clean. The Vice Chancellor has declared zero-tolerance for refuse. To ensure the sustainability of this policy, waste bins are strategically placed in every part of the campus with inscriptions prohibiting indiscriminate dumping of refuse.
The emergence of Professor Egwunyenga, a tested unionist who was in the trenches for decades, bode well for staff and students welfare. Firstly, there is the prompt payment of staff salaries since he took over as Vice Chancellor. Secondly, he offset the arrears of annual salary increment of about three years. Furthermore, the pariah status of the DELSU branch of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) also received attention as efforts had begun to reintegrate the branch into the national body. So far, a delegation from ASUU national executive committee visited the branch and held consultations with stakeholders aimed at repositioning the union in DELSU. Other staff unions on campus have been enjoying a refreshing new lease of life. The story is also the same for the Students Union Government whose officials worked hands in gloves with the Vice Chancellor to overcome the threat and menace of COVID-19 and ensured the smooth running of the second semester of the 2019/2020 session. One of his actions that brought relief to many ex-students was the granting of amnesty to all those who lost their studentship, so long as it was not on disciplinary grounds, to resume studies and get their degree. That action was like a balm on a fractured psyche.
Professor Egwunyenga has also embarked on the drive to improve physical infrastructure in DELSU. While work is ongoing on the main administration block at the permanent site, the Delta State Government recently gave financial approval for the completion of the Faculty of Arts and the construction of other faculties at the Asaba campus. He has also been able to secure TETFUND funding for four new buildings, the updating of the Departments of Music and Theatre Arts, laboratories in the Faculty of Science and more. The Vice Chancellor has been able to secure NEEDS assessment projects after many years of embargo on DELSU. The cumulative effect of these engagements is bound to transform DELSU landscape in no small measure.
The University is also consolidating its linkage programmes within and outside Nigeria in order to boost its global presence and internationalize its scholarship. It is about entering into a linkage with the University of Wolverhampton, in the United Kingdom, for Entrepreneurial Studies. The MacArthur Foundation has also accredited the University’s Department of Accountancy with many benefits to boot.
In order to make university education accessible to as many that are desirous and deserving, the Vice Chancellor has approved the commencement of new programmes to be run by different directorates. He has charged the directorates concerned to adhere to best academic practices to ensure that the high standard for which DELSU is known is not compromised.
Professor Egwunyenga, in his bid to reposition DELSU, did set up committees which have since submitted reports that formed the bases of some policies. So far, the University has a new Strategic Plan, an Environment Policy, a Plagiarism Policy, and a Sexual Harassment Policy while the report on the Security Policy is being awaited. His penchant for inclusiveness led him to revive the moribund Committee of Deans. He has also charged Heads of Departments to deliver on their responsibilities as the drivers of the University’s programmes and policies.
Just one year as Vice Chancellor, Professor Andy Egwunyenga has achieved a near turnaround of the Delta State University, Abraka, despite the lean resources. The dominant feeling among staff and students is that the man came at the right time. His mien, style, sense of fairness and inclusive strategy has helped in soothing frayed nerves. Yet, he is a stickler for due process. He has mainstreamed staff and students as stakeholders in the DELSU project. As he pauses to take stock and forge ahead, the University community anticipates greater achievements as he takes DELSU to new and uncharted heights.