The drums have been rolled out as this October is really merry for students and alumnus of the great Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. The great ABU is fifty. Officially launched on the 4th of October 1962 in a colourful ceremony presided over by its first Chancellor, Sir Ahmadu Bello the Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria has over the decades attained a worldwide reputation for excellence.
One of the largest and most extensive of all universities in Sub-Saharan Africa, the University is standing up to the dreams of its founding father who envisioned it to grow and become a world citadel of learning. But the pertinent question is, “Has the Vision of Ahmadu Bello been realised within its 50 years?” Clearly there are some calls for fanfare and celebration, but yet a great call for sober reflection.
Sir Ahmadu Bello at his installation and first convocation of the University on November 23, 1963, stated clearly the philosophy of our Alma Mata “The first duty of every university is the search for and the spread of knowledge and the establishment of truths…But it must also serve the need of the nation.” This philosophy is imbibed in his saying “The cardinal principle upon which our University is founded is to impart knowledge and learning to men and women of all races without any distinction on the grounds of race, religious, or political beliefs” indeed this is one tenet that has consistently been the backbone of this institution. ABU is notable among Nigeria’s universities for the breadth and national character of its student recruitment. ABU had been founded to be the University of Northern Nigeria, yet more than any other of Nigeria’s universities; it has served students from every state and facade of the Nigerian federation. The very fact of ABU’s strikingly “national character” in terms of drawing students and staff from an unusually broad range of Nigeria’s regional, ethnic and religious communities has earned it a particularly important place among Nigerian universities. Ahmadu Bello University is the most cosmopolitan tertiary institution in Nigeria both in terms of staff and student profiles. Every Local Government Area of Nigeria has student(s) in the University, notwithstanding; all States of the Federation are equally represented in the staff profile of the University. It is without doubt the only truly federal University in the country. It has thus, carved a niche for itself as the country's symbol of national unity and integration just like the Great Sardauna had projected.
As a Center of Excellence with a vision “Ahmadu Bello University shall be a world-class University comparable to any other, engaged in imparting contemporary knowledge, using high quality facilities and multi-disciplinary approaches, to men and women of all races as well as generating new ideas and intellectual practices relevant to the needs of its immediate community, Nigeria and world at large” there is need for solid assessment of the journey; the storms; the complacency; the development; and the potentials of this citadel. It is surely no mean feat to attain such an important and significant milestone.
From the beginning, ABU was scrupulously outstanding for its breadth and ambition. Under the tutelage of its pioneer Vice-Chancellors Dr Alexander Norman and Dr Ishaya Audu, ABU was creating a range of programs that only the very most comprehensive foreign developed nations’ Universities could boast of. As such in the hay days, ABU was strongly established as Nigeria’s largest university and among Africa’s strongest academic institutions and a force to reckon with in the world.
Indeed growth has continued, but stuttering. The journey has been plummeted by external events and challenges. The sharp delineating funding characterised by the deterioration of the nation’s economy as a whole coupled with the increasing need to cope with the ever increasing student population with meagre resources has left the University to be a far cry from the Vision of its Founding Father. High quality facilities and multi-disciplinary approaches have fell short as Staff salaries were reduced rapidly in cost-of-living terms, and funding for facilities grossly inadequate.
With an enrolment of about 50,000 students (undergraduate, post-graduate and sub-degree), the increasing student population versus the staff strength and paltry resources available has limited the dissemination of proper, standard and adequate intellectual practice to the university communal. Depreciation of infrastructure caused by wear and tear and inadequacies has been supplemented by the population increase and demand pressure.
So in the end, at Ahmadu Bello University “Where Are We?” It is not so much relying on history and past glory, but in understanding the strengths and weaknesses and how to harness their potentials; understanding the challenges and how to leapfrog them; drawing out pivotal blueprints and seeing to their enactment; then and only then shall the Sardauna’s Dream be vividly articulated, to be in consonance with world best practices.
It has been a long prosperous journey, many have dedicated, many have sacrificed, the ride has been pleasant, and at times the road hasn’t been so smooth. We’ve benefited immensely from the labours of our predecessors to this University, their prudence and their perseverance, it’s now our time to set a new course to attain the vision, to meet the growing challenges of a 21st Century University and the competitive higher education market place. “…We must develop our own pattern to suit our present background and our future needs…”
Ahmadu Bello University shall continue to improve; we have a cause for celebration, to showcase our uniqueness, our achievements and our challenges. “…Only if it adheres to those freedoms can it become truly great…” We shall keep true the dreams and ideals of its founding fathers, we shall celebrate a Golden Jubilee worthy of its status. It is right that the Nigerian economy and beyond, should benefit from the top class training and research capabilities of such a University “…Our University must grow out of our own soil. We shall be a truly Nigerian institution and not the mirror image of some alien body…”
So here’s a toast to the most prestigious University in Nigeria, the giant of African Universities providing learning without borders to all races. Long Live ABU ZARIA!
PUBLISHED ON DAILY TRUST OF 11TH OCTOBER 2012