‘I established Gregory University to equip Nigerians with practical skills, others’

Chief-Ibe-CopyYou are one of the few south easterners and Nigerians that founded a university. What was your motivation?

This question was asked me recently in New York USA by a Nigerian journalist and my answer to him was that I am 51 years old, I have six children two of who are medical doctors in the U.S.; the youngest boy is aged four and I lost my first wife.

I got involved in establishing informal skills acquisition centers in about 500 LGAs in Nigeria. I am a United Nations consultant. In the course of this, I saw that these centers including the informal sector had problems hence I came up with a project proposal to the World Bank on how to better the laboratories of about twenty federal universities. Surprisingly while executing this contract, I saw that the country was, so to say, in trouble because most of the equipment imported for the laboratories were abandoned in the containers in which they were imported and they got rotten there.

Why were they abandoned?

I think the suppliers did not want Nigerians to know how to use the imported equipment or teach them. And after the contract sum was paid, the percentage of the amount that was to be used for the training of Nigerians on the installation and use of the equipment was not expended. I considered this as a missing gap and departure from what should be and it became clear to me that we needed a one-stop shop in Nigeria where the training attached to these equipment would be effected and in doing so, build Nigerians capacity to use them.
 
Are you implying that nobody could do this in Nigeria?

Having considered that hardly could it be done in Nigeria, my Israeli partner and I resolved to adopt the Israeli model that our education system should be a one -stop -shop.  This would imply making the Curricula fit into the 21st best practices as per the UNESCO stipulation. So we proposed a technical back-up with the equipment coming from Israel and we thus became that one -stop shop.

Was this part of what prompted your establishing Gregory University Uturu? 

Not just that. As a teacher at  Abia State University also in Uturu  ( also near Gregory University ) ,   I observed many issues which I made efforts to plug the gaps but I did not see the authorities’ coming in readily to address them. I said to God, please make it possible for me to establish a university where everything will be combined for effective delivery and conform with  internationally prescribed standards.

You are neither an Educationist nor an engineer, but you have ventured into the education sector and combined it with technology and engineering, how come it became your inclination?

These related issues are in line with the main thrust of my business deals. For example, I had designed science and mathematics equipment for the Nigerian primary, secondary, tertiary and university system. As the design progressed, my Partner and I also developed a vocational education technology training  system.

This has been used to produce best results in the education sector using best practices for a hands-on educational training system, with laboratory science equipment and instructional materials in partnership with the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). 

The emphasis was on technology enhanced with laboratory workshops which were developed and are in use in all the 62 polytechnics , 73 universities as well as 62 colleges of education in Nigeria. Even in the USA , I run the Gregory Foundation for the aged and less privileged and in addition undertake consultancy.

Establishing and running a University, how easy and challenging is it especially your Gregory University that is in a rural environment?

Meeting the prescriptions of the National Universities Commission (NUC) which is the regulatory authority or agency of government is filled with hurdles one must cross especially if you are going for a private university. The NUC insists you must comply with every set rule except public universities that the rules were legislated. 

There is a minimum requirement for land acquisition which NUC considers a big issue and I faced this challenge because in my village where Gregory University is located, hardly is any body ready to make his land available hence you have to purchase the land. Accreditation like in other countries, follows only when you meet the basic minimum requirements after a team of NUC team and experts would have come down for verification. 

We gradually started with buildings and progressed to where we are today. We are driven by passion not money making because it would take you a minimum of 30 years to break even. Funds are not unlimited,  banks prefer to lend at a short term  two digit percent interest rate,  leaving  
you with going into private borrowing , more so it is difficult to get the banks to invest in education. Another challenge is attracting the personnel, academic and non academic

What’s your vision for GUU?

We scheduled to take off in 2011 but did  in 2012 after we got our license in February  after the JAMB examinations in May  of that year. The vision is to graduate hands-on professionals that will take Nigeria to the next level, those young men and women that would capably midwife Nigeria for tomorrow’s technological advancement in line with our motto “knowledge for tomorrow”.  I want to produce capable Nigerians that have what it takes to produce the right results in the market place of global ideas with all the boldness it calls for.

Surely, it has not been easy hence you may have partners , who are they, private or corporate?

I have no partner – private or corporate and no help is coming from anywhere. But I work with God – the Supreme Being. While setting up GUU, it was my skills that came first. I  trained as contractor with skills in masonry, electrical, plumbing, aluminum fitting and surveying. I acquired these skills while I was growing up and in secondary school working with private people and  I still have the skills within me.

My selling point  which I consider to be unique is science and expectedly, my emphasis should be here. In GUU’s second year,  we established the faculty of Engineering, in the third year – the College of Medicine with a department in Human and Applied Sciences. 

Presently,  my  Company  ( Skill G )  is effecting practical training. We are training  292 engineers from 73  federal and state  universities  
on a debt fund project with emphasis on robotics, process control and creative destruction.
By  creative destruction we mean bringing a new invention which does not mean that people would be out of job,  instead it provides a four dimensional way of doing things. 

Take the computer age  for example, which before now was considered an era that would put people out of job; the invention of computers was opposed by secretaries but today it is more creative than we anticipated; jobs are more efficiently executed. It involves creative ways of doing a job better. It does not mean putting people out of job but fast-tracking ways of doing things from a creative point of view.

So GUU is more in Science and Technology, what about the Humanities?
We are also  in the liberal arts and humanities working towards dissuading people from stereotypes. I have done a lot of research on skills gap and I am campaigning for a shift in favour of science and technology. I have been talking to people to shift emphasis in these core areas of competence but I need to offer these courses. The emphasis on accounting, government, etc which may  not take us far because these are saturated areas and we have gaps to be plugged away from these stereotypes. Take the density of doctor to patient; this is about one doctor to a thousand or 1500 doctors. The standard ratio is one to 250.

Professionals in this area are very few in number hence the need to train more. Scarcity of funds puts a heavy premium on replacements and make it imperative to re-insure our goods and services. Therefore a comprehensive development and public and corporate awareness of the importance of the Insurance Sector in modern business is very important so that on the rainy day, the sector will take care of you and your business.  
Insurance courses will fair  better about now to plug the existing loopholes.

What lapses or inadequacies have you identified in the education sector . What would be your panacea to them?
The panacea lies on the person driving the sector, if he is one with passion  for the sector, be sure something good will come out of it. My findings suggest that much money , over 26 percent of the nation’s revenue  is pumped  into the education sector but  where do they go.
 
It is possible more than 40 percent of the nation’s resources are expended on the education sector with less than ten ( 10 ) percent of that amount ultimately trickling down to it and the world believes Nigeria is doing nothing to move the sector forward. The President or Vice Chancellor is recycled every five years whereas in the US the president of a US university spends 20 to 30 years enabling the institution to maximise the experience of such a person.

I am looking at a model where there is some measure of divestment in the education sector. Government should sell off some of its shares to the private sector to allow new inflow of funds for standardization of these institutions. The issue of ASUU crisis which has impacted negatively on the educational calendar will largely be minimised with government setting clear-cut goals for the development and progress of these institutions.
 
My panacea for moving the sector forward is adopting the American model where no child is denied education because of lack of money. Money is made available to every child who does not get a scholarship or cannot afford the high cost of learning. Parents will not be under stress to shoulder the high cost of education and standards will not be compromised through subsidy. Financial aid should be a major plank in accessing higher education with some measure of skill set and a payback time while working.

There is no emphasis on skills training in the system. An education curriculum should develop a perfect person right from primary to secondary school. Often times people don’t have to recognise who they are either as tailors, welders, make-up artists, dancers, actors or actresses until much later in life because the curricula fail to include skill development as part of its courses. 

Entrepreneurship should be a part of the school curriculum. The allied professions should be a part of the education system. Just as we subsidise fuel, we can subsidise education at the higher level. The 6-3-3-4 education system leaves behind entrepreneurship which is realised by individuals many years after. This must be reversed.

Recently GUU students were reported being in the USA undertaking two months exchange study programme, what informed this?
GUU has an MOU with Tuskegee University in Alabama, Morehouse University in Atlanta and Langston University for exchange programmes.
I just visited two universities in he USA –  Alabama UAB -the sole reason is for them collaborate with us on Bio Medical Engineering and also for student and faculty exchanges  Fort Valley State University is to collaborate on Agric Processing and Animal Food Production. The school industry  has linkage on value added Agric products. 
 
I run a collegiate system not faculty system which gives us leverage to align with our US counterparts. I take their curricula and marry it to what we have here. In the college system, courses done in secondary schools can be carried forward to the university level with time reduction and emphasis on practicals. 

In the Nigerian context , we are beginning to imbibe the seaway approach where emphasis on practical hands on learning is articulated; so you have a combination of courses where mechanics and electronics intersect to form autotronics, auto-mechanics etc.  The idea is to create courses relevant to industry needs such that at the end of the day such courses provide jobs for the graduates.
 
How fast is your student population growing?

My student population is presently 312 but we have facilities for 660 now. In GUU every scholar, not student, is in campus not off campus. We are building a hostel for 4200 students. That is the projection. One of the problems faced by our education system is lack of preparation for increased student population. Most universities now encourage the private sector to build off-campus hostels, which have done more harm than good to education. My projection is that in the next six to ten years I should have a progressive increase of not just hostels but all aspects of expansion in the university system. We have the stipulated 102 hectares demanded by the accreditation board and the NUC as well as the Federal Executive Council (FEC).

How has your skill in Masonry, surveying etc impacted on reducing cost of projects in your university?
 
As I told you earlier, I trained as contractor with skills in masonry, electrical, plumbing, aluminum fitting and surveying. I still have the skills within me.

I was actively involved in the construction works at the Abia State University where as an accountant, I did a lot of material costing  while working with engineers. I built the Imo Airport working for a Jewish company called IGIC owned by the late Sir Leatherman.
 
I started working with the company at 21 and moved over to the Federal Secretariat Garki and the Foreign Affairs Building Abuja. We had a furniture and paint company. These ideas and knowledge are still with me. My hands on training exposure means I cut off an average of 40 percent of the projected cost designing and building my structures. I use Joyce and decking plates which reduce cost by 40 percent. We are following the Master-plan already designed and approved by GUU and operate the American model of a university, infrastructure inclusive.

How lucrative is it or would it be investing in GUU?

My establishing GUU was a passion not profit motivated hence any revenue that comes my way goes into this passion. I am building a university and not a competitive business. This is my passion, it is a gradual process. I am building an institution and it calls for gradual movement.



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