By Abdul Rahman Aliagan
The University of Ilorin emerged after 27 years as an affiliate of the premier university, the University of Ibadan, and worked its way to take the front seat in the nation’s university education system. Until now, it was inconceivable that, considering the wide gap with first generation universities, the institution fondly called Unilorin would be able catch up with the universities that came immediately after the independence.
When the University of Ilorin was baptised with a slogan ‘Better By Far’, not many people were in tune with the an aphorism. A name that was coined out of crisis that rocked the institution some years back, eventually carved a niche of academic excellence that is being sustained over the years. It is instructive to say that University of Ilorin is the toast of admission seekers into Nigerian universities.
To be sure, the institution did not attain such a lofty heights by accident rather by a consistent hard work of a courageous leadership the citadel of learning enjoyed over time.
The latest Webometrics ranking of Nigerian Universities had University of Ilorin in the third place in Nigeria and 50th in the ranking of African universities. However, based on the ranking released by 4 International Colleges and Universities (4ICU), an international higher education search engine and directory reviewing accredited universities and colleges in the world, the Year 2016 Edition of the top 100 universities in Nigeria as released by the organization puts University of Ilorin on the 5th position. This testifies to the fact that the second generation university is indeed better by far! One may be curious to find out what takes the institution to this brutally selective position?
University of Ilorin, without any ambiguity, has taken a lead in research, discovery and innovation. As one of the second generation universities in Nigeria, Unilorin is creating a citadel of learning of the future that thrives on knowledge revolution that is facilitating qualitative development by which insights are adopted, adapted, domesticated and calibrated for optimal national growth and development.
‘Better By Far’ as it is fondly called is today the standard by which all other research universities are measured. No university in recent times has ever challenged its position as a leading academic institution in Nigeria for academic excellence, conducive atmosphere for learning and more importantly for smooth running of academic programmes without fear of interruption.
Indeed, no university in Nigeria has ever enjoyed a decade of uninterrupted academic programme but Unilorin is today enjoy in its 14th year of uninterrupted academic programme.
In 2014, Unilorin was ranked the best university in Africa’s richest and most populous nation and has continued to maintain such a lead till date, capitalising on smooth academic programme, peaceful environment as well as discipline in learning and character.
Today, the university boasts of over 35, 000 students and its fame is still growing at an accelerated pace.
Instructively, there is much more to Unilorin’s growing fame; the school has produced a good number of products who have excelled and are still excelling in their various fields of calling such as academics, business, industry and medicine.
Some of her products are of Nobel-Laureates standards, having distinguished themselves in scholarship and have been leaders in their respective chosen careers on the national and international arena.
Those who stepped out to pursue their Postgraduate Studies, researchers and those that are teaching abroad continue to represent the good image of the school in particular and their country in general.
Few among them are Mrs. Sarah Alade, who acted as the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Babs Omotowa, MD/CEO of Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Ltd, the immediate past Vice Chancellor of the university, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, the present Vice Chancellor, Kwara State University, Molete, Prof AbdulRasheed Na’Allah, Aize Obayan, former Vice-Chancellor, Covenant University, the present Governor of Kwara State, Governor AbdulFatah Ahmed, Pius Adesanmi, the award-winning intellectual and winner of the Penguin Prize for African Writing 2010.
He is also a Professor of English and African Studies at Carleton University, Canada, among many others in the alumni network that spreads across the globe.
By implication, the university has promoted inter-disciplinary approach to research that has resulted in groundbreaking outcome in Guava Wine, Laboratory Grease, Candle, Oil-Sobbing wafers, Electromechanical Baby Rocking Bed, Universal Incubator and Adult Cervical device..
Unilorin has been awarded “the Outstanding Federal University in Nigeria 2009” prize by a national magazine, The Nigerian Education Times. It is the only public university in Nigeria so recognised and it is winning the award for the second time, having been so awarded last year.
It is unsurprising that Prof. Grace Alele-Williams once described the Unilorin as a leading Nigerian university which has made its mark on the Nigerian education scene. In yet another testimony to the excellent leadership style of the university, the West African Students Union (WASU), with headquarters in Tema, Accra, Ghana conferred the 2013 West African Leadership Award for Educational Development on the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. AbdulGaniyu Ambali.
It would be out of sync to single out any of Unilorin’s many academic departments for its excellence as the school’s principal claim to the first position lies in the fact that it is at or very near the top in nearly every field across the entire spectrum of the sciences and the humanities!
Not only is Unilorin dominant across a multitude of academic fields in Nigeria, it is also ideally situated to develop a variety of other schools such as KWASU, Al-Hikmah University, Kwara Polytechnic as well as the Colleges of Education and several other research universities within and outside of its shores. This fact equips both students and faculty with endless opportunities for collaborative research.
The university took-off with three faculties and 200 students under the leadership of an erudite scholar, Professor Tekina N. Tamuno, who was the Head of History Department at the University of Ibadan until he was appointed the first Principal of the College in September 1975. Shortly after Tamuno’s appointment as Principal, he was appointed the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan. It therefore became necessary to appoint another Principal in the person of Prof. O. O. Akinkugbe, a former Dean of the then Faculty of Medicine, University of Ibadan, in December 1975.
The new Principal, Akinkugbe, in his endeavours made several visits to the second Military Governor of Kwara State, the late Colonel Ibrahim Taiwao in connection with the new institution, such that by March 1976, he had established residence at Ilorin.
The support given to the fledgling institution by Taiwo continued even more vigorously under the third Military Governor of the State, Brigadier George A. Innih, who ceded a portion of the temporary site of the Kwara State College of Technology to the University.
The site, up till now, serves as the mini campus of the university.
Unilorin from inception was fortunate to be endowed with focus-minded people and academics per excellence such as Tamuno, a great historian who kick started the project of celebrating ivory tower from September 1975 to November 1975.
Akinkugbe took over the mantle of leadership of the institution in October 1977 to October 1978, and the baton was passed on to Prof. A.O. Adesola in October 1978 who continued till April 1981.
Prof. S.A. Toye took over from Adesola in November 1981 and continued till November 1985 when Prof. A. Adeniyi stepped in and was there between November 1985 and 1992.
Prof. J.O. Oyinloye took over the Unilorin administration from 1992-1997 while Prof. Shuaibu O. Abdulraheem a Professor of African Literature, assumed duty at the university between 1997 and 2002.
It would be recalled that Abdulraheem’s tenure as the Vice Chancellor was engulfed in crisis. But inspite of the magnitude of the crisis, the institution emerged stronger.
After Abdulraheem’s tenure, a Benue-born Professor of Theatre Arts, Prof. S.O.O. Amali took over the leadership in October 2002 with his five years tenure lapsing in October 2007.
Coming in as the first alumnus of the institution to take charge of the affairs of the citadel of learning was the Ogun State-born Professor of Islamic Studies, Prof. Is-haq O. Oloyede, who became the 8th Vice Chancellor of University in 2007.
Sustaining the legacy he met on ground, he bowed out at the expiration of his tenure in 2012 and the university administration had to shop for another competent hand.
In a keenly contested selection process, the Ilorin-born Professor of Veterinary Medicine Prof. AbdilGaniyu Ambali emerged tops as the 9th and current Vice Chancellor of the most talked about institution..
Academic Programmes’ Development
With the spirited efforts of these university academic staff and astute administrators, the university grew from three faculties in 1976 to 14, including Agriculture, Arts, Communication and Information Science, Education, Engineering and Technology, Environmental Science, Law, Life and Science, Management Science, Pharmaceutical Science, Physical Science, Social Science, Veterinary Medicine.
Altogether, there are about 70 academic departments in the existing 14 faculties where undergraduate degree programmes run for 3, 4, 5, or 6 years, depending on entry qualifications and disciplines.
Unilorin equally has teaching support units which include the Computer Centre, Central Workshop and Stores, Biological Garden, Community Based Experience and Services (COBES), Medical Educational Resources Unit, General Studies (Use of English/National Awareness) Division, and Teaching and Research Farm.
There are also the Public Units which are the University School, the University Secondary School, Institute of Education and Educational Technology Centre, Peace and Conflict Studies Centre, Ilorin Centre and many other outfits that are adding value to knowledge and research activities.
As an academic unit, the Library is actively involved in rendering service to the university and the public. In addition, there is a Sugar Research Institute which is mainly a research unit served by academics mainly from Science and Agriculture faculties. Today, Unilorin has established a Central Laboratory for Research and Development.
Physical and Infrastructural Development
The university did not only develop in academic fields it has also developed in its physical status.
The university that started with a building bequeathed on the institution by the Kwara State Government currently houses 14 faculties and about 70 departments following the completion of the seven-storey Senate Complex.
It equally houses Sugar Research Institute, Postgraduate School, the Main University Library, Computer Services and Information Technology (COMSIT), Works Yard, Conference Centre, Unilorin Resources Development and Management Board (URDMB), Student Canteens and the 2,000 seat multipurpose Auditorium and the Alumni/ Endowment Office.
The mini-campus presently houses the College of Health Sciences, a mini Library, Canteens and Shopping Complex, the Institute of Education, some of the revenue-yielding projects which are under the URDMB such as the Unilorin Computer Centre (Training Wing), Unilorin Bookshop, the Bakery, the Printing Press and the Guest Houses.
Each Campus has a Health Centre, a Post Office and Banking facilities.
Aside from two lecture theatres commissioned in 1997, there had been an upsurge, from 2002 to date, in the physical development of the Main Campus. New Hostels were completed in 2002. Other projects were the Faculty of Education blocks and Lecture theatre; Lecture rooms, Offices and Lecture Theatre for the Faculty of Business and Social Sciences; Faculty of Science Chemistry block; Department of Agricultural Engineering block; offices for the Department of Human Kinetics and Health Education; COMSIT building (Phase I) among others.
A water Dam and Treatment Plant to provide uninterrupted water supply to the main campus has just been completed. The university will soon construct a rail-line to boost transportation between the university Main Campus and the township.
Apart from the renovation of buildings, a systematic upgrading of teaching and research facilities is being undertaken by the university within its lean resources. These includes provision of computers, laboratory equipment and many other infrastructures that make academic exercise conducive for the seekers.
Teaching and research
The College of Health Sciences was split in two to widen the scope of study, Basic Medical Science and Clinical Sciences. A man who knows what is entails to build a revered citadel of learning, Ambali has continued to invest hugely on training and retraining of staff.
It is instructive to say that all members of staff of the university have benefited in one way or the other via in-house, local, national and international workshops, seminars and conferences.
Other initiatives include the provision of Dell Laptop loan for lecturers, the upgrade of the university’s classrooms to be IT compliant; upgrading of the internet connectivity on campus with the recent migration from STM 1 to STM 4 and operation of a paperless Senate.
It’s therefore apt to say Unilorin is an IT compliant university with all these remarkable achievements.
The institution with support of private organisations has over 2,000 computers in CBT centre.
Expansionist policy of Amali’s Administration
In its sustained quest for excellence and to widen the scope of career choice for admission seekers, the university Senate, presided over by Ambali, approved the introduction of new academic programmes with the establishment of three new faculties and the unbundling of some ‘unwieldy’ departments.
While a brand new Faculty of Environmental Sciences, with the full complement of departments was established, two other faculties—Life Science and Management Sciences– were excised from the old Faculty of Science and Faculty of Business and Social Sciences respectively.
Also, some departments in the Faculty of Education were unbundled to widen their academic programmes. In this regard, the Department of Arts and Social Science Education were split into the Department of Arts Education and the Department of Social Science Education. The Department of Science Education has also been split into the Department of Science Education and the Department of Educational Technology.
Staff Capacity Building
It is on note that Ambali’s passion for human capital development in the last three year of his administration is unprecedented in the history of the school. More staff members have been sponsored or supported to acquire higher degrees within the last three years.
Ambali has continued to facilitate international seminar/conferences for staff to expose them to latest information/ideas in academic world. He also used his link to attract prominent personalities to deliver convocation lectures in the institution.
In 2015, President of Republic of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama was invited to deliver the convocation lecture. Also, the former US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Walter Carrington, was brought to deliver the convocation lecture of the university.
It has become a tradition for Ambali to be inviting a learned scholar from the United States of America to facilitate academic introspection at the university in order to attract grants.
Readily on top of this initiative, Ambali has been coordinating the research grants attracted to the university by the various researchers judiciously and without fear or favour. The multiplier effect of this has resulted in various research breakthroughs, one of which is the discovery of new anti-malaria compounds by a Professor of Inorganic Chemistry, Joshua Ayoola Obaleye.
Collaboration and Partnership
Ambali has continued to forge partnerships with outstanding academic and other institutions across the globe to expand student experience and faculty growth.
Unilorin is at the forefront of relationship-building with partners. These relationships have grown into multidimensional interactions between Unilorin and its partner institutions abroad.
“We have developed partnerships with various universities abroad but it has not reached the state of implementation. We have collaboration with E and M University, we have with Georgia, we have with Wisconsin, so we have with quite a number of universities in the US, also we have with European universities.
“ The last time the Ambassador of Netherlands was here we had tried to establish a relationship with few universities in the Netherlands because they are very good in milk production enterprises, so things will get better,’’ Ambali had once said.
Infrastructural and Technological Development
No doubt, the university is naturally endowed to accommodate more physical development, with a very big landscape amounting to about 150, 000 hectares, according to the Vice Chancellor.
This God-given asset has equally assisted the university to grow unprecedentedly in terms of physical infrastructural development. Today, the university has grown in its leaps and bound by adding some faculties such as Veterinary Medicine, Environmental Sciences, lectures theatres and lecture rooms.
These landmarks would not have been easy to attain if not for the prudent measures put in place in the allocation of the little resources available to the university.
Ambali also attracted additional funds to the university as well as improved Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) for the university.
Over the years, the institution had developed a culture of accountability and prudent utilisation of funds. This has endeared the university to the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund).
Again and quite significantly, with the completion of the N95.8 million fibre optics infrastructure in February this year and the massive upgrading of the bandwidth at the end of July, through the prompting of the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the University Governing Council, Prof. (Obi) Chukwuma Okonjo, the strength of internet connectivity in the university community will be more efficient, more reliable and more accessible.
Multi-functional ID cards
The innovative drive in the university has equally impacted on the means of identification by both staff and students of the university. Ambali shifted the paradigm from the old order to the new one. The lofty initiative as again spoken well of the ICT-driven society the Vice Chancellor is set to achieve in the system. Today, an ID card in the institution has been calibrated to perform multi-function services to include Automated Teller Machine cards, an access control card as well as its traditional means of identification. To this extent, it is no longer news that the university has step up and living in a digitalised university community. The cards were produced by the university and it is the first of its kind by any university in the country.
Owing to the fact that digitalisation has reduced the whole world to a global village the integration of technologies in learning and education seems to be an inevitable process. University of Ilorin has championed a rethink model for teaching and learning as the institution is replacing outdated system which places emphasis on the delivery of information by an instructor or from a textbook rather than being learner-centric.
Seeing the need and taking the lead, the institution set the pace for CBT from the entry to the exit of the institution. This makes it mandatory for the One-Student-One-ipad initiative.
For sure, the initiative has been a positive turning point in the overall performance of Unilorin students.
Not only has this initiative been widely adopted by universities in the country today, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) has indicated its desire to henceforth make its examinations entirely CBT-based.
With the university’s highest policy making body, the Senate, already operating paperless sessions and the Registry already toying with the idea of paperless memos, the one- student-one-IPAD initiative is a welcome extension of the wave of paperless revolution already sweeping through the university’s operations.
Centre for Entrepreneurship Development
Global development is tilted towards where entrepreneurship is increasingly playing a more important role in an economy particularly, in a developing country like Nigeria. Given the huge deficit in the nation’s labour market, Ambali has succeeded in flagging off a massive oil palm plantation covering about 1,000 hectares of land.
This lofty initiative attracted the interest of the former Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and she was glad to perform the ground breaking ceremony. The plantation will provide training and laboratory facilities for students in the Faculties of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences as well as the Departments of Forestry, Plant Biology and other related disciplines. At maturation, it would also be a good source of internally generated revenue for the university.
Unilorin has also started plantations bearing Date palm, Jatropha, Moringa and oil palm .
These are in addition to livestock with the hope of producing milk in the University.
Another landmark achievement is the fabrication of Solar power that is about to debut in the very soon and which would provide clean energy for the university community.
Ambali’s Giant strides at University of Ilorin
October 12, 2012 marked a watershed in the history of University of Ilorin as an astute administrator, affable humanist and an academic per excellence, Professor AbdulGaniyu Ambali, took over the coveted position of vice chancellorship of the ivory tower.
His coming into the administration of the ‘Better by far’ institution was premised on clear vision of taking the citadel of learning to the next level of academic excellence in learning, research and character.
One of his priorities was to maintain and sustain the achievements that had been made in the university prior to his assumption of duty.
Secondly was to invent, create and recreate new innovations and ideas that are in conformity with modern trends, particularly the 21st century approach to learning and research with a multiplier effect of affecting the host community, the state and the nation generally for the better.
With his can do’’ spirit, this erudite scholar and professor of Veterinary Medicine believes nothing is impossible to achieve. This was the exact mindset Ambali brought to bear in his administration of the institution fondly called Unilorin.
Having travelled wide in the course of his chosen career, the vice chancellor had certainly seen it all and is deploying this in precipitating the lofty global best practices experiences.
Of this vision, he recalls: ` I had a vision of course when I was coming for the interview for the position of VC of the university. We were asked to put it down in writing and that is what I did, and I have been trying as much as possible to follow it, of course with modifications as times goes on, because life is not static. Things are not stationary, you have to continue to evolve a better way of doing things that you want to do. I had a blueprint, if you want to call it a blueprint”.
For his strong belief in the Unilorin project, he contested for the coveted position more than one time before he eventually made it.
It was not surprising that on assumption of duty, he had hit the ground running. It was no longer business as usual for the university in maintaining its top position among its peers.
A man with a global world view, Ambali is obsessed with the 21st century approach to teaching, learning and research. In his words, “Whatever system I met in place, I tried as much as possible to refine it and find a 21st century way of doing it in terms of learning and research.
Ambali is also using cutting-edge technologies as a tool to enhance and enrich student-lecturers engagement while freeing valuable class time for richer interaction.
Unilorin is certainly meeting the needs and expectations of an increasingly diverse digital world.
The university is a Wifi-connected community that is anticipating and responding to developments in cutting-edge transformative, integrated and information technologies.
In his drive to maintain and sustain the legacy of academic excellence he inherited from the previous administrations, Ambali has made both academic and non-academic staff welfare priority.
Among benefits being enjoyed are home and overseas training aimed at raising the bar of their skills as well as building staff capacity. For this singular reason, the university continues to maintain the lead in smooth running of academic programmes.
Today, the institution is enjoying well over 17 years of uninterrupted academic calendar., with industrial relations excellent while it is the toast of admission seekers.
The university again has restored public confidence in the university education system. Today, the university remains the standard by which other universities are measured.
For sure, Ambali is not only sustaining these legacies but he has also made the university to witness transformational development. For him, it is one-day-one development.
A visit to the university will definitely convince the first-time visitor. No doubt, the Ilorin-born professor earned the conferment of the national honours award of the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) and this only points to his unrelenting efforts at keeping the university running uninterruptedly
Up to the just concluded Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB), the university has continued to keep its head up and high on the steady rise as the most preferred university in Nigeria. There is no gainsaying the fact that since 2012 under the Ambali-led administration, University of Ilorin been the first amon equals.
According to statistics obtained from the National Universities Commission (NUC) and JAMB, Unilorin was the 8th most preferred university by admission seekers in 2011; 5th in 2012; 2nd in 2013 and 1st this year.
After the last Unified Tertiary Institutions Matriculations Examination (UTME), JAMB/NUC statistics showed that the institution was the most subscribed university in the country with a total of over 107,000 candidates seeking to enter the university in the 2015/2016 academic session.
The University of Benin came a distant second in this respect with about 76,000 admission seekers.
Unsurprisingly, the Nigerian Association of Agricultural Students in 2014 named the institution as “Most Outstanding University in Nigeria.’’
The “Award of Clean and Green of Excellence” was conferred on the erudite scholar for consistency in maintaining a green environment through environmental cleanliness and aesthetic beauty. The award was presented to Ambali in his office on November 26, 2015.
The most recent in the list of his awards is for his contributions to multidisciplinary research and inter-tertiary institutions collaborations in Africa, Ambali was rewarded with the prestigious award of a “Brainchild of The Research Nexus Africa Networks.’’
The vice-chancellor was among the six distinguished world renowned academics honoured at the 2016 edition of the International Multidisciplinary Cross-Border Conference on Science, Technology, Education, Arts, Management and the Social Sciences (iSTEAMS) held at the University of Professional Studies, Accra (UPSA), Ghana.
The award was in recognition of their various contributions to human capital development, cross-border academic initiatives and the general development of education in Africa.
Prof. Santiago-Blas had described the Unilorin helmsman as “a household name in the international academia following his giant strides of achievements that have placed the University of Ilorin on the global education map”.
Santiago-Blas said it was, therefore, not a surprise that such a globally acknowledged achiever was being recognised for his services in the area of educational development.
One of the positive outcomes of the Ambali initiatives was the award won by Master AbdulHakeem AbdulKareem, a graduate of Unilorin in December 2015.
The young man had won the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) nationwide essay contest with the topic ‘Broadband; A Catalyst for National Development.’’
For his academic excellence, administrative prowess and drive for innovations, Ambali has put before the whole world a welter of achievements that had been as innovative as it had been impactful.