Although, Nigeria has over 120 public and private conventional universities, it is unarguable that they are far from meeting the educational needs of the country’s teeming population. The illiteracy level in Nigeria remains very high.
Several reasons account for this development. Tight schedules at the workplace and the financial wherewithal to foot conventional studies, among others have deprived most Nigerians who desire higher education of the opportunity. Efforts to bridge this gap compelled the government of former President Shehu Shagari to launch the idea of a National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) on July 22, 1983.
Over the decades, NOUN has not only experienced turbulent times, in a competitive market, but more interestingly, it has survived it, as evident in its manifest visibility on the national scene today. Analysts contend that never in its history has the vision and mission of NOUN articulated and vigorously pursued by its chief administrators been vigorously pursued than obtains at the moment under its current leadership led by Professor Vincent Ado Tenebe, an agronomist of repute.
He encapsulates his vision for the varsity as; “NOUN is more concerned about the entire Nigerians and especially those in the rural areas, those boys and girls on the streets, who have necessary academic qualifications for university admission.”
Upon appointment as Vice Chancellor, Tenebe met a promising institution like NOUN at the verge of extinction. The portrait of the varsity was smeared to the extent that aside the stigmatisation imposed on it by conventional universities in the country, lack of accreditation of courses, the non-inclusion of graduates of NOUN in the Law School and NYSC scheme were some of the multiple bruises suffered by the university. Public interest waned and students’ enrolment into NOUN was on its record low.
But when Tenebe came on the stage, he confronted these challenges and unchained the hidden treasures of the university instantly. And the gains have kept appreciating, as exemplified in increased students enrolment, accreditation of courses, expansion in academic programmes and the uncommon interest of even elder statesmen and high academics in acquiring NOUN’s open and distance learning education.
Professor Tenebe and his team at NOUN have ensured that its graduates no longer suffer any stigma arising from improper packaging of the university’s policies and programmes. Tenebe has set out the modalities for NOUN graduates to now participate in the NYSC scheme. To concretise the deal, the university leadership has sealed an agreement with the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), to henceforth issue admission letters to every graduate eligible for the NYSC scheme after the payment of prescribed fees by NOUN. By implication, with effect from the next academic session, NOUN graduates below the age of 30 will be proud participants in the NYSC programme.
Another striking aspect of Tenebe’s innovative leadership of NOUN is his conviction that the university is the mother of all universities in Nigeria; hence its limitless capacity to admit interested and qualified candidates. He believes that NOUN can effectively accommodate five million to 10 million students without hitches. And he has not relented on his oars to maximally exploit this opportunity for the benefit of all Nigerians, to replicate what NOUN counterparts in other parts of the world have also achieved.
Therefore, from the initial 15,000 students enrolment figure Prof. Tenebe met on assumption of office about five years ago, NOUN has doubled the figure currently. NOUN students population under Tenebe’s watch has hit 400, 000, with active students in the range of 180, 000.
But he feels it is just a tip of the iceberg, as the target is primed to hit half a million enrolment figure in the nearest future, without compromising standards, an ambition that would undoubtedly materialise in the next two academic sessions. He also, plans to erect NOUN study centres in all the 774 local council areas in Nigeria, as he targets the 1.5 million enrolment figure. From the initial 36 NOUN study centers he inherited, the number has surged to 55 across the country and he is still counting.
His philosophy for this Open University is unbeatable. In dogged pursuance of the mission of the university, Tenebe has created special study centres for the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW). Military and para-military are also beneficiaries of Tenebe’s foresight for NOUN. Study centres have been established for the Nigeria Air force, the Immigration, the Police, Navy and the Nigeria Prisons. And plans are in top gear to extend similar gestures to the army and other such establishments in the determination to accord Nigerians affordable education.
It is Prof. Tenebe’s overhauling of NOUN that has gingered enrolment into the university by both the young and the old. Even serving vice chancellors of other universities; traditional rulers and other highly placed Nigerians desirous of knowledge are now its students. And the bait has been his strictest application of standards in NOUN, as obtainable in conventional universities in the country.
To broaden the scope of learning, Tenebe has ensured that the 10 schools/faculties spelt out in the university’s academic development master plan or blueprint are operational currently. And NOUN now trains students in arts, social sciences as well as courses in engineering and the core sciences.
NOUN has also surmounted the barrier created by the National Council on Legal Education which hitherto rejected the inclusion of law graduates of NOUN in the Nigerian Law School in order to be called to the Bar for legal practice. The School of Law in NOUN is duly approved and accredited by the National Universities Commission (NUC) like applicable in conventional universities.
Apart from this leverage, law students have a direct interface with their lecturers from time to time, as Tenebe admits NOUN uses, “State of the art technology inclusive of the print media, electronic media and other integrated and strategic forms of communications to tutor students.”
But in spite of everything, Tenebe’s ovation sounds louder in public domain for his zero tolerance against corruption and the mindless exploitation of students through dubious levies which cumulatively pep up tuition fees. To keep fees low, Tenebe introduced revenue initiatives for the university. The establishment of the National Open University of Nigeria Consults and Investment limited (NOUNCIL) is a direct response to the financial needs of the university. The company offers consultancy services and extra-mural studies. But it is also into hospitality business, transport, catering services, agriculture, bottled and sachets water production among others.
Based on his towering accomplishments in the running of NOUN, Nigerian students, under the auspices of National Association of Nigerian Universities Students (NANUS), recently raised the ovation louder for Tenebe by conferring on him the award of the most Innovative and Transformative Vice Chancellor and University in the country.
National President of NANUS, Comrade Peter Bassey, captured the essence of the award in these “Having done a thorough assessment of the private universities, public universities, conventional and non-conventional universities, a fact, which stood out remained the innovative and product-driven learning approach adopted by the NOUN under the leadership of Prof. Vincent Ado Tenebe as the Vice Chancellor. For a university that had less than 15,000 students enrolled prior to the Tenebe administration, the students’ population has risen to over 300, 000, thereby bringing mass literacy to the hitherto un-reached and making NOUN the largest university in Africa and one of the world’s largest open universities.”
Therefore, with Prof. Tenebe on the saddle at NOUN, students under his tutelage would also imbibe his leadership qualities. It is believed that they would leave NOUN with a positive perception about their country. They will know that corruption is a plague to avoid, hence Tenebe, their Vice Chancellor, never exploited their innocence in exchange for the degree they desired. It is quite germane that a university administrator with such leadership drive and qualities be allowed more time to impact on his generation, especially as NOUN is a special university, outside of the conventional universities bond by a five-year single term.
*Targema, a public affairs commentator, blogger and rights advocate, writes from Federal University Dutsinma, Katsina State.