The Vice Chancellor of the Niger Delta University (NDU), Professor Samuel Gowon Edoumiekumo is a thorough bred public administrator who rose through the ranks to become the head of Bayelsa’s premier university. Since his appointment in May 2017, first in acting capacity and a year later as the substantive Vice Chancellor, he has instituted a lot of far-reaching reforms in the school, and completely changed the narrative, which today has made the NDU rank among one of the best state-owned universities in Nigeria.
His emergence as the VC of the university was deliberate. The former governor of the state, Senator Seriake Dickson, who had a penchant for hiring the best hands for any job, settled for him because he wanted a breath of fresh air at the NDU and Prof. Edoumiekumo, who in a magical manner convinced the then education team that he had what it takes to run the school as a business as a business to attain financial independence and autonomy made him the man for the job without hesitation.
Upon his appointment, he was charged unequivocally to bring his wealth of experience to bear on the running of the institution and make it the pride of the government and people of the state. It didn’t take long before the transformation of the NDU started.
First, was the almost 24-hour daily power supply and an uninterrupted water supply on campus, followed by 100% full accreditation status of almost all the programmes presented in the 2018 NUC/Professional accreditation exercise, and the introduction of online fees payment, course registration and result platforms, which solved the previous cumbersome process.
Prof. Edoumiekumo in his bid to make the university self-sufficient, started an entrepreneurial system to generate revenue to meet some of its basic needs and overhead costs.
Today, there is the NDU table water, bread, detergent, disinfectant, paint and other products. Under him, a functional radio station was established, as well as the installation of CCTV and other devices to aid security on the campus and other very laudable achievements.
Under his leadership, the university environment had continued to experience not just the sprouting of a new Senate and faculty buildings and hostels, many of which were funded by third party agencies and donors in addition to many satellite programmes. He made sure that not only were magnificent structures built, but that they are all connected with an asymmetry of well-constructed and tarred roads with walkways.
Being a man who believes that cleanliness is next to godliness and learning, he made sure to put policies in place to guarantee not just a clean environment but that it is enforced and made a culture in the institution. Today, the NDU is clean and green.
It was on the strength of his impressive performance that he was, in February this year, conferred with the prestigious African Educationist of the Year Award. The award was presented to him at the 9th edition of the Persons of the Year 2020 award ceremony, which was hosted by the Africa Leadership Magazine (ALM) and was held virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Also honoured were world leaders including the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo Ado, his Sierra Leone counterpart, Earnest Koroma, Former Nigeria President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, amongst others.
In his speech, Edoumiekumo, while thanking the ALM, expressed joy for the recognition. He said it gladdens his heart, as the award was in appreciation of his contributions in blending education and entrepreneurship into the university system, noting that it is a call for him to do more.
“The goal here is creating opportunities for students to learn and have a skill before graduation. This is basically an empowerment strategy in preparing this children for life after school. When a person is appreciated, it boosts your zeal to want to do more, to want to achieve what is normally perceived as unattainable so I thank you”, he said.
Only recently, Prof. Edoumiekumo emerged as the new chairman of the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, thus confirming his pedigree and astuteness in the comity of university administrators across the country. It was also a befitting honour for the NDU as an institution.
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However, despite the achievements of Edoumiekumo and the success story that has trailed his tenure, all seems not to be well with the NDU as recent developments have indicated that the VC has been running a one man show which has cost the school so much and put him on a collision course with students, some members of the university’s management as well as academic and non-academic staff.
A fortnight ago, students of the NDU embarked on a peaceful protest over what they described as some new obnoxious policies introduced by the VC. One of the new policy was the compulsory wearing of uniforms, a development that did not go
down well with them.
According to an official release posted on the notice board in the Faculty of Engineering, the students in the faculty were meant to wear carton colour trouser/skirt with white shirt, and a matching carton colour tie/scarf on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. While on Tuesdays, the students were expected to wear blue jeans and red t-shirt, then on Fridays, a “simple traditional attire”.
What infuriated the students more was the directive by the management that the new uniforms must not be bought outside but from them at the cost of between N20,000 and N30,000 per unit of the uniforms. This, according to a staff of the institution, was a way to generate revenue by Edoumiekumo. The embattled VC had in a meeting held with students on May 7, 2021, tried in vain to convince them to comply with the policies foisted on them.
Arguing against the position of the VC, the students noted that there was a distinction between a dress code and uniform. They pointed out that while their colleagues in the Faculty of Law wear only a black and white outfit, and medical students wearing their white lab coat and engineering students wear overalls already as standard dress codes of their profession, Edoumiekumo was forcing a variety of “asoebi” on them at an outrageous cost.
One of the students said: “The black and white dress identifies them as law students and they wear that Monday to Friday. The law students do not buy the dress from the school’s management, they buy from the open market and the prices are determined by natural forces of demand and supply. So, why will our own be different”? he asked.
There was clearly no need for the policy. If it was intended as a means of generating revenue then it was a tacit desire to bud institutional criminal commerce. It was clearly a financial burden that would have been too much for the students to bear, considering what they are going through with most of them being unable to meet up the payment of their school fees.
Moreso, the university already makes money from the production of ID cards paid for by the students. Clearly, the VC acted in error as it didn’t also make sense that the uniforms were meant to serve as easy identification of the students as he tried to convince the students in the above meeting in futility. If so, what then is the need for the ID cards which are already in use and was this also part of the conditions for which students were admitted into the university?
The closure of the portal for school fees, which was aimed at automatically making students who failed to register for the previous academic session, repeat their level of study, was another decision that the Edoumiekumo led NDU management did not think through.
In rolling out the policy, the VC didn’t take into account the current economic realities. Many universities have adopted a system which entails that an additional sum will be added on the main fee after the expiration of the stipulated date.
For example, the University of Ibadan gives a deadline for payment and make a little weekly increment of due fees when it’s past the deadline. They also don’t stop students from writing exams but they deny you results upon graduation till the outstanding fees are cleared.
The NDU students have also cried out against the high fees imposed by the university. Being a state owned university, the authorities had fixed lower tuition fees for indigenous students but findings has revealed that there is no tangible difference between the amount paid by indigenous students and their non indigenous colleagues.
Worried by the protest which was likely going to turn violent because of the level of tension, the state government promptly intervened and brought the situation under control. As a result, the school fees portal was reopened a few days ago and the idea of uniforms was scrapped. The government also directed the resumption of student union activities which the embattled VC had previously banned because of his resolve not to entertain any opposing voice.
The proscription of students union was undemocratic and an assault on the human and constitutional liberty of the students. A student union is an venue to train students on leadership from the university level. Many of the top politicians today started their careers from student union activities. It was a case of deliberate, aggressive and methodical strangulation of the students by Edoumiekumo.
Following the sad events in the NDU, there is now a strong push by some people in government circles for Edoumiekumo’s tenure to be terminated. Those who are advocating for this are of the opinion that he has ran out of ideas and that his recent draconian policies have embarrassed the Prosperity Administration. They are emphatic that allowing him to continue in office will not be healthy for the NDU because of the rivalry and the bad blood he has created due to his “Alpha and Omega” attitude.
They pointed out that the recent unified and non-violent demonstration by youths of the institution’s host community, Amassoma against the VC is a confirmation that the centre can no longer hold. The youths had accused Edoumiekumo of sundry offences including neglect, disregard and disrespect for their traditional institution. They stated that the VC has grossly undermined the community and called for his sack.
Some people have argued that the VC is deliberately doing what he is doing to attract the attention of the government in order to push for more funding of the university. The VC had assured the previous government that university can fund itself and achieve self sustenance, and this was one of the basis for the confirmation of his appointment as VC.
But despite the many promises he made which earned him the appointment, and subsequent partial funding from government by way of subventions, the same university is yet to fund itself, rather there are unconfirmed reports that the university is running at a loss and in huge debts which the government is not aware of because no auditing of the institution’s account has been done for a long while.
Sources say the university under him allegedly has emptied the funds belonging to the cooperatives in the university through reckless borrowing which has accounted for the delayed payment of salaries of the university staff. It has also been alleged that the VC has just relocated to a very exotic private residence in Yenagoa while he moves around with a convoy of cars accompanied by a retinue of aides and heavily armed security details including officials of the Department of State Service (DSS).
Staff of the university believe that the ostentatious lifestyle of the VC is funded from the university purse even though it is rumored that the said apartments as built by voluntary contributions of materials by contractors to the university.
There are also reports of allegations of how the VC is surreptitiously working with some of his sympathizers in the government to convince the Governor to extend his tenure which expires next year by amending the relevant law which stipulates that the sum total of his tenure will be calculated from the time he was in acting capacity and when he was confirmed. If that is done, it will set a bad precedent as Edoumiekumo’s predecessor did not get that preferential treatment.
As the dust of self inflicted controversies struggle to settle, fears are growing over rumored plans by the University Management to victimize some students over the protest. While everyone is patiently waiting to see to the full implementation of the corrective policy direction of the university, many have doubted if the NDU is still an institution at heart to all Bayelsans and the Niger Delta.