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Adeyemi Adejoke
Ebonyi State University (EBSU)
400Level, Nigeria.

A seven-member committee set up by the Governing Council of the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU), Bauchi State, to investigate the collapse of the metal bridge which linked the students hostel with lecture halls, has submitted its report. The collapsed bridge killed three students of the university and injured several others. However, #ATBU Vice Chancellor Prof Muhammad Abdullazeez has set the record straight over rumours in the wake of that calamity. He tells ADEGUNLE OLUGBAMILA what proactive measures the university is taking to forestall a reoccurrence.

Following the collapsed bridge which led to death of three students, the management of ATBU has begun construction of a befitting bridge. How long will the construction last?

I cannot say specifically when we will wrap up the project, but we hope that will be done very soon.

I recall immediately after the incident, we started constructing the temporary pedestrian bridge which we wanted to make permanent; but the Nigerian Army intervened. They now wanted to make the bridge bigger and motorable to also make way for vehicular movement.

The last time I spoke with them, they promised to deploy their machines soon. From the estimation, it would not last long. Students are currently writing their first semester exam and we hope the work would have gone far by the time they resume for second semester.

Two, we have cordoned off the place to prevent students passing through the place. So, what we are doing in the interim is to get buses for them from the school area to reading area because from one end to another is about 1.5 kilometres. But, when you have the shortcut, it is about 400 metres. The buses will serve as a palliative measure till things improve.

Your students have made some allegations bordering on poor water, insecurity, and poor hostels, among others. How valid are their claims and if so, how will ATBU management begin to address one after the other?

Sincerely, some of the complaints are genuine!

What happened was we relocated to Gubi campus not quite long.

At present, we have facilities for about 1000 students in Gubi campus. Incidentally, the campus is quite far away from town-about twenty something kilometres. So, the Dean of Students Affairs and the Students’ Union sat down and held discussions. With the approval of SU, it was agreed that the number of students per room should be increased.

We must all acknowledge that once such a thing of this sort happens, existing facilities are automatically overstretched. The place where we have our reservoir is far away, so what we did was to bring surface tanks to reduce the pressure. Incidentally, the number of students that we have in the halls have now increased. So we have to look at the comfort of our students first by reducing the cost of transportation for them.

Once we increased the number per room, we found out that facilities such as water and power were not enough. So we tried to install some generators in the hostels in order to increase energy. Two, we now have to use our tankers to complement the existing boreholes. We now have two water channels, one form the tanker and the other from boreholes. So during exams period like we have now, students from off campus will like to come over to the main campus to study, and this also put additional pressure on the facilities.

Amid these facilities gaps, does the management reach out to the alumni to seek assistance?

One of our alumnus is Dr Issah Alli Pantami, who wrote to us. He is a Computer Science graduate of the 2002 Set. He has shown interest in addressing some of the challenges I mentioned earlier. At the individual level, we have many of our graduates that are working and doing well in blue chip companies and are ready to also assist.

We also have the Alumni Relations Office wherein all activities of the alumni are being coordinated. That department is headed by a deputy registrar.

I did my Masters programme at the University of Ibadan and there I saw how far the alumni can go to assist their universities. At ATBU, we are just coming up with the concept of how the alumni can give back to their alma mater.

At the height of the last crisis, students accused the Students’ Union of being management’s stooge. How genuine or otherwise is this allegation?

The students are entitled to their opinions. We cannot speak for them though. However, the first thing you must realise is that the management comprises of parents like me who have children. Besides, we are loco parentis to these students. God has put me in charge of their lives and I’m going to give account to God what I did while these children were under my watch.

It might interest you to know that on a personal level, I engage these students. I usually play football with them on campus almost every Sunday; and in the process of doing that, you shake hands and talk with them freely thereby getting to know some of their grievances.

However, sometimes a piece of information is distorted when it goes from one source to another. Each hostel has electricians, porters, security guards and other workers. When they have any issue, the first port of call are the porters, and if the porter cannot address it, then they take to higher authorities like the Students Affairs Office or the Dean of Students Affairs as the case may be. These people have been given certain allocation because here we usually do not appreciate the idea of approaching management for things which could have been handled by them.

What we are trying to do now is like advocacy; letting the students know this is who to approach should you encounter this kind of challenge. Overall, let me say we have a very rosy relationship with our students. We want to compliment it with orientation. We need to engage them more on what their problems are so we will be able to trace and fix such problems as quickly as possible.

What have been management’s efforts in trying to find the causes of the calamity so such will not occur in future?

We set up a special committee on the collapsed bridge and the committee has just submitted its report. However beyond that, we now have a committee in place which looks at our problems holistically. That committee is charged with identifying the root cause of our challenges in addition to pointing out gaps that management needs to address urgently. The committee has also engaged the students who have made certain complaints. One of the complaints is that the Gubi campus environment is too bushy; and as a responsive management, we are determined to ensure that both teaching and learning are conducted in a conducive atmosphere.

Flooding has been one of the yearly challenges in Bauchi State and by extension ATBU. What proactive measures do you take to ward off or minimise to barest minimum the effect of flooding in the institution?

We contacted the Office of the Ecological Fund. It was under the Office of the Secreaty to Federal Government. and is saddled with taking care of the flood.

Honestly, we have a challenge of funding; what we do is construct more channels where water will pass. But once the flood begins, the volume of water is usually more than what we can handle. So, usually, we dam the stream. It’s a small stream and during dry season, you hardly find water there. But owing to climate change, the volume of water that we witness in recent years cannot be compared to what had happened in time past. So what we do is to simply monitor when these students cross over from the academic area to their hostels and vice versa.

What we have done is to first block the entire road and put ‘do not pass’ notice at certain strategic points since more buses have now been provided to convey students. We have now marked one or two strategic points where we have sent proposals to some donor agencies to build bridges there. Those points marked for bridges are where we felt might be more dangerous for our students within two or three year period.

Actually what we need is just one bridge since the hostels are not many for now, but you know students love to indulge and may not want to take the only bridge available. So we have counted about four points where we hope to construct pedestrian bridges. I was in Abuja this Sunday and I spoke with the permanent secretary of the Office of the Ecological Fund who promised to assist us toward the proposed bridges. They have even written us a proposal to control the ocean and the flooding from the main gate to the hostel so that water will not affect our roads.

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