NOUN News: What is your vision for Yenagoa Study Centre?
Amini: When I came, I saw the structures, I saw the available land, and I said either the university or the government of Bayelsa State has got to do something about this place. The government has to do something, in the sense that the university is serving the interest of Bayelsans. So I made effort to reach out to government. That was what made us to take the advocacy to the Ministry of Education and we saw the commissioner for Education. The commissioner promised to come and see what we are doing, and he came. He saw the place and he also said yes, that the university is serving Bayelsans. He made a presentation to the governor on our behalf because we requested for a 200-seat auditorium in form of an amphitheatre and water for that e-exams building. There should be a water tank for that building because the water we have here is not adequate to serve that building as well. At the moment, cleaners do fetch water to be used at that building since the water we have here cannot reach there. My thinking is that we should have another building in the premises that should serve the purposes of both Pen-on-Paper (PoP) and e-exams as well. If these facilities are put in place, the university can easily expand this place for the purpose of internally generated revenue (IGR). Recently, the commissioner also sent JAMB to come and inspect our e-exams facilities here for possible deployment for their computer-based tests (CBT). JAMB came here, but I’m sorry to say we failed the test because JAMB was looking for a facility that has the capacity of at least 500 computers, but we don’t have that here. So we need a larger hall. Our request to the government, according to the commissioner, is receiving attention. Although we understand that the commissioner is contesting for a seat in the House of Representatives, we know that whosoever comes in to replace him will continue to follow up on our request to the government. We have seen that this place has the potentials for a boom in population. When we went out on advocacy campaigns, we received a lot of goodwill from people. We went to places that boast of high concentration of people, like the Swali Market. A lot of people were excited that there is a facility like NOUN Study Centre in the state and that they can actually remain in their shops to continue their studies. They were really interested, and they have extended another invitation to us to come and mount another enlightenment campaign and they have promised to make it a big show for us. We have not taken advantage of that invitation yet because of the internal programmes of the university at the moment. There were convocation, matriculation, students’ forum and freshmen orientation, etc. However, when we have a little space after these exams, we will certainly hit back. In fact, I have a vision of seeing this place booming. As a matter of fact, the advocacy has already begun to produce result.
NOUN News: Your staff strength, is it adequate?
Amini: Not adequate. I just have to put it straight. Staff strength is not adequate. As I came, two senior staff were transferred: The counselor and one registry staff, and they have not been replaced. I have made a statement about that, that if staff are removed, they should be replaced because we need adequate hands to do the work. If you check, it is just four staff and I that are senior staff at this centre. There is a limit to which I can make use of junior staff. Junior staff are just security personnel and cleaners. The few others are not really enough for us to make use of. So, I hereby appeal to the registrar and the Human Resources to send to us one counselor and other senior staff so that we may be able to manage this centre well.
NOUN News: I had an experience in Port Harcourt when the NUC Accreditation Team came to assess the centre sometime last year. They requested to be led to the centre library, and were taken to the store because that is the only place with large volume of printed materials. They said they were looking for a library and not a store. They were taken to the e-library and they said no, they needed a physical library with hardcopies of learning resources. So, do you have such a library here?
Amini: Yes, we have a store which is not a library. When I came, I saw vacant rooms behind the e-examination hall. So, I moved our hard books, not the course materials, to that section. However, that place is not properly demarcated. We will need the Directorate of Physical Development, Works and Services (DPDW&S) to come and carry out proper demarcation of that place into two rooms that we can use as our library. If we put seats and properly furnish them, they will serve as our physical library. The second one is that the e-library is not operational. We have space to set up an e-library. I thought of speaking with the new librarian to see how that place can start functioning as a proper e-library.
NOUN News: Taking time to do it early can be a stitch in time that saves nine…
Amini: Yes, because no one knows when NUC might come.
NOUN News: Indeed, NUC can come anytime. If they could go to a centre as young as Sapele which was established just yesterday (so to say), they can come anytime.
Amini: Yes, I will find time to do a memo to management on this issue so that that one may be put behind us.
NOUN News: Recently, the dean of the Faculty of Law, Dr. Ernest Ugbejeh, made mention that that faculty would soon resume admission of students…
Amini: I don’t know about that. For now we have not started admitting law students at this centre.
NOUN News: But you have those who had already been admitted into the system?
Amini: Yes, they are writing exams. What I would have recommended is that centres should actually specialise. So, if there are good centres where Law – Law is a special programme – can be properly situated: Centres like Abuja, Lagos, Enugu, and in the South-south, Uyo, and maybe Port Harcourt, where students can be admitted for Law. It is okay. It may not be necessary to spread all the courses in all the centres. What I would have emphasised here is Agric, but the students are not there. Look at our land. We have vast land where students can carry out their practical agriculture, but the students are not there. I can boast of just one student offering Agric at this centre.
NOUN News: What could be responsible for that?
Amini: I don’t know. Ironically Bayelsa is in an agricultural zone. In this zone there is a lot of food production going on: Potatoes, cassava, rice, fishery, and so on. If they could come and take theoretical and practical approach to the things they do, their output in food production would be greatly enhanced.
NOUN News: Would you consider injecting this into your advocacy campaign?
Amini: Certainly! Yes, we will do that as soon as we recommence our campaigns. I think, Sarama Market holds on Fridays. After these exams we are hitting that market. We have discovered that most of the responses for enrolment actually come from the markets. From Swali Market alone we had at least 10 persons who reported here for enrollment. When we asked how they got to hear about us, they told us that they heard about us the day we came to the market for advocacy. That was how we came to conclude that after the exams we are going to hit Swali, Sarama and Polo markets hard with advocacy. We earlier wrote letters to the kingdoms: Nembe, Opia, Akassa, etc., in fact the kings didn’t respond. We didn’t even meet any of those kings in the first place. We were told they live in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt. As we speak, they haven’t even replied our letters. We intended to take advocacy to those kingdoms, beginning from the palaces of the kings. We wanted to get even the kings to enroll, taking advantage of our existence here, but they didn’t reply up till now.
NOUN News: Do you have any suggestion or advice for management?
Amini: The times are tight. Let’s say management is trying. It is not easy to manage this kind of large university. Be that as it may, there are still areas management can do better. In the area of communication, management is trying to reach out to centres in time, but the centres also need money. I do not completely blame management for this because they also have funds constraints. One area that is really worrisome is the payment of facilitators. The facilitators complain so much. Anybody to whom you send students for project supervision, a lot of them complain that they have not been paid for two, three years. This situation creates room for these supervisors to ask students for money, and students who want to leave in time are pressured to part with their money in order to get supervised. If management pays supervisors in time, centre directors would be bold enough to confront supervisors to ask them, “Why are you delaying my student?” They are not on our salary.
NOUN News: Do you really think that if the supervisors were paid on time, the issue of their extorting our students would be removed?
Amini: To some extent, yes it would. There are very senior facilitators/supervisors. I know of one at Niger Delta University. When she came here, she said “God in heaven knows that I don’t take any money from your students, many of them have graduated and I have not been paid. It is an obligation on your part that after serving you, you should pay me.” She is an elderly woman and was very bitter about it. A woman, who can pass for my elder sister or even my mother, she was really scolding me. She even threw her recommendation letter at me, and said, “You have refused to pay me, yet you keep sending these students to me.” There are these kind of people among the facilitators. I know also there are those who, even if you pay them, will still find a way to extort the students. It happens generally in the university system. Lecturers, supervisors extort students, but I feel that we should fulfill our own part of the obligation and on time too.
NOUN News: Away from facilitators and their remuneration, there has been complaints about the imprest paid to study centres by management, that the funds are inadequate and don’t come regularly. What is your take on this?
Amini: We know that management has the challenge of paucity of funds, but what is given to centres as imprest is grossly inadequate. You can’t force management. It is management that decides. Here we don’t even run on the national grid, the fuel consumption here is outrageous. We are connected to the national grid, we even have balance with them in our favour, but the power doesn’t come and the centre must run. In Bayelsa here the price of PMS per litre stands at N200, N198, and N195. By the time you run the generator every day, you discover that the imprest is just for fuel, and can’t be sufficient for other things; but we must do other things. As you walked into the premises, you may have noticed that that frontage is bushy. We have to clear that place regularly to keep this centre neat. You ask the security men here to clear that place, they tell you that it is not their job. We must get someone paid to do it. There is a section of this compound that requires the services of a gardener. We have hired a gardener to handle that and we pay him from the imprest.
NOUN News: Oh! There is no internal gardener here?
Amini: No, we have not been given any. So, we employed this one and pay him from the imprest; otherwise the place would be bushy. I also force the cleaners and give them portions to weed. We must keep the bushes at bare so that reptiles may not embarrass us. There was one day a very big alligator was sighted here, and you know such creatures are very dangerous. To be very fair to the centre directors, the monthly imprest is not adequate but we must be careful and considerate of management because they also don’t have the funds. I believe that if management has the funds there will improvement in what they give to centres.