How we used computer-based exams to solve sex-for-mark problem in Ambrose Alli Varsity –VC, Prof Onimawo
Just before bowing out of office on May 11, the Vice-Chancellor of Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, Prof. Ignatius Onimawo, spoke to ADEYINKA ADEDIPE about his academic career journey, the challenges he faced as VC and the legacies he would be leaving behind
You’ve risen to the pinnacle of your career as an academic. Did you always know you would come this far?
No; far from it. I grew up in a rural community called Afowa. My father was a carpenter and my mother was a farmer who did little trading by the side, so it was tough growing up. Going to school was even tougher but I was lucky to be enrolled in school. After I had got through primary school almost without any stress, getting into secondary school became difficult. At that time, it might take knowing someone who knew the principal for one to be enrolled in secondary school. But I didn’t have anybody who could talk to the principal for me. So, after primary school, I found myself in St. James College in Afuze, not as a pupil but as an apprentice to learn bricklaying, having tried twice to enroll in the school and failed. But the man who was supposed to be my master (in bricklaying) looked at me and told me that kids of my age were in school. He then advised me to tell my father to talk to the principal who was a white man and a Catholic priest. So, the three of us went to the principal who told me to start school the next day.
What was the experience like for you after being enrolled?
I had missed some weeks and my entry into the school was close to the mid-term break when we had to take some tests before the break. But one particular experience remains very funny to me each time I look back. The History teacher gave us a question: No Nile, no Egypt, discuss. I thought about it. I knew that there is a river called Nile and I knew that there is a country called Egypt. Again, I wondered what ‘discuss’ meant. I just wrote something to fill my answer script and when we came back from the mid-term break, the results were announced and I failed that particular test. The teacher told my classmates how I merely copied the question in my answer sheet; but I wasn’t bothered. I was happy enough to be in school and I was determined to make a success of it.
By the end of the term, I came third in the class to the surprise of many who regarded me as a dullard. From then till I finished, I never went below the second position until my final year when we wrote the WASSCE in 1976 and I got the best result in the entire local government area. So, it was clear that the next thing for me was to seek admission into a higher institution.
Tell us about your journey into the University of Ibadan?
In those days, you could seek admission into as many schools as you wanted, provided you had the requirements. I wrote entry exams for the University of Ibadan, University of Benin, Ahmadu Bello University, University of Calabar and University of Nigeria, Nsukka. I had a brother who was in the seminary in Ibadan who wanted me to study at UI. Apart from ABU, I passed all the other exams and I was offered admission. The admission for UNIBEN came first. I was offered admission to study Geology. I completed the registration process and became a student of UNIBEN. However, when UI released its admission list, I was offered admission and my brother urged me to come to UI, which I did.
What informed the choice of the course you studied?
My choice of course was dictated by the absence of a Physics teacher in my school during my last two years in secondary school. This limited the courses I could study in the university, since I did not write Physics in WASSCE. UNIBEN admitted me for Geology because I did Geography in secondary school and they also believed I could do well in Physics. I also liked Agricultural Science because it was a noble profession that paid well. I wrote Agricultural Science in WASSCE and I knew that it was a good course with which one could make it in life. I chose Agric in all the universities I applied to except UNIBEN. I had the conviction that Agric was the course for me.
When you look back do you feel gratified to have studied Agric?
My first degree was Agric Biochemistry and Nutrition but I was more inclined towards Biochemistry and Nutrition. After my first degree, I started lecturing and I felt I needed to concentrate on that area and I did my master’s in Nutritional Biochemistry also in the University of Ibadan in 1985. I also did my PhD in the same course, specialising in human nutrition.
You must have been married as of when you went for your PhD. How did you combine married life, lecturing and studying for your PhD?
Any wise person knows that if you want to be in the academia you must have your PhD. No matter how good you are if you stop at master’s, it doesn’t make sense. When you lecture in the polytechnic, you could rise to the position of a first lecturer. When I started teaching at the Federal Polytechnic, Idah, Kogi State, some people said there was no need to study more as I could rise to any position with my master’s. But my focus was beyond the polytechnic. So, I got my PhD while lecturing in the polytechnic before I moved to the university.
At what time did you think of getting married and how did you meet your wife?
I got married to my wife in 1988. She was a student in the polytechnic where I lectured. It was fate that brought us together. There was this lady from my local government who was studying Science Lab Technology and she had asked that I help keep her luggage and that of her friend in my apartment when the school was shut down due to students’ unrest. When they came I told her in our language that I liked her friend. She waved it off, we laughed and I gave her permission to put their things in my apartment. So, when they came back from the forced holiday, we started talking and one day I told her I wasn’t interested in just a relationship but that I wanted to marry her. She was in ND2 at that time and I told her that I wanted her to do her HND from my house. She thought I was joking but that was what happened. I went to Cross River State to meet her parents in November 1987 and by April 1988, we got married.
I also encouraged my wife to further her studies and she also bagged a doctoral degree. Initially, she read Secretariat Administration but I told her she couldn’t remain like that. She then bagged her post-graduate degree, followed by her master’s degree before bagging her doctorate in Public Administration. It was tough combining all of these but we had to do it. The children were growing up and that was why she did not start her own academic development on time, she had to take care of the home front while I was running around to fend for the family. But after I got my PhD, we shifted attention to her and that was how she began her career development.
How does it feel working with your wife in the same school?
There are is no problem or clash of interests. She has a doctorate and she lectures in the Public Administration Department and I was in the Biochemistry Department before I became the VC.
How has your discipline contributed to national development?
I am the President of the Nutrition Association of Nigeria and we have done a lot of advocacy and public enlightenment on the role of nutrition in health and national development. We have gone to many fora to put forward our ideas. We engaged the government which led to the setting up of the National Council for Nutrition in Nigeria and the chairman of that committee is the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. I have had several discussions at several fora and in the media on how to feed well and avoid cardiovascular diseases and other non-communicable diseases as well as what to do when you have them. We have also talked about the right diet and exercises. We also teach about how to cook your food and avoid nutrients loss. For me, I have done my quota and in 2013 or 2014, I was one of the three consultants contracted by the European Union to do a study on malnutrition in the northern part of the country, which formed the basis for their fight against the scourge in the northern states and indeed the whole of the country. Kano State took the fight against malnutrition so seriously that they established various agencies to take care of the problem. My discipline has helped to develop this country. My position is what is restricting me. As soon as I am done, I will go back to my profession.
How has your faith helped in your career and family life?
I was born into a Catholic family but that did not make me a good Christian. I got close to God when I had a problem in my family. We had a home help who was manipulative and was trying to destroy my home. So, I was introduced to a charismatic Reverend Father in the Idah Diocese. He conducted deliverance on the girl and advised that we send her back to her parents. From that moment, my wife and I became attracted to the church and we started to fellowship at Catholic Charismatic Renewal. That was the turning point for me. I took an eight-week programme and became the head of the fellowship and I rose through the ranks to become a prominent member. I have undergone training and I have also trained people and I give counsel, which is my strong point.
You have so many published works and you have presented papers in various countries. How have these helped in redefining the world?
In the academia, the popular saying is: “publish or perish,” but I didn’t know what it meant early in my teaching career at the polytechnic. It means that if you are not doing research and publishing, you will remain on a spot. So, as soon as I got my master’s degree in 1985, I initiated the attempt to start writing papers. My first paper that was published took over a year to be accepted. When I sent it out to international journals, they would tell me to make adjustments until it finally got published. When my first paper was published, that gave me hope and boosted my confidence to continue to write. Ever since, I have presented papers in many countries of the world. As the President of the National Council for Nutrition, it was mandatory to attend conferences of the International Union of Nutrition Scientists. I also became the Secretary General of the Africa Nutrition Society. I consult for the Food and Agriculture Organisation, trying to introduce and redefine nutrition education.
People think that when you read the course (Food and Nutrition), you have become a nutritionist. But it not so. You may have the knowledge but how do you impart it? We developed for FAO how to impart nutrition education. You cannot become a nutritionist until the knowledge you impart brings about behavioral changes in people. And that is my contribution to the international community. In Nigeria, we developed a nutritional education programme for the Federal Ministry of Agriculture that is being used to train extension workers.
What are the challenges that comes with being the VC of AAU?
Well, it has been very challenging. It has been tempestuous from day one. I will say that I am lucky to have faced those challenges because they toughened me. The Present ASUU Exco had their candidate for the post of the VC. So, right from the beginning of my tenure, they started making things difficult for me because I was not their candidate. There is nothing that I have done that they appreciate. This university was like poultry when I assumed office in 2016 and in five years we built six new faculties and completed 78 projects since I got into office. The buildings with blue roofs are the ones I started and completed. But in spite of all these, I have never enjoyed their support. They said I did not carry them along. When I asked them what that meant, no one could give me an answer. But there is no project that I have done that they didn’t know about. Members of ASUU are in the Senate where we discuss and approve a programme or project before it is carried out. I shared my vision with members of the Senate in our first meeting; they were properly briefed; so what do they mean by not carrying them along? People speculate that maybe they wanted me to share money meant to develop the school with them. They vowed to make life unbearable for me and that is why they have embarked on a strike even with few days to the end of my tenure. But whether they go on strike or not, that will not stop me from leaving on May 11.
What will be your next move when your tenure as the VC ends on May 11?
I will go back to research, which is my first area of interest. But I will go on a year sabbatical in a university or establishment during which I will also be free to do research.
For me, after my family what comes next is research. It also gives me joy when I am reading through academic papers, or trying to design a particular research project. A true academic will not allow himself to be distracted. The discipline to do research is what has helped me this far. If I am politically-inclined, maybe I would have fallen by the way side. As a Christian, I also believe in God to help me in my endeavours. I also instituted prayer for every first Thursday of the month in the school.
What will be you parting word for the student?
Initially, I was told students don’t learn or read on this campus. But when I became the VC, I found out that the malpractices in the system were making the students lazy. The students believed they didn’t have to read as long as they could bribe their way to success. I introduced computer-based exams. Students in 100L and 200L did all their exams digitally. Once they finished and press the submit button, their score comes up on the screen. So, you don’t need to give anyone money to pass. The ones who did not read failed but came back better in the next exam.
Did you have to deal with the issue of sex-for-mark among lecturers?
The ICT-based exam equally solved that problem because no female student needed to sleep with anyone before she could pass her exams. You get your results instantly. We have had the problem in the past but my administration put a stop to it. It didn’t happen during my tenure. I warned that anyone that is reported, investigated and found guilty would go for it. But the ICT-based exam has really helped us to halt this trend. Even the student union election that was volatile in the past was conducted online; student just needed to open the portal and vote for whoever their candidate was; and they could vote wherever they were. In the past, they snatched ballot boxes and caused chaos. I have also destroyed cultism and I am happy God allowed me to leave this legacy at AAU.
Source : PUNCH