Amidst shortcomings, TETFUND initiative helping Nigerian universities (1)

Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU), Bauchi. [Photo credit: The Nation]
Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU), Bauchi. [Photo credit: The Nation]

Magdalene Peters is yet to complete a full semester at her new school, but she is already used to the drill: get to the laboratory quick enough or miss the opportunity to see practicals.

Ms Peters, a 100 level Microbiology student of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, was only admitted in May alongside other fresh students, but the struggle to use laboratories in the Faculty of Science has toughened her.

Each student in the faculty offers three practical courses in the first year and this varies for other years.

“Sometimes, we are too many in the groups (such that) those at the back will end up not doing anything. Those guys (backbenchers) will end up copying notes for a practice they ought to witness. I’ve seen many of this and some of my friends come to copy my note,” she said.

Ideally, these students ought to have one-on-one sessions with laboratory technicians and full access to the apparatus.

However, an increase in population as compared to available resources has, in recent years, forced the faculty management to opt for option of grouping the students.

Each group, sometimes with up to 10 students, is allotted time with the laboratory technicians but, in the end, not all get to see or learn what is contained in their manuals.

Multiple students who spoke to this newspaper said due to the number of students in a group, some students do not even have access to the laboratory. Then there is the problem of non-existing, outdated or faulty apparatus.

“There is a particular microscope I used. It’s very blunt. You can never see anything through it. After some other groups finished their practical, we had to move there and use their apparatus and that’s another waste of time,” Ms Peters recounted one of her experiences.

Laboratory project to the rescue

The Faculty of Science in ATBU, the most populated faculty in the university, has only nine small laboratories, which are shared by the six departments in the faculty.

To solve the problem of inadequate laboratory facilities in the faculty, the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) initiated a N285 million project, comprising of the construction of a central laboratory and external works for the faculty.

Details of the project was contained in the 2015-2018 budget performance document which institution submitted to the Nigerian Senate in March 2019.

According to the document, N142, 654, 874, half of the N285, 289, 603 earmarked, has been paid to Messrs Bamaco Investment Limited, the contractor handling the project. University officials say the second tranche, 35 per cent payment, has been given to the contractor.

With this project, Ms Peters and other students in the faculty can say goodbye to overcrowded laboratories and stale equipment.

On Monday September 2 when this reporter visited Gubi, one of the campuses of the university to see the project, he found it to have been completed.

The laboratory consists of four buildings proposed to house the biological, chemistry and other laboratories. At the centre of the structures are offices meant for technicians and other staff of the faculty.

The project, which was completed in July is currently under the defect liability period after which the contractor would hand it over to the university.

While the institution’s Faculty of Science is at Yelwa campus, the new structure was built in Gubi campus. Due to its location, many students are unaware of the new project.

Rilwan Ahmad, the general secretary, National Association of Science Students (NASS), ATBU Chapter, bemoaned the state of the current laboratory when this reporter first visited in June. He was not aware of the new central laboratory project.

“Our major problem in the Faculty of Science is laboratory,” he says “All we are doing is about laboratory, most of the courses we are offering. Due to the over-population, we have in the faculty some of us don’t even have access to the laboratories. Even if they have access, they will not even get exactly what they are there for.

“The association use to provide money to get some of these academic materials but unfortunately, if the association says it would provide all the apparatus (in the laboratory), the money we generate will not be sufficient,” he says.

Mr Ahmad was surprised, but happy when this reporter informed him that the laboratory has been completed at the Gubi campus.

“I’m very happy about this. I don’t even know about the project. This will increase the knowledge of practicals to the students and it will help us in so many ways,” he said.

Why is the structure situated at Gubi campus instead of Yelwa, the seat of the faculty? Hassan Sabo, the university’s Director of Works gave insights.

“This is our permanent site,” he said “So, there is a plan to move most of the faculties from the Yelwa Campus to Gubi campus. We started with the laboratory first while the faculty building will later come on board”

Other completed and ongoing projects

A walk around the Gubi and Yelwa campuses of ATBU could easily lead a newcomer to think it is a ‘TETFUND university.’ This is judging by the number of projects already completed, ongoing and those being put to use.

Striking among the projects is the Dairy Research Centre situated at the Gubi Campus of the university. According to the budget performance document, construction and procurement of equipment for the centre cost N249 million.

This reporter found seven structures disaggregated as four barns, two storage facilities and the last used for drug facilities.

Abdulkazeem, the security man guarding the centre said at least 100 cattle are housed in each of the barns. He added that students come every day of the week with their supervisors conduct studies.

The university’s Vice Chancellor, Muhammad AbdulAzeez said the centre will afford students and academics the space and facilities for research.

“In this country, from the North East, we have the highest number of cattle. If you have that, the best thing now is to research on how to improve the varieties, how to increase milk production and processing. We want to have a value chain and we want to do this in collaboration with our students. Our intention in due course is to make it the best in Nigeria,” he said.

Also completed and in use is the N98 million Students Centre at Yelwa Campus, N44 million 350 seats auditorium at Yelwa Campus, N44 million 350 seats auditorium at Gubi Campus and N181 million four-row auditorium at Gubi Campus.

Two other projects were found to be ongoing. The N409 million Faculty of Agricultural Technology building and N25 million Animal House being constructed for the College of Medical Sciences.

When this reporter first visited the university late June, he could not identify locations of some of the projects such as the Lapidary Workshop and Laboratory and clinical complex for College of Medical Sciences. However, structures for the projects were found to be completed in September when this reporter was taken on a guided tour of the projects.

The clinical complex was awarded at N357, 139, 300, to Messrs Pinnatech Engineering. University officials say the project was handed over in August. The project was meant to be at Gubi Campus but was constructed at the teaching hospital. Mr Sabo explained the rationale behind this.

“The first three years (in medical sciences), they call them pre-clinicals, they do everything here on campus. The moment the students are in 300 level, they move to the teaching hospital. They will be there till they graduate and that is the reason the structure was built over there. Very soon we are going to have our hostel and additional buildings,” he said.

Mr Sabo informed that the first set of students to benefit from the structure will be moved before the end of September.

Similar in this category is a project tagged; “Construction of Lapidary Workshop and Laboratory.” It was awarded to Messrs Sintax Limited at a revised amount of N241, 892, 583 in May 2015.

Lapidary has to do with works relating to the engraving, cutting, or polishing of stones and gems. It was captured as 50 per cent completed in the budget performance document.

However, instead of building the whole structure in one location, the university decided to cite the laboratory at the Geology Department in Yelwa Campus and the workshop at the proposed training centre in Tafawa Balewa.

PREMIUM TIMES found the workshop building to have been completed and awaiting furnishing while the laboratory is almost complete.

The Tafawa Balewa Centre initiative

Sometimes in 2013, the university decided to add one more to its two campuses. That was the birth of the Tafawa Balewa Centre located in Tafawa Balewa, a town in Bauchi.

Instead of making it a regular campus like others, the university decided to cite a Science, Technology and Entrepreneurship Centre in Tafawa Balewa.

“You know ATBU is a university of technology. What we are trying to do is to look at the theoretical and practical part of it that is what informed having the Tafawa Balewa Centre,” the Vice Chancellor said.

To achieve this, the first challenge the university faced was provision of infrastructure in the new centre. TETFUND eventually came to the rescue. About 10 projects in the centre are entirely funded by TETFUND.

This reporter, in company of the university’s Deputy Director, Works/Physical Planning, Adamu Abubakar, traveled about 100 kilometre to inspect the projects.

On getting to the location, the gate house and perimeter fencing of the facility, which was awarded to Messrs F.Y.K Construction for N222, 582, 042 was completed.

The Construction of Lecture Hall with external works at Tafawa Balewa was awarded to Messers Nuhu Abe and Sons at N223, 850, 150. Mr Abubakar said the project has been completed and currently under the six-month liability period after which the last tranche of payment will be made to the contractor.

The facility has three huge lecture halls at each end of the tri-polar structure. Though locked, PREMIUM TIMES reporter could see chairs inside the halls marked ‘2014 TETFUND SIP.’ Also fitted in the halls are fans and air conditioners.

Another project; Construction of Lecture Hall at Tafawa Balewa have been handed over to the university after the expiration of the six months defect liability period.

It was awarded to Messrs Amber Blaze and Sons Ltd at N80, 178, 680, quoted as 100 per cent complete.

Also, the second part of the project; “Construction of Lapidary Workshop and Laboratory” was found to be completed in the centre. While the laboratory part of the label was constructed in the Yelwa campus, the workshop in the centre has been handed over to the university.

Mr Abubakar said the workshop will soon be furnished as the university has made request to the effect.

Other projects found at the centre include the administrative building, library, hostels and quarters for visiting lecturers.

Mr Abubakar said the projects are part of the first phase projects in the centre’s initiative. He added that the second phase will include construction of roads, provision of electricity and water.

“We are hoping that any moment from now (it will take off). You have seen the place, all structures are there. What we are waiting for is just the equipment. Very soon the equipment will be there. Hopefully by next year,” the Vice Chancellor said in optimism.

Meanwhile, two important projects, funded by TETFUND, were found to be completed but locked and not in use at the university.

One of them is the Academic Staff office building located in the Yelwa Campus of the university. Before renovation, compartments in the building serve as offices for lecturers in the university.

Multiple sources told this reporter that the rehabilitation was completed in March 2019. It has not been re-opened for use at late June when this reporter first visited. The situation remained the same in September.

Similar to this is the locked veterinary clinic, a 2009-2012 merged intervention project.

A student of the institution familiar with the construction said the building has been completed ‘since over two years ago’ but has never been put to use.

Mr Sabo explained that the academic building has not been allocated to lecturers yet. He also explained why the veterinary clinic is under lock.

“The challenges we have there; you must have noticed this is a virgin land. Ideally, if you’re going to develop a new place, you’re supposed to provide the infrastructure namely; power water and road. But in our case here, we decided to first come up with the structures first because it is more difficult to build that kind of structure at a go but we are fortunate Prof. Bogoro came to our aid. Now, we are trying to look for fund to have the connection, water and road.”

Projects in Gombe University

Compared to other universities, only a few projects were allocated to the Federal University Kashere in Gombe State under the TETFUND initiative in the past few years. However, these few were found to be either under construction or completed and put to use by the new generation institution.

According to the budget performance report submitted to the Senate in March, the school under the 2015/2016 merged intervention benefitted from three major projects; a construction work, a renovation and also procurement.

When this reporter visited late June, students of the university were still on break but university officials were on ground to answer questions on the projects.

First of the three is the renovation and furnishing of the old auditorium awarded at N9, 439, 487 to Salbrix Nigeria Limited. The building was found relatively ‘new’ as the renovation signage on the walls show onlookers.

The contractor, Salbrix, is also in charge of the Faculty of Management building which is currently under construction in the university. The building, two-storey, according to plan, would cost TETFUND N387, 903, 156.

Dozens of workers were seen on the project working on the second decking of the building.

Ahmad Sadiq, the university’s Head of Procurement Unit who doubles as Desk Officer, TETFUND Projects, said the work which started in March is expected to be completed in 48 weeks.

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“We started around March and it will take 48 weeks. 50 percent has been disbursed for the works. For this particular project, we are on first tranche payment,” he said.

When this reporter visited the Entrepreneurship Centre in the university, the hall was found adorned with new chairs among other facilities.

Supply and installation of the chairs are part the 2015/2016 merged normal intervention the school benefitted from.

Recently built by TETFUND, the centre offers different kind of skills including welding and fabrication, tailoring and interior decoration, hair dressing and bead making, masory and building works among others.

The Vice Chancellor of the university, Alhassan Gani, spoke to PREMIUM TIMES on the benefits of the centre.

“It’s a centre designed to cater for students’ skill acquisition, innovation, creative thinking, so that they (students) would be taught how to think creatively. So that when they graduate they can stand on their own, start a business run it, thereby employing other people to work for them. It is to add to what they have learnt theoretically, to stimulate their interest in being creative.”

The Vice-Chancellor said the centre is open to all students free of charge. “Also, there are people from outside who may want to acquire some certain skill, we train them and they pay a token fee. Students don’t pay,” he added.

* This investigation was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting

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