From Chidi Nnadi, Enugu
For 26 years, Prof Francis Chukwuemeka Eze has been in the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), serving in various capacities as a teacher and an administrator. He was the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Administration, until on June 18, when he was elected the 17th substantive vice chancellor of FUTO following the expiration of the five-year tenure of the former Vice Chancellor, Prof Chigozie Asiabaka.
Indeed, Prof Eze, who is a renowned academic and administrator, in this exclusive interview with Daily Sun, his first in the media as vice chancellor, expressed optimism that he would take FUTO to higher heights, by bringing to bear his long years of experience in the institution.
The Professor of Physics, who is a member of the New York Academy of Science, member, American Physical Society, and member, Institute of Physics London, said that he believed in team work, urging all the stakeholders of the institution to join him, as they march ahead in “driving the culture of excellence” of the university, which is his mantra.
Prof Eze, during the interview, unveiled his vision for the university, saying that before long, he would place FUTO on number one position in the comity of technology institutions, from the number eight position it currently occupies.
Could you tell us a bit of your background?
As you know, I am a Professor of Physics. I came to FUTO in 1990 though I was appointed in 1989. I was in the then Federal Universoty of Technology, Bauchi; I stayed there from 1981 till I came to FUTO in 1990 as Lecturer 1. So, from there I became a senior lecturer in 1993 and then in 1996, I became acting HoD, in 1999, I became Reader and in 2003, I became a professor.
I have headed the Department of Physics two times; in fact, this last time, I was there from 2006 to 2008. During the period, I secured full accreditation for the department for the first time. In 2008, I was elected Dean of the then School of Science, which has now been split into two: School of Biological Sciences and School of Physical Science. Then after my deanship in 2012, I became the director for Centre for Nuclear Energy Research and Training; we have collaboration with Nigerian Atomic Energy Committee (NAE). Then in 2013, I was appointed DVC, Administration. So, from that time until the 18th of June, 2016, I was the DVC Administration under the leadership of Prof Chigozie Asiabaka.
How would you like to describe the election that enthroned you as VC because we heard that it was keenly contested?
Yes, it was really keenly contested because it was a big battle and I didn’t know. I have been in this system but for the first time, I saw a very seamless, rigorous, and consistent process because we were screened by even the DSS, after which we were invited for an interview. At the interview, there were things you never knew could come, but they came. But as God would have it, I wasn’t shaking because I have been in the system and knew what and what should be. So, at the end of the interview, I went home. I was at home when I was called that I was number one; and that I had been appointed the VC. I shouted to the high heaven. Who am I? Somebody from a humble beginning, getting this position! That is why this country will be great because we still see people who are honest, people who will not be influenced by money; they exist in this country. When people say someone is the best, and stick with the best, there is hope. I promised them that, by God’s grace, I would not let them down on this confidence reposed in me. I have been in this place for 26 years and I tell people I don’t want to be localised; when I look at my life and those who had helped me in the past, I thank God. I remember somebody from Enugu State that touched my life at the beginning, when I was in the secondary school. Without him, probably, I wouldn’t have the morals that I have. I remember somebody from Anambra State who assisted me. I don’t know what would have happened if he didn’t assist me; I have lived in the North for almost 10 years. I have many friends; everywhere; I go I make friends; in the West I have friends there too. The man that came for our Foundry now is from Edo State. This state has blessed me. So, I need to give back. I know you can give service above self and that is what I’m going to do because God has been kind to me.
I want things to be done properly. If you run foul of the law, I will insist you get punished, because if I don’t punish you, I won’t be able to punish another person. You see, I like to mould young people. When you go to the Internet, you will see the young people that have passed through me and you will see what they say about me.
You told us that your mantra is driving the culture of excellence, what is this culture of excellence in FUTO?
By our previous mantra, we had ‘quest for excellence. Excellence is not just an art, it is not something you will do and forget; it’s a habit; so we have continued from there and have got to a point that we need to drive it so that it will be internalised in us. What do I mean by that? If a cleaner works here and it’s clean all the time, you will say you have a wonderful cleaner and the same goes for the security man, who does his job. But if something phony is going on and he reports and you nip it in the bud, that guy is showing excellence; if you are a lecturer, who has his course outline and he makes efforts to come for his lectures and after his lectures, he does every other thing, following his marking scheme, marks his papers and returns his results early, that lecturer is showing excellence. You have an administrator, who is doing his work, maybe he is covering the minutes of a meeting and he comes on time to do the minutes, even when there are small errors made, he makes sure he corrects the errors, before you know it he gets to perfection; that is excellence. The same thing is for the area of research; you don’t go to copy what other people have done; you do your work, go to the lab, bend down because if you are not humble, you can’t make it; it is difficult to make it in life without humility.
So, if you are humble and you have integrity, the sky is your limit. In a nutshell that is what we are going to drive so that anywhere you go to on campus here, whether in academic office, a classroom, administrative office or in the lab, anywhere you go will be radiating excellence as people do their work. So, we need to drive it and to do that, it will come from the top because to drive it, to ensure it is internalised then you should start from yourself. And when you start from yourself to go down that person will say if Oga is doing this, who are we? Again, we need a reward scheme to drive it further; we must reward those who show excellence in what they are doing; this will inspire people to strive to win when they see their colleague winning and by that they will key into the mantra.
You have been here for 26 years. How would you like to compare the FUTO you met when you first came here and the FUTO today?
What we had 26 years back was a small FUTO, a small family. Now, we have a big FUTO; there is what we call population invasion in physics. I don’t want to go into its details, but what has happened is that the number of new people that have come into FUTO outstripped the number we had at that time; so those who are reasoning somehow started being funny, but we want to show them the good way because I say to them, there used to be a family and my dream and prayer is for FUTO to become one family again because when you see that favouritism is gone, when you see that this man is from Okigwe and he is helping somebody from Anambra or Owerri the same way he is helping somebody from Okigwe, you will know that the man is driving for excellence.
Having been around here for a long time, one believes that you must have the challenges of this institution at your fingertips. So, what is your vision for FUTO in the next five years that you will hold sway as VC?
My vision is to make FUTO the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) of Nigeria. We are number eight now, but by the grace of God, we will come to number one; you know we are a special university; so when we move we should also be given that credit because it is not like a conventional university where somebody is sharp in literature and he will write a book that will win an award; here you need people and by our mandate we were told to do things that will move us from consumer-oriented economy to production-oriented economy with a sound technological base, that is the mission the government gave to us. So, you can see why I said that we need to be like MIT of Nigeria. So, by the time we do research, by the time we fix this Foundry, by the time we become a centre of excellence in welding technology, I am sure that there will be no other place in the country you can get these. In fact, by the discussion I had with one of my friends yesterday on foundry, my ultimate aim is to make here the centre of excellence for foundry and if we are able to do that, Aba will come here, Onitsha will come here, Nnewi will come here, Enugu will come here and other parts of the country will come here to produce things.