BSU has gradually set high standards for academic excellence – VC Iorapuu

Prof. Joseph Tor Iorapuu, the man currently at the helm of affairs of Benue State University (BSU) is the 6th Vice Chancellor of the higher institution of learning. In this interview with Ikenna Okonkwo, Prof. Iorapuu, a Professor of Theatre Arts speaks on his travails and triumphs at BSU.


Your stay in the University is going to the 4th year, how did it all began?

I was just sitting down in my house in Jos, in an evening and I got a call from a Professor who said he was from the search team for vacant Vice Chancellor position of the school and he was asked to contact me if I will like to express interest in the application. What I did was to thank him and the team, and I said I will reflect on it and get back and I got back to them. It happened that I was one of the last persons that submitted application, and I went through the interview process. To be honest, the interview process was totally different from what I was aware of. You know some kind of psychometric test, not once, about twice… And after that, we had to do the face to face interview, round table talk, individual interviews and presentations. The processes took like five days, and it was at the end of all of these that I emerged as the Vice Chancellor of the Benue State University. There were several contestants, I think over 20 persons applied, and it came down to seven, and later three eventually came for the interview. 

What are the characteristics you think stood you out, as per personal merit, qualification or experience?

To be honest, that question would have been better answered by the people that conducted the interview. From my own perspective, I think I have better experience, although I haven’t been a Vice Chancellor before but I worked with Vice Chancellors. I was a Council member, I was conducting interview as a Council member of University of Jos. I have been Head of Department, have been a Dean of Faculty, have been a Coordinator in the University, Examination officer. So haven entered the University as a graduate assistant, I rose through the ranks. I have experienced every aspect of the University Administration up to the point of being a Council member. I also came to the interview with other international exposure. I had the opportunity to be consultant for international agencies… One of the things that is very critical to becoming a Vice Chancellor is not just to enhance knowledge adoption but to also ensure the funding and feasibility of the University at different levels, so for me these are the experiences I brought to the table… It was very obvious that I was not just computer literate but for me it was clear from the interview that I was tech-savvy, in terms of the fact I can get things done anywhere without waiting for any Secretary. So these are some of the things they were looking at, are you good on the computer? can you do a presentation? How confident are you? What do you know and what are you bringing to the table? and what are you bringing to the University? These are very critical questions. The interview was around October 2020 and it was announced I think on the 16th of October 2020, I assumed office on the 3rd November 2020. 

Prof. Joseph Tor Iorapuu

From the time you assumed your current position, what have been some of the challenges you faced?

There are number of challenges, some of them are very scary… First was the post COVID-19, how do one manage the post COVID experience. Because of the COVID situation, school wasn’t running, so resources have been deplited. Mostly with challenges of funds, I assumed office with no resources. Secondly, there are too many outstanding issues before then, staff were threatening strike, infact some were even on strike when I took over. For instance, the non-teaching staff and ASUU were on strike. They were on strike for various issues on ground – issues of promotion, promotions that have not taken place from 2018. These were the things I came in and started facing. But we were able to discuss with the unions, and I told them that I just came in, they should give me time to look at their issues and they accepted and the system continued. So throughout 2021, we are doing very well because there were no strike.

And we were able to look at those terms we promised to do, especially the issue of promotion. Personally I brought it before the Council, and the Council worked assiduously on it, and I can tell you that by October or thereabouts the issue regarding promotion and so on had been handled.

However, there were also the issue of people being promoted but have not been paid arrears. By 2019, there was this issue of arrears that were stopped, and the government wasn’t sending money anymore.

The worst part of it is that we were running behind academically. It was when I came in that we ended 2019/2020 academic calendar, and after that we started struggling with 2020/2021 and ASUU went to strike again on February 2022. So, almost 2022 was lost out. So we ended 2020/2021 in December 2022. So we were lagging behind in terms of academic calendar, and I found it very challenging, because for a university to remain a first choice, academic calendar must be steady, and there has to be an environment that is very encouraging that everybody wants to study.

What really has been the standard that Benue State University has set even before you assumed your current position?

It will be very unfair for me to classify because before I went to BSU as Vice Chancellor, Inhave been an external examiner there. I even engaged in my sabbatical there. Sincerely, BSU has bunch of talents, people who have capacity to do well. When the university was about to start, there was harvest of the best brains across the country. Some of them have retired. Later on somehow, somewhere, some of these things issues, the academic architecture started becoming shaky, a lot of things were very worrying. For instance, students were not graduating, students writing exams and not seeing their results, apply for transcript and not getting transcript, series of court cases against the University over results’ issue, over transcript issue. And for me what is important is standard, how do you know your standard without result, how do you move to another stage without result, what will you move with? And that is what I’m working towards to achieve.

Some issues associated with some tertiary institutions like sex-for-mark among others are not linked to BSU, what is the magic?

I think somehow, we are gradually becoming conscious of what is happening globally, especially in this terrain of technology. You can hardly hide anything. For sex-for-mark, we are very conscious about it. As I speak with you, students have my contact, they speak with me and I investigate and deal with any issue. However, one has to be careful when listening to students so you don’t end up demonising your colleagues.

Prof. Joseph Tor Iorapuu

How have you been coping with infrastructural development especially with scarce resources?

The issue of infrastructure has been a challenge for BSU…, because the increasing population of students make demand higher even in terms of classrooms. Basically for classrooms and hotels, these have been worrying. We are making efforts to improve the hostel accommodation, and with TETFund trying to also intervene… We also need support from the state government, we recognise that government is paying the salaries of staff, nonetheless should intervene in terms of infrastructure, because we are increasing. For instance, we just introduced new programmes like Pharmaceutical Sciencs. We have unbundled Mass Communication and many others. 

What of the possibility of expanding the school using campuses around the state?

Yes, his Excellency the governor is interested in that, he has mentioned that to me, with the Commissioner of Education.

At the moment we have over 20, 000 students, and we started with three faculties initially but now we have 12 fully accredited programmes. We just put in for Architectural Science, Health Sciences, and with the new ones, we have about 15 programmes.

What plans for digital upgrade and general Information and Communication Technology?

I have not gotten where I planned to be yet in terms of ICT. The cost and consequences of strikes, that is the industrial action have affected our plans. But I’m hopeful that before my tenure ends, we will be above in terms of technology. Currently, there are ICT facilities being put in place. Our dream is that we turn our regular classrooms to smart classrooms, where you can learn from anywhere you want to learn, and ensure that wherever you are on campus, you have access to connectivity. With the emergence of AI, we need to know how that can help humanity… So that learning can be made easy, we are not done yet.

Students from BSU have been excelling in academic competitions and the rest, what have the school been doing differently recently?

A lot has been done and so much are being done academic. Like you rightly observed, our students compete favourably among the rest in Nigeria. Recently, one of our law student, won the best prize in debate from Amnesty international, and that is a pride for us… I can tell you that we could even do better than we are doing. You know when we started, Benue State University was the only state University in Northern Nigeria.

Administratively, how do you plan handling industrial actions especially by ASUU?

Let me first acknowledge that managing industrial actions is not easy. Let me also acknowledge that most of the infrastructure we have in university is as a result of the struggles… In BSU I inherited strikes, but nonetheless we try to approach them as they come. Our pain is that these strikes have consequences, and are derailing us. But we are making progress because the government is already involved. 

Instead of embarking on strikes, what best option will you recommend to lecturers and others in resolving issues?

We can change strategy since we can’t get results with strike, we need to exercise patience and change strategy. In the civil service and among top persons in the government, BSU has alumni all over the places. Whenever, anyone feels things are not done as expected, these our Ambassadors can be approached and they will be of great deal of assistance in terms of making things happen.