62 years after UNN, Nsukka gets first medical school

There probably couldn’t have been more encouraging words by a head of a regulatory agency about the birth of a new outfit under his supervision.

Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, while presenting a letter of recognition of the new Enugu State University of Medical and Applied Sciences (SUMAS), Igbo-Ano, Enugu State, to the State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, when the Governor and his team visited the Commission’s office in Abuja on Thursday, last week, said: “With effect from Thursday, 21st April 2022, the Enugu State University of Medical and Applied Sciences, Igbo-Ano, Enugu State, has been recognised as the 219th university in Nigeria.

“We, hereby, pledge our support to the smooth take-off of the university. We also encourage the university’s management and Enugu State government to take advantage of the professional and technical supports which the NUC is ever ready to provide for the smooth running of universities in Nigeria.”

Rasheed stressed: “By this recognition letter, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) and the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) have been notified of the establishment of this university.”

Clearly elated by the birth of SUMAS, one of only three such universities in Nigeria, Professor Rasheed also suggested to the management of the university to establish biomedical engineering and other genetic programmes to complement the effort of the only one university (name withheld) currently running the programme in Nigeria, further charging the university to strictly abide by the laws guiding the running of universities in Nigeria.

The NUC Executive Secretary urged the university authority to also feel free to approach NUC for proper guidance, where in doubt, to avoid violation of rules of engagement that might attract maximum sanctions from the Commission.

Indeed, if there was any further proof to Governor Ugwuanyi and his team that SUMAS was a step in the right direction, a great idea birthed in the land of rolling hills, Rasheed’s inspiring words came very much in handy. For, here is a university community, perhaps the only one in Nigeria, that has gone without a medical school/ teaching hospital for all of 60 years plus!

The University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), founded in 1955 by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the late Owelle of Onitsha and first President of Nigeria (1963-1966), took off in 1960 with the main campus at Nsukka and the second campus, which was to host the Faculties of Medical Sciences and Business, in Enugu, then capital of Eastern Region. A second chance to gift Nsukka with a medical school/teaching hospital was stymied by the State government when, in about the Year 2000 or thereabout, it changed its mind about the multi-campus status of the State University of Science and Technology (ESUT) and moved the university’s medical school/teaching hospital from Nsukka to Enugu where it converted a general hospital, the Parklane General Hospital, GRA, Enugu, into the ESUT Teaching Hospital.

SUMAS stemmed from the Governor Ugwuanyi Administration’s decision to restore the original multi-campus status of ESUT whose medical school/teaching hospital Nsukka was originally supposed to host. However, along the line, it became necessary to tinker with the law in order to avoid the huge logistics problems and systemic disruptions that relocating the superstructure of ESUT medical school to Nsukka might cause in the areas of teaching and hospitalizations, hence the idea of an entirely new, specialized university.

SUMAS is, thus, a child of necessity, to be sure, a product of strategic thinking. It is like killing two birds with one stone (to borrow the time-worn saying about leveraging a need to create two opportunities): ESUTH in the Enugu metropolis was left intact while the need for a medical school/teaching hospital in Nsukka was also comprehensively met.

Governor Ugwuanyi made that need even more poignant when he declared, at the license presentation meeting with Professor Rasheed, the NUC boss, that the concept of the University of Medical and Applied Sciences was borne out of the State government’s desire to improve the medical manpower level in the State and beyond.

“Annually, thousands of students apply to study medicine in public institutions in Nigeria, but only a few are privileged to secure admission, not because they are unqualified, academically and otherwise, but because of insufficient space. This is the gap we want to bridge,” Governor Ugwuanyi declared.

“For instance, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, otherwise known as UNN that is close to us, has 180 slots for students that desire to study medicine. This is out of hundreds of thousands of candidates that apply for the course, annually. This is discouraging.”

With the coming of SUMAS, the number of such admission slots for medical students, especially in the university’s catchment area of Enugu and environs, is expected to be shored up significantly.

Assuring the NUC that necessary arrangements, financially and otherwise, had been made to ensure the smooth take-off of the university at Igbo-Ano, Ugwuanyi then proceeded to present the law establishing it, academic brief, master plan and other documents of the university to NUC, assuring also that the institution would be different from others as it would churn out graduates that would initiate great transformation in the medical field in Nigeria and beyond.

Governor Ugwuanyi expressed gratitude to the NUC for the speedy consideration of the documents submitted for approval, promising that the Enugu State government would give the Commission maximum cooperation as well as comply with all the guidelines governing the operation of universities in Nigeria.

According to Deputy Chief of Staff to the Enugu Governor and Founding Vice-Chancellor of Coal-City University, Enugu, Prof. Malachy Okwueze, SUMAS is expected to take off with three Faculties, namely: Faculty of Clinical Medicine and Dentistry, a hybrid of Faculties of Clinical Medicine and Dentistry: Faculty of Basic Medical and Allied Health Sciences, a hybrid of Faculties of Basic Medical and Allied Health Sciences: and Faculty of Pharmacy.

On infrastructure, Okwueze said: “The infrastructure at Igbo-Ano is more than enough for take-off. In the course of time, more infrastructure and faculties will be added to what is on the ground at the moment. That is how these things are done.”

Internal road construction and asphalting at the university is being handled by Ferotex Engineering Company Ltd, a Port-Harcourt, Rivers State-based civil engineering and constructing firm, which has done a lot of work also in Rivers and the Abia States.

Asked how far he had gone with internal road works at Igbo-Ano, FEROTEX’s Chairman/CEO, Chief Festus Oshaba Onu said his team was done with concrete works and was at the earthen stage in readiness for asphalting.

“Work has reached advanced stage at Igbo-Ano, I can assure you of that,” he said. “As a matter of fact, we will soon round off our site activities and deliver the job to the State government. The Governor isn’t giving anyone a breathing space. We will finish well ahead of schedule, I can assure you.”

Amplifying the Governor’s assurance to the NUC that arrangements had been made to ensure the smooth take-off of the school “as soon as possible,” Okwueze said SUMAS would “most certainly” take-off “between September and latest December this year.”

“We expect that the NUC team would visit Igbo-Ano any time soon for final inspection, preparatory to the take-off of the university in September – October, latest December,” the former DVC Administration, UNN surmised.