Varsities should explore endowment as alternative funding source, says UNIZIK VC

Charles Esimone, vice-chancellor of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UNIZIK), has called for increased autonomy for universities to foster development and innovation.

In an interview with TheCable, Esimone said the challenges posed by bureaucratic hurdles and government policies hinder the progress of tertiary institutions.

The vice-chancellor lamented the cumbersome bureaucratic approval processes imposed by government on universities, which he said hampers potential public-private partnerships and slows crucial infrastructure projects in institutions.

The professor cited examples of missed opportunities in the university due to bureaucratic red tape, such as potential partnerships with foreign investors and private individuals for infrastructure development.

He highlighted the case of a proposed housing scheme and an independent power plant, both of which faced setbacks due to regulatory constraints.

“There is a policy that we came to know about public-private partnerships. You need to get approval from the Infrastructure Concessionary Regulatory Commission (ICRC) and then you get through to the ministry and they will take you to the federal executive council (FEC) as the case may be,” he said.

“I tell you that I got foreign direct investors from the Netherlands through some partnerships. They backed out because of these processes. We are appealing to the government to give universities that kind of autonomy because if you seek these people and bring them and they are subjected to this kind of process, they back out.

“There is somebody who wanted to do a big shopping mall in the university. Once I presented this, the next time he started dodging my calls. He didn’t want it again.

“There was a guy in Abuja who wanted to do an independent power plant for me as far back as 2020. He came and looked at our water bodies. We did a study of the water bodies and everything. He said they were going to use dam water and combine it with coal.

“He is one of the greatest exporters of coal to Russia. He wanted to establish an independent power plant here for us and then by the time this thing came, he just backed out. We want government to look at university autonomy.

“I was to do a housing scheme because we don’t have residential housing quarters here and all the people (investors) came, they all backed out. I would have virtually been running the university by the BPP. We won’t need government again on any matter.”


Esimone said he assumed office at the university with a clear vision and a businessman’s mindset, which has steered the university into an era of unprecedented growth and discipline.

The professor said he sought endowments from private individuals and corporate organisations to fund essential projects, encouraging academic institutions to explore endowment as a funding source.

“I was a pioneer dean in the faculty of pharmaceutical sciences. I started the faculty of pharmaceutical sciences at this university. I was in UNN. They brought me here (UNIZIK). Immediately I came, I met the vice-chancellor. I said VC, if you give me a free hand, I won’t ask you for money, I will run the faculty. If you happen to go to the faculty of pharmaceutical sciences, you will see everything there are endowments,” he said.

The professor said he wants his successor to “look beyond government” and seek endowments.

“I ran the university like a businessman, I got endowments. If you go around you will see I got BUA group. BUA gave us N1 billion in projects,” he said.

“We are getting endowments from private individuals, and corporate organisations, selling the university to them, and that’s part of the funding that I said we have not utilised enough.

“Individuals were donating because I went and sold to them the vision. I had a message I was telling them at that time, and when they come, I created a big billboard outside writing their names and what they endowed. So, they were giving more and more and more. The faculty was built by endowment.

“As a dean at that time, I never came to management to say give me this, everything was endowed. It was same model I was bringing here to the school until this ICRC thing came. I had clear vision that it was what I was going to do and I started talking. Once the thing came, the whole tempo died. Now we are struggling, begging for money.”

Reflecting on his tenure which ends in June, the vice-chancellor said he instilled discipline to maintain the integrity of the institution by tackling exam misconduct, corruption, and sexual harassments.

“I don’t come with a strong rod or hammer but very softly I insist that there must be discipline,” he said.

He recounted instances where disciplinary actions were taken promptly, regardless of the individual’s position within the university hierarchy, highlighting cases where individuals were dismissed from the university following thorough investigations and evidence-based decisions.

“So, we sat back and we were reviewing some of these things. Some will say the man is hard, but discipline is important in any university and I say if you are my friend, brother and you are caught in any form of corruption or malpractice of any nature, you will be the first and I will use you to set example. And we have done that,” the professor said.

“The first case was the person that I employed in faculty of pharmacy. We got evidence. They sent me a video. He was trying to lure a girl to go to a hotel. He has been dismissed from the university. He was a family friend, I brought him. I said sorry, this one he has crossed the boundary.”

The vice-chancellor expressed satisfaction in leaving behind an institution where discipline is firmly entrenched.

He called on his successor to uphold these principles and ensure that the legacy of integrity and accountability continue to guide UNIZIK towards greater excellence in the years to come.