Datti Baba-Ahmed: The Visionary Behind Baze University
- By: Maktoub Magazine
- February 8, 2016
Building a foundation for success in Nigeria’s Education Sector
Vision and visibility are necessarily intertwined for today’s educational leaders. Whereas each is important in its own right, given the numerous challenges that today’s building leader faces, they must be fused together to sustain success.
Datti Baba-Ahmed is one man who has successfully done that, intertwining his resolve with a passion for effecting positive change everywhere he finds himself.
Without action, a vision is just a piece of paper. In education, we have lots of paper; sometimes, it doesn’t mean much at all. For the vision to be achieved, it must be seen as something vibrant and real. The Kaduna born politician is well aware of this and although he had to make a drastic action for the vision to be achieved, he says proudly that it was the best decision he made. “I sold most of my assets and mortgaged the rest to borrow funds to do the projects, I was very careful and prudent, I planned day and night. It was the best decision I ever took.”
There began the journey of what is known today as Baze University. As Pro Chancellor, Baba-Ahmed is still not far from his roots as he reveals that the legacy of his late father, his determination and passion to help reform the education standard in the country has formed part of his driving force.
A school’s vision is not confined within the walls of the school building or to the hours of the school day. Today’s educational leader must be prepared to be an active, visible embodiment of the work of the school throughout the community, presenting an unbiased platform to all regardless of race or ethnicity.
He quips, “Our academic practices and administrative procedures help to distinguish us in addition to the fact that Baze in itself by itself is not just for one section of the country or one type of people. Baze University is for all and sundry including foreign students, already we have a foreign student, and are receiving lots of enquiries for others to come.”
At Baze University, exams are 99.9 percent fraud proof due to the extreme measures put in place to avoid them such as using bar coding and finger print to identify each student’s script. “Lecturers do not know whose script they are marking unless when they go for the score input, so they cannot pass or fail anybody. Our lecturers do not take exam script to their houses, we do what we call conference marking in an exam room and the input are made immediately afterwards. Then in the exam venues itself, the university provides all writing materials,” he explains.
The Fight Against Corruption
In a country where corruption and moral decadence has eaten deep into the education system, Baze University stands proud in the fight against this social vice.
“The fact that there is no element of fraud or favour and the fact that only your efforts get you through the University is one. And the fact that very strict rules are enforced right from decent dress code, we are not forcing on anybody but there is a minimum acceptable dress code around here which is socially enforceable, to the cleanliness of environment, absence of exam fraud, absence of harassment from staff and other students, absence of gratification by any staff of Baze University whatsoever. All these add up to mould the character of our students, so far there has not been a single case of harassment to the absence of cultism on campus.”
As an effective visionary leader, he regularly takes a pause, however, to reflect on corruption. He wonders if 10 percent of the monies that are released actually serve the purpose besides salary. To him, contracts are hopelessly over-inflated, and that tells you everything. If contracts are inflated, you are getting substandard building, substandard environment, and service, and then you will get less equipment for teaching, fewer materials, second hand furniture and all the rest.
Cutting corners may have become the way of life in some institutions in the country, but the good looking academic strongly believes in following due process in getting things done.
Every huge project that must succeed is often faced with certain challenges and Baze University is no exception. Baba-Ahmed explains that provision of infrastructures and issues with regulatory authorities are the challenges the university had to deal with. According to him, “A young university like ours had at a very tender stage had to cope with these difficulties. Power is an on-going and lingering problem, where we spend almost N6 millions on diesel monthly and the electricity bill is getting to N2million monthly in addition to servicing the generators that we have to replace every four years, cabling that we have to change every now and then. So infrastructure is a big problem.”
The institution also had to contend with the National University Commission (NUC) and other regulatory bodies. “Right from obtaining the license, getting the departments approved, going through accreditation, and then getting other professional bodies to come and accredit. And then for a university like ours that is heavily depended on expatriates; we go through expatriate quota from the immigration, renewing their visas and work permit. And because all our materials are usually imported, we have suffered demurrage of up to 5 months for a container of books at the port, when our furniture comes in they are classified as contraband, we have to go through great deal of difficulties to prove that they are not contraband,” he says.
The Future for Baze University
Baba-Ahmed views successful visibility through both an individual and a team lens and is proud of the work himself and his team have put into the institution. “In the next 5 years by the special grace of Almighty, Baze University will clearly be the best university in Nigeria in excess of 5,000 students and even so we are controlling our numbers and one of the notable universities in Africa. In the next ten years, we hope to be among the best three universities in Africa and a university to reckon with among the universities in the world.”
Baze University will be holding its first Convocation ceremony this year, and Baba-Ahmed is clearly excited about this. “Wow! For starters you are invited, I will like to say I think that will be the most important day in my life yet by that time when it happens.”
The one-time member of the House of Representatives was also elected into the Senate in 2011 but he could not complete his tenure. Although he was there for a short stint, the success he achieved is clearly visible and still being celebrated. “As you know I was in the senate for 8 months, my victory was challenged in Court and somehow (smiles), the court said that the other gentleman should be sworn in which is fine. I was there for 8 months and I have done what many senators have not done in 12 years,” he says.
The former Law maker continues, “Speaking about my politics I will go back to the days in the House of Representatives, in summary I will tell you that the two secondary schools that I have donated to my community have graduated over 10,000 students and at any term are carrying not less than 6,000 students in day and night shift as I’m made to understand. In addition, I have provided water, so many other social amenities and then personally, the scholarships and educational aids that I have given to so many families that I cannot recall. But during my 8 months in the Senate, in fact in our very first sitting after inauguration a motion of urgent public importance was moved in which I believe I single-handedly killed because it was trying to send a group of eleven Senators to go and investigate insurgency in Borno State. I believed there was going to a waste of time and resources if they went.”
Baba-Ahmed’s earliest ambition was to become a Mechanical Engineer and Fighter Pilot, but that dream was not to be realised. At the age of 11 he was in the Air force Military School from 1981 to 1986 and because he got to like it he aspired to go to the Defence Academy where he opted for the faculty of Engineering. “On getting to NDA there was no plans for the course and I did not want to do Physics, so grudgingly I settled for Economics, I also found myself put in the Army instead of the Air force. And I felt I was going to lose my ambition, in the second year when I could not transfer back to the Air force I quit, went back to the University of Maiduguri and followed by academic to the PhD level,” he reveals
Beyond the noise and the energy of learning, Baba-Ahmed is one gentle-man who would allow no one stand in his way when he is set out to do something. It is one thing to identify a need, and another to make provisions to meet the need. This is the distinctive factor that has set him apart from his contemporaries.
His commitment is evident. “That is the reason why he will continue to try hard in making Baze University an institution to reckon with in the world.”