Professor Joseph Ahaneku is the fifth substantive Vice Chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State. He was the first PhD holder and the first professor in Chemical Pathology in the whole of South East and South South. And also the first black man and the first African researcher of the year 1994. Through his research, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals manufactured a hypertension drug known as Ablodipin.
Ahaneku assumed the VC of the university in June 2014 and his departure in June, this year, may trigger off succession race. For Ahaneku, he wants to leave the university as a world-class institute. He shared other lofty dreams with our Correspondent.
As a matter of fact, by training, I am a chemical pathologist. Professionally, I have also acquired other trainings in environmental health. I am a fellow of environmental health and I am also a fellow of West African Post-Graduate College of Environmental Health. But basically, I am a chemical pathologist. I have worked in different countries but I love working in my country, Nigeria. That is why after working in several countries for several years I finally had to return to continue with all my research and my work. But I did my studies/work incidentally in Nigeria,from University of Ibadan. I did post-doctoral research, senior research and other researches in other countries like Japan, France and some other countries like that.
Were you born with a silver spoon or did you go to school without shoes?
Our own time was somehow different from what we find today. That time we had our own way of struggling to survive. It wasn’t too bad and it was not also too good in the sense that I will consider myself a bit lucky for being the last son and the seventh child in a family of ten. Growing up, looking at my elder ones I had to define my own pathway and my own career structure. And luckily for me I also had literate parents. My parents were educated.
Did you plan to be a VC or it was thrust on you?
Growing up, I discovered that because I had some of my elders in university of Nigeria, Nsukka, University of Calabar, South, South East as you call it now, I had a broader perspective and I believe in exploration, knowing my country, knowing outside my region, interacting with people from other places. I was already reading about certain things and my mind was so fixed towards relating and collaborating with other people. So, when I was to enter university, I did not choose any university in the south-south or south east in the option. So, it was University of Ibadan, University of Ife, University of Lagos. Those were the three universities I chose. So, immediately UI admission came, that was the best and still the best because I had no consideration for any other institution. And come to think about it my father had a friend then and that was part of the stimulation. Late KBC Onwubiko who wrote the history of West Africa. He attended the same college (Saint Charles College, Onitsha) with my father in early forties. So, they were school mates and they were always together at home. So, he was the one that he schooled with at the then University College, Ibadan and read BA History and was always telling me about how wonderful the school was and they were treated like people that were schooling in London. He also told me that that university was so selective then. They admit people through direct entry. But they had very few people they admit through JAMB. So, I said no problem and that I would want to compete. Truly, I believe in academic competition. So, I did not hesitate to indicate interest in schooling in UI. That was my first time of crossing River Niger. My trip to Ibadan when I was admitted was the very first time
Beginning of a good journey in UI
When I finished my first degree, I read Biochemistry as my first degree before switching over to Chemical Pathology in masters and PhD. So, it was after my first degree, you now can really keep defining your ambition. Thank God I schooled at UI because I met people. You will be hearing names like Baja and all these people that wrote textbooks that we read in secondary schools. They were all lecturers in UI. And some of them taught us, Stone and Cousins, all these people were there. So, I discovered that some of the authors we read in secondary schools were lecturers at UI and we saw the Ibadan press as very wonderful printing press that was producing some of the books that we were using even in secondary schools.
Graduate education that I gave myself a target.
I schooled in Oyo State and served in Oyo. But for me, because of my curiosity and quest to know Nigeria and to be a true Nigerian, after youth service I did not come back immediately to do my post-graduate, I decided on my own to go to the north. I spent one year in Borno State to work and acquired some money to do my post-graduate. Primarily, the drive was to know the northern part because I dreamed to know the northern part. Coming from south east and schooling in Ibadan I thought that my posting would now be in the north, but it did not happen. So, on my own, after youth service I said that I must know the north. I must live there. Boldly, I moved to the other extreme. That was how I moved to Borno State and spent one year there. So, when I had completed one year I now concluded that I had to go back to Ibadan because I had some friends. I had some role models, I had some professors in Ibadan that when you see them they exude dignity. It is not a matter of what people see these days —-that as a professor you have to have a car, you would have a house and they want to use it to align with somebody’s knowledge. It was not like that. It was not the measure. The measure was how vibrant, how creative, how you carry yourself as an educated person. So, that was the drive. I remember in those days one man in physics, Professor Etteh and some others. They were the people that when you see them you want to be a professor. So, coming back was to continue my post-graduate. My target was to finish my PhD at the age of 25.
As the last son, were you pampered?
Not at all. Only that I learnt from my elders a lot. But the important thing is that I had my own target and dream in life to make PhD at the age of 25 but when I entered for my post-graduate, I discovered that the qualification to get your PhD early was to be the best in masters. So, that I met. I was the best in my masters at the age of 23. Pfizer Pharmaceutical Company co-funded my PhD, so I had to work to meet the target of the funding body. The person that examined me came from outside. He was an ambassador then. I was 23 plus when I had my masters but I earned my PhD at 28. So, when you have set this and you have done good research in masters and PhD, you have laid the foundation.
Hypertension were what earned me my PhD.
I did clinical drug trial. I am a lipidologist. I work on lipids—cholesterol, these are the things I work on. I work on the side effects of anti-hypertensive medication and the management of the patients of hypertension. That was why Pfizer sponsored my research. It was not in the market. It was called pre-market research. It was not in the market. It was used for blood pressure control and I had to monitor the side effects as people take the drugs. Even when they are giving you what they call therapeutic value, the adverse side effects profile may also bring down or may even affect the patient. At the end of the day the side effect of the drug may counter the therapeutic effect of that drug. So, there is always need, especially for management purposes that when you are managing a patient the drug that you are to take for life you are not expected to drop it if you are hypertensive.So, control means that you have to be on medication. And if you have to be on control you have to do long term side effect monitoring and control. That was what my work was on.
First PhD holder in South East?
At the time I finished my PhD I was the first in the whole of South East and when I became a professor in chemical pathology I was also the first in the whole of South East and South South. I became a professor in 1997. It is 22 years ago.
Sex for marks
Students are taught the ethos of the university. We have students companion. The regulation is there. We apply the regulation without blinking. We run a student-friendly regulation and we educate them from the beginning. We have our code even in our exams scripts and we try to punish the moment you go against the law.We have what is called hotline and monitoring and people have been punished for doing such a thing. If you run a student-friendly administration, the students are ready to reach you because we have suggestion boxes in every class for students to give information without putting their names. The staffs know that it is written in the appointment letter that the moment you are caught your appointment is terminated, except a student is doing that without reporting. But the moment the knowledge of that is known there is a punishment attached to that.
Have you recorded any case?
More than 16 students have been punished for trying to bribe a lecturer in year one. The lecturer photocopied the money that was used to bribe him. They wanted the lecturer to influence their scores. They contributed money and gave it to the lecturer and the lecturer photocopied the money and the students were punished. When we did screening exams we caught 81 persons that impersonated and we handed them over to the police.
Any case of cultism
Cultism can only be curtailed and it cannot be eradicated. Cultism no longer exists in the university these days. People come with all their evil vices. In this place we have done cult renunciation for more than two times. So, whatever you are coming with you have to renounce it.
How do you handle cases of cultism?
The moment you are identified as a cultist you are expelled from this university because there is an oath you take on the day of matriculation of not becoming or being a member of cult and you sign that you will be expelled any day you are caught.
Have you expelled any student?
Obviously it is a continuous thing that the moment you are discovered, you don’t even need to face anything because you have signed it.
How many have you expelled?
I don’t know the number but we keep expelling. It is in the regulation and they know. The moment you are identified, whether you are doing it in secret or whatever, the moment you are caught and there is a security report on that the student leaves. There is a regulation on that. It’s been in the university even because I assumed office.