Prof Gregory Ibe, is a legendary Nigerian business executive, an entrepreneur par excellence, educational transformer, a philanthropist and humanitarian. He was born on December 10, 1963 in Kaduna where his parents, natives of Uturu, lived then and worked. Although born and brought up outside his parents nativity, Prof Ibe never ceased to be the quintessence of an Igbo son who is in perfect harmony with the rest of mankind world over. He adores his home place, Uturu, and makes Uturu adorable to the World.
He was not born into easy circumstances of life. Indeed, he had a raw deal with poverty in his early life which rather spurred him with the determination to attain great heights today. His tough early life toughened him to complete his primary, secondary and tertiary education, alternating between work and education. That was perhaps nature’s way to prepare him for his future role in Nigeria as the hope for the hopeless.
Prof Ibe has his schools at Boys High School, Ihube, Imo State; School of Accountancy and Management Studies, Aba; Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Enugu; and California Coast University, Santa Ana, CA where he obtained his Master’s Degree in 2003 and Doctorate Degree in Management in 2006.
Chief Gregory Ibe is a great name in Nigeria particularly in education. Currently he constitutes the private sector spirit that is shaping science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in Nigeria through his involvement in supply of the state-of-the-art teaching/learning equipment with innovative pedagogy in the delivery of the subjects. His intervention is currently transforming the teaching of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in Nigeria at all levels of education. He has implanted entrepreneurship as curricular innovation in education and particularly in Business, Engineering and Technical/Vocational Education.
Prof Ibe is the founder and chancellor of Gregory University, Uturu in Abia State, Nigeria with a focus on applied research, entrepreneurship and a Work-Based University Education. His University has the mantra “Knowledge for Tomorrow”
Prof Ibe has also established Gregory Iyke Foundation as a humanitarian medium to reach out to the poor and the helpless in Nigeria. The Foundation is in affiliation with World Medical Relief Inc. and Global Medical Relief Inc. in the United States for execution of medical aid programmes in Nigeria.
Much more are in the hands of Chief Gregory Ibe, to contribute to the up-lift humanity, particularly in Nigeria
Prof Gregory Iyke Ibe, PhD OFR, Chancellor recently spoke to the team of TIME AFRICA’s Editor-In-Chief,Chidipeters Okorie. Excerpts:
What motivated you to establish this university here in Nigeria?
My business is about education. My company is Skill-G Nigeria Limited and all that we do is supply, delivery, training on the use of our laboratory equipment from autotronics, robotics, hydraulics, electrical and electronics. Workshops and laboratory equipment; we also deal in refrigeration, AC and laboratory equipment, and all that. We have all that and that’s what we do and it’s in use in almost all the higher institutions in Nigeria. Also sciences and instructional materials for primary schools are part of what we handle at Skill-G.
Those things motivated me. If you look at me as a lecturer who taught in Abia State University and Tansian University, and want to see the best, since I have upgraded all these universities in Nigeria, what is left for me now is to have a center where training and best practices will be the order of the day instead of allowing the rot going on in some public institutions to continue.
We are motivated to do something far more departed from the norms, so that we have a university parents will be proud of, we will be proud of, and visitors will be proud of in terms of delivery in educational training.
Looking at the populace we have and our inability to respond to the needs of the population growth or industrial sectors or, looking and asking, ‘what are the needs of the country at every point?’ I felt that the study of science and technology have been relegated to the background so I am motivated to say let me start engineering completely so that we will teach and be proud that a graduate is a graduate with training and capacity to be employed or run a self-employment scheme using your talents and the ability I have secured while under training in our university. So this is exactly how I operate and how I got into the university thing, trying to improve standards from what I saw as a lecturer elsewhere.
What’s your vision for GUU?
The vision is to graduate hands-on professionals that will take Nigeria to the next level, those young men and women that would capably midwife Nigeria for tomorrow’s technological advancement in line with our motto “knowledge for tomorrow”. Of course the school is already producing capable Nigerians that have what it takes to produce the right results in the market place of global ideas with all the boldness it calls for.
You spoke about your company. Are you saying that your motivation for this school is for profit making?
Well, my company is a business; I make sure that I situate the study of science and technology for tomorrow’s development, so government gives me the contract. That’s my business. So I supply, train and build the local capacity for Nigeria.
So that means your school is all about profit making
It’s not my school. It’s Skill-G Nigeria Limited. That’s a company. My university is not a company, it’s the place where I am giving back to society what I want education to be, and how to mound a child from ground zero to an academically minded person.
How affordable is the tuition fee?
Private ownership is by name, all that we are doing is service to humanity; provide job for the people, both academic and non-academic. We are helping for the development of the nation, when you pay salaries; you are developing man-power. The nomenclature of someone being the Proprietor or Chancellor is completely out of the way. What the government ought to do is to give grant to anyone who is moving into this kind of business so that tuition will be free. For example, what is the essence of charging N350,000 per student and there is no electricity and you burn N6m monthly on diesel, excluding salaries that worth N11m monthly? You consider the wear and tear of the vehicle and its maintenance, putting mechanicals to work, buying computer accessories such as printers and its inks and running the system. So, if you do minimum amount of N22m a month and run it for twelve months, you will discover that you can never recoup any more. It is only passion that drives some of us to do what we are doing.
If I understood you correctly, you lay more emphasis on engineering and sciences at Gregory University?
Yes. That’s what I said. I am Master Science, and since I already preach science and technology, there is nothing else I desire in this world other than to situate the study of science and technology beyond my immediate environment. Am proud to say that this is what I do, and I have made a mark in the entire educational system in Nigeria. I have made it possible for most universities to secure laboratory equipment and laboratories to be able to deliver in science education.
With the size of Nigerian economy and downturn of things, how do you manage funding this institution?
In every legacy you want to build you must have a level of apprenticeship. I had my apprenticeship from being a lecturer in two universities, so academically I have it. In the world of business, if you want to approach it from the capitalist angle or…, I have PhD In management. I am a professor of entrepreneurship so one thing that I apply and I do quite well is that I practice what I teach. So I am prepared to face this university development considering that I am fully aware of all the risks and all the financial involvement.
So what is your source of funding?
Source of my funding is me, without any grant which I am still working on. I have no government support yet, so I am only using the resources available to me to make sure this university works. The number of scholars we have are not able to give you the write off of your bills.
Do you have partners, who are they, private or corporate?
I have no partner – private or corporate and no help is coming from anywhere. But I work with God – the Supreme Being. While setting up GUU, it was my skills that came first. I trained as contractor with skills in masonry, electrical, plumbing, aluminum fitting and surveying. I acquired these skills while I was growing up and in secondary school working with private people and I still have the skills within me.
You were in the news recently for offering scholarship to the best student in JAMB 2019. Do you also give scholarships?
My foundation is Gregorian Ikye Foundation and is the owner of the university. So we started by making sure we bring hope to the hopeless. So each time we make sure there are people on our scholarship, and we don’t shy away from it. It’s one of our key mandates, apart from producing children with sound minds, irrespective of tribes. By the way, we have over 30 percent from South West, then we about 3 percent all coming from the North, Daura. So you can imagine how we are gradually climbing the ladder and carrying everybody along.
Funding universities is not an easy task and you spoke about subventions from the government, just like every other university in Nigeria is seeking subvention. Tell us what you want from the government for this university?
What we are providing for the country is public good. We are training Nigerians who will join the economy of Nigeria, right? They are to perform credibly in industries and ministries where they are. That’s whom we are moulding, for the public good. Ask questions, why is government refusing to assist? This is a big question. If they have licensed you, they have to give you assistance. They can ask their various agencies to keep on supporting you and giving you grants, since we pay taxes and 5% taxes deduction, education tax. This is returned to TETFUND and TETFUND gives it to public institutions without giving to private institutions, tagging us business.
So I have written a paper for Mr President to consider so that we will all be at par, so that any child in Nigeria who is old enough to go to school will be entitled to a scholarship. Government will stop budgeting for overheads for all the universities in Nigeria so that the number of students you have, the government will pay you directly and you now work it out into your budget. All of us will now be faced with giving grants on the types of researches you want to do. Right now, we are now at par with state and federal universities where N40,000 is taken as school fees and then the lecturer is expected to do adjuncts in one million places to keep his family going.
This disparity must change. You cannot compare a Beetle with a Bentley. If you want to compare them, you must bring them at par in terms of quality and all.
The quality in public institutions, and the quality that we offer, I talk specifically about myself- you are at liberty to go and ask the scholars, we make them work all the time and sometimes they think we overburden them. But I normally tell them that this is to make them better persons. Feel free to go around to our laboratories. If anybody feels he has equipment more than us in Nigeria, then I tell them they are joking. You should realize that I am a pacesetter, I am the best in all that I do.
What do you think is the place of Gregory University in the nearest future?
I am building an institution that is supposed to be recognized as a center of excellence in critical areas of learning. One of them is to have every laboratory well equipped; the other is to have the personnel to use it. If you combine the equipment with the right personnel to use it and deliver knowledge, there is no way in the next near future, there is no way we will not be ranked as one of the best in the country. That’s why we are the best in all that we do. In educational support services, we are doing extremely well, and our scholars performing even beyond their peers in other universities in Nigeria. Mr Nigeria is from here and he is going to Singapore now to perform. Most of my scholars are now giving talents to music and acting and they are raising dust across the country.
So anything we set out to do we do with the best of interest, and our scholars partake in all activities and they feel happy, because you don’t bring anything inside. We produce what we use ourselves. You were in the church today and saw the way they are performing. Once this final year goes, another set takes over. We keep on improving on what we do, and we are going to make Igboland proud.
How many sets have you graduated so far?
We took off in 2012 after we got our license from the Federal Government. In GUU’s second year, we established the faculty of Engineering, in the third year – the College of Medicine with a department in Human and Applied Sciences. Presently, my Company (Skill G) is effecting practical training. We have trained engineers from Federal and State Universities with emphasis on robotics, process control and creative destruction. By creative destruction we mean bringing a new invention which does not mean that people would be out of job, instead it provides a four dimensional way of doing things. To answer your question, GUU have graduated four sets, so our last set have finished their Youth Service, so this is the fourth in our nine years.
On a lighter mood prof, why are you a church usher in your own school? Is it humility, fear of God, showmanship or you just like doing it?
I have a covenant with Jesus from my secondary school days. I was in the Scripture Union in a Methodist school I attended. I still attend to my catholic faith. My teacher was the lay reader in the Methodist church. So my foundation is built around Jesus Christ: he has not just preached humility but also practiced it. I prefer to do what I have to do so they see that there is nothing in this world bigger than humility. That’s what I do and I feel happy doing it. My God whom I serve sees my heart. My students see me and they want I emulate me and they have been inculcated a lot of good attitudes. You could see after service they all wanted to take pictures with me and some will say, ‘sir you are my role model’. So you can imagine how fat this will take them.
Why has Gregory University Uturu always remained the venue for the Summit?
The university does not move its seal to another location. It’s located in Uturu. The Igbo Renaissance Centre is in the university, and this is home to the great cave where early man began. This is where Ndi Igbo gather. This is apart from being a university that owns the right and owns the discourse. Nothing stop anybody from going to Ebonyi State for a seminar and still return. Like the Ahajioku lecture was held and our university participated in order to document its outcome. You can imagine how many years it was abandoned.
But our university has done a research work on what happened in the previous.
Why was the World Igbo Summit founded?
It happened when Ndi Igbo set up leadership to represent them in the National Confab of 2014, and it was led by Ike Nwachukwu. It’s Coordinator was Professor George Obiozor. The la creme of Igbo elders went for that Confab, and it was agreed generally that the outcome was successful in the entire country.
During that period, until the end of the Confab, there was no other room for network or discussion. So it came to a point where the Igbo Renaissance Centre and my University, Gregory University, decided to bring everybody to a round table so that we can continue to discuss instead of not having a position. We were poised to discuss what the Igbo position is, were and will be. That’s how we started and the university started to organize it, so that there will be no lacuna. Whatever is the outcome, there is need to present it and work together as elders think tank, for the generality of Igbos; for Ọhaneze to superintend. That’s how the academic environment is bringing Ndi Igbo together through academic work, discourses and collective bargaining. This is how it started and it began immediately after the 2014 Confab.
So we are on the 5th Edition that’s coming up in January this year. Since 2015, we have been holding the Summit, depending on the topic.
The Igbo Renaissance Centre is the central body that cares of all Igbo groups wherever they may be, so that they may document the outcome of their discussions and what they have for Ndi Igbo in terms of development. So we were aimed at preparing a 50 year development framework for Ndi Igbo.
Then the Summit is calling all Igbos worldwide to Uturu, and whatever they are discussing in parts should now be brought together for adoption.
Are there plans to discuss the place of Ndi Igbo in the presidency of Nigeria come 2023?
What comes to play here is IGWEBUIKE. Nobody can actually do it on a single mandate or a state out of all South East. So Ndi Igbo in the spirit of Igwebuike will all come here and talk. In fact, the first and second in this discussion is that Ndi Igbo has a place in the Nigerian Project and has no place to go, and that we should as a matter of networking, work with other tribes in Nigeria to make the country great.
They will also look at the issue of president of Igbo extraction, 2023 and where Ndi Igbo stand. All these decisions will be taken by the collectives that will come for World Igbo Summit. At the end of the day, the communique will be made known to the entire country, so that it will be easier and better that it’s not just the governors of the South East having their governors forum, or Ohaneze having Ime Obi, but we should also have the generality of all coming to throw light – bring all the ideas, – so that our academics will put template paper and present it to the wider community to read.
Not everybody makes up the Governors’ Forum, not everybody makes up the Ime Obi. The governors cannot ascribe themselves to be the elders of Ndi Igbo- they are servants, and leaders – and will serve us for eight years and return to their homes for others to take over.
So we are adding value to the future of Ndi Igbo with this Summit.
If I understand you correctly when you said Ndi Igbo has nowhere else to go, the World Igbo Summit is invariably saying there is no place for Biafra and IPOB in its project. Could this be right?
If someone is aggrieved, it’s just to call the person to the table. The generality of Ndi Igbo has no place to go. We belong to Nigeria and Nigeria is our country, and we want to make sure that it works for all of us. When we talk about Nigeria, you talk about Igbo being in every nook and cranny of it. So we can’t run away from this our great nation. Whatever is our agitation, whatever that led to their grievances should be listened to and be discussed. I also believe that in the future when government will sit down and discuss this aspect of revisiting the three Rs after the war, which was not executed, it will be done. I also know that our sons and daughters in the National Assembly are pressing for the development of South East, and that could be used to address the war and challenges it created. Whatever it is, there are other tribes too whose children are agitated and when they agitate, the Government speaks with them and finds solution.
So I will treat anything that happens in the South East as an agitation not enough to break the country, but to make sure that we are listened to, and whatever we bring are considered.
What is the financial burden of the World Igbo Summit like on you? Does it enjoy funding from individuals or bodies, or is the university and yourself the sole sponsors?
This is a university and it’s always captured in our budget, and up till now nobody has actually come forward to help us. But I believe that one day, some men and women of goodwill will see that we are not just doing an academic exercise. We are doing work that will help the development of Igboland. We believe that one day, one of them will help in propelling the discourse of Ndi Igbo academically.
Aku Rue Ulo concept was extensively discussed at the Summit of 2015. Between then and now, how has this impacted on Igbo land?
You saw the South East Economic Summit in Enugu where SE is taking the bull by the horns by trying to do their railways. There are a lot of Igbos who have taken on the mantra of Aku Rue Ulo. It is witnessed in every village, everybody is now having a Think-Home-Attitude. So that’s what was achieved at the 2015 event. But this year is all about restructuring and 2023 presidency of Nigeria.
If you are given an opportunity to lead a state in Nigeria, how will you affect the progress of that state?
You know I come from Abia State, and I have succeeded to work as a consultant, and I have served all Nigerian presidents at various capacities, and at a point I had to work in seven ministries; I had to work in the Head of Service to make sure that the goal of the government is achieved and the expected outcome is concluded. So coming back to my state, my state is where as an individual, I have set the pace.
After the Abia State Government, the next person that is the highest employer of labour is me. I have never been assisted by any government. When they call for Akuruoulo, (people should transfer their wealth home) the government seem not to be serious in support of whoever is investing home. They can publish any figure and tell you that if you invest 500 million you get tax waiver and moratorium, we have not seen any. We have applied and nothing has come.
You saw the road, very bad and nobody is meeting you. So if you are investing in the South East, it appears you need to come with your road, electricity, water and the investment you want to do. So the government is not yet doing anything for anyone in terms of investment. But for me that believes in my state, I have no other state, I have no other zone, I have no other Nigeria. So as I climb the ladder, I strongly represent where I am standing. Now I am in Abia State, I want to provide leadership by the grace of God.
It’s a paradigm shift from what everybody is doing, and I intend to do an economic blueprint that can be sustainable, that can decentralise governance, where the youths will have all that it takes, where they can achieve what they are set to achieve even at younger age.
I got married at the age of 23, in spite of the poverty around. Today, people get married almost at 40. So if you empower youths, he will go for marriage and start supporting the GDP of the nation. If you leave 1 million youths of Nigeria empty handed, you get miscreants, then kidnapping, all the vices. Indian hemp and other drugs have dominated the youths because their hands are not kept dirty, they are not getting the skills. The state rolling plan is not available, so nobody is coming with a well-articulated programme.
As a consultant to ECOWAS, I think I have the foreign, international exposure, the national exposure and the state exposure because I am on ground.
In the old Imo and Abia State, there are major landmark projects I was involved in. One is Abia State University (then Imo State University). I was the Project Accountant, Imo Airport which General Ike Nwachukwu gave us. I built it. There is the belief that it’s Mbakwe’s airport. Mbakwe has an airport designed to be built at Avor Umuguma, but that airport was close to the city, the new Owerri. So Ike Nwachukwu shifted it to Obiangwu where it presently is. So sometimes people keep mistaking it. I also did the handball stadium, I did those projects.
In the national, the Federal Secretariat, I was 23 years old when I arrived Abuja and that was my first project to make sure that all the Ministries were relocated from Lagos to Abuja. The Former Foreign Affairs Ministry was three buildings in one that was meant for the Ministry of Sports, when Graham Douglas was minister. But at the end of the day, Foreign Ministry was allocated to it, but it’s now for the Road Safety. Many of such, including a lot of work in the Villa and the Three Arms areas were done by me. These are the projects I have done, so I don’t see why ..
As a consultant I have developed the reform programme for the public service, and the Bureau of public reform. So these are my projects, and then my NGO. Whatever I get I give back to society, because God has been merciful to me. God gives me the brain, the contact, everything. So the moment I have it, the best I do is to eat a little food, sleep in a small corner because we grew up sleeping on the mat. With nine members in my family, on that small mat, I learnt to lie straight and remain on that place until next morning.
On a lighter note, if you have brother or sister who used to urinate on the mat, you end up squatting till the next morning after the cold urine hits you. So next morning you fold the mat and go out to sell akara on the streets. So you can imagine me now, will I be able to sleep on a 10 metre bed? Even a chair can make me comfortable.
So we just finished training 2000 youths of Abia and we are happy they were leaving here after three months. Many of them were crying, they have become my friends. I gave some of them with special talents automatic employment. I also gave scholarships- 90 and then another 60. So I just want people to get involved in what we are doing.
Recently you spoke about zoning the presidency to Igbo land, and in some quarters, they have been talking about a single term of 6 years for the president which shall be constitutionally rotational . There has also been this rumour that the president is rooting for 3rd term. All these and many more, what do you think the future holds for Ndi Igbo?
There was a publication that the president is not going for 3rd term, and that has put the rumour to rest. Typical of Nigerian political terrain, people will still be suspicious that it’s a ploy to get our people to forget it and it will resonate on its own. By trying to quote Mr President, I want to say that he should live by the integrity he carries on, and that he will not go for 3rd term.
Again, you will not know where the pendulum is swinging. There is a precedent at the National Assembly, they tried it and it failed before, majority will still have their way and the best is for the president to go by the way of integrity. And he is always very grateful to God for giving him this opportunity to lead Nigeria. But then, who takes over from him? If all we talk about is equity and fair-play in determining who takes over, they should consider bringing this power to the South East. I spoke in my last interview that this is the way to go. In fact after that interview, there was a swing nationally and people in APC and PDP has started talking about zoning. South East should not be left out. In fact, I am not saying that the rest of Nigerians don’t like excellence but I am saying that my people and my tribe, with due respect to anyone, we like to live by excellence.
Once you make money, the elders of Ndi Igbo will always want to know how you made your money. So they will distil you from the rest once you live by the books. If Ekwueme was Vice President and he made his money by his profession, once you are into criminality, the community and even your family rejects you. So if we are given an opportunity to lead this country, there will be manifold gain because the same definition of entrepreneurship is given to leadership by the Igbos. So if somebody could take something from point one to highest level of success, it means that the person can provide social, economic and political leadership at any point the person is called upon.
Nigerians should watch the way we live- no Igbo man bets on his brother that he is a thief. We believe that money made in dubious ways don’t last. So what is enduring is money you made out of sweat -buying and selling. You sow so that you reap. Same applies to everyone across the universe. If you manipulate someone’s own to claim it’s yours, or steal it, after a while, it will be exposed. So my people have a lot to offer Nigeria in terms of leadership and we will make sure that this country is revered in the whole world.