You already carved out a niche for yourself in the business world. Why then did you decide to float a university?
In 1993, I entered into a covenant with God. I promise Him that if He blessed me, I was going to use the blessings to serve Him and His people. I said He should take my life a day before the day that I would leave Him to serve another God, so that that day would never come. That was in 1993. Then I was coming from Kano where I was a vehicle spare parts dealer to Nsukka to study. I had N260, 000 cash. I used that money to buy two buses with which I started ‘Peace Mass Transit’ as a student at the University of Nigeria. God really did wonders in my life. He kept to that covenant and more than I ever imagined.
When I turned 50, I looked at what I had achieved and I asked myself: “how do I fulfill that promise I made to God?” So, I decided to use the money I had to make an impact by making an investment that would change lives and influence people. I was considering investing in either the health sector (hospital), education or agribusiness. After much consideration, I decided to invest in the education sector by founding a university because a university would accommodate both the hospital and agribusiness effectively. Education was the place I strongly felt that I could develop young people for God. I could show them that people can make money without being dubious. I could demonstrate that people can make money through the right ways, working hard, being prayerful, being law-abiding, being God-fearing, obedient to the laws of the land and still be prosperous at the same time. If God did it for me, he can do it for many other eople. I think that I can just be an example of such a person. So, this is one of the things I can give back to God and to society. It’s no longer about how to make more money. It’s about how to make God happy and not regret raising us to the level that we have reached.
We already have a good number of tertiary institutions in Enugu State. What informed your choice of the location of the university?
I told God that I was going to use His blessings to serve Him and serve His people. His people are the people where I come from. They are God’s people. So, when I say His people, I mean my people where I come from. There’s a reason God made me an Nsukka man. There’s a reason He made me an Igbo man and a Nigerian. Charity, they say, begins at home. So, since I’m committed to serve God, it is only reasonable that I start serving Him from my community and from there I can get to other people.
University is a global thing. You can use it to render services to people all over the world. Besides, the location of the university is strategic. What do you need in a university? Apart from infrastructure development, you need human resources. And the human resources are the lecturers. My university is within an hour, 30 minutes radius of over 15 tertiary institutions from Kogi, Benue, Ebonyi, Abia and Anambra states. You know in the university system, you collaborate with others to make things happen. So, there are openings for us to collectively embrace and make the changes that would be needed.
What would the university do differently from the other universities in Enugu State and across the country?
I have just narrated a little about my history, that where I’m coming from, with hard work, you can do it. You don’t have to be dubious or fraudulent before you can make it in life. Knowledge of God, hard work, dedication, honesty and transparency, can give you everything you want in life. Again, you can start small and make it big. I did it. Others can do it too. What I want everyone in my school to have. I have is entrepreneurial spirit. That’s what brought me from being a second-hand clothes dealer to a bus conductor, bus driver, spare parts dealer, bus operator and today, the chancellor of a university. So, every graduate of the university is going to be an entrepreneur, no matter the course the one studied. They are going to be able to stand on their own because at Maduka University, we teach you to be an employer of labour and not an employee.
Is there a compulsory course on entrepreneurship for every student of the university?
Any person who is studying in our university will do courses on entrepreneurship from the first year to the final year. That’s our plan. And that’s going to be our focus because it’s an entrepreneurial university. A lot of people have had opportunities in life that they were not able to convert. People should be able to create wealth and if people are fortunate enough to come into contact with opportunities, they should be able to harness them and turn them into wealth-creating opportunities. Sometimes, people make money and they lose it due to lack of knowledge of how to manage and grow money. These things can be taught and we have the environment, we have the people that can pass that message to the younger generation.
What state-of-the-art facilities can the school boast of?
In a university of our type, of course, apart from human resources, we have well equipped laboratories in all our courses because every modern course today including social science courses should have a laboratory. We have laboratories in health and medical sciences, engineering and computing. Currently, there are accounting, mathematics and economics laboratories. Everything has a laboratory so you do theory and practice. This would balance up a graduate. They have internship opportunities to go out and have real-life experience apart from what they are taught in the university. So, that is the difference between a university like ours that has an interest in practice and others.
Apart from that, we have sporting facilities. We are putting up an Olympic standard football pitch and a sports arena. In sports, handball, volleyball, long tennis, badminton, wrestling and boxing, everything is going to be Olympic standard because we have the intention of hosting the NUGA game or co-hosting the NUGA game one day even though we are a private university. I think that a student who has not undergone these sporting activities is not complete. Apart from the mental development, they should also have physical development. It will make them complete people. So, we want an all-round trained student.
In Igbo language, the university is called marahadum, which means to know it all. So, one cannot say the one is a graduate when he or she doesn’t have any knowledge of sports, arts, music or anything except in the area of your course of study. For example, an engineer should have basic knowledge of finances, how to run a family, etc. These things make the graduate a complete person, so to say. Yes, one doesn’t have to be an expert in all, but basic knowledge in all areas of life would help one not just in employing oneself, but in living a happy and fulfilled life because knowledge, they say, is power.
What measures have you put in place to ensure the security of lives and property of both the students and staff of the university given the spate of kidnapping in the area?
The issue of security is general in Nigeria. It’s not just in one place. However, we are lucky that the Enugu state government is supporting what we are doing. They are providing enough security in and around our school. The Nigeria Police and the military are also supporting what we are doing. They are providing enough security in and around the campus. The community, where we are located, is happy with what we are doing. So, they are providing local vigilante services in and around the university. The local government is also interested. Everyone likes what we are doing. So, I don’t think we have any problem with security. However, when you bring people together, you have to provide adequate security for them apart from what the government and the security agencies are doing. So, we also have our own internal security. We are mindful of the security situation in the country. Therefore, that has been adequately taken care of. We also deployed modern security technology like CCTV cameras in and around the campus for maximum security.
What were some of the challenges you encountered in making this dream come through?
A lot! The first challenge was the unfaithfulness of some Nigerian contractors. Some of them are very unfaithful and can’t keep to their promises. They would collect money but would not do the job they are paid for. Unfortunately, in the past three or four years, the economy has not helped. When we started, our budget was at N2, 000 for a bag of cement. But in six months, the price of everything changed. A bag of cement moved from N2, 000 to N3, 000, N4,000 and N5,000. We even bought up to N5, 700 per bag. Because of that, the contractors were having a field day. We lost control of our budget because nobody even knew the price of anything in the market. So, whatever they tell you is what it is. So, we ended up spending far more than we budgeted. We lost control of our budgets just six months into the project. We are only lucky that God helped us weather the storm.
What motivated you to continue with the project?
What made me have faith was that I knew that very soon I’d be 60 years. And after the age of 60, if I was not able to build an investment now that I’m around 60, was it when I’m 80 that I’m going to build one? So, I needed to build the university when I was still strong because I would also need time to nurse it. A university is like a baby. You have to nurse it for five years or 10 years. You need time to nurse the university. So, I have to do it when I’m still young and I want to nurse it myself before I get very old and this is my life project. It’s something I want to give to Nigeria. It’s something I want to give to God. So to me, it is a fight to finish. It’s not a battle that I can lose. It’s a battle that must be won because there is no other thing apart from that. That’s just what I decided to do.
Though Maduka University is privately owned, did you get any kind of support from your state government?
I would not expect that in this kind of economy. Every state government has its own problems to resolve. My university is a private venture and does not have anything to do with any state government. It’s entirely a private investment. And it’s philanthropy. It’s a social investment. No government will give anyone money to go and do philanthropy. You don’t use another person’s money to do Father Christmas. Nobody does that.
Are you into any partnerships with either local or international organisations?
Right now, we have some foreign and local universities that are indicating interest in working with us. We’re going to work with universities locally and otherwise, depending on their areas of strength. We’re going to partner with some technology universities, from Japan and Malaysia, to boost our technology. We’re also going to partner with some universities in India to boost our school of health/medical sciences and some local universities to boost our human resources, exchange research and so on. University education is global; so, it’s not something you can do in one place. It depends on what you are looking for and who can offer it.
Funding is very critical to the sustenance of any institution. Is the university going to be self-funded?
Yes. I already told you, the university is not supposed to be a business that you start today and it begins to fund itself today. It’s like a child that you have to nurse. You have to nurse the university for some time to be able to stand strong and stand on its feet and begin to take care of itself. But in the first five years, sometimes a little more, up to 10 years, you continue putting money there. And even after 20 years, you are still putting money into a university because it is always growing, expanding and demanding. So, it’s a lifetime investment. It’s not something you say, oh! I’m tired; I have finished with it. No! You don’t finish with a university. You continue to give back because even after putting up all the infrastructure and so on, you still need to continue to put in money for research. And school fees from students are hardly enough even when you are fully-grown.
Furthermore, sustenance is also not only about funding. We have, by God’s grace, made adequate provision for that. We are going to be able to nurse the university but apart from that, the plan to sustain the university also has to do with even members of my family. By God’s grace, my wife has a PhD today. As I speak with you, of my four children, one has finished her PhD while the other three are in the process of getting their PhDs from different universities across the world. All these are going to bring in different perspectives and knowledge from different backgrounds to play in the university even when they are professors wherever they are all over the world. They will still be supporting the university through virtual meetings, virtual lectures and so on. They are going to bring in knowledge from all over the place. And this is in preparation for succession. You know, one day, you are going to hand it over to your children and the board will also be there. Of course, the kind of board we are putting in place is not a board that isn’t knowledgeable but a board that will be committed. So, both at the family level, board level and personal level, we are looking at all the areas to make sure that we are not found wanting. Those who are coming after you must appreciate what you have done for them to be able to keep it afloat.
How are you going to ensure that cultism and other related vices associated with tertiary institutions do not rear their ugly heads in the university?
Our university has adequately taken care of that. The issue of cultism and all these vices are products of external influence. They come from outside the school. In our school, every teacher, every lecturer, every student is residential. It’s a 100 per cent residential university. So, nobody will come from anywhere to bring cultism to the school. And you are not going to do that inside the school because once your parents bring you to the school, you remain there until it is time to go on holiday. You don’t leave the school without your parents applying for you to leave the school. Once you are in, you are in. You don’t leave the school without the consent of your parents. So, all those external influences that students suffer are not going to be applicable in our school. And because all the workers are going to live inside, nobody goes out to bring in anything to anybody or run errands for any person. People are going to concentrate and do their job and do it according to the rules and regulations of the school.
Your school’s tuition for courses like law, pharmacy and nursing is said to be N588, 000 while others like accounting are N378,000 per academic session. Don’t you think the fees are high considering the economic reality in the country?
No, I don’t think so. Before you say it’s on the high side, you will have to compare it with what other private universities are asking for. If you do, you will find out that ours is among the least. It is among the least and it’s for a purpose.
So, what is the purpose of making it lower than what other private universities charge?
The reason it is low is, one, the university is ours. We’re not running it for any person. So, the interest is our interest. And what’s our interest? It is to give service to God and man. Secondly, it is owned by a foundation, the Samuel Maduka Onyishi Foundation. So, it’s a non-profit making university. It’s not meant to make profits and then share it with the shareholders. No! It’s a service, a gift and our contribution to the world.
The university took off on November 23, 2023. That day was also my 60th birthday anniversary. So, that’s my gift to Nigeria and the world on my 60th birthday. We come empty and we go back empty. I don’t believe that you have to keep money, pack all the money for your children because your children don’t need all the money. What they need is good education and I’ve done that for my children. So, my family and I decided to use what God has given us to give service to humanity.