2023 Graduation Ceremony – Vice Chancellor’s Speech

His Lordship, the Chancellor of the University of Makeni, The Minister of Technical and Higher Education, The Board of Trustees of the University, Members of the Governing Council of the University, Vice Chancellors of Sister universities and members of the Conference of Vice Chancellors and Principals, The Chairperson and members of the Tertiary Education Commission, The registrar of UniMak and registrars of sister universities, The major of the Makeni municipality and the Chairman of the Bombali District Council, Members of parliament here present, Excellences, members of the diplomatic and consular corps, Esteemed traditional representative of the Bombali Sebora chiefdom and the Paramount chief of Gbanti Chiefdom and all other traditional leaders here present, Partners of the University, Chief executives and representatives of other departments, agencies and directorates, Faculty and staff, continuing students, Distinguished ladies and gentlemen and most importantly, Our Dear graduands;

Let me join the Director of Academics in welcoming you to another congregation ceremony, the 13th Congregation Ceremony. In a very special way, let me welcome and congratulate our new chancellor who is officiating for the first time our Congregation ceremony. This grounds, the pastoral center, in which the Congregation is taking place belongs to the Diocese of Makeni; and the Diocese of Makeni is the proprietor of the University of Makeni with its Bishop as the Chancellor of the university.

Mr. Chancellor Sir, dear graduands, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we will be twenty years old, next year as an institution of higher learning,  since our inception in 2205, just after years of brutal civil war.  Indeed, we are grateful to God for the many blessings he has bestowed to us as a University and a diocese.    We are grateful to all those who have accompanied us on our journey, the Diocese of Makeni and all its institutions, the people of Makeni, and the government of Sierra Leone represented here today by the Minister of Higher and Technical Education, Madam Minister, we are grateful for your presence.

Just the other day, we celebrated the installation of Our Chancellor, we  blessed the new lecture halls and  yesterday the Bombali District  Council handed over a student hostel of more than  fifty bed rooms accomodation, a multipurpose at the Sylvanus Koroma Campus for us to oversee and manage . Today, again we have received more blessings from the Lord, we are presenting to you, Mr  Chancellor Sir, a total number of five hundred and sixty five students for the award of degrees, certificates and diplomas from the various faculties:  Agriculture and Food Sciences;  Commerce and Management; Education;   Law and Humanities; Mass communication and information Technology ; Nursing and  Allied Health Sciences and the  Social Sciences.  282 are female graduants and 283 male graduants. These are undergrads.  The congregation for the postgraduates will take place in May.

This is a big win for our country !  Congratulations my dear friends for a work well done. You have had to study in very challenging times but you have succeeded and you have been resilient! Thank you for choosing the University of Makeni, for your trust and it has been an honor and priviledge to serve you and allow us to share your lives. Allow me to apologize for times we have failed you and when we have not kept our promises and we hope to do better. UNIMAK is not a perfect institution; we are not yet where we want to be. But I see good will, passion and pride in our institution and so I promise we will work  very hard and continue to be focused.  Our gratitude to your parents, families and benefactors who stood by you all these years.

Graduands, allow me also thank members of the faculty and staff who have accompanied and supported you in your journey here at UIMAK all these years. Join me in applauding them for their good work.

Mr Chancellor Sir, our dear graduands, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I know you are all eager to receive your awards and that is why we are here but briefly permit  me  share with some thoughts as we help prepare our graduands for the next step in the journey.

We are living in very exciting, interesting and challenging times. It is about six years more to account for the ambitious goals set by all the nations of the world : the Sustainable development Goals, dubbed Agenda 2030, with the promise not to leave anyone behind; with the promise to eradicate poverty, achieve zero hunger , good health and well-being …;  a year more to achieve Sierra Leone’s Vision, crafted after the ten years civil war, to build a new and reconciled and prosperous nation named Vision 2025 with the promise to achieve  SWEET SALEONE, the Sierra Leone we want and just the other day  , the Sierra Leone Medium – Term National Development Plan ( 2024-2030) the new plan that would guide us as a nation to achieve the big five game changers : feed Sierra Leone , human capital development , Youth empowerment  that would lead us to becoming a middle income nation by 2039. Yes my friends big dreams, hopes and aspirations. But the fundamental question is where do you stand in all of these my dear graduands;   What is and has been our response, our engagement in all of these.  Where do you stand in all of these?

In the words of the Secretary general of the United nations, Antonio Guterres, commenting on the Sustainable Development Goals  Report 2023 :Unless we act now , the 2030 Agenda  will become an epitaph for a world that might have been.  And so my dear friends we cannot sit on the fence, or the sidelines: We must be engaged. Your next steps in life must be a dedication and commitment to building the Sierra Leone we want ,the world we want.  The University of Makeni has been engaged and continues in its drive to build a better nation: using the transformative power of education in research, teaching, community engagement, entrepreneurship, internationalization  to build a better country.

Things are not going to be easy, my friends but reposition yourselves, reset, reimage and  thing big to engage our world; don’t spend the rest of your time in grumbling , engage .

I have seen our students, staff, alumni thinking and acting big despite the challenges, looking at possibilities rather than challenges, working for a new world to be born.

Few weeks ago.  I was invited, together with other senior officials of the university to a familiarization and reflection session in an organization/ Ngo started by one of our students for human rights and empowering women. Of the twenty to thirty staff , fifteen were alumni and students of our university. This new mind set of thinking big, creativity, innovation, taking the steps to address problems, been a Job provider and not seeker has characterized your formation for the last few years at UNIMAK … use, leverage this to build the better Sierra Leone .  

Transformation through Teaching:

And so Mr Chancellor sir, We have been reviewing and designing programs and curriculum that are relevant and would help address the labor market and form democratic citizens. This year our nursing program has been accredited and discussions around strengthening the allied health sciences, especially the need for health technicians and other specialist areas in our country.

 Mr chancellor sir, we are contributing to address the challenge of food security through our poultry livestock production and its value chain in feed and meat production.  With our partner, Social Business development we are walking the talk and not only talking the talk.  We are the largest poultry production livestock in the country.  At the moment SBD is able to control 14 -15 thousand eggs per day. The sales of the feed  are expected  to reach  2 tons per day  through the direct engagement of SBD  team in monitoring  the customers poultry farm. The target of five tons per hectare will ensure sustainability of the SBD.  SDB is employing our students from various faculties and works with seventy direct workers and over thousands of farmers. We are also diffusing the model of Poultry farming and consolidated farming to poultry farmers and those in the ecosystem.  This year, we will host another annual conference of agribusiness poultry stakeholders in the ecosystem to discuss and plan ways to address the issues around feed, DOCs, health care and local hatcheries.

Dear graduands, this is how to bring about the Sweet Sierra Leone. Food and beverage amongst the first opportunity for investment in the country.

Investment made since the establishment of the Social Business Development Company for Poultry and Feed production in December 2016 to date has amounted to over 40 billion leones, in the form of donations, approximately 1.7 million euro.

The potential of Sierra Leone poultry  sector remains untapped  and chicken poultry production is low in comparison to other producers; however by modernizing poultry production through improved feed , health care  and other inputs , Sierra Leone ‘s poultry farmers would be well placed to benefit from rapidly rising  local and regional demand  for chicken meat and eggs.

With the new style of paddock intensive farming initiated these days by the Bombali District Council, we must engaged and build expertise and competencies around its value chain.  

We have not forgotten to take on board the appeal of Pope Francis to be concerned about the cry of the earth,and so two months ago we launched the center of Excellence for research , training and community engagement on Climate change and Action. We don’t need to be reminded about the climate change as we are experiencing now changing weather patterns.

Monitoring officers have been recruited after the audit report on human resources management at the University, to effectively monitor class attendance and coverage.  There is need to enforce compliance.

Transformation through Research

The International Atomic Energy Agency has approved our research project for the establishment and refurbishment of laboratories on the research, detection and control of antimicrobial resistant parasites in  livestock  and improvement  of public health.

Our intervention in mental health research has been remarkable with a six year research program  grant  ( SUCCEED ) awarded by UK Foreign  , commonwealth and development office (FCDO) in building evidence on what works for psychosocial disabilities and well being in four countries  namely, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Malawi in collaboration with London School of Tropical Hygiene.

The launch of the Law Journal at the University of Makeni is on course with the support of our visiting Prof. Sr Anne Obiora from Anambra State University.

In all of these my dear graduands don’t be afraid to think big; Can anything good come from Yonni, and so on you can be in Makeni, Yonni, Lunsar and engage with the brightest and the best in the world.

Transformation through Community Engagement

Mr Chancellor our tradition of public engagement and social promotion is strong.

Our community engagement ranges from the services we provide to the community and our work on social justice, peace and reconciliation. Today, we are graduating another set of 28 inmates and eight correction officers on a non-senatorial course on  entrepreneurship and development studies. Some of the inmates after completing their time are now students at the university of Makeni. Let me acknowledge the presence of   the acting director general  Col S.S Massaquoi.

In collaboration with a consortium of Universities led by the London School of Hygiene and tropical diseases we are engaged in mental health research and providing mental health services for the nurses and mental health practitioners in the country. Mental Health Services. Through our engagement with San Pablo University in Spain, we are also providing cervical and breast cancer screening and services for the most vulnerable in our country.

 Transformation through Internationalization

The first group of post graduate foreign students from NOAH, an international association of universities around network on Humanitarian action that aims to enhance professionalism in the humanitarian sector through education and training, research and publications and project have audited our masters  program in sustainable development for a semester. This collaboration is an exchange program for postgraduate students. NOAH is a network of nine European Universities and 11 global partners including the University of Makeni.

UNIMAK hosted the top management team from the China-Africa Institute , (UCASS) for  a three days working visit  to strengthen collaboration in academic, research and people to people exchange  for a shred future and global prosperity.

 Five members of staff have been sent to the Federal State University of Lagos for postgraduate masters and doctoral degrees in STEM subjects: Physics, Biology, Chemistry  and Mathematics. Seven sent to China for further postgraduate degrees.

The European Commission, through the University of San Pablo Spain four Erasmus grant scholarships for short term capacity building tours of our administrative staff to Spain.

 Student Affairs

Whilst there is relative peace and conducive condition that ensures an optimum teaching, learning and research environment ,we must be alert to series of drug-abuse related incidents , in which our students  have been suspended  and some expelled . We must intensify our counselling and mental health services for our students and adopt a zero tolerance approach to the use of drugs on campus. Examinations malpractice is becoming a cause of concern and must be nipped at the bud, Moreover some students are in the habit of intentionally promoting themselves without the necessary credits for promotion.  Deans, heads of departments with the support of the examinations have to address this issue urgently. Digitization of the financial procedures and processes is completed and am urging complete digitization of our examinations processes to enhance transparency.

As the tertiary Education works on parity of esteem for programs in our universities, there is an urgent need to firm up our policies and guidelines on admission, promotion and examination policies and be communicated to students.

Infrastructures

The Following constructions are ongoing and some completed: Lecture halls at Sylvanus Koroma Campus, post graduate building is ongoing; the Church for chaplaincy at Sylvanuus Koroma Campusa and fencing of football field.

The Dead

We pray for our deceased students and staff: May eternal rest be granted to them! Those who have worked with us who are sick / retired may God be their source of strength.

The Graduands

My dear graduands,  As you take the next steps , remember all these values highlighted : we have not taught you be lazy, self-centered  but to be focused , creative, imaginative, to think big, to work hard, to sweat , not to exploit the others and to work for the common good . When you have done all of these thank God for the blessings he has given to you to serve … we are mere servants … we have done our duty.

Best of Luck and May God bless you.

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