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Home » Wigwe University: Herbert Wigwe’s commitment to empowering next generation of fearless leaders

Wigwe University: Herbert Wigwe’s commitment to empowering next generation of fearless leaders

In a bid to grow, nurture, and build responsible, thoughtful leaders who have the capacity to ignite the potentials of Nigeria and the continent and get Africa to take its rightful place as far as the global business stage is concerned, the Wigwe University was created. Founded by Herbert Wigwe, the Group Chief Executive Officer of Access Holdings PLC, the University would be the first of its kind; a vibrant community of learning where students are trained to face the world with courage, impact it positively and make history. In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE-KORIEOCHA, Herbert Wigwe speaks on the idea behind Wigwe University, the infrastructures put together to make learning seamless and plans on attract students from other African countries, amongst others.

From banking to education, why are you venturing into the university education sector at this time and why not any other sector?

The Wigwe University project is special because it is an opportunity for me to give back to the society by providing world-class quality education that will foster the development of Nigeria and Africa. The project’s major focus is nurturing and building responsible and thoughtful leaders who have the capacity to ignite the potentials of the continent and take its rightful place as far as the global stage is concerned. We want to build people who will alter where Nigeria and Africa is going, and make sure that we remain a very competitive place.

What is the idea behind Wigwe University?

One of the key drivers of the creation of Wigwe University is moulding innovative leaders that will effect positive change in our society. We are not just looking for people who will be job seekers, but people who are entrepreneurial and changemakers. We will place great emphasis on innovation so that we become less reliant on the rest of the world. The goal is to create an efficient ecosystem that produces fearlesss leaders who are passionate about preserving our cultural values. Wigwe University is poised at empowering individuals with the requisite knowledge to transform Nigeria and Africa and ensure that we get the respect that we deserve in the world.

Does Wigwe University have any unique things that it will be offering Nigerians?

What exactly is the difference the institution is bringing into this space?
Wigwe University will be offering a refreshed curriculum that reflects the future of jobs. This is important because we recognise that as good as the old traditional curriculum was, it does not provide people with the relevant skills to thrive. This refreshed curriculum would match any available in the best universities in the world

The elements of leadership, innovation, and entrepreneurship have been built into the curriculum from the first year till graduation. It is not just going to be a taught course but will have a practice element to it which makes sure that irrespective of what course of study, those three elements remain an integral part of the student’s academic life. Our students will also get the relevant international exposure through a structured one-year stay overseas to enable them understand the global market and compete favourably. Additionally, they will be trained to have the local grit to survive and thrive in Nigeria because that is what we need right now.

What is the financial implication of attending Wigwe University at the undergraduate degree level?

This will differ from course to course. Some of it will be in dollars, and then there is a local tuition fee, which is available on our website. We have a combination of international lecturers from the best universities in the world – Europe, America, Asia, and other parts of Africa, as well as the very best of our own lecturers in Nigeria. This balanced faculty will ensure we make the impact that we really want to make.

A competitive fee will be charged to effect sustainable remuneration for our faculty members. A problems that we have seen in the market is the fact that those in academia are poorly paid and we find the best of them leaving to go overseas. We will alter all of that and pay our staff a decent salary to make a decent living.

Looking at the contemporary learning system, do you have plans for hybrid learning, that is, online and physical?

We have invested significantly in the infrastructure of Wigwe University. For example, we have built a power plant that will supply electricity to both the university and the entire surrounding community for the next ten years. We also have the most recent technology, holograms, and artificial intelligence to support our students. The whole idea is to ensure an efficient hybrid learning system.

We will have visiting professors who deliver their lectures from wherever they are in the world in a manner that would be as if they were present in the class. This does not rule out the importance of physical learning because we know that being present in the university is also critical for the moulding of social skills.

Do you plan on attracting students from other African countries? If yes, how?

We definitely do. Our desire is not just to be a Nigerian university, even though that’s what we are by geographical location. We are passionate about fostering the growth of Africa and so open to taking in students from different parts of the continent.

Students who pass the relevant examinations will be admitted into the university. To achieve this, we will engage schools, communities, parents/teachers associations, etc. in different countries to attract the right students. Our world-class education will appeal to these countries the same way Nigerians are attracted to schools in Ghana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, etc.

When is the university starting?
The university will be starting in September 2024.

How do you intend to monitor and guide ex-students to succeed in their careers?

The quality of our students when they are in school and after graduation is very important to us, and that is why we have put certain measures in place to build a distinct DNA in our graduates. When students are in school, we put them through internship and mentorship programs that will evaluate their growth and development. The school gets a 360-degree feedback on their growth from both the lecturers and the institutions where they do their internship programs. We will also create a strong alumni framework that would ensure that students keep in touch after graduation. These things are normal, but in our own case, it is a deliberate attempt to make sure that these students build a solid network even after they leave school.

Also, part of what we have created in building Wigwe University is to ensure that the quality of our students attract employment from top-tier organizations like Dangote Group, Guaranteed Trust Bank (GT Bank), Access Bank, Lagos State Government, River State Government, etc.

What are some of the challenges in the educational sector that Wigwe University is going to address?

The first is that most universities are underfunded and this affects a broad spectrum of needs. This means that students will not have access to the right infrastructure and technology that is essential to make them competitive globally. Underfunding will also prevent getting focused lecturers as they may need to augment their salary by looking for alternative ways to make money.

The second is that we are going to make sure we have experienced academic faculty. It is going to be about making sure we use the right pedagogy, and that we have the right pastoral care for these students. Sometimes we misinterpret the learning capabilities of students just because we do not have the people who have the capacity. Those are some of the things we are going to be paying attention to. We will create an enabling environment that allows them become the best version of themselves.

Beyond all of this, I think the quality of education that they will be getting, given all the things we are putting in place in terms of infrastructure, technology, the right facilities, the breakout sessions, the ability to get into a group thinking process, etc., is such that it is globally competitive.

Are there any plans to expand in the coming years?

At the time at which we started this, we didn’t realize how involving it would be, but we had to think of how to create a system that supports the institution’s growth and expansion. We realised that we would have to partner with several other institutions to get the right calibre of people into Wigwe University.

We are ensuring that we have partner primary and secondary schools for our university faculty’s children within the community as we plan to build ours. In the end, the creation of a university can never be done by one person; to propagate it people, partners, groups, etc need to collaborate. We believe that in four years we should get to a student population of about ten thousand. There is an appropriate lecturer-student ratio, which means you also have to expand the accommodation facilities for lecturers. So it is a never-ending process. Given the fact that we have done our costing projections right, we believe we have created a sustainable model.

How will the presence of Wigwe University help address and improve employment in the local area where the university is situated?

We are committed to the development of the community and today, we have between 5,400 to 6,000 workers on site. Most of them are individuals from the local community who didn’t have jobs before. We have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the community to further engage many of them in different positions after the construction period – from security to gardening, to cooking food for students, and to providing all that is required to support an active university.

We are doing our best to make sure there is a proper gentrification process to protect the environment and the community, and also to continue to push the boundaries of the university. The University’s site could well become a proper city within three to five years with good infrastructure. We plan to extend the power plant so that we can actually provide more power to the community.

I understand that entrepreneurship will be taught at the university. From the beginning right through to graduation. Can you please explain what entrepreneurship programs will be taught in the school and how this will help reduce the high unemployment rates that we have in Nigeria?

Let me just step back a little bit and speak about entrepreneurship. Nigeria is gifted with several things – the right climate, the quality of soil, and over 65 percent of our population consisting of young people who are heavily interested in the creative sector. This is one of the fastest growing sectors but it has not reached monetization maturity, and so the opportunity is huge.

What that means is if you don’t train them to be entrepreneurial, Nigeria with over 200 million people and with a disproportionate amount being creative, will lose all of that skill to offshore exploitation. Now, what does the entrepreneur do? He knows how to put together the relevant resources to create wealth. For some people, it comes instinctively, for others, they need to be trained. What we have done is to make entrepreneurship an integral part of the curriculum from the start.

Our view is that, whether you are studying medicine, fashion, or law, you will be taught how to be an entrepreneur. There will be different levels of proficiency, however, but the idea is that people will be able to commercialize their skills and subsequently be in the position to provide employment to several Nigerians.

Are there plans to absorb some of your best-performing students to establish network or partner organizations?

We are building partnerships with institutions like Dangote, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Access Bank, different State governments, and several oil companies to set up these students when they graduate and that list is growing more and more. Additionally, 10 per cent of the students at Wigwe University will be underserved children who will receive a scholarship. This is to make sure that we are catering to the entire strata of society.

While these partnerships guarantees students employment after graduation, it is the more important to have entrepreneurs within the network because those are the people who make the biggest shifts in the environment.

The name ‘Herbert Wigwe’ rings a bell in the corporate world. Do you have any humble beginnings you would like to share with us to encourage upcoming entrepreneurs?

“If you do whatever you do well, you will succeed.”
I was fortunate to go to secondary school in the northern part of the country – Federal Government College Sokoto. At the time my parents lived in Port Harcourt, and that made me very independent from an early age. I subsequently went to Federal Government College Warri and I could see the difference between going to school far away and being independent, and staying closer to home.

I think the independence that I experienced in the beginning had a massive influence on my life. My chosen profession was different from what my parents would have insisted that their children study, which would have been law, medicine, engineering, etc. I went into finance and at the time it was not the most popular thing to do. When I graduated, the financial services sector was again picking up and I chose to work in an institution that was just getting started. That was the beginning of my whole entrepreneurial journey. Being independent and creating something for yourself is what made us different, and I believe history will always favour the brave and fearless. Anything you cannot step out of your comfort zone to do, you cannot reap the benefits of it. You may be blessed to be an intrapreneur and benefit from it, but I think the most profound change comes from those who take that leap of faith to create something different. So, for young people, who are thinking of doing something different, I think the world is yours and I think there is so much opportunity for you to excel.

The idea of Wigwe University started because I believe that the educational sector has not even scratched the surface. There is room for a hundred new universities of Ivy League standard. We spend billions of dollars overseas today in training children and therefore taking money offshore. Those parents would rather spend their money in Nigeria if we had the right schools. The reality is if you have the right skill, the right training and deploy them efficiently, you will do well.

You mentioned fearlessness. So we have seen you, Sanusi Lamido, Hakeem Belo-Osagie, Aliko Dangote, Dr. Dere Awosika, and Professor Fabian Ajogwu, in some very interesting videos talking about being fearless and the fearless legacy. Can you shed a little bit more light on this, so that Nigerians can understand what is the fearless legacy?

The fearless legacy speaks to the fact that you are in control of your future and your destiny. You are not afraid to make the change required. You are not afraid of your future. So today you find people come out of school and ask themselves, “What will I do for a living?” and they are constrained by that fear of the future and before you know it, it’s either I must get a job or that is all that I can do. Fearless people don’t think like that. Fearless people think of how to change things or how to create things, how to build new things, because those are the things that make the world move or that change environments and change people.

The reason I can speak about it is because that is how I have grown. That is how we have created what we have created up until today. That is how we have created what we are about to create with Wigwe University. If we are thinking about how we are going to compete in that market or how we are going to make the change required, we will not even invest in it if you get the point I am trying to make. So we don’t want to be constrained by the limitations that we see right in front of us. All of those things are going to be history because we remain fearless.


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