By Ikem Okuhu
What began as a gathering of graduates of the Mass Communication Department of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, otherwise known as Jacksonites, has gradually begun to bear fruits many did not envisage. A little over two years ago, some brilliant and successful Jacksonites, ably led by Chido Nwakanma, created a WhatsApp group for products of Nigeria’s pioneer journalism school. Today, the Jackson Alumni Network, as the organization is known, has metamorphosed into an active group, dedicated to the upliftment of the department and continuous professional improvement of all its members.
Alumni associations, the world over, have always been strong forces of change. Many, as it is the case with the UNN Mass Communication group, make academic, financial and intellectual contributions to their mother department. But it is not often that one finds those who take this further by taking interest in the continuous professional development of its members.
The alumni of the Jackson Building, as the Mass Communication department has been known for years, have the professional and career leverage to undertake this and even more. But then, so do others from other departments and institutions. What this group has going for it, however, which others might not possess in similar abundance, is the will to share with one another and empower those not equally endowed. Here is a group of people who collectively believe in the democratization of knowledge. With persons of influence and career acclaim in the academia, marketing communications, leadership, consulting and practically every sphere of human endeavour, it is possible to begin to see why it was easy for them to turn what most others utilize for social gatherings to feed their nostalgia, into a portent fountain of community intellection.
Prof Chinedu Mba, a 1987 graduate of the department, who is the orchestra director of the carefully selected group known as the Jackson Professional Development Series (JPDS), says the whole idea began with the understanding that there was the need to give back to the department.
“It is the crystallization of the passion Jacksonites have for social responsibility and continuous personal and professional growth.”
Jacksonites are graduates of the foremost Department of Mass Communication in Sub-Saharan Africa, previously known as “The Jackson College of Journalism” when it was first founded in 1961.
Prof Mba’s perspective was also shared by another graduate of the department, Celestine Achi, a digital marketing expert who plies his trade in Lagos.
“The JPDS primary goal is to provide an engaging and impact-driven platform for the personal and professional development of students and professionals in the field of communication.”
Prior to the birth of JPDS, members of this group had embarked on several other projects to enhance the academic pursuits of students of the department. First, they started with donating books to the department’s library. Then, they scaled this to whole new heights by embarking on fundraising for the construction of a brand-new building for what is envisioned to be a School of Media and Communications Studies. Interestingly, by the time this unique school was being envisioned, the National Universities Commission was yet to come out with the new policy that was designed to break Communications studies in Nigerian universities to about seven departments, covering Journalism, Digital Communications, Film Studies, Advertising and Public Relations. This clearly points to the farsightedness of the leaders of this group of elite “communications” scholars and professionals.
Loads of credit to what the vision has become goes significantly to some of the youngest members of the group, notably, Mr. Jerry Agada (a 2013 graduate) and Dr. Chidiebere Nwachukwu (a 2011 graduate). It was the two of them that decided to up the ante by organizing periodic seminars for Jacksonites. Prof. Pat. Utomi (a 1977 graduate), the President of Jacksonites Worldwide – the Alumni Association of Jacksonites – was the speaker at the first seminar. Then, the seminars did not have a formal structure and were pretty irregular.
That was when Prof Mba stepped in.
Saddened by the waning interest and participation in the seminars, she reached out to Mr. Agada and Dr. Nwachukwu, and mooted the idea of giving the initiative a formal structure and a chance at sustainability. After a couple of meetings, they agreed that a setting up a steering committee would be the first step. The trio drew up a list of potential Steering Committee members and Prof. Mba was given the task of selling the idea. As is her practice, Chinedu went about this task with dedicated passion and conviction and “recruited” eight Jacksonites to steer the initiative with her as the Chair.
This committee held several meetings lasting into the wee hours of the morning. At these meetings they crafted the name, mission, and vision as well as a strategic plan. With these in place, they presented the idea to the Jacksonites Worldwide late in 2020. Three working groups (Logistics, Publicity & Mobilization, and Sponsorship) were set up in line with the strategic plan. Since its set up, Jacksonites Professional Development Seminar (JPDS) series has held 4 well -received and attended international virtual seminars. Experts in various fields of communication and human capital development have helped share profound knowledge in various fields. They include, Prof Pat Utomi of Centre for Values, Lagos, Nigeria; Prof Nduka Otiono of Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada; Dr Marcel Mbamalu of Prime Business Africa, Lagos, Nigeria; Mr. Obi Emekekwue, formerly of Afrexim Bank; Dr. Isah Momoh of Ed-John Institute of Management & Technology, Ikorodu, Nigeria; John Klocke of St. John Paul II Catholic Schools, North Dakota, USA; Prof. Bartholomew Okolo, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Nigeria Nsukka; Prof. Ladi Adamu of Ahmadu Bello University, and Prof. Yakubu Ochefu of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors, Abuja, Nigeria, Professor Emeritus Charles Okigbo of North Dakota State University, USA, and Chido Nwakanma.
The JPDS has added two new brands, Knowledge Hub and MediaUp Conversations, to its stable.
Knowledge Hub, as the name suggests, is dedicated to the creation and exchange of interdisciplinary research-based knowledge and processes that advance scholarship, solve societal problems and accelerate development. To date, Knowledge Hub has held 5 well-attended international research seminars facilitated by globally respected academics such as Dr. Nuhu Gapsiso of University of Maiduguri, Dr. Kathrine Tulibaski of North Dakota State University, Dr. Adeniran of Lagos State University, Lagos, Nigeria; Dr. Mustafa Malan of Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria, Prof. Victor Ayedun- Aluma of the University of Jos, Dr. Karen Okigbo of University of Chicago, and Prof. Rotimi Olatunji of Lagos State University, amongst others.
Jerry Agada, a journalist and perhaps the youngest member of the team of eggheads thinks the project has been of immense value to the group, saying that sharing knowledge enables society to be better.
“As a personal philosophy, I believe the sky is big enough for all birds to fly. Additionally, the Ubuntu philosophy drives what we do at the JPDS, where we believe that together, we are better; where the development and success of an individual is hinged on the collective and vice-versa,” Agada stated.
Prof Mba, it seems, may have been responsible for invoking this “Ubuntu” philosophy in her team and by extension, the entire body of the UNN Jacksonites. In various interactions with her, she echoes this uniquely African philosophy and has always ensured that she signs off all her emails, with the word as compulsory mention. Could it be just her life choice, or is there a culture graduates of the department imbibe that makes them appreciate the values inherent in living, one for all, and all for one”?
Whatever is the reason, the project, which Mba described as a “child of destiny” is a success story worth sharing and which even the drivers believe should be scaled to impact more people.
Dr Nuhu Diraso, a friend of the JPDS, and faculty member at the University of Maiduguri, thinks the project should go beyond the alumni circles. For him, a lot more Nigerians should know about it, not just for the benefits of sharing professional and academic knowledge but also to spread the message of selfless giving to more Nigerian universities.
“There is dearth of knowledge among students of Nigerian universities today and this has been because nearly all the people with valuable field experiences that could shape the foundational lives of students, are out there in the field, far removed from where they would help shape the minds of students in their critical formative stages of adulthood. But if this project is enhanced for wider participation, I think it will lead to a replication by the alumni of other departments in other universities, the end will be a more empowered graduates, and ultimately, a more employment-ready workforce,” Dr Gapsiso said.
Not thinking too differently, Agada would want more direct interactions between the members of the alumni club and students.
Says he: “The JPDS can organize campus tours in collaboration with other alumni associations, where academics, professionals and students converge in what will be a meeting point between town, gown and the academia, across different campuses. The experience will be beneficial to all parties as such a convergence.”
Agada further suggests that the JPDS is ripe for physical events such as conferences and symposia, This, he believes, will pave the way for a transformation into a global hybrid and authoritative platform in the global communications landscape with annual referenced industry report.
With the depth of intellectual resources at the disposal of the Jacksonites, there is no doubt that these are achievable, if the same will and willingness that brought the JPDS and the Knowledge Hub into existence are applied.