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'Innovation, Creativity and Formidable Team won ACE Project for Redeemer's University. ' -Prof. Happi, Centre Director, ACEGID, Redeemer's University
News > Publications      |      Posted: May 12, 2014 09:21:27am GMT |      Views: 2441
Professor Christian Happi, Centre Director for Africa Centre of Excellence for Genomic of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID) and also the Dean of the College of Postgraduate Studies, Redeemer's University
Professor Christian Happi, Centre Director for Africa Centre of Excellence for Genomic of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID) and also the Dean of the College of Postgraduate Studies, Redeemer's University

Academic Background and Research Aspiration
 I'm the current Dean of the Graduate School of Redeemer's University. I'm a Professor of Molecular Biology and Genomics in the Department of Biological Sciences. I joined the university about three years ago. It has always been my dream to set up a platform to help African scientists do state-of-the-art scientific research that will help address important health issues that hinders development on the continent.

What led you into the study of genomics of infectious diseases?
 To start with, I'm a Biochemist by training. The gap between Biochemistry and Molecular Biology is not that great. Also, I had always wanted to apply my knowledge of Biochemistry to Medicine because, growing I had had some bad episodes of malaria, which made me think of why should people get sick and even die of this disease; then I decided that when I grow up, I will work on vaccines and therapy for malaria. That was when I was about nine years old.
 I had the opportunity to go to medical school, but I opted for biochemistry because I had read about notable and famous Biochemists and Biologists who made major breakthrough in medical research.  This made me realize that I could also get into research for the purpose of discovering drugs and vaccines against malaria. That was the basis for my choosing Biochemistry as the subject I was to study in the university. I got interested in Genetics, trying to understand the arrangement and expression of genes and finally in the emerging field, Genomics.

How did you get involved in leading the team that developed the best rated proposal presented by the Redeemer's University among the 19 selected universities for the World Bank African Centre of Excellence projects in seven countries in West Africa and Central Africa?
 I will say that I was not invited for that particular meeting at the NUC, the Vice-Chancellor was. I was in another meeting in Abuja at the Federal Ministry of Health. The Vice-Chancellor thought that as Dean of Postgraduate School, I should represent the university.
 At the meeting, the scope and concept of the programme was presented; meanwhile, I had always had what I call a 'bank of ideas'. It just happened that this scope was one of the ideas in my bank. The idea of having this kind of centre was not new to me. I have led a research network or a consortium before, and at that moment we have just received a National Institutes of Health(NIH) grant for establishing the West African Genomics Research Network. The NIH grant pretty much focuses on research. The World Bank project was laying emphasis on capacity building and training.   I had the ideas and such a project well layed out in my mind. Thus, the World Bank concept didn't surprise me; it's something I had always wanted to do. It will be recalled that the time frame to prepare the proposal was quite short. If you weren't prepared, there was no way you could write and win such a grant. We had barely 30 days to prepare a proposal that was finally about 300 pages.

How did you lead Team Redeemer's University to survive stiff competition from older universities to win ACEGID?
I am used to competition, I love competition and I cannot function without competition. My personality like challenges, also for me, impossible doesn't exist. The same happened for this grant; people told me “Redeemer's University? How old are you? You are too young”. Those were the driving forces behind our success, they pushed me to action. Competition energizes me.

What were the winning ingredients of the Team Redeemer's University?
 Our backgrounds, international recognition and connection as a team were important factors in winning the grant. More importantly, innovation, creativity and packaging were the main winning ingredients. What we presented was new on the African educational and academic landscape so it made it unique. We also had the support of our traditional partners from Harvard University, MIT, the Broad Institutes of MIT and Harvard University and Tulane University. We presented a formidable team. We had colleagues from the academia and the industry, with whom we have worked together over the years. 

Nigerians would like to know what the World Bank Grant for African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases won by your university is all about.
 The grant is not only about the M.Sc. or Ph.D programmes. It is about research, training, research infrastructure and capacity building as well as setting up a state-of-the art centre for Genomics research.  We already started work.  Valuable samples are being collected for research and training students.  Talking about training, we've been doing a lot. The National Malaria Eradication Programme of the Federal Ministry of Health recently brought delegates from eight different states in Nigeria for training in our Centre. Work is on-going in our centre,  pending the  official launch for the ACEs by the World Bank in Abuja on May 20th.  We have hired all the necessary personnel to ensure that the project is successful. Our first set of trainees will be visiting Harvard University in the United States of America in June 2014 for a period of 3 months.  We are hitting the ground running.

What do you think are the likely benefits to be derived from the establishment of ACEGID?
 There are enormous benefits for Africa.  ACEGID is the centre for Africa. All African universities are invited to join in the effort to start using genomics and tools of genomics to solve problems relating to health. It is also important to state at this point that we have African students in diaspora that have already shown interest in studying at the centre.  Furthermore the West African Health Organization has also expressed their willingness to send trainees/interns to the centre.

What are the components of the training to be offered by the ACEGID?
 Mentoring is one of the key deliverables of the programme. Students should not just be trained for the purpose of obtaining degrees; they should be mentored to achieve their dreams and supported along their career paths. For the M.Sc and Ph.D programmes that  we will be running, we will use mentors from home and abroad to impact the students positively and develop the right attitude for the next challenge.

Advice for the next generation of scientists?
 Two things are very important for people to be successful.  The first thing is that they should follow their dream and the second thing is hard work. There's no magic, you have to work hard, be perseverant and be focused. In addition, they should view challenges as opportunities in disguise. Many young researchers  spend a lot of time complaining.  However, the energy used in complaining can effectively be used to think on how to proffer solutions to the challenges they encounter.

How can private universities in Nigeria chart development pathways that they will make them become a success story in the continent?
 The private universities should charter courses for themselves. They should be very innovative and creative. They should not mimic the older generation universities. private universities should strive to attract the best brains to be successful. Innovation, creativity and healthy competition are what have made private universities in Europe and the USA the best compared to their public counterparts. The best institutions in the world (Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, Yale, Princeton, just to name few) are all privately owned.  I believe that the future of tertiary education in Africa is through private universities. However, in order for them to be successful, government regulatory agencies should be less prescribing, while ensuring effective quality assurance.  It is only in Africa that government regulatory agencies request all universities to run the same programmes and curricula.  In doing this, they cannot create room for establishment of innovative programmes that will provide solutions to African developmental challenges.

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