Akpagu : 20 Months of Smooth Sail as UNICAL VC

Prof Zana Akpagu,  Unical VC 
Inyali Peter,  Calabar

Expectations are usually high whenever a new government or administration comes into power. This is rightly so because it is expected to build on the achievements of the previous administration and reposition the university for effective service delivery. Owing to these high expectations, people often tend to set agenda for a new administration in a bid to ensure it hits the ground running and effect necessary changes within the shortest possible time. While some administrations are phenomenal in the first two years, others take time to fully settle down before delivering on the much needed change craved for by the masses.

But the reverse appears to be the case for the first alumni Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calabar (UNICAL), Prof Zana Akpagu. He has blazed the trail as the first Vice- Chancellor in the history of the prestigious institution to record landmark achievements in less than two years in office. Twenty months after, stakeholders and the entire University Community have every reason to congratulate themselves and feel proud that they made the right choice. The erudite Professor of French has brought smiles to people’s faces especially staff and students.

Prior to his emergence, there was serious horse-trading, intrigues and power play to shut him out of the race. In fact,  many saw the battle for the soul of UNICAL as the Biblical war of Goliath and David. Other contenders were seen as the Goliath while Akpagu, the underdog, was the David. But as the saying goes, when the going gets tough, the men are separated from the boys. In the midst of the rancorous but transparent selection process, Akpagu proved beyond reasonable doubt to be the man with the magic wand for the transformation of UNICAL. Due to his rich credentials and high intellectual prowess he wrestled the supposed heavy weights to the ground and emerged as the 10th Vice-chancellor of UNICAL. It is, therefore, a measure of the trust the people reposed in him that the David in the battle trumped the Goliath.

Before the election, the northern zone of Cross River was the only zone yet to produce a Vice Chancellor after over 40 years of Unical. The immediate past VC, Prof James Epoke who hails from the central part of the state took over from a southerner, Prof Bassey Asuquo which means equity naturally zoned his (Epoke) successor to the northern part of the state in the spirit of the conventional zoning formula which has prevailed ever since the institution adopted the policy of giving preference to indigenes in electing Vice-Chancellors.

The Southern part of the state which should ordinarily have waited for the north to complete five- year tenure before power returned to them insisted that it must either go to them or nobody. It was during this period that the sentiment of 'Atam' which they say included Abi where Epoke comes from was pronounced. They argued vociferously that the state is divided between 'Atam' and the South and not on the basis of Senatorial district. Going by their argument, the then Vice Chancellor had taken the turn of the 'Atam ' which comprised of the central and northern parts of the state. They argued therefore it was their turn to take a shot at the position.

The popular and powerful former Commissioner for Education, Prof. Offiong E. Offiong was projected by the south as the only man whom the crown fits. The reason for his projection was simple; he just finished an eight year tenure as the State Education Commissioner and therefore had the war chest to fight other interests head on. Besides this, being an old Professor and having spent eight years in government, he possibly may have made friends across board to help actualize their common goal.

At the time, there was sponsored media propaganda that the Federal Ministry of Education had set a guideline that only people who were up to ten years old as Professors were qualified to contest the VCship position. The media kept promoting this agenda while deliberately playing down on the clause in the said guideline that empowers the Governing Council of Federal Universities and Polytechnics to decide on whether to work with the guideline or review it.

The number of years as Professor was a calculated attempt to stop Akpagu who was the obvious favorite to succeed Epoke. Only a few journalists who were interested in objective reportage carried out the investigation which revealed that almost all the former Vice Chancellors of the institution were not up to ten years old as Professors when they attained the position. Even the last VC from the South, the protagonist of the 10 years agenda was allegedly only six years old as Professor when he was elected VC. So this too, like other antics devised against him faded away into the thin air.

However, despite all the political calculations and intrigues from the South, the north remained focused with a formidable candidate in Akpagu who was arguably the most popular amongst students and staff of the University.

Akpagu is a former two- time Commissioner and Special Adviser to immediate past Cross River State Governor. He has a long history of path finding and excellence. He graduated top of his class in UNICAL. The first commissioner for education in Cross River State who midwifed the process for the return of mission schools to their owners. He was the only person among those who wanted to be VC that grew through the leadership ranks in the University. He was a former Head of Department, a former Ag. Dean of Students Affairs, former Dean, Faculty of Arts and former Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic). His Curriculum Vitae was the richest and the most impressive and so those who were trying to stop him were probably pretending not to accept that he was unstoppable.

Apart from this, he was the only alumnus of the University who was in the race. Having existed for over forty years, it was almost long overdue for the university to have one of its own as VC. This was the sentiment that spurred the alumni to insist that it was either him or nobody

Despite assuming office at a time the nation was going through one of its worst recessions of all time, Akpagu has been phenomenal. He is leaving indelible marks in the areas of infrastructure and development, programs expansion, security, among others. Gradually, the University is becoming a huge construction site as he has radically transformed Unical from a second to a 1st generation university.

For instance, from the main entrance to the University along the Prof. Ayandele boulevard, there is a visible face lift. The University is wearing a new look as he has commenced radical beautification program through the planting of flowers. Unical is gradually becoming a tourist destination as fun lovers on daily basis visit the University in droves just to experience the green, serene and natural environment.

In terms of infrastructure, the University has experienced the highest number of constructions in 20 months under Akpagu than any other administration. There's a rapid construction going on in every corner of the the institution. This include the construction of an academic building situated opposite the faculty of Management Sciences, rehabilitation of faculty of social science lecture block, Laboratories, Pavilion 1, D, E, F and the Atiku Abubakar lecture theatre. Most of these infrastructures were hitherto in a state of disrepair.

Similarly, the twenty months of Akpagu's administration has also successfully established a central Gas supply to the faculty of science. This has gone a long way in reducing the cost of gas supply to different units and departments as it were.

Also, the VC has drilled 2-nos 300mm Diameter boreholes with submersible pumps, construction of packaged water treatment plant, rehabilitation of Halls 6, 5, 8 and hall 4, rehabilitation /reconstruction of pavilion 2 & 3 and rehabilitation of Hall 9 female hostel.

More so, there is ongoing construction of Physics workshop, class rooms/offices for the faculty of science, 500-seat lecture pavilion for faculty of Engineering, 500-seat twin lecture theatre as well as faculty office for faculty of Education. 300 room hostel blocks for male and female students, class rooms/offices for institute of education, dance studio for theatre and media studies, post graduate hostel, 
construction of ultramodern lawn tennis courts with seating galleries, construction of ultramodern Medical Center amongst others. Most of these projects have been completed while some are in difference stages of completion.

Similarly, because of the high level of transparency and commitment to develop the University, the Germany government under the renewable energy agreement with the federal government to establish solar power systems in tertiary institutions in Nigeria has identified Unical as the first institution in South South geopolitical zone of the country to benefit from the agreement. Germany is set build 10 megawatt solar energy plant.

In research and development, the University in collaboration with Calapharm for research and cultivation of medicinal plant Artemisia Annua. This will be the first of it kind in Nigeria.

Speaking during the 30th convocation ceremony of the institution, the VC said that on the academic front, new programmes have been introduced. Prominent among them according to him include the "faculties of Engineering, Dentistry and Pharmacy. These three Faculties are capital intensive and require enormous resources in terms of human capacity and infrastructure for effective take off. New Departments have also been created. They are Music, Science and Technology, Fine and Applied Arts, Mass Communication, Tourism and Hospitality Management and Food Technology".

He added that "New academic areas especially in the Faculty of Environmental studies with courses like Architecture and Quantity Survey will be established as soon as our funds position improves. This will become our new area of challenge in the remaining part of my tenure. When these two new programmes are fully established, the University of Calabar will then become bigger, bolder and better".

The VC continued that "This administration has sustained a very high tempo in terms of provision of infrastructure on campus. Many on-going projects are at various stages of completion. We have completed the elevated water tanks at the staff village, the ultra-modern tennis court with gallery is 90% complete, other projects such as the Post-graduate hostel, the Media Arts Studio, lecture theatre, staff office block are ongoing. We have also broken ground for building of students hostel".

While reiterating his commitment to make Unical a global brand, the VC said that the university was into various partnerships to ensure a breakthrough of global research monopolized by the European and American universities.

"In keeping with global best practice, our university is into various levels of partnership, collaboration and linkages. We are trying to push our university to break through the circle of global research monopolized by American and European universities. This indeed is the core of my administration's strategic vision.

"Our university will continue to be ICT driven. On this note, the scope of our ICT will continue to expand as leading ICT providers have been assembled to change our ICT landscape. Both staff and our dear students will be made to enjoy the 21st century internet facilities in no distant time", he said.

Commending his achievements, the immediate past National President of the University Alumni Association, Barr. Ugoji Nwabueze said that the VC has justified their position that it was either the alumnus of the University or nobody.

According to him, "Prof Zana Akpagu is the 10th Vice Chancellor and 1st Alumnus of the University of Calabar to occupy that office. Before now the University has produced Vice Chancellors who have delivered excellently on infrastructural development but completely alienated from the immediate welfare needs of staff and students.

"Malabor, the nostalgic symbol of all malabites and malabresses bled into comatose arising from sheer neglect. The Alumni National under me after under taking a comprehensive assessment of Malabor and female hostel had to raise alarm requesting that a state of emergency be declared for rehabilitation of Malabor and its environs.

"Prof Zana has declared a state of emergency on the poor infrastructural state of malabor which is the heart beat of the University. Here is a Vice Chancellor who knows the terrain and the gallops there to. He is approaching the development of the University with passion"

He added that "A new Governing Council that will assist him drive the vision is in place now and we expect so much to happen in the next few years.

"The university rating internationally and nationally has further soared because of stringent academic discipline introduced within the system. Degrees are no more awarded to the highest bidder. Graduates with self-confidence and who can globally compete with their peers are emerging. No more China graduates with specialty in Pidgin English.

"The university has a befitting face lift in its gate. This is a prelude to the total developmental eclipse that will soon embrace the University. Let us be patient and pray that he will not be hijacked and side tracked by hawks within the system.

"The Alumni as critical stake holders have a burden to ensure he remains focused and dedicated towards the over all interest and development of the University and that will justify our earlier insistence on having a credible alumnus VC and one with capacity not for rhetorics  but to deliver on his promises. Zana will fix UNICAL".

Nevertheless, while other federal universities have come under serious scrutiny and attacks on how universities funds are used, Akpagu has received accolades from governments and different organizations. In fact, to many, he is an example of how to be a good and responsible VC as he has become a role model and manual on how to use public funds to other universities.

A Civil Society Organisation, the Transparency Advocacy Development Initiative for Nigeria during its recent independent field assessment of the use of Tertiary Education Trust Fund, (TEFund), commended Akapgu over what they described as "judicious utilization of public funds" and called on leadership of other universities to borrow a leaf from him.

According to the National Coordinator of the group, Yomi David, "Proofs cannot be denied as we have seen in the case of University of Calabar and we can boldly say based on public perception that confidence in this government is being shored up. Any visitor to the University will be filled with pleasant joy that such quantum of projects visible on ground have been executed.

“It further buttresses the fact that the federal government does not stand in isolation when the call for prudent management of resources, anti-corruption and good governance arise having appointed like minds in strategic positions. We want other heads of tertiary institutions to take a cue from the progress in UNICAL to fully utilise public funds".

Also, Akagu's giant strides have won him a prestigious award of "Best Education Leadership Icon" in the United Kingdom. A London based news platform, 'The Nigerian' has selected him to be conferred with the award on the 25th August 2017 for is unequal achievements within a very short period.

A letter dated 13th of July and signed by the Publisher of the paper, Halima Samuel said Akpagu was selected "after a critical evaluation of his achievements since he assumed office".

The paper explained that the award was in recognition of the VC's "immense contributions to educational development and nation building through transparent and inclusive leadership at the University of Calabar".

Continuing, the news platform noted that the award which is a collective decision of their readers, fans and editorial board took into consideration Zana's "untiring efforts and sacrifices to bring about rapid development of projects from start to finish, infrastructural development, cultivation of harmonious working relationship amongst the management, staff and students of the University and the recent visibility of the institution on global rating indices as a result of his sterling leadership qualities".

However, despite all these achievements, the University like most government institutions is gasping over an epileptic funding from the federal government.

Akpagu who reiterated his commitment to take the University to the next level by expanding the university frontiers of teaching, research and learning decried that inadequate funding has become a serious bane to actualizing his vision.

He said that "In as much as we have made some lasting impressions, we equally have our fundamental challenges that have constrained our vigorous pursuit of our ultimate goals of justifying our existence as a University. The first is dwindling funds coming to the University. With increasing demands of running a 21st Century University, adjusting to fit the realities of an emerging techno-industrial society has warranted a dire need to appeal for financial support from well-meaning personalities, corporate partners and the Alumni, in addition to statutory subvention from government.

To meet up our responsibility as a corporate entity, especially the pursuit of the newly established Faculties of Engineering, Dentistry and Pharmacy, the University has launched an endowment fund where friends, well-wishers, Alumni and the University honourees can contribute their quarter towards helping us accomplish our corporate expectations.

On our part, we will never relent on our efforts until our good becomes better and our better best", the VC said.
UNICAL 1330202168995484045

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