Akpagu : Two Years Of Blazing The Trail As UNICAL VC By Inyali Peter

Prof. Zana Akpagu, Unical VC 
Expectations are usually high whenever a new government or administration comes into power. This is rightly so because it is expected to right the wrongs of the previous administration and reposition it for effective service delivery. Owing to this high expectations, people often than not set agenda for a new administration all in a bid to ensure it hits the ground running and effect necessary changes within the shortest possible time. While some administration are phenomenal in its first two years others take time to fully settle before delivering on the much needed change craved for by the masses.

But the reverse is 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 three years in office. Two years 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 were 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 VC 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 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 VCs.

The Southern part of the state which should ordinarily have waited for the north to complete five- year tenure before power return 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 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 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 years tenure as the State Education Commissioner 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 are up to ten years old as Professors were qualified to attain the VC 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 lingered for a while. 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 year’s agenda was only six years old as Professor when he attained the position. So this too, like other antics devised against him faded away into the thin air.

However, despite all this 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 former 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 Dean of Faculty and a former deputy Vice Chancellor. His CV was the richest and the most impressive and so those who were trying to stop him properly were 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 her 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 sites as he has radically transformed the Unical from a second to a 21st generation university.

For instance, from the main entrance to the University along the Prof. Ayo Dele 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 two years under Akpagu than any other administration. There's a rapid construction going on in every corner of 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 comatose.

Similarly, the two years of Akpagu's administration has also successfully set a central Gas supply to the faculty of science. This has gone a long way to reducing the cost on 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 Hall 6, 5, 8 and hall 4, rehabilitation /reconstruction of pavilion 2 & 3 and rehabilitation of Hall 9 female hostel.

More so, there is also ongoing construction of Physics workshops, class rooms/offices for the faculty of science, 500-seat lecture pavilion for faculty of Engineering, 500-seat twin lecture theatre as wells as faculty office for faculty of Education. 60 room hostel blocks for female students, class rooms/offices for institute of education, dance studio for theatre and carnival 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.

On the academic front, new programmes have been introduced. Prominent among them include the faculties of Engineering, Dentistry and Pharmacy.

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.

The VC according to feelers is working assiduously to establish new academic areas especially the Faculty of Environmental studies with courses like Architecture and Quantity Survey. When these two new programmes are fully established, the University of Calabar will then become bigger, bolder and better.

In keeping with global best practice, the university under the result oriented administration of Akpagu is into various levels of partnership, collaboration and linkages. As he usually assures, Unical is trying to break through the circle of global research monopolized by American and European universities. This has been the core of his administration strategic vision.

In ICT,  the VC has assured that the university will continue to be ICT driven. All things being equal, both staff and students will be made to enjoy the 21st century internet facilities in no distant time when the when the works of leading ICT providers he has assembled change Unical ICT landscape.

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 take a leap from him.

The National Coordinator of the group, Yomi David, said "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 urge other heads of tertiary institutions to take a clue from the progress in UNICAL to fully utilise public funds".

His giant strides have won him countless prestigious ranging from Best Education Leadership Icon" in the United Kingdom by 'The Nigerian' online news platform, the Journalism Magazine education VC of the Year award; the list is endless.

If in two years, Prof. Akpagu has achieved all these, then by time he finally finishes his tenure Unical will become a force to reckon with in global educational advancement. Indeed he has left indelible marks and has written his name in gold.

Congratulations to Prof. Akpgau and the entire Unical community for the developmental strides .

Inyali Peter is the Publisher and Editor-in-chief of Fearless Reports. He's a public commentator and a PR Consultant. He can be reached via :Inyalipeter@gmail.com
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