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Unical And Matters Arising By Philip Agbese

Unical VC, Prof. Zana Akpagu
Convocation ceremonies are the highest crown and pride of every University, anywhere in the world. It signifies the final ritual, which formally confers or authenticates on the learner or students, the oracle of knowledge to serve  the world.

The experience on convocation ceremonies in Nigeria has been quite nasty. Even though, convocation ought to take place at the end of every academic session, there are instances in Nigeria where convocation ceremonies are delayed for upward of three years. Often, paucity of funds, unstable academic calendar and administrative incoherence or crisis are responsible for such delays.

Therefore, a university management that timely holds it's convocation ceremonies deserves accolades. The University of Calabar (UniCal) under the leadership of the Vice Chancellor (VC) Prof. Zana Itinube Akpagu  has set the ball rolling for its 31st convocation ceremony. Series of activities have been slated for the event, which will finally terminate on May 12, 2018, with the grand finale of awards of degrees to different categories of students.

It is indeed exciting and motivating- a moment of fulfilment for both staff and students. And the reality of the event is one of the many manifest faces, the innovations and changes Prof. Akpagu’s administrative leadership of the University has brought to students, staff and the country’s educational system. Timelines and academic splendour have been his guiding principles.

On December 1st, 2015 when Prof. Akpagu was appointed the VC of the famous UniCal, it was glaring he inherited a citadel of learning in a frightening state of degeneration. And no aspect of the varsity was spared this decay.

UniCal was deeply and overwhelmingly afflicted by malaises like consuming campus cultism, widespread exam malpractices, academic frauds or plagiarism by lecturers, institutional corruption, poor funding and general instability on campus. Academic excellence had been lowered to its lowest ebb. And   UniCal became a varsity which disappointingly dusted its toga as  the pride of its  students and staff.

 Akpagu, a Professor  of Modern Languages and Translation, himself, an alumnus who had worked all his life in the University, perceived his appointment as the administrative head of the University,  a challenge to make a difference. His firsthand knowledge of the internal problems became his major working instruments. He had clarity of vision and knew what areas to touch first and on which doors to knock for impact of the reforms he introduced in the quest to reposition the University for excellent Service delivery.

He tackled institutional corruption in the University, which apart from outrightly and fraudulently,  milking the University by a privileged few, imposed arbitrary levies on students. It was often the cause of the constant frictions between students and the University management.

Next, he battled campus cultism with the aggression of a wounded lion. He beefed up security on campus and never spared any student caught indulging in secret cult activities. His ability to tame the nefarious activities eased campus tension, as students and staff savoured a new and secured environment for learning and working. The fear of molestations on campus by cultists dissipated, as many cultists renounced the act and the obstinate ones faced full disciplinary action, including expulsion,  once they were caught. 

He checked academic plagiarism among academic staff and administered justice to those found culpable, without any favoritism.  In the same spirit, students who made exam malpractices a hobby, were not spared his sword, as he furiously descended on them. These measures greatly helped in restoring the lost academic glory and sanity in the University of Calabar. 

To solve the problem of poor funding of the University, Prof. Akpagu launched an endowment fund, coaxed and encouraged Malabites  and Malabrasses to embrace the idea, by donating to the endowment funds and it turned out a huge success.

With the funds realized from the endowment fund, actively supported by the alumnus, the VC channeled the monies to  the improvement of infrastructure on campus.

He has executed various projects, some of which are to be commissioned as part of the 31st convocation activities.   

Thus, in less than two years, Prof. Akpagu, lauded on campus as “Mr. Change,” pulled back a University on the brink of total collapse, and restored academic excellence, which had deserted UniCal for ages. His administration has minimized campus crisis and the academic calendar for almost every session, runs smoothly and uninterrupted. He has repositioned UniCal on the glorious path of prosperity and service to Nigeria and the world at large.   

It is not a surprise now, as  the University’s leadership  by  Prof. Akpagu is grooming young Nigerians who are emerging best, in character and learning. They are graduates on top of their disciplines and can compete excellently with their counterparts anywhere in the world. UniCal graduands are now the toast of employers of labour in the country.

Therefore, Akpagu and the University management, through this convocation are again presenting the University’s best hands to the world. The tremendous improvements in the quality of learning and discipline imposed on campus is responsible for the enviable credentials of UniCal graduates at the moment. It explains why employers of labour have no fear, depending on them, hence they are tested and trusted professionals.

It is therefore, also instructive that one of the highlights of the 31st convocation ceremony of Unical is the theme of the convocation lecture, which is “Tourism in National Development.”  to be delivered by the former Governor  of Cross River State, Dr. Donald Duke.

Nigerians conversant with the tourism potentials of Cross River state, would instantly discern the aptness of the theme of the convocation lecture. It implies that Prof. Akpagu is not only interested in preparing the best hands for  service delivery in Nigeria, but also keen about deploying the intellectual capacity of the varsity in  fully exploring and utilizing the economic potentials of UniCal’s host state - Cross River. Congratulations for these rare and impactful initiatives!

Agbese is a Scholar at the Middlesex University, London.
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