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UNICAL : As Akpagu becomes first VC to organise five consecutive convocations, graduates 45,000 students

File picture of Unical VC, Prof. Zana Akpagu at his office

By Inyali Peter

Convocation is an important academic exercise that every serious student look up to after years of hard work. Students who understand why they're in the University will always want be part of the special day in their academic life where their sleepless nights will be rewarded with their hard earned degrees. In fact, even the unserious ones or the non-academic students lookout for this day.

Beyond the euphoria and beauty of dressing beautifully in the traditional academic regalia before sponsors, friends and family during convocations,  the ceremony is a moment where the entire University community and well wishers celebrate one's development and accomplishments. It's usually an emotional and proud moment for every Students, parents and the University.

As Deans of various facilities present their students to the entire world as fulfilling all requirements to be awarded degrees, there's usually this excitement that cannot appropriately be described. The exercise doesn't only boost the confidence of the graduating students that they have come of age, matured and ready to take more responsibilities as well as add value to the society, the exercise is as symbolic as it is historic. It's a defining moment for both the school and the students.

Convocation is a tradition that according to academic culture cannot be substituted for anything. The bragging rights of some of world leading Universities is their ability to graduate students every year as at when due. It is the only universally recognised moments where students are to be awarded their degrees and celebrated by their Universities.

Unfortunately, as important as it is, most Nigerian Universities don't attach the due premium it deserves to it. Some higher institutions in the country don't even appreciate the need of formally and properly graduating students. There's no record of any University in Nigeria missing out in matriculation but alot exist as it concerns convocation. Even the holy book says the end is greater than the beginning but ironically, Nigerian Universities see the beginning as being greater than the end as most pay more attention to matriculation than convocation which is the capstone of every academic experience.

University of Calabar, one of the 3rd generation Universities in Nigeria didn't escape this "Nigeria" syndrome until recently when a quintessential administrator, a man of valor, deep vision and wisdom, an intellectual luminous, Prof. Zana I. Akpagu who understands and appreciates what Solomon, the man of wisdom and beloved son of King David said in Ecclesiastic 7:8 that "better is the end of a thing than the beginning"... assumed office as the Vice Chancellor of the University. 

One of the promises he made on the day his predecessor, Prof. James Epoke formally handed over to him after he withered all the storm to emerge the first alumnus VC of the University was that under his watch, Unical will adopt world best practice in terms of convocation by ensuring that students are properly graduated yearly as at when due. With the 2020 convocation of the University holding tomorrow, Prof. Akpagu has not only fulfilled his promise but has proven his doubters who saw his vision as being too utopia or herculean to achieve wrong.

The academic excellence and reputation of any institution depends on the quality of education and training imparted. There's no better way to 
demonstrate this more than a convocation ceremony. It serves as a living proof of the quality of education that has been imparted to the students. It is an evidential proof of the hard work both for the students and staff have put in to add to the socio-economic development of the country and the world at large. 

The importance of convocation are too enormous and cannot be overemphasized. How it was until Akpagu came to power before Unical realised this is not far fetched. Of course, as an alumnus of the University, occupying the enviable rank of a VC was always going to place a moral burden on him
to try to correct all the wrongs he noticed as a student. Maybe, during his time, he wasn't graduated properly and in time.

Also, his deep vision and proven performance antecedents in previous positions, government and within the University, always meant that he was going to do things differently as well as succeed where others had problems.

The 33rd convocation ceremony and the 5th under Akpagu's watch is a record breaking event as this will be the first time since the institution was established 45 years ago that Students will be properly graduated consecutively for five years. The 32rd which was last year was a new record he set which  he has now broken himself.

Because convocation has held consecutively for five years, his record has also gone beyond how many times to how many students he has graduated as VC. By the time the 2020 convocation ceremony will come to an end on Saturday, it will be on record that Akpagu has graduated more students; over 45,050 which is more than any VC in the history of the institution.

The breakdown of the over 45,000 graduands who bagged diplomas, first degrees and post graduate degrees in different fields of study shows that in 2016, that's Unical 29th convocation, 7,222 were graduated. In 2017 during the 30th convocation, 13,347 graduates were produced. In 2018 at the 31st convocation, the University graduated 11,807, in 2019, during the 32nd convocation, it was 9,174 students'that graduated and in 2020 which is the 33rd and the last under his watch, over 3,500 people have been pencilled down for graduation. 

It's not surprising that the number of students to be graduated this year are the least since he assumed office. This is simply because in the previous convocations, he cleared and graduated a backlog of people he inherited from previous administrations who were ready for graduation but couldn't because of the inability of the institution to organise convocation for them. So for this year, majority of those who will be graduating are people who are rightly to graduate this academic session.

Similarly, by the time Prof. Akpagu will be drawing the curtain close at the expiration of his tenure, he will walk with shoulders high having produced the highest number of first class graduates in the history of the University in the five convocations. The number stands at about 170 which represents 12 in 2016, 22 in 2017, 32 in 2018, 51 in 2019 and 13 in 2020. This is the highest any VC has graduated in five years. 

Many would wonder why the number is seemingly small considering that some Universities in Nigeria are today producing over 100 first class in a single year, the difference to Prof. Akpagu is in the quality not quantity. This is however not to outrightly condemn the universities that produce humungous number of first class but to say that although the number from Unical in the past five years seems small, the quality is huge. Perhaps, many of the leading universities in the world are not known for producing out-of-the-world numbers of first class.

Besides, Akpagu has also commissioned more projects during convocations than any VC in the history of the University. Between 2016-2019 convocations, Akpagu completed and commissioned many projects including lecture pavilions, class rooms, laboratories, resource rooms and libraries for some departments and faculties, dance studio, parking lot, hostels, faculties and departmental permanent buildings. The list is endless! This year alone, he's set to commision a 60 room hostel and a Police Station amongst others built within a year. 

Aside all this records, Akpagu's innovative mind has led him to add a unique feature to the colourful convocation ceremonies of the University. This is the Research Fair and Exhibition. This unique programme presents the University with the opportunity to showcase its breakthrough in research and development. 

It's an open secret that most research outcomes or work are always found in the toilets in Nigeria. In trying to encourage Scholars as well as improve the reputation of the institution, the VC introduced this as a platform of marketing the research accomplishments of the University. This, of course has been applauded by many as a noble initiative.

Although the 33rd convocation which will be his last is itself a record, the event will set many other records. One of which is giving Unical international colouration by honouring the incumbent Vice President of Liberia, Her Excellency Jewel-Howard Taylor. This will be the first time in the history of the University and maybe, the country that a public University like Unical will be awarding a foreign Vice President an honourary degree.

The benefit of this to the reputation of the University is mouthwatering. Apart from building a strong mutually beneficial relationship between the University and Liberia, Unical will be formally inducting a foreign VP into its alumni. This is no mean feat.

Despite the challenges of poor funding and recession which ushered Akpagu in as VC, those who insisted that it must be him or nobody in 2015 can walk tall today in celebration that they made not just the best choice but the right one in having him as the 10th VC of Unical.
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