UNICAL: Blazing the trail in academic excellence
By Best Amor
The quality of public education in Nigeria is generally acclaimed to be poor. Tertiary institutions in the country, which compete in number with stars in the skies, are most badly hit by this plaque. And many reasons are adduced for these fallen standards in education, which experts blame majorly on inadequate manpower, corruption of the system and unfocused/unproductive leaderships of higher institutions in the country.
However, there are a few exemptions of institutions which are carving a niche in the academic excellence today, in spite of the pathetic decay.
The University of Calabar (Unical), in Cross River, Nigeria has proudly joined the league by conquering the entanglements that have bungled university education in most public institutions in the country. The varsity has sauntered unto the stage and heading towards the Hall of Fame among distinctive universities in the country with the enthronement of a multi-linguist, Professor Zana Itiunbe Akpagu as the Vice Chancellor in December of 2015.
Widely reputed as an organized, disciplined, stern and focused administrator, Akpagu has changed the wobbling fortunes of the university within the short time of his ascension to power. His years of romance with same university community since his undergraduate, postgraduate and years of working experience, where he rose to the position of Deputy Vice Chancellor (Administration) have made him a master of his new assignment. He has floating knowledge about the peculiarities and intricacies of running the varsity. In effect, his elevation as the Vice Chancellor is just like walking on a familiar turf, having started from the lowest rung of leadership in the varsity.
Just yesterday, UniCal had the unenviable reputation of an active hub for cultism and exam malpractices. The trend became so fearsome that it scared both parents and prospective students from selecting UniCal as an institution of choice for studies. But the tide has positively changed unbelievably under Akpagu.
The university management has not only increased security vigilance on campus, but has no sacred cows in handling students suspected of cultism and associated vices, which are inimical to sound moral upbringing and learning. The standing disciplinary committee mandated to treat such cases, handle them with dispatch, availing accused students fair hearing and passing out verdicts in tandem with the level of culpability of individuals in accordance with the prescriptions of school laws.
This stern and strict response to campus vices by the university management has served as deterrence and compelled many students to renounce the evil. It is often claimed UniCal is the freest university campus South of Nigeria. This new aura of peace and tranquility on campus has translated into academic excellence as students devout more time to academics and those who are naturally committed to their studies are not unnecessary harassed and intimidated by wayward groups or cult gangs, which accounts for the soaring profile of the university in academics.
In addition, since an institution is rated mainly based on its academic excellence, Akpagu has kept an eagle eye on the quality of teaching and learning on both lecturers and students. This has yielded bountifully; as during its 29th convocation ceremony in 2016, Unical produced 12 first class graduates in various disciplines of studies. Sure of the quality of the products it is offering to the Nigerian labour market, Akpagu offered automatic employment to these 12 distinctive graduands to fortify the manpower base of the university.
At the pre-convocation press conference, Akpagu disclosed that 30 students were either expelled or suspended from the University for such Vices on campus, including exams malpractice, cultism and social other vices.
Similarly, academic staff who have decided to corrupt their academic purity and polluted the sanctity of knowledge have not been spared the rod. Under Prof. Akpagu as the VC, a Professor and a Doctorate degree holder indicted by a disciplinary committee set up by management to investigate allegations of plagiarism on them, found the senior lecturers guilty. They were retired from the services of the university.
Though, the university system in Nigeria is full of such copycats, they are hardly penalized. The punitive action on the defective lecturers is a rare disciplinary measure taken on varsity academic staff in Nigeria. And proof that the university acted conscientiously and unbiased, even the ever belligerent ASUU never rose in their defence.
The uncompromising stance of the university’s current leadership has kept both staff and students on their toes. Students have confessed freedom from harassments and extortion for marks by lecturers; much as students are also aware that since a certificate is awarded at the end of the years of study based on “character and learning,” they have embraced the new code of conduct introduced by Akpagu.
Students have not only dumped cultism en masse, but can now differentiate between decent and indecent dressing. An aerial pictograph of students at Unical, no longer assaults your eyes with shadows in the semblance of porn actors on display, but decent Nigerians, young boys and girls, who are conscious of self-worth and dignity.
They know the university campus is a veritable stepping stone to character moulding in their aspirations to become good leaders in future and ambassadors of Nigeria, wherever the tide of life flings them to habitate in work or business.
To ensure a halt in the disruption of academic calendar, Professor Akpagu’s responsive leadership listens to complaints from both teaching and non-teaching staff and acts expediently in accordance with the extant laws of the university to address the issues.
The prompt attention accorded to disputes is largely responsible for the seamless working relationship and the atmosphere of calm and peace on campus. It is devoid of confrontation of any kind or industrial unrest as, ensuring a smooth academic calendar which is diligently implemented without hitches.
Therefore, when the VC rose against the former bursar of the university, Mr. Peter Agi, who was eventually sacked, it was not all about his perceived fraudulent acts, but also because both staff and students complained loudly and widely about his highhandedness in administering the finances of the university, a development Akpagu reckoned could someday rock the prevailing peace on campus and disrupt academic work, if not checked.
To make research easy and at the disposal of lecturers and students, facilities at university’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) unit have been fully upgraded and standardized to render 24-hour service to the university community.
New arrivals of textbooks have become the constant feature of the university library. And Akpagu has launched a N10 billion endowment fund for capital projects to further expand facilities or equip laboratories to make teaching and learning more fun than stress.
The VC has infinite interest in refreshing the knowledge of staff, particularly, academic staff. Some senior lecturers of the university are encouraged to research. Some of them have been enlisted on the sabbatical and internship programme of The Shell Petroleum Development Company Nigeria Limited (SPDC) Joint Venture for research in diverse fields. The knowledge acquired would be of immense benefits to students and the university community generally.
With Akpagu on the saddle, Unical has become the newest bride, as Nigerians seek for knowledge. It is unarguably one of the choicest destinations for both parents and students, when contemplating the choice of an institution for knowledge acquisition and upright moral upbringing. May God Almighty continue to imbue Professor Akpagu and his team with the fertile wisdom in order to lift Unical in excellence beyond the expectations of Nigerians in a manner that will confer prestige on Nigeria when universities are rated around the world.
This is the essence of the #ChangeBeginsWithMe campaign, as launched by President Muhammedu Buhari. It is meant to encourage Nigerians to demonstrate their impact wherever they are chosen to lead. Professor Akpagu is on the same page with President Buhari and it explains the chorus of “Mr. Change,” whenever he is sighted on Unical campus.
Indeed, UniCal has embraced change! Someday, the story will be told of how stood against the forces of evil to restore the institution to glory.
The many positive reports that emanated from the convocation is a clear indication that Professor Akpagu has restored pride to UniCal and evrryone associated with UniCal can now hold thier heads high up with pride.
Amor is a public affairs commentator and contributed this piece from Calabar.