A news analysis by George Odok of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
December 1, 2020, ushered in a new circle of administration in the University of Calabar where Prof. Florence Obi was sworn in as the first female and 11th substantive Vice-Chancellor of the University, 45-year after the institution came into existence.
Obi, a Professor of Special Needs Education with over 3 decades of academic experience, took over the mantle of leadership with the dexterity, passion and commitment to leave the Ivory Tower better than she met it.
During her investiture, Obi said: “My vision is to reposition the University in line with global best practices to a foremost Ivory Tower for the blossoming of quality teaching and learning, research and community service towards the production of quality graduates and research outputs, including publications that are relevant to the 21st-century economies, and in line with the fourth industrial revolution”.
She began her journey by engaging critical stakeholders from relevant institutions to join hands with her in repositioning the University through the right path.
For her to get a clear picture of the state of affairs in the university, Prof. Obi constituted three committees; Strategic Planning, Needs Assessment and Baseline and similarly appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellors and Directors of both teaching and non-teaching units.
It is imperative to say that as the first female VC of the institution, Prof. Obi is giving women the opportunity to hold more positions of responsibility in the University, following the appointment of many women into several positions, including those seen as the exclusive preserve of the menfolk.
These include the Centre for General Studies, Entrepreneurship Development Centre and the Institute of Public Policy and Administration. In fact, at no time in the history of UNICAL have women been so recognized.
Mindful of the lack of capacity by the Security Department which was brought to the fore following the wanton destruction and vandalisation of the university’s properties in the wake of the EndSARS Protest nationwide, 100 security personnel were trained while over 50 walkie-talkies were distributed to them for timely response to emergencies on campus.
In addition, Prof. Obi had continued to maintain a cordial relationship with all security agencies in the state through collaboration and partnership to enhance security provision for students and staff on campus.
Prof. Obi took the comprehensive renovation of the abandoned Vice-Chancellor Lodge and made it her official residence, as well as the renovation of the abandoned Pro-Chancellor and Council Lodges at Ekorinim in order to discourage unnecessary wastage of funds on the guests lodging.
Students’ welfare also took the centre stage during the period under review following the comprehensive renovation and furnishing of the students’ hostels which were vandalized by hoodlums during the #EndSARS protests in 2020.
The hostels renovated are Halls 4, 5, 6, 8 and 9 that were completely renovated; part of Hall 2 was renovated; and the renovation of the Moore Road and Calabar Road Hostels.
Today, the administration of Prof. Obi has institutionalised campus-wide uninterrupted internet services for all students to ease their learning.
Also, students of the University can now access free healthcare services in the University’s medical centre.
Speaking to journalists on the renovated students’ hostels and the improved electricity situation, the VC said: “We have installed a sophisticated angle bar so that the security of the students can be guaranteed.
“The standard of material used is guaranteed because we want quality accommodation for our students. All the cabinets have been fixed, the wooden doors have been replaced with metal ones and their jam-lock.
“A conducive environment for students to read and be in good health is what is paramount to us. The assurance is that, with the huge facelift of the hostels amid improved power supply, our students will concentrate more on what brought them to the university.”
In other to create an identity for students of the University, the VC approved the creation of digital profiles of students with a view to driving a Digital Education Transformation through the Intelligence Digital Identity System.
In keeping with her promise of strengthening the university’s Entrepreneurship Development Centre, Prof. Obi attracted the goodwill of Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) Entrepreneurial Development Training for students of the University, who will benefit from a grant of 500,000 U.S. dollars to start their own businesses while still in school.
She said: “I am unwaveringly committed to the building of a generation of leaders who can drive the economy of the African continent and also compete favourably with other entrepreneurs across the globe”.
The University community was elated with the restoration of light in the University; prior to her tenure, the UNICAL community had been in darkness since April 2020.
As an ardent apostle of safety first, Prof. Obi inaugurated the university’s COVID-19 Taskforce with a matching order to adopt and enforce all relevant COVID-19 protocol of the World Health Organisation and the Presidential Task Force for the good health of the university community.
To deepen the fight against the ravaging pandemic, the university engaged a reputable consultant to install essential COVID-19 sanitizing equipment, including entry and exit tunnels, heavy-duty humidifiers, automatic hand sanitisers, standing thermometers, and infrared thermometer as well as the establishment of a 20-bed Isolation Centre.
In her determination to run without holding back, Prof. Obi vigorously promoted the blended teaching of online and physical contact in order to shift from the complete dependence on the conventional face to face contact in teaching, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To this end, the Centre for General Studies commenced the online teaching of General Studies courses. Meanwhile, the university intends to install and deploy massive Information Technology infrastructure to promote e-learning.
Pursuant to her quest to improve the relationship between the University and host communities, Prof. Obi paid courtesy calls on the Paramount Rulers and Youth Councils in the host communities with a promise to enhance the Corporate Social Responsibility of the University to the natives.
Within the period under review, Prof Obi attracted the goodwill of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in renovating and equipping the Molecular Laboratory of the Institution.
Also, the University is witnessing massive construction projects ongoing through the committed efforts of the VC in attracting infrastructural development to the institution from TetFund.
The projects include the construction of the students’ lecture halls, Pavilion 1, 2 and 3, a storey building for students hostel among others.
As an ardent manager of resources, Prof. Obi is channelling the resources at her disposal prudently for the growth of the institution.
She has also inducted hundreds of Medical Doctors, Nurses and Radiographers with a charge on them to make the University proud by contributing their quota towards the development of the health sector in the country and beyond.
Due to her distinguished service as a teacher and trainer, the VC received the African Federation of Teaching Regulatory Authority (AFTRA) meritorious award after being selected from 55 Member States of the African Union.
The AFTRA Executive Director, Academics, Prof. Steve Nwokeocha, who presented the VC with the award in Calabar, said: “Prof. Obi was chosen for promoting the teaching profession and for attaining the height of her teaching career, which have made her stand out in the continent”.
By way of promoting and aligning with the digital age, the VC has also commissioned the Information and Communication Technology Centre at the Faculty of Education to promote teaching, learning and research.
Upon assumption into office, Prof. Obi had warned staff of the institution to desist from all forms of extortion and wrong practices.
Again, due to her robust engagements, Prof. Obi has attracted the support of some well-meaning Nigerians who are determined to give back by investing in the University.
Notable among them include, the former Director-General, Department of State Services (DSS), Mr Ita Ekpenyong, the former Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Sen. Florence Ita-Giwa and the Chief Executive Officer of Dozzy Oil & Gas, Mr Daniel Chukwudozie.
In her zero tolerance to all shades of corruption in the University system, Prof. Obi’s administration rebranded and customized Answer Booklets, including Examination Attendance Sheets.
The VC has also issued New Guidelines for Quick Release of Students Results, thereby putting in place processes aimed at making serious-minded students graduate as and when due.
Prof. Obi is also consulting with local and international stakeholders and institutions so as to attract developments to the institution and make it a 21st Century University.
The new administration, however, is in need of financial interventions and it’s ready to work with relevant government institutions, especially the Federal Ministry of Education, National Universities Commission, Tertiary Education Trust Fund and the Central Bank of Nigeria in infrastructure development.
Prof. Obi has also shown willingness for the support of relevant development partners, Non-Governmental Organizations, public-spirited individuals and indeed, the entire UNICAL community in her sustained commitment to taking the university to exceptional heights.
Also, the VC has ensured the regular payment of staff welfare, honorarium to researchers, completed the 2019 and 2020 promotion for both academic and non-academic staff and regularisation of staff employed since 2017.
The VC has also established an e-library with modern equipment that also accommodate the blind and hearing aid for the challenged.
Since assumption in office, the VC has chaired 13 inaugural lectures. This is one of the ways of appreciating the contribution of Professors to research and knowledge building.
As the University of Calabar showed commitment and readiness to host the National University Games (NUGA) in 2023, the VC has shown the capacity in making the game a success.
To this end, she has begun collaborating and partnering with relevant stakeholders, institutions and corporate bodies to key into the programme.
To achieve this, the VC has visited the South Korean Ambassador to Nigeria, His Excellency, Kim Young Chae. During the visit, the VC presented the master plan of the proposed indoor sports centre to the Ambassador, thereby soliciting the support of the embassy for the sports event.
To promote the physical fitness of students and staff of the institution, the VC has graciously approved the observation of work/lecture-free period for all staff members and students from 3:30pm every Wednesday of the week in line with the directives from the National University Commission.
Stakeholders and friends of the University, including Traditional Rulers, have commended the VC for her transformational change and dynamic leadership in the great citadel of learning. They expressed confidence that indeed, “Prof. Obi will leave UNICAL better than she met it”. (NAN)