By: Philip Agbese
Former American first lady, Rosalynn Carter once gave a recipe of the outcomes of a good leader. She enunciated that, “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” The emergence of Professor Zana Itiunbe Akpagu as the 10th Vice Chancellor(VC) of the about 42 year-old University of Calabar, in Cross River state, Nigeria, came at the most auspicious time in the history of the institution.
Certain events do not just happen. At a phase in history, some leaders are divinely ordained to saunter on board the stage for a rescue mission. The appointment of Professor Akpagu, an Obudu-born reputable scholar of Modern Languages and Translations to lead his alma mater resonates with the trappings of providence where God Almighty Himself has anointed an exceptional academic and insider to turn around the plummeting fortunes of this great institution.
Professor Akpagu’s appointment elicited instant jubilation and a socio-political organization in Cross River state by the nomenclature of ”Destiny Group” feted him to a lavish reception. The Director General of the body Barrister Joe Edet during the reception poured endearing emotions which has remained the guiding principle for the VC.
He said “Professor Zana, you are one of us and let it be on record today that we will always support you and we will not hesitate to tell you too if you are not doing according to what you promised both the lecturers and the students of the University of Calabar”
This appears to be his covenant with his community, the university and Nigeria, which he holds sacrosanct. He knows a wrong step or poor leadership of the institution would disappoint his community as their ambassador to the outside world. And so far, he has measured up to expectations.
Sequel to the inauguration of Prof. Akpagu as the Vice Chancellor on December 1st, 2015, he served the institution in various capacities, including Deputy Vice Chancellor (DVC) Administration. Thus ennobled, the multi-lingual icon clearly understands his briefs in the university community which his esteemed colleagues deemed him worthy to head.
In brief remarks, Akpagu, summarized his focus at Unical to include improvement in the Information Communication Technology, welfare of students and staff, development of infrastructure on campus, shore-up IGR, accord maximum attention to academic excellence and discipline in all fields in order to reposition this second generation university on a higher pedestal as a citadel of learning. His apt sense of the working environment in the university is gleaned from his knowledge of the institution both as a student and teacher of several years. He knows it inside out and which step would lead to best results.
Generally reputed as a humble, but vibrant academic, the VC set out to prove his mettle. As an ardent believer in the change doctrine of the APC national government in Nigeria, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, what consistently assails his mind is the best way to blend the etiquette of change with the usual radicalism of university communities to enthrone a conducive learning environment and achieve academic excellence.
As a team player, he cordially interfaced and interacted with the different segments and interests in the university community on what paths to collectively follow or measures to adopt to realize the objectives outlined in his blueprint for the university. Akpagu seamlessly extracted from all categories of workers a commitment to duty, discipline, hard work, transparency and accountability and the unflinching pursuit of academic excellence by both teachers and students.
And in the last one year, Unical has mutated from its sleepy status to an institution that is fast undergoing an incredible positive transformation in a wide range of areas. This is attested by the multiple evidence of academic excellence with scores of students graduating with first class degrees in specialised disciplines, something regarded as gold in academic circles and setting of new academic records; and the students he offered automatic employment in his desire to retain the best brains for the varsity.
Professor Akpagu is a workaholic and a man who holds unto the inviolable sanctity of promises he makes. In the quest to tackle his pledge of infrastructural improvements on campus, the VC launched a N10 billion Endowment Fund to independently fund capital projects like new lecture halls/ classrooms, offices, hostels, sports facilities, furniture, laboratories, library resources and a hordes of others. And there have been positive responses from well-meaning Nigerians to assist him in the actualization of this vision for the institution.
In demonstrating his abhorrence to fraud of any sort, whether academic or financial, Professor Akpagu never spared staff or students of the institution fingered in acts inimical to the progress of the university, as he implemented all decisions of panels of inquiries on such matters or recommendations of the university management on erring staff.
At least, within a short time in office, the VC has sacked two lecturers for academic plagiarism and the former university bursar Mr. Peter Agi for allegations of series of official malfeasance, including criminal impersonation of the Vice Chancellor on the financial transactions of the university.
Commenting on the case of the pro-plagiarism lecturers, Akpagu thundered, “This administration that I am leading has zero tolerance for indiscipline on the part of lecturers, non- teaching staff and students. We want to make a difference. So, we are not ready to tolerate indiscipline, be it forgery, plagiarism, exam malpractice, stealing, rape and other vices.
He has vowed against delayed convocation and since he took over, the university convocates timely as the next convocation ceremony for graduates of the last academic session is underway.
As former dean of students’ affairs, his instant response to problems of students has forever endeared him to students. His no-nonsense posture and the overall entrenchment of peace and industrial harmony in the university has earned him the appellation of “Mr. Change.”
While insisting on standards, Professor Akpagu discharges his responsibilities diligently, with the fear of God, and would not compromise on ethical values which crucially reshapes society. He is loved and adored across the various segments of the university community. Rarely do staff and students wholeheartedly accept the leadership of universities such as Vice Chancellors. But Akpagu has crossed this ribicon as even students rise in support of him against forces bent on resisting the change he has implanted in the university.
Professor Akpagu’s administrative dexterity is an accumulation of years of leadership experience as former Commissioner for education in Cross River State under Governors, Donald Duke and Senator Liyel Imoke; as member, Unical Governing Council, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and also a member of the University Senate and eventually DVC.
His Obudu community celebrated him with the conferment of the chieftaincy title of “Ushikebe 1 of Ipong”. He is also the “otebeche 1 of yala” and “ntufam amid ejagam 1” of the qua nation. And in spite of the rigours of academics and burden of administration, Professor Akpagu devotes time to his religious actives. He is a Knight of the Order of Saint Mulumba (KSM) in the Catholic Church and has subscribed to numerous learned societies including the Association for the Study of Caribbean and African Literature in French (ASCALF), Britain.
At last redemption has berthed in Unical and Professor Akpagu is the armour bearer of the message of redemption laced in the mantra of change as propagated and espoused by President Buhari. With this much zeal and push to succeed, it is certain that after five years, under Akpagu as VC , Unical will exude visible, unprecedented splendor on all fronts.
Agbese is the Publisher, The Nigerian Online Newspapers.