By Onigah Joseph
IN THE BEGINNING:
Coincidence, they say, “is when God does a thing and chooses to remain anonymous.” This axiom reveals the hidden hand of God in our destinies.
For Prof. Florence Banku Obi, the current Vice Chancellor of the University of Calabar, her rise to this position certainly rhymes with the axiom. It was the right hand of God perfectly hidden behind the scene to confound the wise.
When she threw her hat in the ring to formally announce her intention to contest for the office of Vice Chancellor in 2020, her male colleagues whispered with little or no vibration of the vocal cord, just as her female counterparts hissed with a sharp, sibilant sound.
This was so because, until her emergence as Vice Chancellor, history had blind columns for females in the register of Vice Chancellors from the University. Those who were aware of the blank columns were wary of giving her a chance, and those who gave her a chance were unsure of the outcome.
Yet, Prof. Obi remained focused, perhaps aligning with Oprah Winfrey’s philosophy that “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you”. She shoved through and made history instead of history-making her. Today, she has not only broken the jinx but has also charted a route for other female lecturers to follow. Indeed, when the history of Vice Chancellors shall be written, her name will be found in the library.
However, it is one thing to aspire and occupy a position and another to make effective and efficient leadership out of it. As the first female Vice Chancellor of the University, she has not only carved a niche for herself in the areas of academic excellence and manpower development but has also arguably outperformed other Vice Chancellors in Nigerian universities in the area of infrastructural development.
It is imperative to reiterate the fact that she was barely given a chance to succeed. Her victory, in some quarters within the Ivory Tower, was received with reservations, because her ability to manage an institution as large and as multi-lingual was, in the eyes of pessimists, puzzling.
She has, in the last three years proved that she has a heart of steel, blended with compassion. Her policies and programs to develop the institution so far, are both ingenious and daring. Her achievements in three years have endeared the University community to her, while her philanthropic disposition has escalated since assuming office.
DARING MOVE FOR DEVELOPMENT:
For instance, no previous Vice Chancellor of the University, dead or alive, has constructed internal roads within the institution like Professor Florence Banku Obi. These include, but are not limited to: Complete rehabilitation of the Main gate road to the Library through the CES building; Construction of an access road from NSLT 2 to the Faculty of Physical Science building; Construction of an access road from the Faculty of Medicine to the Faculty of Pharmacy through the Department of Computer Science building; Construction of drainage along the love garden road and the construction of access road to new Female Hostels.
Others are: Construction of drainage beside the Black and White field(Opposite UNICAL Chapel of Redemption); Construction of an access road from new Faculty of Education to CES building; asphalting of all roads in the institution among others.
EDUCATION STANDARDS REGAINED:
Also, it is on record that no Vice Chancellor in the over 50 years of existence of the institution has been so committed to enshrining global standards in education and changing the trajectory of the University than Obi. She does this seamlessly by using a robust and shrewd approach.
Recently, during the 46th Matriculation ceremony of the institution, the Vice Chancellor announced the institution of a scholarship scheme for the best students across about 121 departments and 9 institutes in the university. The scholarship which is the first of its kind in Nigerian public institutions, according to the VC, is part of her administration’s drive for academic excellence which aims at inspiring and motivating students to work hard and be the best in their respective fields of studies.
Similarly, one of the key strategies employed by the Vice Chancellor was a comprehensive academic retouching with a focus on global competitiveness. Soothing this objective with action, Prof. Obi created a new office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research, Linkages and Collaborations. This has undoubtedly reinvigorated commitment to research and innovation by infusion of more research-based components, attracting local and international collaborations and partnerships in engaging students and staff of the institution.
A PEEP AT NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL COLLABORATION:
Lest we forget, the University of Calabar under the professional and moral conduct of Prof. Obi has, within her three years at the helm of affairs, curried national and international attention thus raising its profile, and this has accentuated the reason for international collaborations where students of the institution are currently spread across the globe, including Europe, USA and China for research and others for academic exchange programme.
Clearly, the leadership of Prof. Obi during this period has been preternatural, literally inexplicable by ordinary means. Three years into her five-year tenure as VC, Prof. Obi has been magical just as she has been dynamic and phenomenal. Almost all sectors of the University of Calabar have felt her magical touch.
CLOSING YAWNING GAPS IN INFRASTRUCTURAL DEVELOPMENT:
In the area of infrastructure, with Prof. Florence Banku Obi on the saddle, University of Calabar is arguably the best 2nd generation University in Nigeria with the best state-of-the-art buildings for lecture and administrative functions. Since the emergence of Prof. Obi, every nook and cranny of the institution has been busy with projects. Some have been completed while others are ongoing. These include, but not limited to: Construction and furnishing of 1-storey, 182-bed space capacity student hostel including external works(Hall 11 – Florence Obi’s Hostel); Completion and furnishing of Hall 10 female hostel; Construction, furnishing, and equipping of new Mass Communication complex; Completion, furnishings and equipping of over 10 years abandoned Senator Ndoma Egba’s Faculty of Law building; Complete remodelling, furnishings and equipping of lecture pavilions 1,2, 3 as well as pavilions E, D and F; Installation of mass antenna for the Department of Mass Communication; Completion and furnishing of 500-seat twin lecture theatre; Completion and furnishing of 500-seat twin lecture theatre for Faculty of Engineering; Supply and equipping of UNICAL Medical Center; Installation of solar light across the University campus; Rehabilitation of ICT Complex.
Others are: Rehabilitation and revitalisation of Halls 2,4,5,6,8, Moore Road, and Calabar Road hostels; Construction of workshops building for the Faculty of Engineering – Phase 11; Construction and furnishing of Post Graduate Students’ Union Government Secretariat; Renovation of Soil Science/Education Technology Laboratory building and Set-P block; Construction and furnishings of Micro teaching Laboratory with modern digital equipment; among other ongoing projects too many to mention here. No wonder, she’s called “Mama Projects”.
HIGHLIGHTING HER CONCERN FOR STUDENTS’ WELFARE:
Also, Prof. Obi who has demonstrated sheer commitment to her students most recently acquired two(2) brand new vehicles for the officials of the Students’ Union Government in order to enable them carry out their functions as representatives of the students with ease.
The students-friendly VC has also digitalised the ivory tower hence, student results and alumni transcripts are just a click away. Students of the institution can now check their results anywhere they are as well as alumni of the institution can now get their transcripts on graduation without further delay.
SANITISING THE SYSTEM THROUGH THE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION:
It is also on record that Prof. Obi has severally returned monies illegally extorted from students by lecturers at various levels as even her only phone number has been shared for students to call or send text messages for one-on-one conversations with the VC. In fact, the list of Prof. Obi’s achievements within the short while in office is endless and all her activities are tremendous.
For every great height attained, there’s always a commensurate display of stellar Leadership quality as well as dedicated service, and for the University of Calabar Vice-Chancellor, Prof Florence Banku Obi, history will remember her as a masterful leader with many silver linings
All said, a dream not backed by determined action remains in the figment of the owner’s imagination. It is important to recognise the fact that a university community, as large and as a multi-lingual entity, needs a leader who is focused with a clear perception of adjustment for a distinct vision. A good leader can, therefore, dissolve this into a clear image and translate such image to reality. So far, that is what the current Vice Chancellor of the University of Calabar has done.
About The Author
Onigah Joseph is the Special Assistant to the Vice Chancellor on Media and Strategic Communications. Feel free to reach me through: firstname.lastname@example.org or 08135108950.