Prof. Florence Banku Obi 100 days of visible, pragmatic, transformational change in UNICAL

By George Odok

On Sept. 10, 2020, Prof Florence Obi broke the glass ceiling in the University of Calabar following her unveiling by the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of the institution, Sen. Nkechi Nwaogu, as the Vice Chancellor elect of UNICAL sequel to her unprecedented performance at the selection interview.

Remarkably, on the 1st of Dec 2020, history was made, when she was sworn-in as the 11th substantive VC of the University of Calabar, with a dazzling record of being the first female Vice-Chancellor of the 45 years old second generation university.

Obi, a Professor of Special Needs Education with over 3 decades of academic experience, took over the mantle of leadership in the university with the dexterity, passion and commitment to leave the Ivory Tower better than she met it.

Thus, during her investiture at the Unical International Conference Centre, where thousands of academics, former state governors, serving Ministers and Senators, VCs’ of Federal and State Universities, Service Chiefs, Clergy men, Captain of Industries, Traditional Rulers, family members and loved ones, including students, she rolled out her vision for a radical transformational change in the University as follows:

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”.

For a clearer picture of the state of affairs in the university, Prof. Obi, upon assumption of office constituted three committees; Strategic Planning Committee, Needs Assessment Committee and Baseline Committee.

In line with her policy of inclusiveness, she hit the ground running with the fair and balanced appointments of Deputy Vice Chancellors and Directors of both teaching and non-teaching units.

Very commendably, was the unbundling of the Bursary and Registry Departments into Directorates, leading to the appointments of new set of Directors, thus giving a breathe of hope to many very senior non-teaching staff, who hitherto have resigned to fate that the highest attainable rank in their career was Deputy Director or Deputy Bursar as the case may be.

Prof. Obi also upgraded the Committee of Business on Campus to a Directorate with defined role and target, pursuant to the goal of providing a conducive environment for teaching and research, as well as, raising Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).

It is imperative to observe that, being the first female Vice-Chancellor of the University, 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 positions that have been 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 like in Prof, Obi’s administration.

Mindful of the utter 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 nation-wide, the Vice-Chancellor organized a training workshop for over 100 security personnel of the university in collaboration with Stripes of Africa to sharpen their skills and mental alertness.

At the end of the one-week training, over 50 walkie talkies were distributed to the security personnel for timely response to emergencies on campus.

In the same vain, the VC, through the Centre for Teaching and Learning Excellence (CTLE), organized a leadership workshop for the Expanded Management Committee of the University with the theme: “Re-engineering the University System for Effective Service Delivery.

The workshop provided a platform for all Deans of Faculties, Directors of Institutes, Heads of Department and others to brainstorm on the mission and vision of the new VC with a view to fashioning out ways of achieving the set goals.

Obi, in her characteristics way of making herself easily accessible to her subjects whenever she is privileged to lead choose to tread where many of her predecessors never dared.

She took the comprehensive renovation of the abandoned Vice-Chancellor Lodge, and made it her official residence, in line with the original plan of the founding fathers of the University. Obviously, this is a step in the right direction especially considering the financial crisis bedeviling the University.

Obviously, this is a step in the right direction especially considering the prevailing financial crisis bedeviling the University. In the same vein, she undertook the renovation of the abandoned Pro-Chancellor and Council Lodges at Ekorinim. Indisputably, this would discourage unnecessary wastage of funds on the lodging of guests.

Furthermore, in keeping to 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 500,000USD to start up 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 joy of the University community knew no bound, with the restoration of light in the University.

Prior to her ascension to the ‘throne’, UNICAL community had been in total darkness since April 2020, due to unsettled scores with the Portharcourt Electricity Distribution Company.

Students’ welfare also took the centre stage during the period under review following the comprehensive renovation and furnishing of the students’ hostels which were devilishly vandalized by hoodlums under the guise of EndSARS protesters.

In specific terms: Halls 4, 5, 6, 8 and 9 were completely renovated; part of Hall 2 was renovated; and more inspiring, was the renovation of the Moore Road and Calabar Road Hostels which have never been renovated since they were donated to the University by public spirited individuals.

Speaking to journalists on the renovated students’ hostels and the improved light situation, the VC said: “We have installed 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 its 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 face lift of the hostels amid, improved power supply, our students will concentrate more on what brought them to the university, for improved performance”.

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 UNESCO and the Presidential Task Force for the good health of the university community.

Consequently, no face masks-no entering, physical/social distancing and the frequent use of hand sanitizer are the new normal in the university.

To deepen the fight against the ravaging pandemic, the university engaged a reputable consultants to installed essential COVID-19 sanitizing equipment, including entry and exit tunnels, heavy duty humidifiers, automatic hand sanitizers, standing thermometers, and infrared thermometer.

More thrilling and unbeatable was the establishment of an Isolation Centre with 20 beds capacity by Prof Obi’s administration.

These, and many other feats attracted the official visit of the Cross River Commissioner for Health, Dr Betta Odu, to the university, where she commended the university for complimenting the State Government’s efforts in tackling the pandemic and thereafter donated some essential items to UniCal COVID-19 Taskforce, for optimum efficiency.

In her determination to run without holding back, Prof. Obi is vigorously promoting the blended teaching of online and face to face contact in response to the national outcry for a shift from the complete dependence on the conventional face to face contact in teaching, especially in the wake of COVID-19.

To this end, the Centre for General Studies, has 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 Soccial Corporate Responsibility of the University to the natives who according to her ‘’donated their lands freely to the Federal Government for the take–off of the University in 1975’’.

In recognition of the place of God to human existence vis-à-vis quality delivery of university education, Prof. Obi instituted Semesterly Solemn Assembly, to invoke the blessings of God on UNICAL community.

In her zero tolerance to all shades of corruption, 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 sure serious minded students graduate as and when due.

Again, due to her robust engagements, Prof. Obi has attracted the support of some well-meaning Cross River indigenes, 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, who is the Founder, “Teacher Essien Ita Itam Educational Trust Fund”, and the Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Foundation, Mr Gersh Henshaw, as well as the former Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Florence Ita Giwa and the Chief Executive Officer of Dozzy Oil & Gas, Sir Daniel Chukwudozie.

Obi, is also consulting widely both locally and internationally with critical stakeholders and institutions, with a view to attracting developments to Unical, towards making it a 21st Century University. On the local front, such agencies/institutions include the Ministry of Power and the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Since the inception of her administration, unending accolades have been pouring forth by members of the University Senate who according to eye witness account are in unison, attesting to the fact that, there is a genuine breathe of fresh air in UNICAL, due to the return of robust Senate meetings under Obi’s watch, which have, for a long time eluded the University.

The above successes recorded notwithstanding, the new administration in UNICAL is facing horrible financial challenges due to bugging negligence of yesteryears’ and is appealing to all relevant government institutions, especially, the Federal Ministry of Education (FME), National Universities Commission (NUC), Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), relevant development partners, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), public spirited individuals and indeed, the entire UniCal community to support the efforts of the charismatic and strong-willed pragmatic scholar cum administrator par excellence, Prof. Florence Banku Obi, fnaec, mnae, jp, in her sustained commitment to take UniCal to exceptional greater heights.

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