A Return to Malabo
Some alumni of the University Calabar recently returned to their alma mater in a journey that was suffused with both nostalgia and projection. That was no surprise given the purpose of the gathering: the occasion was organised by the university to honour just a few of its many accomplished former students located in different parts of the world. These alumni were appointed Goodwill Ambassadors. The idea itself is a product of a synergy of purpose between the university management and the alumni association under the leadership of the energetic Kennedy Dike. Always exuding enthusiasm when discussing the progress of the university, Dike has explained that the goodwill ambassadors and indeed all alumni are expected“ to project the image of the university positively and also use their positions to attract funding and projects to our alma mater”.
The grand reception and awards were reasonably preceded by a tour of the campus in which the vice chancellor, Professor James Epoke, and other members of the university management laid bare the developmental problems and prospects of the institution. In sum, the alumni saw on ground challenges in the form a number of projects begging for actualisation or completion such as the proposed complexes for the faculties of law, engineering and education. They also saw progress as Unical has since moved from being a campus of the University of Nigeria in 1975 with 500 students receiving tertiary education in the premises of the Duke Town secondary school. The university began awarding its own degrees in 1980. Now, with over 32, 000 students in nine faculties and 54 departments the university has indeed come of age.
There are in addition three institutes and three directorates. In fact, a brand new campus has been built with new lecture theatres, auditorium, laboratories and an ultra-modern library equipped with digital facilities. The ICT Directorate ensures Internet services in every part of the campus including the halls of residence. With a large expanse of land still available for construction despite recent encroachment, the university still promises to be one of the most beautifully located campuses in the country. In a power-point presentation during the lunch the deputy vice chancellor (academic), Professor Austin Obiekezie, told the alumni that the geographical location offers “opportunities and challenges”. As Obiekezie, who was the first Ph.D. candidate of the university, reminded his audience in his presentation aptly entitled “Unical: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”, the campus is “one of the few to straddle a major river with direct access to the sea amid a lush mangrove habitat”.
For any visiting former student who was in Unical in the early days, a comparison of the campus today with the those days when a section of the campus was named Malabo is inevitable. By the way, the name Malabo was given by the students to the section of the campus where three of the male halls of residence, the refectory and the students’ union building were located. The name, a protest of sorts, was borrowed from Equatorial Guinea, the central African country whose capital is called Malabo. With a population of fewer that 700,000 and daily production of over 360 barrels of crude oil, the tiny country has the highest Gross National Income per capital in Africa. Yet, 70% of the population lives below the poverty level.
In fact, in the 1970s, the condition in the country ( especially the plantation workers) was that of excruciating poverty largely caused by the plundering of the national wealth by a dictator. The name Malabo was, therefore, the students’ way of capturing the physical deprivations they encountered in the early days. Hence, male students and alumni are called Malabites and the female ones, Malabresses. So, as the alumni made that journey back to their former school, they knew they were not just visiting the exceptionally neat and serene city of Calabar again, they were indeed seeing Malabo after many years.
The good news is that unlike the real Malabo in Equatorial Guinea that corruption and neo-colonial exploitation has stultified its development, the Malabo in Calabar has good products to show for its years of transformation. From the period of the pioneer vice chancellor and the eminent historian, Professor Emmanuel Ayankanmi Ayandele, to the current Professor Epoke, a measure of progress is undeniable. This was evident in the warmth with which Epoke received the alumni.
More significantly, the progress could be measured by the quality of the university’s products represented by the following goodwill ambassadors: Chief Godswill Akpabio, Governor Akwa Ibom State; Barr. Efiok Cobham, Deputy Governor, Cross River State; Senator Ita Enang, Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business; Senator Bassey E. Otu, Chairman Senate Committee on Banking. Senator Victor Ndoma Egba SAN, Senate Leader, National Assembly; Mr. Ita Ekpenyong, Director-General, State Security Service; Hon. John Owan Enoh, member, House of Representatives; Hon. Dr (Mrs) Rose Okoji Oko, Member, House of Representatives; His Eminence, Dr. Sunday Ola Makinde, Prelate, Methodist Church of Nigeria; Udom Inoyo, Executive Director, Mobil Producing Nigeria and In-country HR Manager; Dr. Reuben Abati; Special Assistant on Media & Publicity to the President; Ekpo Una Owo Nta, Chairman, ICPC; Dr. A.B.C Orjiako, Chairman Ordrec Group; Barr (Mrs) Mfon Usoro, former DG, NIMASA.
Others are Rt. Hon. Bright Omokhdion, former Speaker, Edo State House of Assembly and Chairman, Board of Trustees UNICAL Alumni Association; Chief Joe Agi SAN, first Malabite to be elevated to the position of Senior Advocate of Nigeria; Hon. John Kennedy Opara, Executive Secretary, Nigeria Christians Pilgrims Commission; Dr. Barclays Ayakroma, Executive Secretary, Nigeria Institute of Cultural Orientation; Dr. (Mrs) Anthonia Ekpa, Director, Monitoring & Evaluation, Federal Ministry of Water Resources; Prof. Hillary Inyang, Duke Distinguished Professor of Environmental Engineering and Science, Professor of Earth Science and Director of the Global Institute for Energy and Environmental Systems at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte (he is currently the President of the International Society for Environmental Geotechnology (ISEG) and the Global Alliance for Disaster Reduction (GADR)); Chief Charles Okon, Corporate Security Services Manager, Nigeria LNG Ltd; Sunny Akpan, Finance & Administrative Manager, Catering International & Services, Siera Leone and Hon. Justice Emmanuel Akomoye Agim ORG, Chief Justice of The Gambia, Judge of the Supreme Court of Swaziland.
Also honoured are Stephanie Okereke, Actress, Director and Nollywood Producer; Keppy Bassey Ekpenyong, Actor, producer and movie director; Dr. (Mrs) Christy Atako, Director, Community & Rural Development, NDDC; Ibanga Akadi Udofia, HR Manager, Deep Water Projects, Shell Petroleum Development Company; John Odey, former Minister, Ministry of Environment; E.C Osondu, Professor of English, Rhode Island University, USA; Emem Isong, Screenwriter, Movie Producer/Director; Dr. Sam Amadi, Chairman, Nigeria Electricty Regulatory Council (NERC); Hon. Justice Franklin Edem, Ebonyi State Judiciary, Abakaliki; Hon. Justice M.E Njoku, Judge, Customary Court of Appeal Imo State Judiciary; Sir. Chika Chiejina, Chairman/CEO, Savannah Suites Group; Odigha Odigha, Chairman, Cross River Forestry Commission, and this reporter.
Not all the goodwill ambassadors were able to make the investiture. Senator Enang who responded on behalf of the awardees asked all alumni to work for the progress in their different locations in life. It is also remarkable that the awardees represented different periods in the history of the institution. For instance, one awardee was born 30 years ago when another one, this reporter, graduated from the university in the third set.
From the available facts, the above is just a tiny representation of distinguished men and women in different spheres of life who passed through Malabo. This invariably compels some deep reflections about the quality of education in public educational institutions and the lingering question of funding. Doubtless, the Uncial story is a proof that public educational institutions have produced quality graduates. The debate on the funding of tertiary education in particular will certainly continue. Unfortunately, in this debate the voice of those rationalising the failure of government to fund education is louder.
It is as if only private institutions, where education is now treated as any other commodity, is the only sure source of quality education. For the majority of those in need of university but who could not afford the prohibitive fees in the private institutions, public schools will still remain the answer. A former colleague at THISDAY, who is now the Ogun state Commissioner for Information, Yusuph Olaniyonu, used to raise issues on this page about the need for former students to go back to their alma mater and see how they could help improve the condition of the schools. The moral challenge for graduates of public schools, especially those in position of power, is how to ensure that the conditions of the schools are such that their own children could make a choice of applying for admission into those schools.
In this regard, the resourceful step taken by Unical to attract the contributions of the alumni to the development of the university should be welcome. As the alumni who made the journey back to Malabo observed, the university is in dire need of huge investment of funds to ensure production of quality graduates like those making waves in the public and private sectors today.