Akpagu: Celebrating an Academic Colossus at 60

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Omang Tuku

In its 40 years history as Nigeria’s second generation university, the University of Calabar (UNICAL) has never had it good compare to this era and dispensation. The reasons are not far-fetched. Prof. Zana Itiunbe Akpagu has been on the saddle in the last four years. The emergence of Akpagu in 2015 as the 10th Vice-Chancellor of UNICAL came amid jubilation across Cross River State and beyond. His emergence has recorded many great feats and firsts that were actually strange in the history of the university. It’s Akpagu’s zeal for quality assurance, best standard and practices and positive outcomes that has set him apart from his co-evals.

Today, Akpagu is the first academic from Cross River North to occupy the office of the vice- chancellor of UNICAL and the first alumni to ascend such a lofty position in the university’s history. With the appointment as a VC, many had thought that Akpagu has reached his magnus opus in leadership and administration. Rather, his exploit and dedication on the job has proven that Akpagu still has many territories to conquer.

Ever since his appointment, the VC has set a new paradigm in the physical development of the university through infrastructural development. And on the other hand, there have been tremendous efforts to improve the academic curricula to international standards to meet modern needs of a university. Under his leadership, the University of Calabar has introduced new faculties and schools such as engineering, dentistry, environmental engineering and pharmacy.

Within a short period of his reign as a VC, many departments in the school have been reformed to meet currents needs in education. Some other departments have also been added to the curricula to make the university thick and all rounded. Such departments include, Theatre Arts and Carnival Studies, Mass Communication, Film Studies, among others. For instance, given the prominence of Calabar Carnival organised annually by the Cross River State government in December, the Department of Theatre Arts and Carnival Studies will surely provide a strategic platform and framework that internationalise the event. This will go a long way to foreground the works and position the Calabar Carnival as not just a mere dancing show but a remarkable, sustainable and timeless work of arts, with all its economic implications.

In the area of infrastructure, Akpagu believes that a good working environment in a university is a recipe for academic excellence and productivity. In line with this ideology, the VC has initiated a N10 billion endowment fund to cater for the infrastructural needs of the university. Already, this step has started yielding positive results with several interventions by individuals to help scale up UNICAL’s physical structures and give the school a good ambiance.

The quality of leadership Akpagu has offered since his appointment did not just come out of the blues, it is a mark of years of learning, mentorship and commitment to do great things and stay focus on the job. Over the last 15 years, Akpagu had held strategic positions in Cross River State government that have prepared him for this enormous task as UNICAL vice-chancellor. In most of his dealings, you can as well figure out the footprints of a well experienced technocrat and administrator bearing the marks of excellence on the job as VC.

First, Akpagu was appointed Commissioner for Education, Cross River State, Special Adviser to the Governor on Intergovernmental Affairs/Liaison, where his duty involves interfacing with federal government and other governmental institutions in Abuja, exploring investment opportunities for Cross River State. It is worth noting that these lofty positions seem to have embedded in Akpagu the basic tenets of corporate governance, discreet and people-oriented administrative skills. These qualities have been evident in his day-to-day running of University of Calabar as a VC.

Academically, as a former Dean of Students’ Affairs, Dean, Faculty of Arts and other numerous academic positions, Akpagu was well prepared to stir the ship of leadership in UNICAL. Being an alumnus has even engrained his deep understanding of the strategic ways on how to run University of Calabar and win applause. The combination of Akpagu’s studentship in UNICAL, academic roles in strategic university’s leadership positions and being government appointee readily makes him a perfect fit for the job.

One of the best innovations University of Calabar has witnessed under the leadership of Akpagu has been the linkages of programmes with foreign universities around the world. This project has enabled both scholars and students of the university to be abreast with best practices, innovations and modern research methodology in their respective fields. The exchange of programmes with foreign universities is one project that has the potentials of repositioning the University of Calabar for good.

His success as the 10th VC of UNICAL has continued to win laurels across the country and around the world. He has been crowned in Obudu, Bekwara, Yala, Boki and globally recognised for the many achievements the university has attained under his watch. More significantly, it is believed that Akpagu’s track record will be a very reliable source of encouragement for others to emulate such qualities in leadership.

Akpagu was born on August 26, 1958 and attended Ipong 1 Primary School, the prestigous Mary Knoll College, Okuku, Ogoja, now in Yala Local Government Area of Cross River State. He obtained a Bachelor’s of Arts in French and Master’s in French and went on to obtain a PhD in African and Caribbean Literature in French. He also holds several awards and contributed immensely to the teaching of Languages in Nigerian universities. Today marks his 60th birthday.

Tuku, wrote from Dubai, UAE