BY: DOMINIC KIDZU, Calabar
The Vice Chancellor of University of Calabar, Prof.Florence Obi has disclosed that her university has the highest number of abandoned projects in Nigeria before she took over the mantle of leadership.
Professor Obi said this during an exclusive conversation in her office recently, adding that “these projects included the faculty of Allied Medical Sciences, the new Faculty of Law building, three hostels, one of which is abandoned by the NDDC amongst others”.
Enumerating the challenges she encountered upon assuming office as Vice Chancellor, Obi stated that resistance of staff and students to the new regime of academic discipline and zero tolerance for corruption were big issues in her first year of service.
“Gradually people are beginning to see reason why we should do things differently, while the reading culture which had almost completely disappeared is returning, as we gradually began to have full study classes on the campus at night, just the way it ought to be.”
She said that she met the university in a state of financial apoplexy with nothing to take off from and then Covid-19 broke out making matters even worse for her.
“As if that was not enough, we also met TETFUND sanctions because of misapplication of funds by the previous administration. We are even now gradually making refunds for the N600,000,000 that was adjudged to have been misapplied by the the university”.
“When the ENDSAR’S riots ravaged the city of Calabar, Unical was not left out as students hostels were comprehensively pulverised right down to conduit wiring, doors, windows, toilet fittings and wooden cabinets. There had been a windstorm in March 2020, which reoccurred in April 2021 with devastating effect, obliterating many structures and destroying a large swathe of equipment throughout the campus. There was gross inadequacy of lecture halls, pavilions and even offices”.
Prof Obi lamented that her institution is only able to accommodate 10% of the total student population on campus as against the 30% recommended by the National Universities Commission but regretted that even though she has fixed almost all the hostels, there is not a lot else she can do.
“I walked directly into a huge N7, 000,000,000 debt upon assumption of office and the entire money we generate, if the university is in full session is N1.6 billion all year round. I have several judgement debts and garnishee orders hanging on the university and people chasing us around for unpaid contract sums, professioral assessments, external examinations, honorarium for part time and adjunct lecturers fees, etc.”
“There was unbelievable academic decay, as many lecturers didn’t attend lectures while many students shunned the classrooms as well. There was a gross shortfall of classroom places . Results couldn’t be published. Students left school 4- 5 years without results. We are still trying to tidy up results for as far back as 2013. We had to stop some lecturers’ salaries. We had to remove many exam officers. But we have brought back academic integrity, results are being released after examinations.”
” We just mobilised 2019/2020 graduates for the National Youth Service programme and are building a good working relationship with our supervisory agencies including NUC and TETFUND. The new Law Faculty building has been completed. Faculty of Agriculture laboratory and Education technical laboratory which also housed some audit staff and was collapsing has been put together. Our printing press has been repositioned. Unicalcons which didn’t have audited accounts has been reorganised and audited and can now compete for jobs. Servicom is reinvigorated. We have unbundled the Bursary and Registry departments and each of them now have five directorates.”
“We have also created a Director of Schools to oversee the schools run by the University. We have online registration of students, online students identity cards. The whole campus has Internet now with fibre optic cables laid under the school. We are digitalizing the university. We are working on dual mode of teaching to include virtual teaching. Pre degree students were not affected by the strike, so were JUPEB students, because they are now operating virtually and are presently writing exams even as we speak.”
“We have developed a 5-year Strategic Development Plan which I am going to implement throughout my tenure. We have increased the tempo of our inaugural lectures to two per month to accommodate several professors who have not done so. We have introduced Senate business committee which vets our exams. Medicine and surgery and law faculty results are now included into the university examinations portal with the senate committee scrupulously vetting all. The Quality Assurance Unit is doing a great job monitoring and ensuring the integrity of our examinations. We have harmonised charges and levies and have reduced impunity by lecturers. We hold students administration fora regularly to help students interact with management and Improve staff students trust.”
Obi however lamented that comparatively, the best Nigeria university is about the 1000th in the world and urged the Federal Government to fund universities adequately.
“If the Federal Government cannot fund universities adequately as it has now become obvious that it cannot, then it should have the political will to introduce tuition fees. The salary of a Professor at the last bar is ridiculous at 700 dollars. Let the Federal Government stop deceiving itself and students of its tertiary institutions that it is running a scholarship regime because it has shown that it can no longer afford it “.
Obi pleaded with the Federal Government to listen to the universities unions so that the children of the poor who constitute the majority of students of public universities can return back to school.
Asked if her work load still allows her time for rest and play, Professor Obi responded that her social life is gone. “I come into the office at 9am and return home at 7pm and usually there are people waiting for me at home to see even after work. I have simply become a working woman with no life of her own”.