From Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
In 2008, the government of China, through an agency known as Hanban, established a centre for the learning of Chinese language and culture at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka.
Known as the Confucius Institute, the centre was officially inaugurated on March 7, 2008, by the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Xu Jianguo, represented by the cultural counsellor/attaché, Mr. Jiang Weiming.
The relationship was consummated through a Chinese partner institution, Xiamen University, which entered a memorandum of understanding with Nnamdi Azikiwe University for exchange of staff, students and research programmes.
As at the last count, about 3,800 of its alumni have been recommended successfully for employment by different Chinese firms in Nigeria, while more than 400 of its graduates have won scholarships for further studies in China.
Thousands of students who have graduated from the Chinese language school at the Confucius Institute, UNIZIK, Awka, now serve as translators between Nigerians and Chinese engaged in different transactions.
The Chinese director of the institute, Prof. Yu Zhangbao, has been outstanding in his relationship with the university and the host community.
For his love for the Igbo, he speaks Igbo language and also bears an Igbo name, Chukwudi. He was also given a chieftaincy title of Ezi Oyi 1 of UNIZIK by the Students Union Government.
Though the outbreak of COVID-19 and its restrictions affected the activities of the institute as it slowed down its public functions and ceremonies, the institute still waxes strong in its operations deploying ICT as a means to connect to its various programmes and outside linkages.
One of such programmes is the “Chinese Bridge” competition for Nigerian university students.
The annual competition, organised by the Chinese Embassy, involved two Confucius Institutes in Nigeria domiciled at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, (UNIZIK) Awka and University of Lagos (UNILAG) .
Because of COVID-19, this year’s edition was organized virtually.
At the end of the competition, the Confucius Institute at Nnamdi Azikiwe University consolidated its dominance by beating UNILAG in all the categories contested for.
The Awka Confucius Institute clinched the five top positions, which included first prize: Ms Agbo Victoria Ene (Nigeria champion); second prize: Ms Michael Praise Chinecherem (from the Chinese Studies department); No. 3-cum-2nd prize: Mr. Dike Paul Chinedu (from the Chinese Studies department); No. 4-cum-3rd prize: Ms. Obiwulu Scholastica Chidimma (from the Chinese Studies Department); No. 5-cum-3rd prize: Ms. Onyekere Nancy Ngozi.
Speaking on the development, Dr Anas Elochukwu of the institute disclosed that Unizik Confucius Institute has won the competition consecutively for four years since 2018 when Prof. Yu Zhangbao became the director.
Giving some facts about the institute’s participation in this year’s competition, he said that while the winners of the 1st and 5th positions were Language Proficiency Test (HSK ) students at the institute, winners of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th positions were students of the Chinese Studies Department of Unizik.
“There were three participants from that department as against two from HSK programme. Also, this year was the first time the institute had fielded participants from the Chinese Studies Department,” he said.
Vice-chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Prof. Charles Esimone, congratulated the winners as well as the Chinese teachers who prepared them for the competition.
Director of the institute, Prof. Yu, ascribed the achievement of the institute to the commitment of the Chinese and local teachers, the diligence of the students and the pragmatic stewardship and unflinching support of the vice-chancellor.