From Judex Okoro, Calabar
Prof. Florence Obi is the first female vice-chancellor of University of Calabar (UNICAL). In this interview, she said her mission is to correct the rot in the system just as she promised to pursue academic excellence and integrity.
Looking back 30 years ago when you started as an assistant lecturer, did you at any time dream you would be where you are today?
When I started as an assistant lecturer, my ambition then was just to get a Ph.D and thereafter leave the university. I had thought I was going to end up in politics. Eventually, I discovered that even after the Ph.D my love for academics was rather more enhanced because I loved teaching and knew I was going to end up in the classroom.
Later on, I went into secular politics and got one or two appointments. After that I came back to the system and the longing to become a professor came up. For me, I just desired to serve because I love serving. To tell you the truth, I did not see the vice-chancellorship position as the ultimate.
But something happened. When I became the dean of faculty and people started praying and saying, I see you becoming the VC, you have done so well, I think you should take a shot, I think people put that idea to me.
So, five years ago, when the position was vacant, I went in but did not make it. Five years down the line, I came up again and, by God’s grace, I am here.
What are the key areas you will tackle during your tenure?
I am going to be very accessible and accommodating. I am ready to work with everyone who wants to key into my vision and mission. For me, the University of Calabar, which started 45 years ago alongside six other universities, is not at the place we all love to see it. I will want to see the university become one of the topmost universities in Nigeria and, perhaps, the best. I will like to work on academic excellence.
There is so much rot in the university system today and that has not helped us. We are going to lay so much emphasis on academic excellence and integrity. I will look at examinations, teaching and interaction with students, look at result and transcript processing to ensure that students who leave the system, sometimes get admission in other countries, pay for transcript are attended to.
Besides, I think the staff morale is low in the system and I will see how I can motivate them for enhanced productivity. I also want to see that teaching environment is improved upon and made more conducive for them. So also the students, their learning environment, their systems.
We accommodate less than 20 per cent of the student population in the school, against NUC recommendation. We would see how we can partner with private investors for more hostels and that will help to see more students on campus. If students stay on campus, the university will pass through them rather than have those students live outside the system.
Those of us who went to the university lived in the hostels and we know the benefits. We are going to see how we can improve that and get more students to live in our hostels.
Again, if you look at the 2020 ranking of universities, UNICAL is down the ladder. I would improve on the ranking of UNICAL and provide a more robust ICT centre that would have inter and intranet in the university, which are basic necessities in 21st century teaching and learning.
We would have an ICT centre and a more robust university platform that will be more visible and interactive, as these are the indices that are used for ranking of universities. I will also encourage research and staff development, where the younger ones have the opportunity to read for higher degrees. I will encourage mentoring and mentorship.
Security has become a big challenge in Nigeria. In the last few weeks, we have had cases of kidnapping on campus. We would partner with other security agencies to beef up our security architecture on campus. We want staff to be sleeping in their houses safe, which means a number of things have to be done.
There is a high rate of unemployment of graduates. Employers of labour always said university graduates are unemployable and have no employment skills. I am much interested to see how our graduates can have the skills. If you don’t have government employment, you should be able to generate, to create, employment for yourselves.
To achieve this, our entrepreneurship centre will be repositioned to equip students with the skills they need to go to the labour market. We would also create an opportunity for interaction with employers to share their experiences and practical knowledge with students. In other words, we have to review our curriculum.
How do you execute your programmes in view of the paucity of funds within the tertiary institution?
The Federal Government has so many competing needs and the economy is dwindling. However, we have a number of IGR ventures that haven’t been viable. We are going to do a 360-degree turnaround of those ventures and see how they can be made viable for the good of the university.
We will also introduce some other IGR ventures to the system. Besides, we would ensure that funds that come into the university are utilised through prudent management. We would retire them when due to enable us attract more funds to the system.
We would reach out to more agencies by showcasing our programmes and projects to see how they can buy in and assist us. Then alumni axis would be explored by unlocking the opportunities therein.
Thousands of graduates have passed out of UNICAL. We would bring them to give back to the system that has made them who they are. People are willing, so all you need do is build integrity and be accountable.
How would encourage more women into the academia and then into competitive positions where they can rise to top positions like Vice Chancellor?
Being the first female vice chancellor of this university, I am not ignorant of the average responsibility that all eyes will be on the women. I will actually want to project women in my administration by encouraging women and let them hold some strategic positions, build confidence in them.
I am going to reposition our gender centre to become more robust so that they will be having a lot of seminars for women especially the younger ones. I have come to know that most of us, women, are shy and do not want to go out there and compete.
Beside Prof Alele Williams, former Vice Chancellor of University of Benin (UNIBEN), who has made her mark, I don’t know of any other woman. Leadership and opportunity for leadership cannot be given to you on a platter of gold.
If we women want to occupy leadership positions, we must project ourselves. We must work harder than men and justify the fact that we can do it even much better than the men. When people talk about women VC’s, that since the time of Prof Wiliams they have not been there, its not correct.
The truth is that even now we have more than five female VCs in Nigeria. But I cannot just be Alele Wiliams, there must be other Alele Wiliams. I am going to make sure that I encourage women, support them, mentor them and also build their capacity for leadership.