Professor Michael Okom, former student, now Dean of Law, University of Calabar gives insight on the service record of the university’s Vice Chancellor, in a brief chat with Verbatim Editors in Calabar. Excerpts:
Verbatim: We have heard much aboutProf Zana, the Vice Chancellorand his achievements so far. As one of the Senior Academic Staff, and former Student here, can you give us your perspective on what is happening? First, what really do you think is the philosophy and focus of his administration?
Okom: First, is the psyche of the people. The transformation of the mindset of the people is where I think we should start to examine the subject of Prof Zana’s achievements. As soon as he came, he made his priorities clear to everyone. He made it clear that he has three priorities, number one students, number two students and number three students. From records, we have never had it like this before. The philosophy behind prioritising students on that tripod is simple because we are all here because of the students. If there were no students here I won’t be a professor today and Prof Zana will not be here as a Vice Chancellor, so I think it is crucial that he should let everyone know that this is focus of his administration. So all those working with him had no option than to key into that philosophy and this has helped a great deal to improve the relationship between students and lecturers. It has also helped a great deal in the commitment of lecturers and staff. Of course you must key in having seen the direction your leader is taking. In terms of mind set, everybody now came to realize that this administration is achievement driven. Everybody now knows that this administration is concerned with leaving legacies that will be unprecedented and remain a reference point. In fact some of us that were involved in this administration all agreed to work and make sure this administration becomes the best and also remain a reference point forever and the Vice Chancellor was in total agreement of that philosophy. From the onset, he has never left any stone unturned to ensure that the goal is achieved.
Verbatim: I don’t have the statistics but just driving around, we had the feeling that there is an explosion in the number of students who have chosen Unical as a place of study. If our observation is right, couldthis be as a result of conducive learning environment here and also, the interest that the Vice Chancellor has in line with what you have outlined?
Okom: It is logical enough. People want to go to where there is improvement. You cannot board a parked car neither can you live in a dilapidated building. Something must attract you. The reason why you see the large number of students is because whatever we do here is in the public domain and that is why the Vice Chancellor during the last matriculation said that Unical has now become a destination of choice for Nigerian students and I tell you no one will doubt that when we matriculated over 32,000 students applying to come into Unical. We are not the only university in the country, remember. Am sure students out there heard about the change in the atmosphere in the institution and am sure also that they have heard about the commitment of both the staff and lecturers to the welfare of the students. As a matter of fact, Zana remains the first and only Vice Chancellor in the country who has said that his number one, two and three priorities are the students. The students are hearing so why would they not come since they have seen that this place is very conducive for them with a rapid infrastructural development.
Verbatim: Every institution or organization definitely must have challenges and over time, one can trust your judgment because you passed through here as an under graduate and you are here now as Dean and administrator. What are the unique challenges confronting the university which the Vice Chancellor had to contend with?
Okom: Well, number one is lack of infrastructure. You said you went to Malabo, our male hostels and you said you could not recognize it. That was the first challenge the Vice Chancellor had to face but he is tackling it head on. Again, the problem of places to study. There is a very robust effort to ensure we have lecture rooms for our increasing number of students. Remember also that the number of faculties has increased so we have an array of courses that are attracting students from all over the world and these courses have lecture theaters where students can have their lectures. For us in Law we are very lucky because we already have a very gigantic structure being put together by the federal government. This structure can engulf all our activities and also lecture theatre. Again the education theater which is very commodious is built to standard and with modern architectural specifications so there is a robust effort by Prof Zana to ensure that the issue of students standing to take lectures is a thing of the past. This is something we will keep working at, and what is in place now, you can see this administration is really concerned and committed.
Verbatim: Funding has always been an issue in virtually all the tertiary institutions across the country. What is the situation like here?
Okom: Well you can never get enough money from the federal government. It all depends on your own prudence and you know you can make a hundred thousand naira look like one million naira, and you can make a million look like a hundred thousand Naira.Am not talking because I am a close associate of Zana but when you are as methodical and as committed as he is, you must excel. He is too methodical and follows things up to conclusion. Everyone around here and even beyond will attest to this.