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How I became VC amid a very bitter struggle -Prof. Esu

Posted by GEORGE ONAH, Calabar on 2005/08/29 | Views: 1105 |

How I became VC amid a very bitter struggle -Prof. Esu

THIRTY thousand studentsí population is by all standards a huge crowd. In fact, the number is more frightening when considered that it is a crowd of inquisitive minds. Control here appears like a mirage.

THIRTY thousand studentsí population is by all standards a huge crowd. In fact, the number is more frightening when considered that it is a crowd of inquisitive minds. Control here appears like a mirage. The chicken-hearted would crack easily when confronted with the news that this type of crowd could go haywire someday. The male and female students address themselves as Malabites and Malabresses. The names have their origin from the name of the permanent site of their campuses, Malabo. Also, Malabo is the capital of Equatorial Guinea, a neighbouring country, close to Calabar. At the shout of Malabite and Malabress, the response from the students is, Action! This is what makes UNICAL a unique citadel of academics. In time of crises, Action! may become unreasonable. But the word also propels them into adventure in academia, sports, as well as ward off common enemies. When this happens, it is reasonable action. This scenario plays itself out often in this second-generation university, University of Calabar. So, viewed against this kaleidoscopic nuances in this institution, it gives one a strange feeling in prodding into the life, administrative pattern and style of the vice-chancellor.

Sunday Vanguard was able to squeeze out one hour from the heavily engaged scheduleof this very unassuming and friendly academic called Prof. Ivara Ejumot Esu.

HOW did it all begin, I mean, your academic journey to this day?

Well, academic journey to this day, I went to the Presbyterian Primary School Itigidi from 1957-1963. I obtained the First School Leaving Certificate in primary five. That was the time the government was contemplating the abolition of standard six. We were the first set, so we had to merge with those in standard six to take the First School Leaving Certificate exam. After that, I went to Presbyterian Secondary School, Abakaliki, present-day Ebonyi State from 1964 to1967, when the war broke out. We all had to come back home. After staying at home for almost one year because of the war, in 1968, I proceeded to Community Secondary Grammar School, Ugep inYakwur, Cross River State, where I spent that year in Form IV to finish up. And by December 1968, I did my WASC. I recall that I came out in Division One and the only person in the school to have had that.

I went on for the Higher School Certificate in Mary Knoll College, Okuku in Yala Local Government Area, but then it was Ogoja. I spent about seven months there, then passed the concessional entrance examination to the Universityof Ife, which is now Obafemi Awolowo University. I studied agriculture with specialization in soil science. I graduated in the second class upper degree. I was to have been retained at the university, but I rather chose to go and work at Kaduna Polytechnic as a lecturer because of the attraction of being given a car loan within three days of assuming office. At the polytechnic, I worked for eleven months and the polytechnic decided to sponsor me to the United States to do a masterís degree in soil science at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul, USA. I returned in 1978 and went in 1979 to enrol at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, for the Ph.D. programme in soil science. I completed that in 1982.

Agriculture commissioner

l later spent another two years at the polytechnic and then decided to transfer my services to ABU. In August 1984, I rose to the rank of a reader, which is called associate professor in ABU. In 1992, I was invited by the Clement Ebri administration to serve as Commissioner for Agriculture, Water Resources and Rural Development till November 1993 when Gen. Sani Abacha took over government. I returned to Zaria and having tasted the sweetness of home, I decided to transfer my services to UNICAL where I was offered professorship based on assessment but with effect from the date I reported. So I reported here on June 16, 1994. The assessment was out, so I became a professor, a full professor. By February 1995, I was elected dean, Faculty of Agriculture and had a concurrent appointment as provost at the Okuku Campus of the university. In July 1998, I was appointed deputy vice-chancellor (academics), a post I held until the night of December 31, when my name was announced as the acting vice-chancellor of the university by the Federal Government. I acted for eight months and on September 1, 2000, I got appointed as substantive vice-chancellor of the university, the position I have held now for five years and seven months. I will be rounding off at the end of this month.

When you started from the beginning, did you tell yourself that you would pursue academics to the peak?

The point is that I had a father who encouraged me very much. He made me to reason that I should get to the very peak of academics. He encouraged me in the sense that whatever I asked for in terms of books and other things, he provided. I did not play pranks with sending fictitious lists to my father. He made sure he got the list and he could travel to Lagos, Maiduguri or Ibadan just to be able to get all the books. Whether there were alternatives to what was wanted, he didnít bother. He bought them. In fact, I had a lot of books. I also had an uncle, the late Elder Dr. S. Imoke who was a minister and who I grew up wanting to be like actually. So, once I knew that I was on track, in fact, I was a good student I wonít lie to you, I knew that the sky was my limit and I told myself that I would get to the top and that is to become a professor. And I started walking that ladder and refused to be distracted. The only distraction I ever had was when I was appointed commissioner. At that point, I felt that I was almost made. I knew that even if I spent four years, I would still get back and become a professor in the university. That was why it was so easy for me when my colleagues tried to persuade me not to return to the university, I knew that it was the goal I had which must be achieved.

Could you talk about the tortuous journey to this office?

The journey was not easy. This office is the one every professor aspires to get into. Whereas it should not be so really because administration is not really part of academics. A professor should be very busy working on training of postgraduate students, research proposals and contributing to knowledge. In Nigeria, however, we tend to see the position of vice-chancellorship as the ultimate. And it is thought that as a professor, if you havenít got there, you havenít reached the limit. Actually, the limit in academics is professorship. When you have attained professorship, that is excellent, because at that point, the society should benefit from your efforts. So, to answer your question, the struggle was very bitter and strong but for me, I knew that even if I failed at the time I tried to get to the office, I could still have opportunities in the future, if that was what God wanted me to be. Fortunately, it came and that was because I was already occupying the office anyway.

We give your administration credit for surmounting cultism to an extent but something else sprang up which they (students) call sorting. That has debased academics.

Well, the way I look at it, the issue of sorting is being exaggerated, because we still have a large percentage of academics who have integrity, who teach their courses and examine their students for what it should be. We have a small proportion and in most cases, these are very young academics. These young academics who really have come to academics because they could not find jobs elsewhere and for some reason, they happened to have done well in school and, therefore, they are here. O.K, this is a job, I have got a job.

Surreptitious information

If you take academics from that point of view, then, of course, you are bound to be involved in doing all kinds of things. I want to believe, at least, from the example of UNICAL, that sorting is not as rampant. We have put a lot of measures in place, including setting up a Senate Miscellaneous Offences Committee which collects surreptitious information from students and staff, of people that they know are involved in such behaviour.

Let us look at examination malpractice. We have not heard much about people being penalized in UNICAL. We have only heard about people being caught with fake matriculation numbers, fake results and so on and so forth. How have you tackled this?

Exam malpractice is taken very seriously in UNICAL. And you may want to know that we have expelled quite a number of persons. We have various levels of punishment that are meted to offenders.

What were those moments you would call bad moments during the past five years and above?

Those were the moments when my colleagues in the various unions would be making demands they clearly know that no provision has been made for them. And they would carry it to an extent where they would go on strike. This I consider a non-justifiable excuse. Again, you find the junior workers being called to the field and their chairman would tell them to go home. I mean that height of indiscipline really sends me agonising. How can people behave in this manner as if there is no law and order, that they can afford to abandon their jobs and believe nothing will happen? Sometimes it goes on for weeks or months, those were really my bad moments. My colleagues sometimes at the level of ASUU would say they will not mark scripts of students because so and so allowances have not been paid and they actually go ahead to hold students to ransom.

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