By Peter Udiong
The appointment of Prof. Nse Udo Essien as the third indigenous Vice Chancellor of Akwa Ibom State University marked a significant watershed in the life of the institution. After a rigorous selection process as a result of the tenure expiration of Prof. Eno Ibanga, who is now the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Works, Essien will, unexpectedly, be leading the university for the next five years.
The new helmsman came first among the three eminent professors to vie for the position has thus, by reason of his appointment, achieved historical immortality, joining the exclusive club of those who had the opportunity of leading the university. Indeed, it is the height of academic career to be appointed a Vice Chancellor.
But there are inherent challenges awaiting the occupant of the hot seat. This is not to scare him, but Essien himself is aware of the fact that, having been appointed to lead the orchestra, he must be ready to take in his stride, all manner of burden, headache and pressure.
The job he has accepted is a difficult task and one job that requires an extraordinary amount of courage. Perhaps, the kind of courage Essien is expected to demonstrate in his job is defined by G. K. Chesterton as strong desire to live, taking form of readiness to die. In other words, a leader who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing. If truly, the task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been, then, the new VC should know that from now till 2025, there is no looking back in taking the Akwa Ibom State University forward.
However, one of the major challenges he will be facing is paucity of funds. Essien is coming at a time regarded by many as tough as a result of the pandemic ravaging various nations of the world. He may have a lot to do with money but the resources are not just there. Economic indications from the Federal Government clearly show that Nigeria is in dire straits. Prices of crude oil which the nation’s economic mainstay have crashed considerably. Many states are unable to pay salaries just as budgetary allocations to different government’s agencies and parastatals cannot be guaranteed.
Yet, before now, there had been general outcry about poor funding of education in the country by successive administration! Apparently, Essien has to permanently put on his thinking cap with respect to raising additional funds to augment whatever will be coming from the government.
Again, this is where the new VC needs to take a look at the activities of those hired to raise money for the university, but are perpetually looking for repeated overseas training at the expense of the needful. Rather than raising money for the University, they prefer travelling in order to get estacodes. The new VC must ask critical questions, such as how much did they make for the university last year? How much has they raised this year? How much has the university spent on them? Where is their annual report? The current economic reality today does not allow a lackadaisical attitude to work.
Closely related to the funding is the need to maintain aging infrastructure in the University. Most of the structures are aging and decaying. Many of the classrooms require some facelift. Water pipes are begging for replacement and there is an urgent need to scale up security and vigilance around the University community. All of these and more demand attention which is predicated on money. Although the immediate past VC tried his best to remedy the situation, it is apparent that there is still a long distance to destination.
Staff welfare is another challenge that is awaiting the new VC. This is where his predecessor did not do well. Ibanga did not worm his way into the hearts of the workers by not making their welfare as a priority. Many workers in Akwa Ibom State University (AKSU) will be ungrateful to Ibanga for some steps he took mostly for not regarding the ASUU as partner in progress. Yes, the new VC should not replicate this idea.
Undoubtedly, ASUU has contributed generously huge amount of money yearly under TetFund and NEEDS Assessment for all the visible infrastructural and manpower development in the University. The question is, where will he get the money? Will the workers understand that resources have considerably diminished? This is where Essien will need to deploy his scientific mind to persuade the workers to show some understanding in the face of “money palaver.”
Beyond the financial constraint, the VC must find a way to fight the inherent lethargy and bureaucratic bottlenecks that usually delay service delivery in public service. As an institution, services should be computerised in such a way that graduates get their statements of results and certificates without facing frustration. The University has offended some of its former students by not attending to such demands in the past expeditiously.
However, Essien, a world renowned scientist, should not hesitate to initiate some innovation that will bring about a dramatic change in the modus operandi of the university. He needs to confront and fight laziness but reward hard work, after all, he himself is not indolent. He may need to punish one offender in order to warn other employees against bringing an anachronistic mentality to the 21st century education.
Leadership, according to Warren Benni, is the capacity to translate vision into reality. Therefore, the new VC owes it a duty to unlock the people’s potentials so that they can become better. It is his duty to ensure that the university’s vision of becoming a world class institution does not just remain a mere refrain. A stick and carrot approach may serve as a deterrent to misdemeanour, just as commendation and reward for hardworking staff can perhaps stimulate productivity.
Apparently, the job at hand requires courage and braveness. For Essien to take the university to greater heights, he should not be afraid to step on toes. There is no higher fortitude than stubbornness in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. Prof. Essien should not listen to gossipers but must consult and work with staff and stakeholders who have altruistic skills and acumen to propel the University positively with animosity to ethnic chauvinism. Doing this will expose the University to global limelight and ranking.
A leader is a dealer in hope. He should be hopeful of the best. He is expected to be the distributor of goodness and grace. He should not hesitate to promote people’s well-being. Yes, a leader is the one who knows the ways, goes the way and shows the way. The good news is that he has the capacity and is not lacking in experience. He understands the system being a two-term Governing Council member and a scientist of methodological appropriateness.
His amiability which has drawn the admiration of the majority of members of the community including the ASUU – a partner in infrastructural development and Staff Training will certainly go a long way to assist him achieve success. He equally has a solid contact across the globe as a result of many years of teaching and community service. This is the time he needs the support of all his friends and well-wishers. All eyes are now on him.
If AKSU is to be listed as one of the best 10 universities in the world, this is the time to activate the momentum. It is a task that requires the support of all and sundry. It is not only about money, stakeholders could come forward with useful pieces of advice, suggestions, and opinions towards making the AKSU greater than it is.
As he is mounting the saddle as the third AKSU VC, one can only pray for divine support and peaceful tenure as he engages the students, members of staff and various public sectors of the University.
Udiong is a Lead Writer at WriteConsult