FG, ASUU must find middle ground — Prof Florence Obi, UNICAL’s first female VC

Morenike Taire, Funmi Ajumobi & Ike Uchechukwu

Prof. Florence Obi, former commissioner in her state of Cross Rivers, is the first female Vice Chancellor of the University of Calabar in the institution’s 45 year history.

Prof Obi broke the jinx and took over the highest office in the University by beating 12 other candidates during the rigorous screening exercise. In this chat the 11TH Vice Chancellor of UNICAL gave her thoughts on the impasse between ASUU and the Federal Government and how she broke the glass  ceiling.

Excerpts:

The position of VC in our tertiary institutions seems to be strictly reserved for men. How did you do it?

I am happy with the words “seems to be for the male”, but it’s not an exclusive reserve for the men, rather the position of Vice-Chancellor is for any professor who is credible and can go out to contest to be VC, come tops in the interview and is found to be “appointable’’ It’s Just that over time men have occupied the position much more than the women  and it made such an  assertion  to look real.

I broke the glass ceiling due to hard work, dedication, commitment and I was focused. I have been in the system for over 30 years so I  know the University inside out, I know the challenges and the problems , I had my vision for the university  before time, I  already knew where I wanted  to take the institution to.

READ ALSO: Don’t get carried away by yuletide, observe COVID-19 protocols, Ogun CJ urges Nigerians

I also knew that if the interview was based on merit, I would come tops. But I think for the first time this interview was purely based on merit. Five years ago I came out to run but I couldn’t make it, I came third on the list. I told myself that I needed to work harder, and I needed to prepare harder for the interview and also know the University better and I did just that .

As someone who has participated in government before, can you draw parallels between state governance and academic governance?

Administration is administration, although as a Commissioner the focus was usually about a particular subject matter in that ministry but in the university, it is  a very different ball game because it is more complex. As Vice Chancellor I have to administer the university  at the diverse level. So being head of the University system is more complex, even the institution’s polity is high class. In governance you have a boss probably the governor but here you have to make some critical decisions that require your utmost intellectual judgment.

You have to deal with people of diverse backgrounds. For instance, the Dean of the College of Pharmacy knows what she needs as a professional, the Vice Chancellor has to play hi tech politics to be able to cope with people who are  highly intellectual  who will not just take whatever  you say  just because you are the Vice Chancellor.

You have to convince them always that you have a superior argument before you can have your way because you are dealing with extremely learned individuals; it is a system where anyone who has superior arguments wins, so it is more complex than being a Commissioner or on the other side of the divide.

As an academic who is also in the field of Education, how would you rate education standards in Nigeria in general and Cross Rivers in particular? How can it be improved?

There are many indices to look at to be able to rate the standard of education in Nigeria. I know that generally people think that the standards have dropped but, depending on where I am coming from I want to look at it both ways (standards not dropping and standards dropping). For instance, we have children aged 6 at  our primary schools who can read and write  but some 30, 50 years ago  that was not the case. In fact a 7  ear old child then was just preparing to get to school and knows little or nothing but today we have 5/ 6 year olds who can read and write so when you look at it from that level, you will see that the standards have not dropped .

But if you also come to compare at the tertiary level for instance, what are the skills that graduates of today have compared to graduates of yesteryears?  What is the knowledge base of today? You may begin to think that the graduates of the past had more skills and their knowledge base was wide because then people concentrated on their studies; today there are too many distractions.

Many of them come to school because they are being pushed by their parents but those days people desired to go to school, they had passion and desired to be in the higher institution, and they knew why they were going to school. They worked hard as many of their parents never saw the four walls of a University.

But today many are pushed by parents to get out of the house to school and they are faced with a lot of distractions that were not there in the past. Look at Social Media, it was not there in those days.

Comparatively at the tertiary level for instance, you have more youngsters who are not as focused as it was before but also note that we have younger people who are very much   entrepreneurial oriented than before and people then were more prepared for white collar jobs but today that has changed, young people are moving towards entrepreneurship, they have diversified and there are diverse fields that people can now go into.

When you look at funding, it has dropped significantly and perhaps it is because the funding has dropped that we say the standards are very low now. When I was in the university, late 80s,  cafeteria was  there, meal tickets were affordable, we were paying  50 naira then  even though not everyone could afford it then, but today there are so many things that students need to think about  and also  put in place for themselves that distract them from focusing on their studies.

Today they need to think of their feeding, beddings and other personal effects but then, you just walked in and out of your hostel without thinking of all that.

Generally I don’t believe that the standards of education has dropped .

What is your stance on the ASUU/FG faceoff. In your opinion,  how can the long drawn strike actions be avoided in the future?

It is high time the Federal government sits down on a round table with tertiary unions to find lasting solutions. Federal government and ASUU must shift grounds. Principally, ASUU’s position is “no IPPIS”, because they feel it has not captured their peculiarities in terms of sabbatical staff and adjunct staff while on the other hand FG feels that ASUU should bring those challenges and it would be integrated into IPPIS but the process is very slow. Perhaps FG should have convinced ASUU over this period (since the inception of the strike) that look, we are ready by paying sabbatical lectures and adjunct staff; ASUU would have seen the seriousness  and would  understand that the Federal Government  has taken  care of them.

In as much as  I am an ASUU person, I also know that it is difficult for an employee to dictate to the employer how he should be paid or what method  and model to be used in their payment  and that is the stand of government, but I think it has become an ego thing now. When two elephants are fighting, the innocent students are the worst hit. They are the ones really affected. Guardians and parents too are affected although the  government equally have  had a toll of these  students being home. Perhaps if the students were not home and were in the universities, maybe  we would have been able to avoid  the #ENDSARS  .

I think that both sides standing firm on what they believe is not healthy for the system, so there should be a marriage; both parties must find a mid point to resolve the matter because they can’t afford to not shift ground if they must find lasting solution.

So it is my plea and the plea of every meaningful Nigerian that both parties must find a common ground to resolve this.

 It is not easy being a woman in academics with women’s multiple roles and societal attitudes towards women in leadership. How do you combine the two?

It is not easy being a woman in any position at home, in government as well as other positions, succeeding or getting to the peak of your profession. Women have learned how to multi task over the years, we have also learned that you have to work three times harder than a man to cope and  to be reckoned with based on societal attitude and perception or  to be able to succeed. You need to be a woman of Integrity, disciplined, hardworking and sometimes you must let the people understand that it is not about gender but about the brains and hard work

You must not be put down by men because of your gender. In academics  for example you don’t get promotions based on gender neither do we have different criteria for the male and female genders, all is the same.

It is said that most women who have the ability to lead do not have the stomach for the politics involved in the appointment of VC. Are you tough or you are an Iron lady?

If you think that is it only iron ladies or tough women that can be Vice Chancellor then I am one, but I am a Professor first and foremost and I have been in the system so the interview was never about who is an iron lady or tough but it was based on who could face the panel and who had the capacity to deliver and do the job, and as far as that is concerned I have what it takes to do the job effectively, I have what it takes to run the university . So if that makes me an iron lady, then I am one.

In recent university rankings, UNICAL is rated No 37 in the country and 8526 in the world. What are your plans to improve on this rating?

I will want to refer you back to my vision and mission statement, to look at my plans for improving the ranking of UNICAL and its visibility. Some few years back we were rated 9th in Nigeria but today we have dropped down the ranking ladder.

For me, I have taken time to study what  the ranking indices are; and I have known that some of it are quality reaserch, teaching pedagogy, internationalization(staff and students should not just be local staff or students), linkages, patents, breakthrough in researches. There are some I know we may not attain due to funds .

But we need to sit back and improve on our website, upload our researches  and have more visibility so that the world knows about us.

The University  is a global institution, it is never local, we need to belong to international bodies and we need to be known internationally  and subscribe to a lot of organization  as  well as international  websites and more and after that we teach .

E-teaching is the way forward, we can introduce E-teaching which will in no small way increase our visibility on the  global stage.I am very passionate about our ranking, I am glad that you know we are 37th but I want you to come back in three years then you will surely see an improved UNICAL both in ranking  and other spheres, we would have gone up the ladder. We need to publish more about our researches and let people read about us. These and more are among the indices they are looking at .

You are already at the top of your career.  After this appointment,  what next?

I live my life one day at a time, I am totally committed to whatever God has destined for me. Today, all I am concerned about is UNICAL but tomorrow I don’t know where I would be.  I am here today because this is where God wants me to be.

PROF. Florence Obi, the former commissioner in her state of Cross Rivers,  is the first female Vice Chancellor of the University of Calabar in the institution’s 45 year history.

Prof Obi broke the jinx and took over the highest office in the University by beating 12 other candidates during the rigorous screening exercise. In this chat the 11TH Vice Chancellor of UNICAL  gave her thoughts on the impasse between ASUU and the Federal Government and how she broke the glass  ceiling. Excerpts:-

The position of VC in our tertiary institutions seems to be strictly reserved for men. How did you do it?

I am happy with the words “seems to be for the male”, but it’s not an exclusive reserve for the men, rather the position of Vice-Chancellor is for any professor who is credible and can go out to contest to be VC, come tops in the interview and is found to be  “appointable’’ It’s Just that over time men have occupied the position much more than the women  and it made such an  assertion  to look real.

I broke the glass ceiling due to hard work, dedication, commitment  and I was focused. I have been in the system for over 30 years so I  know the University inside out, I know the challenges and the problems , I had my vision for the university  before time, I  already knew where I wanted  to take the institution to . I  also knew that if  the interview was based on merit, I would come tops. But I think for the first time this interview was purely based on merit. Five years ago I came out to run but I couldn’t make it, I came  third on the list. I told myself that I needed to work harder ,and I needed to prepare harder for the interview  and also know the University better and I did just that .

As someone who has participated in government before, can you draw parallels between state governance and academic governance?

Administration is administration, although as a Commissioner the focus was usually about a particular subject matter in that ministry but in the university, it is  a very different ball game because it is more complex. As Vice Chancellor I have to administer the university  at the diverse level. So being head of the University system is more complex, even the institution’s polity is high class. In governance you have a boss probably the governor but here you have to make some critical decisions that require your utmost intellectual judgment.

You have to deal with people of diverse backgrounds. For instance, the Dean of the College of Pharmacy knows what she needs as a professional, the Vice Chancellor has to play hi tech politics to be able to cope with people who are  highly intellectual  who will not just take whatever  you say  just because you are the Vice Chancellor. You have to convince them always that you have a superior argument before you can have your way because you are dealing with extremely learned individuals; it is a system where anyone who has superior arguments wins, so it is more complex than being a Commissioner or on the other side of the divide.

As an academic who is also in the field of Education,  how would you rate education standards in Nigeria in general and Cross Rivers in particular? How can it be improved?

There are many indices to look at to be able to rate the standard  of education in Nigeria. I know that  generally  people think that the standards have dropped but, depending on where I am coming from  I want to look at it both ways(standards not dropping and standards dropping ). For instance, we have children aged 6 at  our primary schools who can read and write  but some 30, 50 years ago  that was not the case. In fact  a 7  year old child then was just preparing to get to school and knows little or nothing but today we have 5/ 6 year olds who can read and write so when you look at it from that level, you will see that the standards have not dropped .

But if you also come to compare at the tertiary level for instance, what are the skills that graduates of today have  compared to  graduates of yesteryears?  What is the knowledge  base of today? You may begin to think that the graduates of the past had more skills and their knowledge base was wide because then people concentrated on their studies; today there are too many distractions. Many of them come to school because they are being pushed by their parents but those days  people  desired  to go to school, they had passion and desired to be in the higher institution, and they knew why they were going to school. They worked hard as many of their parents never saw the four walls of a University.

But today many are pushed by parents to get out of the house to school and they are faced with a lot of distractions that were not there in the past. Look at Social Media, it was not there in those days.

Comparatively at the tertiary level for instance, you have more youngsters who are not as focused as it was before but also note that we have younger people who are very much   entrepreneurial oriented than before and people then were more prepared for white collar jobs but today that has changed, young people are moving towards entrepreneurship, they have diversified and there are diverse fields that people can now go into.

When you look at funding, it has dropped significantly and perhaps it is because the funding has dropped that we say the standards are very low now. When I was in the university, late 80s,  cafeteria was  there, meal tickets were affordable, we were paying  50 naira then  even though not everyone could afford it then, but today there are so many things that students need to think about  and also  put in place for themselves that distract them from focusing on their studies.

Today they need to think of their feeding, beddings and other personal effects but then, you just walked in and out of your hostel without thinking of all that .Generally I don’t believe that the standards of education has dropped .

What is your stance on the ASUU/FG faceoff. In your opinion,  how can the long drawn strike actions be avoided in the future?

It is high time the Federal government sits down on a round table with tertiary unions to find lasting solutions. Federal government and ASUU must shift grounds. Principally, ASUU’s position is “no IPPIS”, because they feel it has not captured their peculiarities in terms of sabbatical staff and adjunct staff while on the other hand FG feels that ASUU should bring those challenges and it would be integrated into IPPIS but the process is very slow. Perhaps FG should have convinced ASUU over this period (since the inception of the strike) that look, we are ready by paying sabbatical lectures and adjunct staff; ASUU would have seen the seriousness and would understand that the Federal Government has taken care of them.

In as much as  I am an ASUU person, I also know that it is difficult for an employee to dictate to the employer how he should be paid or what method and model to be used in their payment and that is the stand of the government, but I think it has become an ego thing now. When two elephants are fighting, the innocent students are the worst hit. They are the ones really affected. Guardians and parents too are affected although the government equally has had a toll of these students being home. Perhaps if the students were not home and were in the universities, maybe we would have been able to avoid the #ENDSARS.

I think that both sides standing firm on what they believe is not healthy for the system, so there should be a marriage; both parties must find a mid point to resolve the matter because they can’t afford to not shift ground if they must find lasting solution.

So it is my plea and the plea of every meaningful Nigerian that both parties must find a common ground to resolve this.

 It is not easy being a woman in academics with women’s multiple roles and societal attitudes towards women in leadership. How do you combine the two?

It is not easy being a woman in any position at home, in government as well as other positions, succeeding or getting to the peak of your profession. Women have learned how to multi-task over the years, we have also learned that you have to work three times harder than a man to cope and  to be reckoned with based on societal attitude and perception or  to be able to succeed. You need to be a woman of Integrity, disciplined, hardworking and sometimes you must let the people understand that it is not about gender but about the brains and hard work

You must not be put down by men because of your gender. In academics  for example you don’t get promotions based on gender either do we have different criteria for the male and female genders, all is the same.

It is said that most women who have the ability to lead do not have the stomach for the politics involved in the appointment of VC. Are you tough or you are an Iron lady?

If you think that is it only iron ladies or tough women that can be Vice Chancellor then I am one, but I am a Professor first and foremost and I have been in the system so the interview was never about who is an iron lady or tough but it was based on who could face the panel and who had the capacity to deliver and do the job, and as far as that is concerned I have what it takes to do the job effectively, I have what it takes to run the university . So if that makes me an iron lady, then I am one.

In recent university rankings, UNICAL is rated No 37 in the country and 8526 in the world. What are your plans to improve on this rating?

I will want to refer you back to my vision and mission statement, to look at my plans for improving the ranking of UNICAL and its visibility. Some few years back we were rated 9th in Nigeria but today we have dropped down the ranking ladder.

For me, I have taken time to study what  the ranking indices are; and I have known that some of it are quality reaserch, teaching pedagogy, internationalization(staff and students should not just be local staff or students), linkages, patents, a breakthrough in researches. There are some I know we may not attain due to funds .

But we need to sit back and improve on our website, upload our researches and have more visibility so that the world knows about us.

The University is a global institution, it is never local, we need to belong to international bodies and we need to be known internationally and subscribe to a lot of organization as well as international websites and more and after that, we teach.

E-teaching is the way forward, we can introduce E-teaching which will in no small way to increase our visibility on the global stage. I am very passionate about our ranking, I am glad that you know we are 37th but I want you to come back in three years then you will surely see an improved UNICAL both in ranking and other spheres, we would have gone up the ladder. We need to publish more about our researches and let people read about us. These and more are among the indices they are looking at.

You are already at the top of your career.  After this appointment,  what next?

I live my life one day at a time, I am totally committed to whatever God has destined for me. Today, all I am concerned about is UNICAL but tomorrow I don’t know where I would be.  I am here today because this is where God wants me to be.

This interview was conducted before the suspension of ASUU strike.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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