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Esimone @2:Reminiscing the giant strides of an exemplary leader cum colossus

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By Gabriel Chy Alonta

“Within my tenure as Vice-Chancellor, I will make Nnamdi Azikiwe University, the best University in Nigeria, among the best 10 universities in Africa and among the best 200 universities in the world”.

These were the words of Prof. Charles Okechukwu Esimone, FAS, during his inauguration as the 6th substantive vice-chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. The event held at the institution’s auditorium on June 3, 2019.

The inauguration was sequel to the May 14, 2019 announcement of Prof. Esimone as the new vice-chancellor of the institution. Since then, all eyes had been on the professor of biopharmaceutics and pharmaceutical microbiology to see how he achieves this lofty but cherished vision of putting the university on the world map.

Esimone, who was the deputy vice-chancellor (Academic) before his eventual emergence as the Unizik VC, has not reneged on his vision. In fact, he has even demonstrated that he is a man of vision, who is on a mission, consumed by his passion. He articulated within his vision statement, a 5-pronged strategy, predicated on the push for Academic Excellence; Productive Public/Community Service; Administrative Reforms; Discipline; and Advancements, a strategy he christened, “ACADA Vision or Project 200”.

To accomplish this envisaged goal, he has, for the umpteenth time, tasked and reminded the university staff – teaching, non-teaching, junior and senior, of their expected performances towards actualising Project 200. Put slightly differently, Prof. Esimone, who knows the importance of workforce towards the attainment of Project 200, boosted the university staff strength when he employed many staffers at all levels. He didn’t stop there. He repeatedly organised orientation seminars for all staff to acclimatise them with this initiative.

“Be a role model to your students and model worthwhile virtues to them; be an ambassador of the vice-chancellor and a good image of the university,” Prof. Esimone had said, during one of the staff orientation seminars to align the labour force towards attaining the ‘Project 200’.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic brouhaha and concomitant industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in 2020, Prof. Esimone, a native of Akwaeze in Anaocha local government area of Anambra state, towered higher in maintaining the academic calendar, as well as developing many infrastructure in the university. Simply put, he remained unruffled against every odd.

As a digital compliant vice-chancellor, he quickly adopted and deployed a blended learning pedagogy across the University to ensure that the students were not idle during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Thanks also to the ICT-proficient lecturers, who keyed into the hybrid teaching method, occasioned by the new normal. Ever since, the conferences in the university have been hybrid – virtual and physical – as the university takes advantage of some positives of the COVID-19 fall-out.

Esimone has sustained projects inherited from the previous administrations and some of these have now been completed, while the percentage of completion of others has been significantly advanced. At the same time, contracts have been awarded for some new projects. Thanks to the visionary leadership of Prof. Esimone, an astute administrator.

Speaking on the giant strides of the amiable vice-chancellor, a lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication of the university, Dr. Odogwu Emeka Odogwu quipped, “Prof. Esimone has deployed his magic wand to the works as new projects dot different corners of the campus environment to the chagrin of naysayers. Faculties of social sciences, education and pharmaceutical sciences, as well as department of psychology and vocational education, all boast of new buildings. Thanks to the action vice-chancellor.

To his credit are also buildings housing three different molecular research laboratories for COVID-19 and other infectious diseases and student hostels located at Awka , Agulu and Nnewi campuses of the university. Already, an ultra-modern language laboratory for faculty of arts, with intervention from NEEDS funds, has been inaugurated by him.”

To further write his name in the sands of time, Prof. Esimone, a multiple award winning scholar, inaugurated more projects on June 5, 2021 to mark his two years in office. These include potable drinking water project in Agulu, commercial molecular and virology lab at Agulu, Commercial Block Industry, Commercial Palm Oil Mill, Awka, Commercial Garri and Rice Mill Awka, Commercial Toilet facilities, lock-up shops at Ifite School Gate, Business Venture Bamboo lock-up shops and commercial poultry farm Awka.

Others include, Commercial Golf Course field, Unizik Guest House, five sets of students hostel, commercial motor park, Ifite Awka, Unizik Shopping Mall, Commercial Motor Transport business, Environmental CCTV Project, Water Dam project and Souvenir shop.

I recall also when, in a newspaper article titled, “Unizik Postgraduate Studies: Setting Agenda for Incoming VC,” and published on May 19, 2019 in Orient Daily, I drew the attention of the vice-chancellor to the need to further look into the activities of the postgraduate school, following allegations of increasing groans and lamentations among those who had done postgraduate studies in the university, particularly on the prolongation of their programmes. This is contrary to the duration stipulated in students’ admission letter – 18 months and, at least, three years, respectively for masters and doctorate degree programmes.

Prof. Esimone, a Fellow of Nigeria Academy of Science, moved with frenetic speed to tackle this programme prolongation in postgraduate studies, whilst leaving no stone unturned in less than
six months of his administration. This, he was able to achieve through the sterling leadership of the dean of school, Postgraduate Studies, Prof. Philomena Igbokwe. That aberration is no longer the case, as many have now testified. To say the least, the Unizik postgraduate school has now shifted its PG lectures to online, meaning that students can stay at the comfort of their homes to bag the highly cherished certification of Unizik, still in line with international best practices.

As Prof. Charles Okechukwu Esimone FAS, marks his two years in office, his giant strides and inimitable records in the university and beyond, speak volumes of his selfless service, visionary leadership and inspiring qualities. Succinctly put, he is a force to be reckoned with. Any wonder the Chapel of Redemption, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka commemorated his 2-years of landmark achievement in a service tagged, “Divine Assembly of Praise and Thanksgiving to God”?

This is my little way of reckoning with intellectual giant, an enigma, a colossus, an erudite professor of repute, an international scholar, an astute administrator, a seasoned teacher, a campus pastor, an ambassador of peace, a man imbued with humanity, the ‘Urukanachukwu’ of Akwaeze and many more. This is just to congratulate our amiable vice-chancellor, Prof. C. O. Esimone on his 2-years in office, as he keeps changing the narratives. His achievements reverberate.

Gabriel Chidiebere Alonta is a media consultant and lecturer in the Department of Technology and Vocational Education, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria. You can reach him on [email protected] [email protected] or 07037948689

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