The University of Calabar International Conference Centre was packed full with students and lecturers on Thursday long before the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Zhou Pingjian, his host and Vice Chancellor of the University of Calabar, Prof Zana Akpagu, and his team made their way into the centre and moved straight to the podium where the high table had been prepared for them. The occasion was the award of scholarships to 47 students across all the 14 Faculties and departments. The gesture was to commemorate the 47th anniversary of the Nigeria-China diplomatic relationship, which is commemorated on the 1st of March.
In his speech at the event, elated Akpagu told the ambassador about the progress the university had made during his tenure, some of which is the introduction of new courses, saying “this is the new University of Calabar.” He went ahead to reel out the striking similarities between China and Nigeria. “We share the same independence day, which is the 1st of October,” he said and congratulated China on the 47th anniversary of the Nigeria-China diplomatic relationship.
According to Akpagu, “today marks the anniversary. And for us, it is a very significant day. Out of the over 174 universities in Nigeria, the Peoples Republic of China chose the University of Calabar to celebrate the anniversary. Let me take this opportunity to take a swipe at the nay sayers. You can rank us any how you like. You can give us fake news about ranking. But the University of Calabar has been chosen as number one in Nigeria by China to come and celebrate their anniversary here.
“And to commemorate that, they have chosen 47 students, Nigerian students of Unical. It is not Unilag, it is not UI. It is not Nsukka. It is Malabites and Malabresses. We are repositioning the University of Calabar. We are taking our pride of place in the comity of Nigerian universities. We are poised to put it on the map. We must be ranked amongst the best in the world. We are ICT compliant, and we are beginning to be recognized.”
Prof Akpagu further stated that “our profile is rising, whether you like it or not. We thank you for coming, for choosing the University of Calabar and for awarding scholarships to 47 of our students. The Ambassador has told us that the scholarship awards will be an annual event celebrated at the University of Calabar. So, this is the beginning of good things to come. Your Excellency, let me inform you that this university has started the Institute of African and Asian Studies and we have been looking forward to meeting you to discuss how we can forge partnership with this institute. Because God is in Unical, God has brought you to us on a platter of gold.
In his response, Zhou Pingjian said: “Your hospitality has overwhelmed me. I want to be considered as a member of the newly established Institute for African and Asian Studies,” jokingly adding “I want to be considered for a scholarship as one of the students of the institute. Prof Akpagu knows a lot about China and of course Nigeria and the similarities between the two countries.”
He paid tribute to the VC and the Governing Council for the success and added that 1976 was a turning point for China. That was when the Chinese Cultural Revolution was introduced. “It was one of the mistakes made by the leaders at that time. However, in 1978, China introduced reform and opening up of its economy which resulted in the success that has made Chinese economy the second largest in the world today. This year marks the 40th anniversary of that reform and opening up initiated by Deng Xiao Ping which China has been very consistent about since 1978.