On his return from the Philippines where he studied Optometry, Professor Eleazar Uchenna Ikonne was engaged by then Vice Chancellor of Imo State University (IMSU), Prof MJC Echeruo as pioneer staff of the department of Optometry in 1986.
Along the line, the foreigners who manned the affairs of the dept bequeathed the responsibility of running the department solely in his hands and for 10 consecutive years, Prof Ikonne was head of the department of Optometry in then IMSU to current ABSU. With the support of some persons whom he trained, and others that later joined him, they were able to take the department to an enviable height that it is presently enjoying.
When the task to expand the dept became unavoidable, Prof Ikonne sent a proposal to NUC requesting that the department be allowed to combine both Masters, PhD and Fellowship training in clinical optometry, and for the first time, NUC approved it. Today it’s now a program that is being offered in Abia state University and it’s rated one of the best in Africa.
There are speculations that the medical and Dental council are adjusting their program to be able to offer PhD in Medicine. Such novelty, for academic content, engendered by erudite Prof Ikonne, is highly instructive because without a PhD you can’t be at the top management in the university.
Perhaps the expansion he achieved in Optometry department as HOD no doubt propelled other expansion programs that he brought to bear later in his capacity as the Vice Chancellor of Abia State University.
As Vice Chancellor, for instance, Prof Ikonne tenaciously pursued an advocacy to secure TETfund. The objective was to actualise the three -zone campus structure articulated under the leadership of then visitor Chief Orji Uzor Kalu which aimed at giving all the geo-political zones in Abia state a sense of belonging. The advocacy which resulted in some funding secured for Infrastructural development and overall academic development in Uturu also was contingent on the huge infrastructural developments at both the Law campus in Umuahia and the Engineering/ Pharmacy campus in Aba.
By the structure, each zone should host a campus of the University, and with the existing main campus in Uturu (Abia North ), two more campuses were required in Abia south and central. Thus, the need to actualise the dream of the founding fathers became exigent on the cerebral administrator Eleazar Uchenna Ikonne .
With his informed managerial background and robust leadership qualities, coupled with attendant political will, Prof Ikonne got through with the TETfund and profoundly utilised it for the manifest developments seen on those campuses.
For the benefit of hindsight, Chief Orji Kalu, during an Executive Council meeting as Governor of Abia state, had recommended that the Faculty of Humanities be moved to Umuahia. A decision that may have affected the numerical strength of ABSU main campus. But Prof Ikonne, in his wisdom and foresight, counseled against such a move but opted,with the approval of the state EXCO and the University Governing council, for the relocation of a mono faculty of Law.
Among other reasons, he argued that citing the Law Faculty in Umuahia, underscored by it’s close proximity to the city, will leverage on the High Court as well as ancillary law facilities like Law Chambers, Libraries and abundant human and material resources that are comparatively advantageous to a city, would obviously aid researches and generally enhance learning.
Like the Law campus in Umuahia, the Engineering and Pharmacy faculties in Aba were equally considerate of proximity to the industrial city of Aba as well as the domiciliation of key technological offerings replete in Aba, the renowned hub of commerce and technology in the south east. The Engineering Faculty when fully upstream, will therefore harness the enormous material and human resources in Aba and it’s environs like Owaza in Ukwa west, that plays host to some of the oil and Gas facilities.
As laudable as these visions were, it took the audacious will of Prof Ikonne to bring the three-campus structure to fruition. Today, the three campuses are in existent with state-of the art structures. While the Umuahia Faculties of Law and Agriculture campus is fully in operation, with functional academic facilities, the Aba campus of Pharmacy and Engineering is work in progress.
Surprisingly, albeit contrary to the fears in certain quarters, the movement of the law faculties as well as Agric faculties did not affect the population of ABSU main campus. The reason being that the Professor Ikonne’s administration expanded the faculty of Humanities, Engineering, Medical Sciences and other key faculties to give room for enrolment of more students into degree programs.
While two new Faculties were subsequently introduced; the Faculties of Engineering and Pharmacy. More professional courses were introduced in Engineering like Computer, Electrical Electronic ,Civil , Mechanical, Surveying and Geoinformatics . Similarly, new departments were equally introduced in the College of medicine undergraduate programs namely Public health, Anatomy, Physiology etc. to stem the pressure that usually come from students who are unable to gain admission to study medicine.
Essentially, during Prof Ikonne’s tenure as the VC of ABSU, there was massive boost in both academics and infrastructural development of ABSU. His tenure did not only inspire hope and confidence in the students, parents and staff, it also ensured an uninterrupted academic session. Most instructive was that the admission quota for medicine was increased from 75 to 120, a big boost for the college of medicine and a promising vista for the improvement of ABSU IGR, if you ask me.
Prof Ikonne’s five years tenure in ABSU made the school highly sought after, bringing to fruition the desired dreams of the founding fathers. For once, in the history of the school,the Law faculty was fully accredited and ABSU found its place into the first choice of most University applicants.
Kennedy Onyenma is a public affairs commentator