The shock wave that greeted the withdrawal of accreditation from Abia State Polytechnic Aba, last week by the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) has injected fear and confusion in the minds of students of the Polytechnic and their parents/guardians. But Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, the leader of God’s own State has stretched fourth his hands of assurance and calmed the worried students, parents and other Abians, promising that the situation would be brought under control.
NBTE, the regulatory body for Polytechnics and other technical institutions in Nigeria, last week, dropped a sledge hammer on Abia State Polytechnic, withdrawing her accreditation and also, directing the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) against mobilising graduates from the school for the one year mandatory national youth service. NBTE through a letter, signed by Ms Fatima Abubakar, said “it is therefore with utmost sense of responsibility that the board has decided to withdraw the accreditation status of the Polytechnic to safeguard the quality assurance mechanism of the Board.”
“The Board went the extra-mile of writing to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State, informing him of the dire situation of the Polytechnic, but all to no avail.” “No product of Abia State Polytechnic Polytechnic should be mobilized for national service until the management resolves the issues of non-payment of salaries to its staffers while the Board promised to notify the NYSC once the accreditation status of the Polytechnic is restored”
“Copies of the withdrawal have been forwarded to the Tertiary Education Trust Fund and Industrial Training Fund to stop any transaction with the Poly until further notice.” According to NBTE, Abia Poly did not shown any seriousness in clearing the alleged 30-month salaries arrears of her workers. To confirm this report, News correspondent Echo called the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Poly, Joy Nwakanma to hear the school’s reaction and she replied that “It is all propaganda. We have not received any letter from NBTE. It is all propaganda. Thank you!”
But hours after her denial, Abia State Governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu expressed his disappointment with NBTE for their action, describing the development as embarrassing and capable of destabilizing the peace and harmony of Abia. The Governor in a release signed by Barr Chris Ezem, Secretary to the State government (SSG) appealed to the student population and well meaning Abians to calm down as his government was responding to the ugly development.
“The Governor viewed the decision of NBTE as very embarrassing and capable of destabilising the current peace and harmony existing in the State, as the fate of the students of the institution appears jeopardized by the said decision. Academic actions have been ongoing in the institution without interruption. The teachers and staff of the Poly were not on strike and have remained committed to their duties”, said the Governor. He further announced dissolution of the governing council and management of Abia Poly and setting up of a 6-man task force headed by Prof Ikechi Mgbeoji to investigate the situation and to ensure that the school regained her sound status. Stanley Nwankpa, the President of Students Union Government (SUG) of Abia State Polytechnic, was also made a member of the 6-man task force by the Governor.
Also, the students of Abia Poly, whose fate are in jeopardy, together with those due for NYSC are the biggest victims of the NBTE decision, as their years of study and resources are at stake. But to put their minds at rest, the Rector of Abia Poly, Prof Okorie Kalu Osonwa has met and addressed the worried students, urging them to continue on their lectures as all efforts are being made to reverse the situation and recover the accreditation of the school. The Rector who had a hectic time calming the students some of who were sobbing, told them not to consume everything they read on social media concerning the school, as some of the reports are fake.
The development in Abia Poly seemed to have arrived at the right time in the hands of opposition parties in Abia as the 2023 guber draws near. First to fire a salvo was Prof Greg Ibe, the founder of Gregory University, Uturu and also the governorship candidate of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) in Abia who has offered to admit into Gregory University, Abia Poly students who have completed their Ordinary National Diploma (OND) programs, to enable them navigate out of any academic uncertainty. Also, the governorship candidate of African Democratic Congress (ADC) and a Methodist Bishop, Sunday Onuoha has also urged Abia State government to as a matter of urgency, offset the salary backlog of the Poly’s workforce which he said, caused the withdrawal of the accreditation in the first place.
However, the reactions of these candidates and other members of the opposition community did not go down well with the State government as the Commissioner for information and strategy, Barr Eze Chikamnayo in a release, accused those he described as “mushroom political parties” and “infantile politicians” of trying to make political capital out of the Abia Poly debacle. Chikamnayo, who traced the Abia Poly challenges to politics and involvement of a regulatory body (NBTE) in a supposed labour issue, also blamed successive managements and boards of the school for the problems. According to him, a total of N7b, N470m had been released as subvention to the Abia Poly by Okezie Ikpeazu-led government from 2015 to date, even when all school fees, levies, caution fees and internally generated revenues by the school were not remitted to Abia State government but also used for the running of the Poly.
He explained that Ikpeazu government had been fulfilling all its obligations to the Poly, arguing that if workers in Abia Poly were owed salaries, it was caused bad management. He disclosed that a judicial panel of inquiry had been put in place to unearth the management staff involved, warning those all culprits responsible for splashing embarrassment would be brought to justice. The information Commissioner concluded by slamming NBTE for selecting Abia Poly for sanction even when some tertiary institutions in some parts of the country whose academic activities have been halted by terrorism and salary issues still had their accreditation intact.
But how did Abia Poly find its self in this mess?
Special findings show that 3 different management/boards had been in charge of that school in about 8 years, with all of them now out of office, with last week’s dissolution of the immediate past team.
Another finding by a visitation panel indicates that the mess in the school equally pre-dated the administration of Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, as a N2b loan scandal had already engulfed the Poly before Ikpeazu took over the helm of affairs. The said N2 billion, according to the visitation panel, was allegedly borrowed from a first generation bank by the school to execute some projects but the funds were allegedly not properly utilized by the then management of the school.
These happened before Okezie Ikpeazu’s administration but his government, on inception, made efforts to get the loans re-paid, in order to help the school stand with two legs. The above were parts of the findings of a Panel set up by the State government to investigate the challenges of the Poly. In September 2019, 258 workers of the Polytechnic were sacked when it was allegedly discovered that their employment did not follow due process. Though, the then Public Relations Officer of the school, Mrs Chinyere Eze gave a different explanation to the sack, saying that salaries owed the sacked staff would be paid to them.
But labour union leaders in the school claimed that the 258 figure was lower than the active figure of those shown the way out. Abia Poly had a student population of about 20,000 prior to 2015 which is now down to about half of the earlier figure, resulting from staff strike or economic problems which made many students to either change schools of choice or whittle down their academic interests. The school was said to be generating about N1.1 from school fees alone when the campus buzzed with a 20,000-student population while annual staff salaries then, according to a senior government official, were about N180m per month. The school fees around N53, 000 excluding different fees and other internally generated windows through which money is generated for the Poly. Now that the population is down to about 9,000, revenues from school fees, according to same government source, are put at about N500m per anum while wage bill has also dropped to about N109m.
Two previous managements of the Polytechnic had embarked on right-sizing or sack of some staff. The staff sacked, according to the school were mostly those whose employment were illegal while those who were right-sized occupied positions they were not qualified or due for. Obviously, the reduction in the size of the workforce and capital injections from Abia State government seemed not to have reflected positively on the financial well-being of the institution, judging from the unpalatable event of last week. Therefore, Abia State government having explained its commendable commitment to the sustenance of its dear Poly, as contained in its various press releases, did very well in funding the school but seemed to have paid little auditing attention to how the quantum financial votes it expanded on the Polytechnic, were utilized, according to an Enugu-based chartered accountant, Bro Felix Ejianya.
And doing so, according to Ejianya, could have either led to the blocking of every conduit pipe in the school’s coffers, or at least, ensuring that staff was not owed their salaries. But a member of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from Ukwa East LGA, Elder Andrew Obodonma blamed the opposition parties for allegedly being behind the Abia Poly crises.
According to the loyal party man, ” Abia University lost its accreditation in Medicine and now Abia Poly has been denied of her accreditation by NBTE and you should ask yourself if Abia is the only State where the regulatory organisations function?” He supporter the position of Abia State Commissioner for information, that some unseen hands may be behind the NBTE decision and urged NBTE to immediately return Abia Poly’s status to save the students of the school. Hopefully, the judicial panel of inquiry and task force set up by the State government would do well in this direction by identifying the internal hands responsible for the embarrassing outcome and the culprits, as vowed by the government, should be made to account for the N7.1b the State said it paid into the running of the school as well as other generated revenues.
In the main time, some Abians have advised that a diplomatic approach should immediately be initiated with the NBTE to ensure that the school is restored so that graduates due for NYSC are allowed to go. Meanwhile, Abia State University Uturu School of medicine which lost her accreditation from National Universities Commission (NUC) in early part of May, 2022 is yet to regain it. Though efforts are being intensified by the Abia State government to restore the accreditation, the school as it stands now can not admit students into that faculty, until the conditions of NUC are met, but there are hopes that JAMB candidates who chose ABSU will still get admitted before the close admission windows.
This position is based on sustained efforts being applied by the State government to help ABSU reclaim the treasured school of medicine. The Chairman of Nigerian Medical Association, Abia State Chapter Dr Chimezie Okwuonu in reaction to the withdrawal of ABSU medical accreditation lamented that NUC action meant that the school would not admit fresh students into medical school until the matter is resolved. Okwuonu blamed the development on months of salaries allegedly owed staff of the Abia State University Teaching Hospital (ABSUTH) Aba, among other issues.
Pained by the development, Governor Ikpeazu in a widely published report assured Abians that the school would regain her accreditation. The Governor, in the release signed by Onyebuchi Ememanka, his Chief Press Secretary, Ikpeazu said the withdrawal of ABSU’s medical accreditation had nothing to do with professional competency or the teaching hospital, blaming it on issues of salary arrears. He emphasized that medical students who are already studying in ABSU are not in any way affected by the NUC accreditation but assured that the situation was “a momentary setback which can be corrected in a matter of months.”
He promised that his government would make funds available for the payment of salary arrears owed ABSUTH workers with further payment of the workers’ monthly salaries, even as he stated that issues of salary challenges in the teaching hospital predated his administration. One month after the loss of accreditation, Abia State House of Assembly summoned Prof Maxwell Ogbulu, Vice Chancellor of Abia State University, Uturu and the Dr Joe Osuji, Abia State Commissioner for Health to appear before the House to explain to the legislators why ABSU lost accreditation in medicine, the most valued and most treasured Course of Study in the school and of course, every other conventional university. Prof Ogbulu and Dr Osuji during their appearances on June 22 took turn to explain to the lawmakers, their points.
At Abia State College of Education (Technical) Arochukwu, the leadership of the Labour union in the institution also complained of poor working conditions. According to Comrade Kelvin Egesi, the Chairman of College of Education Association Staff Union (COEASU), ACETA branch alleged that his members in ACETA are owed months of salaries, adding that they were yet to be given promotion in the in the last 7 years, non implementation of financial increments among other complaints. However, the Provost of Abia State College of Education (Technical), Dr Philip Nto in listing his achievements in the College since he took over, said the fortunes of ACETA had changed for the better under his watch.
According to Nto, who was a former Lecturer at Michael Okpara University of Agriculture and later, Abia State Commissioner for finance under the administration of Chief Theodore Orji, several academic certificates of graduates which were abandoned before he took over as Provost had been signed and released to students. He also noted that many months of salaries had also been paid to workers. Apart from these, Nto said a lot of infrastructural revolution had taken place in the school while student population and confidence were being appreciating and, commended Okezie Ikpeazu government for its special interventions in the school. The biggest victims of these academic instability are parents, students and the education industry in the State.
For instance, a female student of Abia Poly from Ohafia, who just completed her HND clearance processes and is due for National Youths Service Corps, cannot go for the service now, until the imbroglio between her school and NBTE is resolved.
The student, who was among those addressed by Prof Osonwa Okwara, Abia Poly Rector last week, appealed to NBTE to allow NYSC-bound graduates to go for the service as according to her, “it is wicked to stop us from NYSC when we have already completed our business in this school before this withdrawal. I want Dr Okezie Ikpeazu do all he can to return the accreditation.” Also, a widow and fruit dealer, Madam Sera Ogubunka said her son who is in HND 2 at the Polytechnic is worried about his future. She appealed to Abia State government to resolve the matter, “so that the money am spending on my son won’t be in vain.”
Governor Okezie Ikpeazu is an academic and it is expected that he would bring this to bear and get these challenges fixed, and ultimately, return tertiary education to its deserved place in Abia State. These, he has promised to do and all eyes and hopes are on him, to witness their fulfillment.