Abia State executive council rose from its meeting on Tuesday, 26th October to announce that three new universities would be established in the State, soon.
The executive council meeting, which was chaired by the Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu himself, approved that three tertiary institutions in the State are to be converted to full universities status.
The schools lined up for upgrading are, Abia State Polytechnic, Aba, Abia State College of Health Sciences, Aba and Abia State College of Education (Technical), Arochukwu.
According to the Abia State government, Abia State Polytechnic , Aba is to be converted to Abia State University of Science and technology.
Abia State College of College Education (Technical), Arochukwu is to be converted to Abia State University of Education, Arochukwu.
Also, Abia College of Health sciences, Aba is to be upgraded to Abia State University of Science and Management, Aba.
The executive council meeting also directed that Abia State ministry of education be bifurcated into ministry of basic education and ministry of post-basic education, among other decision.
Modalities for the payment of outstanding salaries owed staff of Abia State University Teaching Hospital (ABSUTH), Aba, workers in Abia State Polytechnic, Aba as well as teachers in the State’s secondary school system were all deliberated and arrived at, during the exco council meeting.
However, Abia State House of Assembly is to approve the new universities before they can become operational, according to the meeting.
The announcement, which preceded the swearing-in of the newly- appointed Commissioners, has set many tongues wagging the State, with applause and condemnations trailing it.
The development has been dominating public discussions in the State, with some people thumbing up the idea while many others see it as a project dead on arrival.
Before now, only four conventional universities existed in Abia State.
One is Micheal Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike which is a federal institution while the second one is Abia State University, Uturu, belonging to Abia State government while the third one is Clifford University, owned and operated by the Seven Days Adventist Church.
The fourth one is Gregory University, also in Uturu and owned by Prof Gregory Ikechukwu Ibe.
In Abia also, there are Abia State Polytechnic Aba, Abia State College of health sciences, Aba and Abia State College of education (technical), Arochukwu, all owned, managed and subvented by Abia State government.
Two other private ones, Uma Ukpai Polytechnic Ohafia and Covenant Polytechnic Aba, also operate in the State.
While Uma Ukpai Polytechnic Asaga Ohafia is owned by Rev. Uma Ukpai, a popular priest, Covenant Polytechnic Aba is owned by Hon. Iyke Nwosu, a technocrat and former LGA boss of Umuahia North.
With these background on schools in the God’s own State, there is a concord that education industry is arguably the second thriving sector in the State, second only to commerce.
But while Michael Okpara federal university of agriculture and other schools owned by individuals in the State are untrammeled in their functions, the same can not be said of Abia State University, Uturu, Abia Poly, Aba, Abia College of health and and Abia College of education (technical), Arochukwu, owned by the State government.
These institutions which boast of some of the best academic and non-academic staff, also have indelible record of producing some of the best brains in the country in terms of graduates.
Abia State University, Uturu for instance, produced material like Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, Nigeria’s former Senate President and ex-Secretary to the Federal Government of Nigeria (SGF) among other great brains.
But, the fortunes of these schools in the recent years have not been something to celebrate about because of challenges of delayed/unpaid salaries, allowances among others.
In Abia State University for instance, members of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), led by Dr. Victor Nkemdirim, have continued to decry non-payment of their salary arrears running into six months.
This situation, according to the ASUU leader, has negatively affected the welfare of the teaching staff.
He further lamented that the problems of his colleagues worsened during the 2020 month-long lockdown of the institution in compliance of Covid-19 regulations.
In reaction, Abia State government in a release by the immediate-past commissioner for information, Chief John Okiyi Kalu denied the claims by the ABSU lecturers, explaining that Governor Okezie Ikpeazu-led administration had done enough for the institution, including building of infrastructure, regular release of subvention for the running of the Uturu-based institution.
Okiyi further cautioned the ASUU members against making themselves ready-tools for enemies of Abia State.
Also at Abia State College of education (technical), Arochukwu, Dr. Philip Nto, the Rector of the school recently issued a press release where he explained his efforts at repositioning the school from its past perilous condition.
Nto, who was a former commissioner for finance in Abia, however denied the reports on some media platforms where some students of the school alleged that they had spent many years in the school without graduating.
He said the reports were aimed at tarnishing the efforts of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and blamed some students for being responsible for their woes.
This, he pointed out, stemmed from failure of some of the students who failed to do their academic and financial clearance, while reiterating that many certificates of graduated students had been signed by him and released to successful students.
However, some affected students still insisted that Dr. Nto was economic with truth.
Issues of alleged sacking of staff and salary arrears are also major problems with the Arochukwu-based tertiary institution, even as the Rector acknowledged the challenges but with satisfaction that the staff have received appreciable percentage of their salaries.
In Abia State Polytechnic, Aba, issues of overstaffing, delayed payment of workers’ salaries have continued to play like Bob Marley songs in the school in the last one year, despite the efforts of Governor Ikpeazu at surmounting the challenges.
The school, which ranked among the best Polytechnics in Nigeria some years ago, judging from the array of great brains it produced, has not been able to recreate the feat in the last two years because of issues raised above.
But during a press briefing in September at Umuahia, the Rector, Dr. Okorie Osonwa and Chairman of the governing council, Dr. John Nwangborogu respectively, assured that Abia Poly was still at the business of producing quality materials for Abia and the nation in general.
The Abia Poly disowned the reports that students of department of engineering were issued certificates bearing “building”, saying such never occurred neither was it officially reported to students affairs officer by any student.
According to Dr. Osonwa, “no student in the department of engineering was issued a certificate in building. The media reports were fake and aimed at tarnishing our reputation. No student has even reported this to the school authority. They were all fake media creations”, said the Rector.
However, the Chairman of the Governing council, Dr. John Nwangborogu in responding to journalists’ questions, acknowledged that workers in the institution have received a commensurable payment of salaries while there were still outstanding balance to be paid them.
Dr. Nwangborogu praised the Abia Poly staff for “their patriotic understanding with the management”, assuring that strategies had been adopted to shore up the internally generated revenues of Abia Poly which according to him, would in turn help the school offset salary arrears owed workers.
Nwangborogu commended Governor Ikpeazu for his support for the Aba-based school.
The story is the same at Abia State University Teaching hospital, Aba, where the academic and non-academic staff of the school have at one time or another, embarked on strike over unresolved labour issues, though, Abia State government through Okiyi Kalu, ex-commissioner for information explained that the State did nt abandon the ABSUTH workers as claimed by the workers.
Therefore, with these litany of challenges yet to receive a lasting solution in these schools, is it wise for Governor Okezie Ikpeazu to think of creating more universities in Abia?
On what pillar would the new universities operate from?
This is also taking into account that Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s administration is left with less than two years in power.
It is also of note that several projects started by the previous administration of Senator Theodore Orji, like the Abia State new Government House, JAAC building, permanent secretariat of Nigeria Union of Journalists, Abia Airport among others are yet to be completed by Ikpeazu.
Abia Airport, particularly, is yet to achieve any appreciable stage in development, believably caused by high demands of funds for it.
A similar situation played out in nearby Imo State when the outgoing administration of them Governor Rochas Okorocha announced that more universities had been approved by the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) for Imo State.
Okorocha, who is a lover of education, allowed his personal sentiment to override the reality on ground, including non-accreditation of some courses in Imo State University, Owerri.
Several criticisms raised by concerned Imo citizens did not receive the attention of the former Governor, and today, the ‘Universites’ created by Okorocha in a hurry have failed to stand the test of time.
This is a lesson Governor Okezie Ikpeazu must study before establishing new universities.
Funds to run a single university are herculean tasks, especially at a time of the world economic crisis and dwindling revenue fortunes.
The need to make Abia the education capital of Nigeria is a welcome project but must not be approached with eyes closed to realities.
Some Abians have either thrown their weights behind the idea while many are of the opinion that the three schools should have been better be allowed to continue to exist in their present statuses of Polytechnic and Colleges, at least for now.
Speaking to News Echo on the matter, Dr. Obed Awa, a lecturer with University of Lagos, urged Governor Ikpeazu to forget the plans, as according to Awa ” Let him use the funds to sustain the Poly and those Colleges. I don’t know who gave him this idea”.
However, a chieftain of Peoples Democratic Party in the State, Elder Chidi Omeghara said the Governor should go ahead with the new products.
“Do you know how many jobs it would create? Governor Ikpeazu, go ahead please, don’t listen to your detractors”, Omeghara declared.
The State government, in explaining the reason for the new universities, said it became necessary because of growing students population.
This explanation was offered by immediate-past Commissioner for information, Chief John Okiyi Kalu.
The ball is now in the court of Abia State House of Assembly to approve or throw away the proposal.
However, a technical committee has been set up by the management of Abia State Polytechnic, for the conversion of Abia State Polytechnic, Aba to University of Science, technology and entrepreneurship. The 11-man committee is chaired by Prof. Paul Nwulu while Mr. Onyedikachi Ugbogu will serve as the secretary.
The Chairman of governing council of Abia Poly, Elder John Nwangborogu explained that the decision to convert the school to conventional university was arrived at, after consultations with relevant authorities as well as other stakeholders. He added that feasibility studies had also already been conducted.