Rector, Abia State Polytechnic, Aba, Elder Allwell Onukaogu spoke to select journalists in Aba on some issues affecting his institution and the support of the state government to the Polytechnic, the plans to relocate some departments to its permanent site as well as the take off of the newly accredited departments. Excerpt
A journal published by this institution read, “Abia Poly from Monotechnic to Polytechnic; the ‘Onukaogu Miracle”, what are these miracles that have shot up from a monotechnic to a fast growing Polytechnic?
I’m not a miracle worker, but a tool in the hands in the hands of God. God wants to bless every community, but sometimes human beings tend to block it. Save for two or three years, I have been in the Polytechnic system all my life. Between 1981 and 1999, I was in the Polytechnic Calabar, now Cross River State University of Technology (CRUTECH). Except the triumvirate of IMT Enugu, Yabatech and KADPOLY, the Polytechnic Calabar is in a class of its own; you can it the semi first generation polytechnic. It has a well designed staff quarters, tarred roads, Engineering workshops and all that. When you go there, you will see what a Polytechnic is. When I came in, I felt so disturbed that this place was called a Polytechnic. First, we started with a certificate programme. They even had certificate programme in Mass Communication which won’t be accepted anywhere because the National Diploma was the minimum. They also used the equipment abandoned by the Former Girls Technical College at this site to run a certificate programme in Engineering. And then, they were courses in Accountancy, Banking and Finance and Marketing. My predecessors in office; two were from Federal Polytechnic, Nekede. When I came, I discovered that there was something missing in the way the place was being run. But the problem was that as at that time, we had a governor who was more interested in playing to the gallery and this affected the Polytechnic. I understand that my predecessors may have made their own efforts and failed. The funding was poor; the first Rector was given less than N2million to establish this Polytechnic by the Military Governor. The later military governments of the late 1980s or 1990s were different from the era of Yakubu Gowon. Remember that in Gowon’s era, they had enough money and were only thinking of how to spend it. Even one of the military administrators almost sold off this place and said that the Polytechnic should be taken to Ihie, Isiala Ngwa North LGA. But for the timely intervention of some patriotic Abians, this place would have been sold off. I have taken this length to tell what this place was like. When I took over, I told myself that this place must be a real Polytechnic. This is this saying that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. I believe you can’t achieve something without first imagining it. So, I assured the Council that appointed me that we will get this place working to become a real Polytechnic. Every money that came from TETFUND was deployed to the benefit of the Polytechnic. We even increased admission to generate fund because the TETFUND Money was not enough for our needs. You can have the equipment, but there must be building to house them and the students. We efficiently managed the money we got from TETFUND and our internally generated revenue. To tell you that we have been prudent with the management of funds given to us, when there was a campaign to scrap TETFUND, Abia Poly was one of the places they came to and showed their achievements. The rule is that if you dont administer TETFUND well when you receive, you can’t access it again until you prove yourself. This also tells you that we have done well. So, this is how all these structures you see today came up. People do not think of the sacrifice we have made but the imaginary money the contractors paid me. When you listen to what people say, you cannot achieve anything. Above all, if you have a governor that does not encourage you, you cannot achieve anything. I have enjoyed the trust of the government that appointed me and I thank Gov. Theodore Orji, who is the visitor of the institution for his support. My joy is that though we are not where we are supposed to be, but no one can deny the fact that we have made substantial progress.We have made tremendous progress, Abia State Polytechnic is now one of the fastest growing institutions in Nigeria.
During the last matriculation ceremony, you talked about plans to start work at the permanent site. What is the situation and can you also shed light on plans for the newly established departments inAbia State Polytechnic, Aba?
On the permanent site, I believe before the end of the second quarter of 2014 reasonable work would have done at the place. This is the situation for now. On the newly established departments, there is a subvention that is likely to come from TETFUND that will be used for the school of Mass Communication. There is another one that is also dedicated to a structure here from TETFUND. But beyond TETFUND, we are hoping also to raise funds through PPP arrangement to build hostels so that our students will no longer be exploited and abused by Aba landlords who charge high rents and criminals who harass them. When we have structures will enhance the quality of education in the Polytechnic because when you are residential, you have 24 hour access to the students. So, we are set to do is to plan all our activities from 8am to 8pm so that we can manage our time well. Before the end of the first quarter, substantial achievement would have been accomplished. Now concerning the students, we are doing our best. We are conscious of the fact that when you admit student, you have signed a contract with them which we can never renege on. Let me make this point clear, the Abia state government is not averse to funding this institution but wanted to be sure whether we were asking for was exactly what we needed. Many people have given wrong signals concerning this school and this motivated the staff audit which was carried out. The staff audit has not even been completed. The audit was to ascertain the number of staff and their qualifications. The issue is that these qualifications obtained are from tertiary institutions which have been on strike; this has made it difficult for some of these certificates to be verified. The report submitted to the governor was incomplete. The government needed to get all the facts before it could act. The governor has begun to take action by increasing our subvention in the last two months on permanent basis by over 150%. It is not yet enough, we are still talking. Each time we convince the governor, he acts. He has been very supportive. As the listening governor he is, we believe that with time, he will be finally convinced. As for the Engineering programmes, they have taken off. The matriculation was just a formality, lectures commenced at the end of October 2013. The first semester is likely to end by the end of February. So, we have made substantial progress.
What is the situation of the programmes in the School of Engineering, have they been accredited?
They have been accredited; lectures have commenced since October 2013. Our laboratories in the all fields of Engineering have been fully equipped. We have already sent our programmes including those in the School of Engineering to JAMB, when the brochure is out, you will see that the programmes have since received accreditation.
What would be the fate of the present campus when the permanent site is completed?
There is nothing temporary about this campus; it is as permanent as the word, permanent. What would happen is that we are going to the permanent site at Osisioma Ngwa area; the legislation establishing this Polytechnic is being given attention by the state House of Assembly. We are going to make the permanent site at Osisioma Ngwa a residential campus. It will have all the School of Humanities. The present will remain a core Polytechnic with the School of Engineering. In that place, we have everything; sports facilities and all that as well as the School of Business and Management and School of Communication. It is a gradual process. And with the support of the state government, we will achieve our targets soon.
It has been rumoured that the federal government is set to take over the Abia State Polytechnic, Aba. How true are these reports?
It is the truth and no longer a rumour. What has delayed the takeover is that partly, we didn’t have a School of Engineering. The federal government cannot just take a Polytechnic just for taking sake; without the School of Engineering. Another issue is that Abia Poly has developed at a pace that the state government can no longer fund it alone. That is why the state government is even involved in making Abia Poly a federal institution. Aba is not just a town, but occupies a significant place in Nigeria.. The training of technological manpower in the fabrication sciences is not something that is supposed to be hollow. It must be properly funded. We have oil in Abia and we are very close to the other oil producing states. So, there is a great need for us to have a well funded Engineering and fabrication programme that will be of benefit not only to Abia , but to other states in the South East and South South states. So, if the federal government is involved, it will be in a better position to appreciate the potential opportunities. The federal government won’t be taking over just to reduce the number of state polytechnics in the country, but there must be Abia state Polytechnic which will now be sited at Uzuakoli in Bende area. So, it is true that the federal government is set to take over the Polytechnic. We are working hard to realize it.
There are fears that the federal government may downsize the workforce if it eventually takes over the institution?
That can never be the situation. Again, it is also wrong for anybody to think that the workforce here is over bloated. It is not true. We even need more staff. When you take student population with the lecturer ratio, you will begin to appreciate the fact that we need more lecturers. The problem s that people have not appreciated the fact that this is not the old Polytechnic they used to know that train market men and women by offering programmes in Banking and Finance and Marketing. A lot of changes have taken place. We are a modern Polytechnic that runs programmes in all branches of Engineering, Pure and Applied Sciences, Environmental Technology above Ordinary and National Diploma levels. When they came to assess our laboratory for Engineering, we had about 34 laboratories and workshops for Engineering alone. Apart from the lecturers, each laboratory is supposed to have at least one technologist, 2 technicians and 1 or 2 attendants. So, when you multiply these positions for engineering alone, then add others, you will discover that Abia Polytechnic is even understaffed. We applied to NBTE for an increase in our capacity in the sciences, but they gave a proviso; the hiring of more staff. The same thing was demanded in the case of Welding and Fabrication which they said we must train two of our staff in special welding skills. Even in Hospitality and Hotel Management, there are one or two things they said we must do. At present, the number of lecturers in this Polytechnic is not up to 400. We will show of the report of the NBTE when they came here. This is just an example of the needs of the Polytechnic system. So, when people stay outside and talk out of ignorance, we leave it to them. Anybody who comes here and take the number of staff we have and do a staff/student ratio, will tell you that we are understaffed. The student/lecturer ratio between the Sciences and Humanities or School of Management is different. If you say 1: 30 lecturer student/ student ratio in the Humanities, it will be 1: 20 in the Engineering or Sciences. These claims by people are not being done with any empirical fact. We need more staff, what we don’t have is the money to engage them. If anybody tells you that the federal government will sack workers when they take over the institution, it is not true because Abia Poly is understaffed. The problem is that some people have refused to acknowledge that Abia Polytechnic, Aba is no longer the small institution they used to know. It has been transformed by the present management and Governing council with huge support from Gov. Theodore Orji.