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Wither Goes Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic?

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Recently, both the print and electronic media have been awash with the news of allegations of fraudulent financial transactions, abuse of office and general

maladministration against the Rector of Akwa Ibom state Polytechnic, Ikot Osurua. The news reports are the fallout of petitions said to have been written by various groups within the institution, including the School’s chapter of the Academic Staff Union (ASUP). In one of the reports published in the July 19, 2015 edition of the Global Post, an Uyo based tabloid, the rector of the Polytechnic, Barr. (Dr.) I. B. Affia is alleged to have misappropriated funds amounting to N2.81billion. 

This is a staggering amount when viewed against the backdrop of gargantuan developmental needs and infrastructure deficits confronting tertiary institutions in Nigeria, the Polytechnic inclusive. Similar reports in other stables, for instance, the Nation (Thursday, August 20, 2015), Daily Independent (August 20, 2015), NewsLink (Thursday, July 23, 2015), Community Pulse (Monday, August 3, 2015), amongst others, are tales of various shades of maladministration which the Management of the Polytechnic, in its reaction has described as fictitious. 

These allegations include the rumoured diversion of about N1.5billion internally generated revenue (IGR) by the rector of the School to the construction of his personal mansion, non-accreditation of designated programmes in Engineering, Geo-informatics, Science Technology, and others despite the disappearance of about N400million which was earmarked for the exercise, the disappearance of about N44million meant for equipment for the yet-to-be-established Mechanical Engineering Department, admission of students into non-accredited Departments of Public Administration and Marketing, use of family members to execute contracts, etc. 

The claims of the petitioners according to the Management of the institution are the handiwork of its enemies. These enemies, according to some supporters of the rector, who have also gone to press to vindicate him, are out to malign the rector so as to diminish his chances of being appointed for a second term as the head of the institution. However, some of the senior staff of the institution hold a slightly different view. Speaking to our correspondent on condition of anonymity, they argued that the first term appointment of Dr. Israel Affia was flawed as the process did not follow the approved guidelines for the appointment of the head of such an institution.

Investigations by our correspondent reveal that, over the years, the process of appointment of rectors for the Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic has become increasingly politicized to such an extent that merit is completely sacrificed to other considerations like ethnicity, political connections, amongst other things. The quality of management imposed on the School has therefore deteriorated over time, as a consequence of this skewed system of appointment. This is said to be one of the factors militating against the growth and development of the School.

In the ensuing scandal for instance, the embattled authorities of the college while trying to wriggle out of the allegations of wrong-doing have merely refuted the claims of wrong-doing but have stopped short of bringing to light the details of financial transactions mentioned in the reports cum petitions, in order to establish that the amounts mentioned by the petitioners never existed, or where they existed, that they were applied to proper and authorized use. The Management of the Polytechnic has also not established that the allegations of lack of accreditation in critical programmes like Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering and Electrical Engineering, as well as in Marketing, Banking and Finance and Public Administration (where the admission of unsuspecting students is said to be on-going in spite of non-accreditation) are false. A look into the 2015 brochure of the JAMB (Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board) reveals that the Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic is not listed as one of the Schools offering Marketing, Public Administration, and Banking and Finance. How come that students are admitted into these programmes by the authorities of the School? 

Going down history, it would be discovered that the Polytechnic was established by Edict No.2 of 1991 (as amended in 2001) for the purpose of training middle- level manpower which were to be positively deployed in the State’s developing economy. By 1995, the school was already offering National Diploma (ND) programmes in Business Studies, Financial Studies, Secretarial Studies, Mass Communication, Science Laboratory Technology, Statistics, Electrical Engineering, and Architecture. Some of the graduates from these pioneering Departments are today working in various Government establishments within the Akwa Ibom State Civil Service, while others are gainfully employed in private sector firms like ExxonMobil, commercial banks, etc. Yet many others are gainfully self-employed and in some instances are even employers of labour.

Unlike its counterparts in other nearby States, some of which have only been recently established, the Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic has not lived up to its expectations in terms of volume of infrastructure, size and quality of personnel, diversity and quality of programmes, as well as the relevance of its programmes to the State’s ultimate manpower needs. This the reason why indigenes of the State continue to seek for admission in other nearby State-owned institutions in critical programmes like Mechanical Engineering, HND in Electrical and Civil Engineering, HND in Architecture, HND in Estate Management, amongst others. 

In fact, it is disappointing that in spite of the massive investment made by the State Government in the hospitality and tourism industry, the Polytechnic neither has accreditation in Food Science and Technology nor in Catering and Hotel Management Technology. The implication of this is that the State will continue to depend on imports of manpower from other States to fill vacancies in our various five-star and three-star hotels, while our indigenes would be denied positions for lack of qualification. A far-sighted management of the Polytechnic would definitely have exploited the opportunity of the establishment of these hospitality centres to go into public-private partnerships (PPP) in order to develop these departments in the School. 

Similar PPP arrangement with the plethora of construction companies involved in the uncommon infrastructure development projects in the State could bring up other programmes like Welding and Fabrication, Automotive Engineering, Logistics Management Technology, etc. Such companies as Julius Berger, CCECC, STEMCO, JiuHuan, NigerPet and others could definitely facilitate such synergy.

With the changing scenario of development financing worldwide, it is no longer fashionable for public institutions to wait cap-in-hand for grants and other funding from the government. The dwindling resources of the government, coupled with the huge challenges imposed by a rapidly urbanized society defeat the logic of traditional financing options for public projects. Hence, the modern and more realistic approach to tertiary education financing is a combination of the public-private partnership model with robust and efficient management of IGR (internally generated revenue). The PPP model presents various options like DBO (Design, Build and Operate), DBOO (Design, Build, Own and Operate), concession/lease finance, asset sale/transfer, etc, based on the needs of the parties and the structure of the project.

But then, no right-thinking investor will dare put his money where there is no prudence in financial management, which seems to be the bane of the Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic going by the emergent revelations of impropriety by its Management. For instance, the School’s population is said to be in the neighbourhood of 8,000 students with about 5,000 of these in the Part-time programme while the remaining 3,000 are in the regular programmes. At about N50,000.00 per session school fees, the Polytechnic’s gross revenue is approximately N400,000,000.00 (four hundred million naira) per annum. 

In addition, the institution is a beneficiary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) grant. TETFund is a funding window enabled by the Federal Government through the Education Tax Scheme and is used to provide assistance to public tertiary institutions for training of staff and for capital projects. Through TETFund, many publicly owned tertiary institutions have undertaken various projects ranging from lecture theatres and laboratories, to workshops and office blocks. The website of TETFund (www.tetfund.ng) contains information on the grants made by the agency to various Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education.

For the 2013/2014 and 2014/2015 programme years, the Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic has received more than N1 billion (One billion naira) from TETFund for various projects, including Special Intervention projects, Regular Intervention Projects and Library Development Projects. However, the proper utilization of these intervention funds, and hence attainment of the goals of these interventions are prone to problems of corruption as recently revealed by the both the EFCC and the Executive Secretary of NBTE (National Board for Technical Education) at a workshop organized for heads of public tertiary institutions last June in Kaduna (reported by Daily Trust, June 25 and Channels TV). The Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Lamorde, represented at the event by the Commission’s Deputy Director, Public Affairs, Mr. Osita Nwajah, said the Commission noticed the lack of accountability in the management of internally generated revenue in some of the institutions.

That the Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic may be one of the institutions indicted by the sleaze referred to by the heads of these agencies (EFCC and NBTE) is yet to be established as no official report has been released to indicate the names of the particular institutions referenced in the reports. However, if the allegations of sleaze in the institution currently making the news are even half-true, then it may be concluded that the more than N1 billion (One billion naira) in TETFund grants may have found use in other purposes different from what they were meant for.

Perhaps the most worrisome indication of poor management at the Akwa Ibom Polytechnic which renders the argument that the negative publicity besetting the Polytechnic is orchestrated to malign the authorities of the institution is the lack of a School portal by the institution. Unlike other tertiary institutions, the Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic does not seem to recognize the imperative of hosting a functional portal on the internet. A portal is a website with diverse functions. Usually, it is a website with special software for managing a given purpose. A tertiary institution’s web portal may offer services such as on-line processing of admission, on-line payment of school fees, on-line registration, on-line checking of result and processing of result transcript, e-mail services, news/other information about the school and its events, information from databases and even entertainment content. Usually, each information source gets its dedicated area on the webpage for displaying the information, and often, the user can configure which ones to display.

The beauty of a portal is that it provides every organization which subscribes to its use with a global access to its products and services. In the case of a tertiary institution, such a global window ensures that anybody anywhere in the world can for instance process his/her admission (on-line). It also means that a graduate of the school can apply for and obtain his transcripts from as far away as Finland or Azerbaijan. Thus the portal is perhaps the most critical aspect of e-governance relevant for the administration of a tertiary institution in today’s world, which is why it is never overlooked. The former Officer-in-Charge of the Akwa Ibom Polytechnic’s ICT Centre, Mr Iboro Ibara, when contacted by our correspondent on phone confirmed that the School was still in the process of setting up its portal but advised our correspondent to contact the new head of the ICT Centre whose phone could however not be reached when our correspondent tried to contact him. 

However, many of the students of the School confirmed, on being interviewed that the School was lacking in essential ICT infrastructure. Many of the students complained that in spite of the N4,000.00 (Four Thousand naira) which they were being charged as ICT Levy, no reasonable ICT services were provided for the students by the School. The students revealed that in addition to the N4,000.00, students were also made to part with additional N1,750.00 for on-line registration every semester. But they revealed that all the students were still subjected to manual, or what they termed “analogue registration” till date. They also stated that there was no provision for them to check their results on-line.

The preference for portal-based information management solution in Nigeria is the outcome of the federal government’s public-sector reforms, undertaken in conjunction with the World Bank, in order to increase accountability and transparency. The reforms which were started in 2008 have brought huge benefits in terms of cost-savings and increase in the efficiency of service delivery by public sector organizations including so-called MDAs (Ministries, Departments and Agencies). One such reform was the instituting of electronic payments for all transactions done by the civil service (for salaries, procurements and contracts). Another, and arguably the most successful, application of e-government in Nigeria is the national matriculation examination conducted annually by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). 

Prior to the implementation of the e-government website by JAMB, candidates – who often exceed 1 million in number in a single year – did not get their results until several months after the results were released because the examination was based on PPT (paper-pencil test) and the results were sent by surface post. Via the online system now in place, the examination has been up-graded to CBT (computer-based test). Candidates can check their results immediately after the examination. Using prepaid scratch cards, they can print out the results within few days of the examination.

Other notable applications of e-government for which the education sector has availed itself are the online checking of postings under the National Youth Service Corp Programme (NYSC) and the on-line learning centre recently established by the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), as well as the adoption of CBT by most Universities and Polytechnics for their post-UTME examinations. Thus, it is not surprising the priority consideration which most schools (including secondary schools) accord to portal hosting and ICT infrastructure in general. Given this scenario, it must be questioned why the authorities of the Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic has refused to key into this trend.

Another worrisome issue which the critics of the Rector of the Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic have raised is his management, or mismanagement of the Institution’s Security vote. It is rumoured that the security vote, at a levy of N1,500.00 (One Thousand Five Hundred Naira) per student is about N12,000,000.00 (Twelve Million Naira) per session. Our sources at the School say that no one, except the Rector, Barr. Israel B. Affia knows the uses and applications of this fund. It was further discovered by our correspondent that no other tertiary institution in Akwa Ibom State charges Security Fees as has been the case in Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic for many years now. Documents made available to our correspondents show that the Academic Staff Union of the institution has in the past kicked against the obnoxious levy of students for security without appropriate approval from the State Governor who is the Chief Security Officer of the State.

Realistically, the existence and functioning of the Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic should be synced with the ultimate manpower goals of Akwa Ibom State. The general objective of the institution should be to increase the per capita availability of indigenous engineers, software technologists, systems analysts, risk managers, investment analysts, town planners and construction managers, among others, for deployment in the State’s budding economy. It is doubtful if this can be achieved under the present scenario of mismanagement and other crisis bedeviling the institution due to untamed pecuniary interests of a few individuals. 

The deviation of the Management of the School from these objectives can only be explained in terms of incompetence – square pegs operating in round holes. This deviation may not end soon if the State Government, the proprietor of the Polytechnic fails to adopt robust and rigorous processes in the selection of the School’s administrators. Already, an internecine political lobby has ensued among the various candidates jostling for appointment as the institution’s Registrar. This follows the death of the erstwhile registrar of the School some months ago. So far, it does not appear that the Government is interested in following due process in the appointment of a new Registrar in order to ensure that whoever emerges does so, on the basis of qualification and competence, among other statutory considerations.

This attitude may unfortunately be replicated in the appointment of the institution’s rector, due at the end of this year. Meaning that the disaster of bad leadership for this keystone institution may take a turn for the worse. Whatever anybody may feel, there is the exigent need, given government’s touted industrial development plans to re-position the Polytechnic for greater productivity, even if only to service the mass of our children whose parents cannot afford tuition in the private schools both within and outside Nigeria. And what better way is there for the Government to start than to overhaul the Management of the enterprise?

The big question is whether the Government of Akwa Ibom State will intervene in the simmering crises in the state-owned Polytechnic? And perhaps unravel the truth about the large-scale allegations of fraud and other wrong-doings against the authorities of the institution? Can the Government reverse the age-long tardiness and disregard for due process usually exhibited in the appointment of principal officers of the College? Only time will tell.

Michael Ekpo

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