Stakeholders chart new direction for Abia Poly
Summit orders probe of N2bn fund, review of extant law
Workers: Govt should implement recommendations
Worried by the rot at the Abia State Polytechnic, Abia State following the protracted crisis rocking the institution, the state government has embarked on moves to address the challenge, fix the institution and return it to the path of recovery
Igbeaku Orji UMUA HIA There is a silent revolution at Abia State Polytechnic, Aba that will remove the state-owned institution currently in ruins and dungeon of mismanagement to a path of recovery and reckoning.
The revolution, led by the Abia State Government and other major stakeholders is to reposition and free the polytechnic from the shackles of financial misdemeanor and mismanagement, as well as restore sanity to its administration with a view to fulfilling its mandate of technological development.
The three-day stakeholders’ summit, organised to change the narrative of the state government polytechnic, is aimed at charting a new dawn and returning the institution to the path of global reckoning in the delivery of quality polytechnic education.
The summit, under the auspices of the state Governor and Moderator of the polytechnic, Okezie Ikpeazu, was geared at rescuing the polytechnic from the slide it had been plunged into by imprudent management of its resources.
The three-day conference, which was attended by critical stakeholders, including top state government functionaries; the polytechnic management; representatives of polytechnic staff union leaders from the national and state levels (the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU), the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Polytechnics (SSANIP), fashioned out a new and sustainable recovery road map; and a concise blueprint that if well-implemented, would get the polytechnic on the way to reckoning as an institution of note.
According to the organisers, with the summit, the polytechnic is expected to be repositioned and equipped to fulfill its mandate of producing high quality and middle level manpower for the economic growth of the country, and the state in particular.
Meanwhile, Governor Ikpeazu, while declaring the summit held between September 20 and 22 open, however, lamented the dwindling fortunes of the polytechnic in spite of measures so far taken to rescue it from rot. He, therefore, urged the stakeholders to chart the way forward for the polytechnic, even as he charged the management-led by the Rector, Dr. Okorie Kalu Osonwa to be bold and fearless in taking decisions that would best serve the interest of the institution.
At the end of the exercise, the following resolutions were adopted by the stakeholders: that all stakeholders must join hands in ensuring that the state polytechnic is repositioned and refocused to strengthen the production of quality middle and high level manpower in the areas of science, technical and vocational skills, as well as management and technology education.
Other resolutions are that the Governing Council and management be given reasonable period of at least six months from October 2020 to stabilise and commence action that will defray the backlog of salaries and pensions owed the workers; and that within two weeks the staff should be paid at least one month salary out of the arrears owed them.
Besides, the summit directed the governing council and the management to be committed to the payment of salaries and pensions of the workers as they are due, beginning from October, 2020; and to take a cursory look at overhead costs in running the polytechnic with a view to blocking all financial leakages and cutting off all unnecessary and unwarranted expenditure; as well as embark on a staff audit, a physical enumeration of all staff members of the polytechnic in order to ascertaining their number and those on the institution’s payroll.
The summit also resolved that the Governing Council and management of the polytechnic should without further delay review the placement of staff in order to ensure that all staff members, who are occupying positions beyond their academic qualifications are properly rearticulated.
The communique issued at the end of the summit, also urged the state government to constitute and inaugurate a Visitation Panel to the polytechnic in every five years to ascertain that the institution is not only on track in respect of its core mandates, but also in its objectives and responsibilities towards the staff, students, the host community, as well as the state.
The various staff unions were challenged to commit themselves and activities towards industrial harmony and that there should no strike in the next six months with regard to the contentious issues in the communique; while the summit also recommended that a “Standing Dispute Resolution and Monitoring Mechanism” be put in place to ensure the smooth and harmonious industrial relations in the polytechnic among all the stakeholders.
Part of the recommendation is that the polytechnic should diversify its operations to include other lawful activities that would enhance the finances of the institution through improved Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) drive; and that there should be a forensic probe of the application of the N2 billion injected into the polytechnic by the state government with a view to determining how the funds were spent and to bring to book those found culpable of mismanaging the resources of the polytechnic.
It was also tasked that the state government to ensure prompt release of subventions due to the polytechnic from October 2020 to support the current salary payments; and that the governing council and management should immediately take steps to realise the full accreditation of academic programmes in the polytechnic.
Also, the communique recommended that the governing council and management should, as a matter of urgency, organise convocation of the polytechnic within the shortest possible time; as well as review the recent staff rationalisation in the polytechnic within six months, while the summit also proposed the review of the extant law establishing the institution.
Meanwhile, the communique insisted that the summit shall reconvene in the next six months to reassess the progress made with regard to the various resolutions passed by the stakeholders.
The communique was signed on behalf of the state government by the Chief of Staff to the Governor, Dr. ACB Agbazuere and the Com- missioner for Education, Dr. KCK Nwangwa, respectively; while on behalf of the Governing Council and management, the document was signed by a member of the Governing Council, Obioma Ekpem; the Rector, Dr. Okorie Kalu Osonwa and the Registrar, Mrs. Comfort Adanma Nwabughuogu.
For the staff unions, the communique was endorsed by the National President of ASUP, Comrade Anderson Ezeibe; Deputy General Secretary of NASU, Comrade Augustine Ageva, and President of SSANIP, Comrade Adebanjo Ogunsipe.
However, the recommendations were not without a snag, as the polytechnic chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, disagreed with the stakeholders that the institution’s workforce was more than students’ population, as alleged that this has triggered the high overhead cost of running the institution.
This was as the ASUP Chairman, Eke Kalu on a local radio station in the state, disclosed that the student-staff ratio was in order, faulting the position of the stakeholders on this. While speaking on salary indebtedness to members of staff, as well as the state government subvention to the polytechnic, the union leader urged the government to be forthright in implementing the resolutions.
Meanwhile, some staff of the polytechnic, who pleaded anonymity, condemned the resolution reached by the stakeholders on the payment of only two months’ salary arrears out of over 20 months’ salary owed the workers, saying they were yet to come to terms with such recommendation.
Thus, the workers, who kicked against the payment mode, threatened that they were merely watching to see the outcome of the exercise, even as they said that the government would only be deceiving itself if it claims it did not know how the polytechnic was brought to its knees and current rot.
Besides, they argued that the management appointed by the government was responsible for the predicament the institution currently found itself, recalling that: “when the Governing Council appointed by the state government were lavishing the resources of the polytechnic on accommodation in choice hotel, the government was looking the other way.
When they approved and borrowed N2 billion from banks and could not account for the funds, what did the government do?” They argued further: “While all these were going on, the government, rather than cautioned or sanctioned them, it merely pampered them with other juicy appointments in the government when the uproar against the mismanagement of the resources of the institution became loud.
“The result is that the staff salary could not be paid. Student’s population shrank significantly and for many years the polytechnic could not organise convocation for graduating students.” The workers, who chided the management that it elevated clannishness above merit, adding: “The doors of the polytechnic were thrown open for recruitment of all manners of people, and at the end of the day, the over bloated staff could not be paid.
The situation in the polytechnic became miserable, and students began to withdraw in droves,” they noted. They, however, expressed regret that polytechnic management failed to take adequate advantage of the revenue windows that abound in the Aba commercial city, saying that as a result of the poor income drive, the revenue generated internally through access/remedial courses, evening and weekend programmes nosedived.
The polytechnic staff unions had earlier threatened to take the state government to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) for the inhuman treatment meted out to the workers by non-payment of their salary for over 20 months.
But, with the government’s intervention through the threeday summit and the right political will on the part of the state government to implement the recommendations to the letter, the hope has been raised that the once vibrant polytechnic will recover and once again be able to stand on its feet.
Worried that the government left the members of the management that mismanaged the resources and affairs of polytechnic to freely flaunting their wealth and enjoy government plum appointments, while the polytechnic was left to rot, the workers and several other stakeholders expressed concern that the resources that should have been channeled to critical areas of need of the polytechnic, especially for the payment of the N42 million monthly salary of staff, was spent to repay bank loans.
Stakeholders at the Chief of Staff to the Governor, Dr. Anthony Agbazuere; the Commissioner for Education, Dr. Kanelechi Nwangwa; Commissioner for Information, John Okiyi Kalu; Commissioner for Science and Technology, Mr. Chijioke Madumere; the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Mr. Eze Ajuzie; the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, Kelechi Alozie; and Mr. Ezebunwa Ubani, the Chairman PPIDF Abia State.
Others were the Rector of the polytechnic, Dr. Osonwa Kalu; Deputy Rector in charge of Academics, Mr. C.S. Mpamugo; the Deputy Rector (Administration), Dr. Chigbu Njike; the Polytechnic Registrar, Mrs. Comfort Nwabughuogu; and the Bursar, Mr. Friday Omenihu.
The unions were represented by the President of ASUP, Anderson Ezeibe; Deputy General Secretary of NASU, who represented the President Augustine Ageva ; and the President of SSANIP, Adebanjo Ogunsipe.