‘How lack of funding affects standards in tertiary institutions’



Recently, the alumni association of Federal Polytechnic, Oko, held its second World Congress in Lagos, where issues affecting the institution and tertiary education in Nigeria were spotlighted. In this interview with BERTRAM NWANNEKANMA, the Rector, Prof. Godwin Onu, spoke on challenges of managing tertiary institutions in Nigeria. Excerpts:

Much has been said about falling standard of education in Nigeria. What is responsible and how can it be addressed?
When you talk of falling standard of education in Nigeria one can, upon proper diagnosis, observe that most of these comments are not backed up by any kind of statistics. In a sense, that there seems to be some kind of comparism between today and yesteryears without taking into consideration the dynamics of society and the changing times. When we were in primary school, the scenario was different, the environment was different, the culture was different and facilities for education were also different. Today, we are talking of ICT and technology and so on. The sophistication of facilities is not the same. So to talk of standards, it has to be in relative terms and it has to be backed up with statistics.

Does quality of teachers have anything to do with the perceived low standard?
Yes, society has come to a level that wealth acquisition and accumulation is the norm and it’s being worshipped and revered. That has gone a long way in affecting a lot of things. Teachers today are not the same as teachers of yesteryears. In those days, teaching was seen as a calling and teachers were extolled; they were respected. People wanted to teach and do what teachers did. In Igbo language, they were called odizi obodo; that is, people who sanitise society. Today, it is no longer the same.

The attitude of society towards teachers is what has also complicated the situation. Today, teachers are not regarded and the attitude society has towards wealth is crude. Who wants to take to teaching today? Those who are now called to teach want to become like those who are trading. They can no longer concentrate to read so as to be above the students they teach and we have a situation where we have garbage in garbage out.

What role should government play in correcting the anomaly?
Unfortunately, some of them are people in government, who finish school and got into government and quickly forgot where they came from. Apart from conferences and workshops, where we lament our backwardness and difficulties, what concrete actions are we taking to address them? Even when these same persons see you taking these concrete steps, you become their enemy. We lost it immediately after the civil war. Before the war, we were still guarded by conscience, we were still guarded by rules, and we were still guarded by ethics on what we were supposed to be. Nigerians then were still among the best in the world in every profession. After the war, the army took over and everything was thrown to the dust. So, we really need to tackle it. We really need to sit down and find solutions.

What are the challenges of managing a tertiary institution in Nigeria?
It is quite enormous. Tertiary institutions don’t exist in isolation; they are not islands in themselves. They exist within the confines of an environment and society, with its political, economical and sociological issues. And all these have a way of impacting on what comes out of the institution because an institution is a two-way process – the process of coming in and the process of going out. The tertiary education sector is a kind of dumping ground. The other lower education sectors discharge into it. It is not really an easy work, but then, the gate of entry should be properly checked if you really want to lessen your problem. That is why in those days, universities, after conducting entrance examinations, also had oral interview a candidate must pass. By the time you scale through the two and come in, at a least you are sure of better candidates from that pool that you can manage.

But now, it is no longer the same. In polytechnics and technical schools, there must be laboratories for experiments. But when the regulatory agencies say you need plate machines for mechanical engineering even when the budget for the year is not even enough to procure one of these machines and the students are already here, will you stop them until there is a machine to graduate? So when that funding is not there, it affects teaching and learning. It also affects the quality of those you produce.

So, how do you cope in the face of such challenges so you don’t compromise quality?
Government, to a large extent, has been helping. But then it depends on how these funds are managed. So, management of the fund is another important factor. Again, your outreach and exposure also help a lot. When I came here, I met an institution that had suffered over 20 years of dilapidation. No infrastructure, no classroom, no seats; the secondary school looked better when I came here. I really had to mobilise friends and, one way or the other, they helped us to attract funds here and there.

Secondly, the Tertiary Education Trust Fund TETFUND is one of the best creations of government. It has been helping out the institution through its annual allocation of funds and special interventions and we have benefited from TETFUND for most of things we do.

Thirdly, we have a lot with internal generated Revenue (IGR). We used such funds for the beautification of the environment, infrastructural development and provision of security. Today, when other institutions are crying of cultism, there is no cultism in Oko. Our environment is peaceful and facilities are being provided. Today, Oko happens to be among the best of any Nigerian polytechnic in terms of standards, facilities, environment and modernity. You cannot achieve all these without stepping on toes, especially bad toes. I don’t have any apology for steeping on bad toes.

What is your relationship with the staff?
I have an excellent relationship with my staff. It is just that we were in the news some time ago about some host community issues and all that. But I don’t usually comment on that. The National Executive Committee (NEC) of Association of Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) protested even before I came in that they never wanted somebody from the university to the extent that they saw me as an outsider. This was regardless of the fact that I had taught in the polytechnic for five years before going to the university. But they were doing that because a few interests argued that I should not be there because I did not come from the polytechnic community.

So, they found a meeting point and that strengthened the agitation. But today, I think people have come to see reasons, and that what matters is not where you come from. The agitations have calmed down and I have a very good working relationship with the staff – teaching and non-teaching alike.

How do you respond to recent allegations made by some staff?
I suppose you are referring to the staff school. I inherited that staff school. When I came in and upon enquiry, I found that the staff school was supposed to be self-funding and there was a board managing it. They collected their school fees; they had their own accounts. They managed their funds and at the end of each year, we found that the staff school was not being innovative. The fact was that they were not generating enough funds to even pay salaries. It happened at the time when they started the PENCOM thing. PENCOM officers visited them on invitation and then they registered with different PENCOM organisations. PENCOM was paying some percentage of Federal Government’s money into their accounts and they were not remitting into PENCOM accounts.

Now when they had their last Principal, he started arguing that since they were receiving PENCOM alerts monthly, that what it meant was that the Federal Government was sending their salaries to the polytechnic and we were using it and paying them peanuts.

He wrote petitions to Director of State Services (DSS), Awka, and to almost all the agencies, even the Ministry of Education. We were invited by DSS; I offered to take the DSS, my staff and the staff school to PENCOM office to clarify the matter. They went to PENCOM. PENCOM now wrote a formal letter to us and copied the school, saying that the alerts the staff school was receiving were in error. PENCOM said the staff school should even refund the money paid into their accounts. That was how they absolved the polytechnic of any wrongdoing in the matter. So, there was no meeting point between the staff school’s accounts and the polytechnic’s account. We are not authorised to run the staff school. It was an embarrassment to the institution that is known for its transparency and accountability. We submitted the letter written by PENCOM to DSS, Awka, for them to see that PENCOM absolved us of any complicity.

What is your relationship with the alumni?
When I came the alumni association was moribund; the students were not even remitting again. They came to me and pleaded that we should allow students to resume the remittances into their account, which I approved. I took steps to revitalise the alumni by appointing alumni liaison officer. That culminated in our having the first Alumni Congress. It also helped to sensitise them and they started coming back because we have a lot of people all over the place. We just had the second World Alumni Congress. We will continue to do that until it become a world event.

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