‘TETFund, live wire of tertiary institutions’



Niger State Polytechnic, formerly Zungeru College of Advanced Studies (ZUCAS), was established in 1991. The name change backed by Edict No 9, was to enable it meet up with the technological manpower needs of the state and Nigeria in general. Incumbent rector of the institution- Dr. Umar Ahmed Egbako, joined the school as an assistant lecturer in 1989, and served in various capacities until June 1st, 2014, when he was elevated to his present office. He told JOHN OGIJI in Minna, Niger State, his plans to transform the institution and make it one of the country’s top 10 polytechnics

You are one year in office, how has the journey been so far.
First of all I want to give God the glory for giving me the opportunity to be where I am today and sparing my life. However, the last one-year has been very interesting. When I came on board in June 2014, I met a lot of problems. Even something as common as water was not in the school. Because of the ugly situation that things were in, two weeks after my assumption of office students almost protested over lack of water and many other things. I felt that it was a problem deliberately left for me to come and solve and I was able to face it squarely. Eventually, I found a permanent solution to it with the provision of boreholes and water tankers to complement the boreholes.

Electricity and transportation were the other challenges that I faced. We all know the problem of poor electricity supply these days in the country. Matters were made worse by the fact that the school is situated in the bush and is neither in Zungeru nor in Wushishi. Both staff and students need light, but the students even see it as their right, which they must be accorded. By the grace of God, I was able to solve the power problem within three months in office with the provision of a 300kva generator to give light to the students so that that they can read at night.

Regarding transportation, since the school doesn’t have enough hostel accommodation, some students stay either in Wushishi or in Zungeru. So, when I came in, we decided to find a way of assisting these students. That led us into entering into an arrangement with some transport owners to help us convey these students to the school at a very subsidised rate. But we have already put it in our priority list to purchase some buses so as to ease the transportation problems on the part of the students.

The issue of brain drain is also a big challenge to state-owned institutions, which we are also struggling to cope with. It is common knowledge that state-owned institutions cannot compete for the best brains with federal institutions. Consequently, lecturers from state-owned institutions are always drifting to federal institutions in large numbers because of salary difference.
In the area of academic and physical development, what kind of polytechnic did you inherit?

The polytechnic I inherited is the kind of polytechnic that can compete favorably with any polytechnic in the country in the area of academic performance. I can tell you that about 95 per cent of the courses we offer have been accredited by the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE). So, in terms of academics, we have improved tremendously.

However, in terms of infrastructural development, though we are a state-owned institution. The establishment of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) by the Federal Government has been a blessing as the body has been our live wire. So, I can tell you that the TETFund is sponsoring over 70 per cent of the structural developments here. And the remaining 30 per cent is taken care of by the little internally generated revenue that we realise. This we judiciously utilise after a careful plan, and with the approval of the school’s governing board, headed by Hajiya Dije Bala.

The little structures that we have are not sufficient. So, for us to improve on our physical development, we have to do something extraordinary in the area of provision of adequate hostel accommodation among others. I believe that we have achieved a lot and some of the projects have been completed while others are ongoing and at various stages of completion.

Without TETFund, what do you think would have been the fate of tertiary institutions in Nigeria?
Without TETFund, many institutions, including Federal Government-owned ones would have been in a sorry state. I don’t think any institution in Nigeria, be it state or federal government-owned would have been able to carry out any physical development. TETFund is the live wire of tertiary institutions in Nigeria. We must commend the Federal Government for its establishment because it has made a great impact in the development of tertiary education in Nigeria and has today taken over the sponsorship of seminars, conferences, workshops and many other things. TETFund also sponsors lecturers for their masters’ degrees and PhD. This has brought relief to states and even the Federal Government.

How many of your staff have benefited from TETFund’s sponsorship for academic staff?
So many of my staff members have benefited from the TETFund’s in the execution of their masters’ and PhD programmes. We have made access to these sponsored programmes in such a way that lecturers go in batches so that the school will not be left empty. At the moment, we have about 20 lecturers doing their PhD programmes while 16 others are pursuing their masters’ degree outside the country.
Apart from the TETFund and internally generated revenue (IGR), don’t you get any subvention from the state government?

I think this privilege to generate and spend IGR given to us by the state government is more than any kind of subvention. And if you ask me, I would say that it is enough, because the government pays our salaries monthly and promptly. Since we know the financial situation of the country are prudent with our little resources to be able to achieve our set targets. Managing what we get from our IGR has really helped us, so we are not complaining. 

What are your views on the dichotomy between the Higher National Diploma (HND) certificates and bachelors’ degrees from universities?
Well, if you look at it critically, you will find out that the dichotomy is very unnecessary. But unfortunately, in Nigeria today, we are just after certificates and not the content. That is our problem and that is why there is the discrimination. If you look at the curriculum content for the HND and that of bachelors’ degrees, you will agree with me that each of these certificates can be treated based on their content. More so, each of them has been established with a particular mandate, and they are fulfilling their mandate and set objectives. So, why the discrimination?

However, I think the Federal Government has also contributed to the discrimination. We have the National Universities Commission (NUC), a body established to regulate the activities of Nigeria universities, but the same government finds it difficult to establish a similar body to regulate the activities of polytechnics. This was one of the demands of the polytechnic lecturers when they embarked on the last strike action. So to me, there should be no basis for the discrimination.

What kind of polytechnic would you want to leave behind?
I will want leave a polytechnic that will be among the three best polytechnics in the entire North, and of course among the 10 best polytechnics in Nigeria. That is my goal and that is what I am working towards achieving and with the kind of cooperation that I have enjoyed from both the staff and the students in the last one year we will achieve it. So many projects have been completed and others are ongoing. About 10 of them courtesy of TETFund and our little revenue. In the last one-year, we have remodeled our Bida campus to a polytechnic status.

Last year, polytechnic lecturers embarked on a lengthy industrial action, which paralyzed academic activities for almost one year. How do you think we can avoid frequent strike actions in our tertiary institutions?
When you look at the history of strike actions, it is supposed to be the last resort as far as industrial disputes are concerned. But in Nigeria, it is like both the government and the unions enjoy industrial disputes.

However, I think that the incessant strike actions by either the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), or the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) are not healthy for our educational system. They have very negative effects, not only on the students, but also on the economy, because a programme that is designed to last maybe for three or four years sometimes extend to six to seven years. So, we should try as much as we can to discourage strike actions in our education system. They are not the solutions that we need.   

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