By Paulinus Nwangaga
The opposition in Abia State and those who are ignorant or pretend not to see the good works of the state governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, have always pointed to the Abia State Polytechnics (Abia Poly), in Aba and label the happenings in the institution as the state government’s failure. These people are always quick to point out what they term an avalanche of unpaid salaries in the institution, blaming the state government for this. Nobody has tried or cared to find out the truth about the Abia Poly, with regard to funding.
The criticism of the Abia State government had resonated after the purported de-accreditation of Abia Poly, with many taking their condemnations of the government and the governor to a ridiculous level. I am not an official of the Abia State government and cannot hold brief for it. There are many officials whose duty it is to defend the government. However, sometimes one has to stick out one’s neck unsolicited, to correct some misrepresentations, no matter who is concerned. That’s simply what I want to do here.
When the state government released an official government position on the Abia State Polytechnic matter, I had thought that this should put to rest the controversy. I had thought that common sense would prevail and that those who have made it a duty to condemn the government over the state of affairs of the polytechnic would cease their belligerence. Alas, these people are continuing. It is therefore expedient to reveal some truths about Abia Poly, as I know them, being a former stakeholder.
From what I know about the extant law establishing Abia Poly, the institution is expected to generate revenue through school fees and others to augment funding from the state government. This internally generated revenue ought to be spent on the polytechnic in whatever meaningful ways to fund its operations. Nobody expects the school to remit any money to the state government, from the internally generated funds. Till date, the institution has not remitted any money to the state government from its internally generated revenue.
The question one had expected those who talk about Abia Poly to ask is this: What has the institution done with its internally generated revenue? Available information revealed that in 2015, Abia Poly had a student population of around 20,000. With a school fee of N53, 000, the poly should have, from internally generated revenue, generated a minimum of N1.10 billion every year. In 2015, when Governor Ikpeazu came to office, the wage bill of the poly was put around N180 million per month or N2.16 billion per annum.
At present, I know that student population has dropped to about 9,000. This means that from school fees, the institution should be generating N500m per annum. The monthly wage bill also dropped to N109 million per month. At present, Abia Poly need s N1.3 billion annually for salaries, with a monthly wage bill of about N109 million. Those who hate the state government would blame it for the decline in student population, as they like to blame it for everything that has gone known. However, it should be noted that the decline happened because of instability in academic calendar occasioned by frequent industrial actions. Industrial actions are not the fault of the government.
According to the law, the Abia State Government is expected to support the operations of the school with N90 million monthly subventions, amounting to about N1.1 billion per annum. One understands that the state government’s subvention could be paid monthly or in lump sums depending on availability of resources. Records show that the Ikpeazu-led state government has kept faith in the payment of subvention since 2015. Data show that in 78 months, since 2015, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu has paid N7.1 billion to the institution, at the rate of approximately about N92million per month, as against N90 million stipulated by the law.
This means that the state government has lived up to expectation in funding the poly, in accordance with the law. I expected critics to ask the school what it has used the government subvention to do. What has the institution also used its internally generated revenue to do? The wage bill of the poly is N109 million. State government contributes N92 million per month. With the state government’s subvention, which has been paid up to date, Abia poly needs just to add N17 million from its internally generated revenue of N41.6 million monthly to pay salaries.
It should be on record that Abia State Government, by law, does not pay the salaries of Abia Poly workers. The institution, being autonomous, is expected to pay its workers. The statistics provided above show that the school ought to have enough money to fulfil this obligation, with the combination of state government’s subvention and internally generated revenue. How then could someone say the state government should be held responsible for failure to pay salary and even suggest that the the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) should take action against the state government for failure to pay the workers?
The NBTE accredits academic programmes in the school. The law does not give the body any powers to litigate employee-employer labour relationships. This point must be made. However, those who pretend not to know should be told that there is no record that NBTE has ever closed or completely withdrawn the accreditation of any school in Nigeria. The body has the powers to withdraw accreditation for specific courses, but not all. Why are people not asking why NBTE has not withdrawn accreditation of schools that have not been able to operate but is asserting energy only on Abia Poly?
Talking about de-accreditation, the wrong facts being bandied must be corrected. Those saying that Engineering faculty of Abia Poly has lost accreditation, for instance, need to know that if that faculty was actually accredited this year, there is no way it would lose accreditation because review can only happen after five years. So much lies about de-accreditation!
One is aware that the Abia State government has made several efforts to reposition Abia Poly. In the last seven years, three management and council leadership changes had been made to bring in fresh management ideas. This cancels the allegation that the government did nothing to bring in “good” managers. The key to sustainable stability and growth in Abia Poly lies with all hands being on deck to end frequent industrial actions, grow the students’ population, which will, in turn, grow internally generated revenue. Prolonged shut downs will make students shun the school.
It is cheering that the state government has moved swiftly to ensure the restoration of accreditation and to help the school sort out issues with its workers. Expectedly, the resolution will happen quickly to the benefit of stakeholders including students and workers. If this effort is frustrated by political actors, who want to capitalise on everything for cheap political gains, then everyone will lose. Everybody must work to ensure the return of Abia Poly to its glory. At the end of the day, the school belongs to Abia State. Most of the students are from Abia State. The benefit of the school running well is for Abia, in particular and Nigeria in general. The opposition politicians should know these.
•Nwangaga writes in from Enugu