– Prof Mgbada, Provost
From Felix Olunkwa, Umuahia
The Provost of the Federal College of Agriculture (FCA), Ishiagu in Ivo Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, Prof (Mrs.) Justina Uzoma Mgbada, recently spoke with Daily Sun of how sha has transformed the college since assuming in January, 2015.
What was the state of things in the college when you came in as the provost?
Before I came here as the provost of the college, I had the privilege of visiting here because you can’t go for an interview to lead in a place that you don’t know. I came here before then and when I came I was just shouting within myself saying, is this actually a federal college? Months after, I was appointed the provost.
When I came in I saw that there was lack of infrastructure, there are certain basic infrastructure that I had expected to see in an institution, which were not here. An example of such infrastructure is the gate. The gate is an entrance to either a compound, an institution, house etc and it is said also that the first cut is the deepest. First impression matters a lot. As you are passing, and you look at the gate, you will just pass without knowing that is a federal institution.
I decided to handle the gate immediately even without funds. No budgetary allocation, no IGR, but because of my relationship with other institutions like banks, I had to link up with a particular bank and I pleaded with them to come and intervene and they came and built the school gate and that was done by Skye bank. I considered the gate a priority because it speaks of the school as you are coming in, it provided an office for the school security. Before now you will never see the school security at the gate because you do not expect them to stay under the rain or sun when working, so we have to provide the gate. And it was built in four months.
Another project is the school roads. The internal road network was also in a mess. Starting from the gate to all parts of the college there was no single good road. I can’t remember that first year I came in as I was preparing to organize the first matriculation ceremony in March 2015, incidentally there was rain two days before the ceremony and it was done on me that without doing anything on the road, people could not come in. The whole place was muddy that you will have to lift up your dress and remove your shoes to walk across.
We started working on the road immediately, but because of the shortness of time, we just have to put stone dust as makeshift for us to have the matriculation ceremony. Then after the event we started the proper grading and full construction of the road network to all the parts of the college. Before now when you managed to drive down to the school library, you would pack your vehicle and walk down to the college. There are areas that even bikes could not pass.
Besides the hostel, it was used as a refuse dump that even cyclists couldn’t pass there but we have to grade it and today you can pass there with your car. And those people that have their offices around that area came to thank me specially, for the road.
Then in one of my visits to the classrooms to see how lectures were going on, I came to the GNS Building, I met some students actually squatting on the ground taking lecture and I shouted haba! What are all these? And this is someone coming from a university where we have all facilities and with the intervention of TETFUND we don’t talk about such a thing again.
We started thinking of how to make some seats. As I am talking to you now, reading benches and tables are no longer an issue in the college. And before now also, we had shortage of hostels, classrooms and offices, these are the infrastructure that I am talking about. Students didn’t have good hostels, the ones they had were dilapidated and up till now we are still working on the hostels.
We had rebuilt the sockaway, the windows; in fact, we are rebuilding the whole hostels except the roofing. Though we have put more hostels into use now but the few we had before were renovated and are in full use now. By next one month we will have three additional hostels; two are of capital project while one is of Public Private Partnership (PPP) with one establishment.
We consider hostel availability as very important for our students because of the introduction of more relevant courses and the beautification of the environment; more students are attracted to the college for studies and that has resulted to increase in population of students. And with the increase in population of the students without increase in hostel availability, the students will be forced to go to the village. The village is not even conducive for them because they don’t have light, water and they have to pay for transport to school. That is why we are putting more efforts in building more hostels.
Then classrooms, we have one big lecture theater with six lecture halls and 12 offices that have been completed and now being used. Our staffers are there now and departments have been allocated to the place, students are already having their lectures there so this one is not that is in the making, it’s already completed. Many other classrooms are coming up, some skill acquisition centres are coming up, and some lecturers’ offices are coming up.
Lots of renovations have been made especially in our Computer Department where the roof was bad. With the rain, all the computers, seats and tables, all got spoilt. You cannot just talk about repairs without first fixing the roof. We had to re-roof the building, a lot of things had actually been done.
When I came, there was no hall where staff could meet. Whenever we had a meeting like academic board meeting, that involved up to 60 people, you would see people standing on the corridor because we didn’t have enough space. Now we can boast of a 200-capacity well-furnished auditorium that we are using which was built during this administration. Many facilities have been put to use, like water, which used to be a major problem, we now have a water treatment plant and is functional.
What are the new courses introduced in the college?
There are some courses that are just national diploma programmes, which run for two years. What that means is that we train and after two years, they go to other schools and finish the programme. Now we have to establish the Higher National Diploma (HND) aspect of the programmes. We did it in Home and Rural Economics (HRE), Computer Science, Horticulture, SRT and fisheries. These five courses were upgraded from ND to HND. Then there were others that were entirely introduced newly that were not there before. Those ones include; Animal Health Production Technology, Statistics and Cooperative Economics and Management.
What is the IGR of this college like?
As an agric-based institution, we have some agric-based enterprises. One of the things we teach and one of our mandates, which is anchored on ATA, Agricultural Transformation Agenda, is to make agriculture a business. Looking at the way the Nigerian economy is going, the dwindling income generation from oil and the more attention to agriculture, we are now the most beautiful bride in the nation. And there is no way you can enhance agricultural production without taking care of the youths to make it sustainable.
From researches we now know that our farmers are aged between the age of 55-65 years and at that age, they are already weak and have fewer years to stay. We started to think, when these ones leave, who will take over?
Another research showed that our youths don’t like taking agriculture as an occupation. Based on these problems, we want to show them that we can use agriculture to make good living. And because of that, we have to establish some agricultural based enterprises where we now generate revenue. The students are involved in it and they see how it happened and now learn and reoriented their own heart that so they can use agriculture to make a living.
We have fishery, we have a well established fishery unit. We have the hatchery, here we don’t do fingerling, we produce them ourselves because we have the equipment for brooding it. We also have the bubaline section and we have the growing section. From the growing section we have the concrete ponds and earthen ponds. We also have what we call the circulatory system.
This system is what refreshes and purifies the water; reduces the accumulation of impurity that hinders the growth of the fish. As it is being recalculated, it is also regenerating oxygen, which the fish feed on. With that, we have a scientific way of growing fish. We also have in our budget this year to connect water direct from Ivo River and we have a mini-treatment plant were the water is treated. With that, our earthen ponds will no longer know dry season because we will be having water every time. The fishery is a means of giving us revenue.
Before I came, the fish business had gone down but we have revived it. We have poultry, we have thousands of pullets, we have broilers, we also have ruminants (cow, cattle, sheep and goat), we have piggery too. When I came, the piggery was a forgotten issue but now we have revived it. We also have other processing units; our apicultural unit produces the best honey so far. We are known for honey.
We have our special Cassafufu. Here we don’t just produce, we add value to our products by processing it. Cassava is something that can just rot away if not properly processed. We process garri, high cassava quality floor that is used for bread, then we have this Cassafufu that we use as swallow. If you don’t like garri, you go for the Cassafufu.
You don’t need to start boiling or pounding it. All you need do is to boil your water like you do for your garri and pour it and your cassafufu is ready for eating. In fact, there’s no one that has tasted that who will not stick to it. But our problem is that we don’t produce enough and that is because of the processes of production. We have machine in some stages but in other stages we don’t have machines.
The one that is bothering us much is the cassava pilling machine. We have gone to PRODA to make arrangement and we are still pursuing it. We have written to raw material and research to see if they can help us. We also wrote to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
If we can get cassava pilling machine, we have over 50 hectares planted with cassava stage by stage. We don’t need to buy cassava tubers but the issue is delays in the piling process. This our Cassafufu has gone international because we have people that took it to Ghana, Senegal and other countries. This is another revenue generating venture. With the present economy, we have to look inward and come up with products that will generate income for us.
How will you describe your relationship with the students?
I have very good relationship with the students. This is my third year and I have never experienced any students’ unrest, no demonstration of any kind so far. If there is any problem, they come straight. I have a very capable Dean of Students’ Affairs who handles their matter with care. The students know that we have their interest at heart.
Anything that we did not do means that we could not do it, not that we didn’t want to do it. When the students know this they will relax. Is only when the students see you as a selfish leader that they will begin to give you troubles. I don’t have any problem with the students at all. We are building a new SUG secretariat for them and soon they will start using it. We are trying our best to make them comfortable.