By Daniel Kanu
Dr. Philips Ntoh is the Provost of the Abia State College of Education (Technical), Arochukwu. A former Commissioner of Finance and World Bank consultant, he is like most other members of the Nigerian elite worried about the state of the nation. In this interview, he bares his mind on the challenges in the education sector and proffers solutions on how to entrench a productive economy in the country.
What are your thoughts on the agitation by the Southeast to produce the next president of Nigeria in 2023? Is this feasible?
Whatever a man can conceive he can achieve, it’s a matter of time. Are they not qualified for the position or do they not have qualified personalities to handle the position? Government must not ignore genuine agitation; rather it should address it, there are always genuine solutions to apply if you are sincere.
How do you reconcile that aspiration with the demand by people in the geopolitical zone for Biafra?
I believe there is need to find out why the agitation for Biafra has been growing. Are there fundamental and germane issues they have raised? The reality is that when there is a perceived projection of injustice into any system it creates a problem. If there is fairness, equity, and justice in the system and everybody or section carried along, peace will reign. The people drumming up Biafra feel that they are discriminated against or marginalized, so there is the need to address their concern and show that you care.
As a World Bank consultant, what is your assessment of the Nigerian economy?
I have said much about the economy, presented position papers on critical issues and at different platforms. You need to make the economy productive; therefore you need to stimulate the agro-business. The agricultural sector must be made to be productive. It is when the economy is productive that you can create jobs. Doing these things is not rocket science: if you do the right things to the economy, it will elicit the right results. There is nothing wrong with borrowing most times, especially when you are using it for production.
You just talked about production which the country seems not to be doing well; so how do we address the issue of graduate unemployment vis a vis the institutions of higher learning?
Yes, there is a serious unemployment challenge in the country, which has led to increase in social vices like terrorism, banditry, internet fraud, kidnapping, and armed robbery, among others. All these are traceable to an inherited colonial curriculum which is no longer useful in the present day Nigerian society. We inherited the study of English, Mathematics, Chemistry, etc. They were good then but no longer relevant to the needs of the society. Nigerians are supposed to be talking about skill acquisition and individual talent development but that is not what we are doing currently. There are so many graduates who studied English, Mathematics, and Chemistry, etc, but they are far from getting employed because they were not developed skill-wise as a result of the curriculum foisted on them by the colonial masters in the tertiary institutions. Our curriculum should be structured in such a way that the talents of our youths are identified and developed irrespective of what they studied in the tertiary institutions. I call on all tertiary institution administrators to make skill acquisition a compulsory study in their institutions while talents should be identified and developed along with the course of study. That is why in ASCETA we have made it compulsory that no matter what course a student studies, skill acquisition must be compulsory either in catering services, landscaping, leather works, metal works and fabrication including computer repairs, food preservation, painting, wood work, masonry etc. On graduation, the student must have a skill that will make him an employer without waiting to be employed by government for jobs that are elusive. He doesn’t need to look for jobs but be an entrepreneur. So in ASCETA, we train job creators and not job seekers. It is true that some universities have entrepreneurship scheme as a course but it should go beyond theoretical framework. Graduate unemployment has been a recurring issue in our national life as a nation. It became more serious or shall I say intractable with the poor economy of the country. We can only address it if we create graduates with technical and vocational skills.
There was this issue of impropriety raised against you…..?
(Cuts in) As a matter of fact, I had resolved never to join issues with that allegation from one Nwokoro, which I hope is what you are referring to. First, I am only answerable to the Abia State governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, who is the Visitor to the college through the Governing Council. Secondly, I am currently focused on sustaining the legacy of infrastructural development and academic excellence I initiated in ASCETA since I assumed duties in 2016.
I had refrained from speaking on this matter of Jude Nwokoro’s baseless allegation because I see him as my brother and that is who he is to me. However, since you have raised the matter, I have to make a few clarifications but what is happening is really worrisome in the sense that I can situate it to his appeal for me to assist him financially for heart treatment he had intended to go for. He wanted me to raise that fund for him from TETFUND which was impossible because TETFUND disbursements are regulated and must be accounted for (kobo-for-kobo) and allocated to specific projects. It can never be diverted for any other thing except what they are intended for. So, it was extremely difficult for me to assist him at that time, particularly when it was difficult for me to raise such huge amount of money from personal resources. Since then he has taken up arms against me and the college but I want to believe that it is history now. It is also important to ask what his interest in the College is following letters he has been writing to me to give him a detailed account of income and expenditure of the College since I assumed office. For a man who was the Special Adviser on Projects during the immediate past administration in the state, what project did he execute in ASCETA as to warrant this unnecessary and combative interest in the college? I don’t want to dwell on something like that which is targeted at distracting me.
It’s been five years since you assumed office as Provost. What has been achieved so far?
When I assumed office as Provost of the college in 2016, I encountered a lot of challenges. The college was in a state of total disrepair, in terms of infrastructure, academically and also the staff were seriously ill-motivated and their morale very low. The entire place was overgrown with weeds and resembled an unkempt zoo. Even the perimeter fence was gone. There was no electricity because it was cut off from the national grid. It was more or less a no-man’s land. To restore the environment and make it conducive for academic activities became my topmost priority. Through the assistance and support of the Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, himself a thorough academic, who knows where the shoe pinches, we were able to fix a few things especially the power supply and adequate security put in place. The college is today running on the pre-paid meter. On infrastructural development, we have achieved so much.
Almost three decades after the establishment of the college in 1993, no graduate of the college sighted the original certificate of the college because none was available before my coming. My administration has finally broken that jinx. We have signed the certificates of all the graduates up to 2015. All our students now have the assurance that they will receive their original certificates once they graduate.
On accreditation, it is on record that before the present management, the college did not undergo any accreditation exercise for over 13 years until I assumed office. Again, through the fatherly support and assistance of His Excellency, Governor Ikpeazu, the college approached the National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE) for accreditation of courses. That exercise was successful as almost all the courses in the college were granted full accreditation. Let me quickly add here that I met a college that was blacklisted by the TETFUND because of the diversion of funds. Thankfully that has been restored and we have sustained the goodwill generated by our handling of TETFUND projects in the college.
What will you consider to be your greatest challenge in leading the institution?
My greatest challenge at the beginning was lack of infrastructural facitities and of course, the irregular payment of salaries. But we thank God that for about a year and more, the Abia State Government has tried and made almost regular the monthly release of subvention to the college. The governor has since then been living up to the promise he made despite the dwindling revenue from the Federation Account occasioned by the low price of the crude oil. I am sincerely grateful to the governor for his total commitment to the progress of the institution.
There are fears that certificates from tertiary institutions like Abia State College of Education may no longer be relevant in the system. Is it correct? If so, what should be done to remedy the situation?
It is correct to say so but then for us in ASCETA we are being proactive. We have put structures in place and have initiated moves to invite the NUC to come for resource verification to solidify our relationship with the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike and the Abia State University, Uturu for the purposes of awarding degrees in education. All these are being done with the intention of making the government convert the college to a University of Education, Entrepreneurship and Technology to cater for the teaching needs of our primary and secondary schools. This is also aimed to leverage on the entrepreneurship and technology skills of Abians. We are optimistic that we shall succeed in that regard.