Joe Effiong, Uyo
It started as School of Accountancy and Business Studies. A time was when it ranked only next University of Uyo in Akwa Ibom State when its products leisurely strolled into direct entry programmes in business administration, economics, accounting and other related management courses in Uniuyo.
But as everything Nigeria is subject to abuse, the University of Uyo, then under Professor Akpan Ekpo as vice Chancellor, had reasons to cancel their partnership when it was alleged that the ordinary national diploma (OND) issued the school was not up the expected standard.
With the hope of students gaining direct entry admission into Uniyo then dashed, people turned their admission pursuit to other institutions leaving the School of Accountancy situated in Nduetong Oku, Uyo, to dwindle, and was almost packing up, when the owners brought in one Emmanuel Ekot, who not only changed the fortunes of the school, but also changed its name to Uyo City Polytechnic, the first private polytechnic in Akwa Ibom State. Life was brought back to Nduetong Oku.
Ekot later left to establish his Heritage Polytechnic in Eket, and once again Uyo City Polytechnic gradually returned to its moribund self, with staff salaries becoming a difficult thing for owners to pay even as they could not secure accreditation for any of the HND programmes. Students still went to Heritage to get their certificates even though they were studying in Uyo City. Desolation descended on the host community as houses built for students by landlords were no longer occupied.
The joy of the community, staff and even students knew no bounds when it was announced last year that Mr Ekot had come back to manage the school; and within a few weeks, the hitherto dilapidated structures on the campus of the school began to wear a new look while staff moral was said to have been raised to power optimism
But just last Monday, the gates of Uyo City Polytechnic was closed again to staff and students allegedly due to contract disagreement between the Ekot’s management team and the Etukudoh’s family, the proprietors of the institution. The disagreement is said to have resulted in non-payment of staff for 21 months.
The gates of the school were not only shut but traditional injunction of fresh palm fronds and placards with different inscriptions also decorated them..
The inscriptions read, “We the staff of the Polytechnic we need our 2- month salary, we are very hungry”, “Etukudoh’s family honour agreement, pay our 21 months salary. We no go gree”, “No payment no work. We need smooth work force, we have been fools for too long” and, “Accept the agreement, we no go gree, we are crying in silence”.
In a notice dated 16th March and pasted on the school gate, the rector of the polytechnic, Mrs. Idem Iboro, directed staff and students of the institution to proceed on a two-week break starting on Monday, March 16, pending when the issues leading to the closure of the school would be resolved.
“This is to inform all staff (apart from those on essential duties) and students to proceed on a two weeks break starting from today, Monday 16/3/2020.
“We regret any inconvenience this may cause. We appeal to everyone to remain calm as the pending issues will be resolved amicably. Activities at Uyo City Polytechnic will resume fully on 30th March, 2020,” the statement read.
When contacted, she later said; “I came this morning and I saw the barricade, so I put up the notice. I am still investigating the matter”.
One of the staff of the institution, Dr. Udofia Jacob, Senior Lecturer, Department of Mass Communication, said he was in school early in the morning to sign the time book but some staff told him to leave the premises.
He stated that for 21 months no staff has received any salary even though they have been working, adding that the proprietors of the school and the consultant have unresolved issues, which have affected both staff and students and led to the closure of the school.
“We are so aggrieved because we have been owed for 21 months, and the issue has escalated to the point that we don’t even know who we are answerable to. The old management handed over to Mr Ekot, the new management on September 2nd, 2019 which was smoothly done but along the line, we started having some issues.
“We had a memo sent by the Chief Consultant who said we should regard Uyo City Polytechnic as not being owned by him. We heard problem started when the proprietors were asking for another review of the agreement. We were meant to understand that the school was owing ICT N5 million, and Uyo City Polytechnic account was garnished by the court, based on that garnishing, we stayed for months without receiving salary.
“From the garnishee order, the Chief Accountant, Mr Uko told the staff to remain calm pending when the issue will be arranged. Now we are told that the Chief Consultant has withdrawn the agreement he did with the former proprietors.
“We remain completely frustrated, we had no cause to jubilate anymore because we could not even see our salary or anything coming to us. We have managed to stay, January and February salary has but been paid, and we managed to stay uptil March and nobody has come to address us on what is happening until Friday, when we noticed things started changing.
“On Monday very early, as I was about to go to the office to sign, one of the staff told me not to go in, if not they would beat me,” he stated.
Marshal Effiong, Vice Chairman, Nduetong Oku Youth forum blamed the proprietors of the school for the closure of the institution.
He said, “Uyo City Polytechnic was mismanaged by the proprietors. They owe the staff 21 months salary and God sent Engr. Emmanuel Ekot to come and take over the school under an agreement. The man took over in September 2019 and changed the face of Uyo City Polytechnic.
“He spent N46 million to renovate the school but after paying two months salary, the proprietor said the agreement was not properly signed, and called for a new agreement. He even denied his signature on the agreement, saying they should sign a new agreement, as a result Mr Ekot stopped his work in the place because he had started taking care of the welfare of staff.
“Due to the feud between Engr. Ekot and the proprietor, Ekot decided not to manage the school again, that is why the academic and non-academic staff decided to lock the gate. The Chairman of the Village had to inform the Clan Head of Oku, Etebom Enefiok Okpon of the incident and the Clan Head ordered the Chairman to put an injunction for peace to reign until when the parties involved are called to know what actually happened”.
Also speaking, Mr Enefiok Samuel, Chairman, Village Council, Nduetong who on the directive of the Clan Head placed traditional injunction in front of the school gate said the Management of the Polytechnic is indebted to the staff to a tune of N400 million.
He said the school has created problems for the community because many of the students who have finished their programme but have not been mobilised for service or awaiting their clearance have become a nuisance in the community.
He said the Clan Head of the community, Etebom Enefiok Okpon, will call the parties involved to resolve the matter amicably.
“The community has agreed that if the school cannot honour the agreement, let them take the school away,” he said.
When Elder Enoobong Etukudo, one of the proprietors, was contacted on the matter, he refused to comment, saying he had to first meet with the Clan Head on the issue.
But a senior lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication of the school (names withheld) said; “the Etukudo’s family will burgle because since Ekot took over the management of the school last years, they no long have the free funds they were collecting and doing nothing to improve the fortunes of the school. Their greed was killing the school. We can’t go back to that era again; and they can’t recant the agreement they willingly signed, We know Ekot is playing them mind games. At the end the proprietors will have no choice than to dance to Ekot’s tune.”