Joe Effiong, Uyo
On its signpost, and even on the sole vehicle functioning as the official car of the provost and an errand bus, the inscription reads: ‘College of Health Technology, Etinan.’ But that is far from the truth.
The official name of the 32-year-old middle-level health institution, which is housed in makeshift and dilapidated structures built by pre-Independence missionaries of the Qua Iboe Church, opposite the General Hospital, Etinan, remains ‘School of Health Technology, Etinan.’
A visit to the school revealed that, until recently, the school just existed to churn out ‘graduates’ with no prospects. They were hardly eligible for employment in the state health sector because of poor training occasioned by lack of facilities and non-accreditation of courses, due majorly to a dearth of qualified professional lecturers in appropriate departments.
This situation, according to the principal of the school, Mr. David Udoh, has forced management to resort to hiring part-time lecturers, especially, in the departments of community and environment health. These lecturers, he said, are paid stipends from the meagre sundry fees the students pay.
“In the last four years, government has not been able to attract one intervention project to the school. And five months before I came here, government had stopped paying imprest to this school. So, from September 2016, till today, the school has got no imprest, no subvention, no intervention project, none.
“People have asked me: ‘how do you run the school?’ And my reply has always been that we need to run the school. We are health professionals. Some of us went through this kind of school before we proceeded to the university. So, we have the experience and we have to make some sacrifice.
“That doesn’t mean that we don’t write. We have written more memos and proposals than since the beginning of this school in 1988. The records are there in the ministry and with us.” the principal said.
Udoh said, faced with the precarious situation, he had to obtain permission from the ministry to re-channel some of the funds meant for sports, medical examinations and development fees paid by only year-one students. The money, he said, is spent to run the school, pay part-time lecturers, renovate the dilapidated structures and even construct lecture halls and laboratories through voluntary donations by students and lecturers.
He denied the allegation of extortion published by some local tabloids in the state, which had necessitated a query from the state’s ministry of health.
“The School of Health Technology, Etinan, is a government-owned health training institution and all fees paid by students are prescribed and approved by government through the ministry of health. Students are given government receipts on presentation of bank tellers or printouts. The authority to pay is usually given to students to effect any payment.
“The request for voluntary donation of one bag of cement, which is equivalent of N2,500, only by each staff and student was as a result of creative consultation with the ministry of health, which emphasised voluntary donations and dialogues with the Student Union Government. They agreed to forgo the school gate project proposed by the SUG and members of staff towards the building of the classroom block and basic science laboratory embarked upon by the management,” the principal explained.
It was discovered that most of the problems of the school could have been solved if the bill for a law to establish Akwa Ibom State College of Health Technology, which has since been passed into law by the State House of Assembly, had received executive assent.
But like many other laws passed by House of Assembly, the College of Health Technology Bill, is gathering dust on the governor’s table.
Sponsor of the bill, Mr. Aniefiok Dennis, who represents Etinan State Constituency, a change in nomenclature from ‘School’ to ‘College’ would enable the institution attract projects from TETFund and other interventionist agencies like the Niger Delta Development Commission, have a governing council, employ qualified lecturers and increase the number of courses.
Dennis said he had personally written to the governor, explaining why the bill should be assented to.
“NABTECH accreditation also entitles institutions to grants and support by government agencies like the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, as well as other research institutes. This fund, which is currently not enjoyed by the school, helps relieve state governments of the funding of such institutions.
“The current bill passed by the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly contained critical requirements for the establishment of the institution and changing it from school to a college. This will remain a legacy for the government of Mr. Udom Gabriel Emmanuel,” the lawmaker wrote.
He appealed to the governor that “the signing of the bill into law through assent by the governor has become imperative.”
The principal said at the moment the school only has 27 academic staff, the bulk of which is made of scientific officers, with only 14 professionals, while relying on about 30 part-time professionals to make up the numbers.
But he said the ideal situation should be at least 10 professional lecturers in each of the six departments, which run the nine programmes in the school.
It was gathered that some staff of the ministry of health have been writing petitions against the school’s management.
However, the principal was reluctant to comment on the matter, as well as on a recent query issued to him by the ministry. He said it was normal to have an avalanche of petitions whenever there is a new commissioner or potential cabinet reshuffle.
“In 2017, somebody was involved in fraud by embezzling examinations money here. We reported to the ministry. He was punished, suspended and removed from this school. He has been the brain behind these allegations and even the publication in the press.
“Since he left here, I have faced about five panels before, and each time I was cleared because I’m not here to lie,” Udoh said.
The students of the institution are not equally comfortable with the way the state government has treated them as second class citizens in the state’s school system.
One of them, Esther Enoobong, a 200-level student in the Department of Community Health, said: “It appears that the state government has forgotten about the school. We are not feeling their presence. We want to feel the presence of government through the provision of facilities here to ease our problems.
“When we have academic functions, government should come and participate in the programmes. This will give us a sense of belonging, that the school is a government-owned institution. Where there is health challenge in the state, government should use us as volunteers.
“As a citadel of learning, we are in dire need of academic staff. Currently, the bulk of academic staff is on part-time basis. We the students do not have access to them whenever we need them for our personal needs.”
Another 200 level student from the Department of Health Information Management, Christopher Benjamin, said: “The major problem we are facing in this school is insufficient classroom blocks. Because of lack of enough classrooms, students in 100 and 200 levels are most times mixed together in one hall to have lectures. This causes a lot of noise and confusion as different lecturers will be teaching at the same time. But this problem will be addressed if we have enough classrooms.
“Again, we need free WiFi for online learning, and we need also public power supply to the school to encourage learning at night. In my department, we have only three professional staff out of the recommended 10. This is grossly inadequate with negative consequences on our studies as we do not have extramoral classes.
“As students, we need vehicles to ease transportation problem whenever we have competitions with other institutions in Cross River State and other places,” Christopher added.
One of the community leaders, Rev. Idongesit Etukudoh, who also spoke on the state of the school, appealed to the state government to intervene and salvage the school from its dilapidated condition. He said the community has donated a tract of land for the main campus and appealed that the current facility be converted to a faculty.
Etukudoh, who admitted that the state government has in recent times sent delegations to carry out inspections in the school, said there should be sincerity of purpose.
While admitting that charges from student to carry out intervention programmes were not new in any institution of learning, he expressed optimism that students would be relieved from undue pressure, if the institution is well funded by government.
He reminded the state government that the School of Health Technology has, over the years, supported the health personnel needs of the state, saying the school has been producing community health workers working in rural communities across the state.
The commissioner for health, Prof Augustine Umoh, did not responded to inquiries on the matter, in spite of the reporter’s several attempts to get the commissioner’s reactions.
When initially contacted, he had requested that all areas of media interest should be sent to him for a robust response, and that was done.
The last reminder to him on September 20 read in part: “Prof., Good morning. It’s just to remind you that you have yet to make a response with regard to the School of Health Technology, Etinan, story. Please, the story will be sent for publication between Tuesday and Wednesday this week. Thanks.”
The commissioner did not responded to the message.