When Dr. Blessing Ijioma joined the Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education (AIFCE) in 1989, little did she know that one day she would rise to become the first female provost of the institution. She recounted her experiences and the journey to re-position the institution to Amby Uneze
Having worked as the provost of this institution for about six years, what were your initial experiences like?
I have been in Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education since 1989; it was a state institution when I joined. Just as it has made waves all over the world because of its activities in the education sector, we keyed in and I started with others but things were not going as it ought to because of funding. The major problem then say in the 90s, was poor funding. However, the teachers put in their best to make sure it produced high calibre manpower. But in 2007, the federal government came in and took over the institution, it was actually a rescue mission and since then funding improved and through the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) we were assisted by the federal government.
Due to this, many buildings were put in place while others are ongoing and the laboratories have been equipped as well as sanitising the environment. Our cross-over to the federal government has helped us in manpower development as some of our staff have gone abroad for training and seminars and workshops. Locally we have over 200 people undergoing PhD programmes and about 130 are pursuing their master’s degree. It has been a wonderful experience having the federal government take over the institution. Salaries are regular unlike what used to be the experience in the past. We are happy that it is now at par with institutions like Adeyemi Federal College of Education, Oyo State; Federal College of Education, Zaira; and Federal College of Education, Kano. Those were our contemporaries. So joining the federal government has really assisted us and that has brought us to where we are now.
Since the takeover of the institution by the federal government, has there been any issue between the state and the federal government regarding assets and liabilities or other things like that?
Initially there was sort of reluctance on the part of the state government to hand over all the assets belonging to the college, but when the current Governor, Rochas Okorocha came on board, he promised us that all that belong to the college still remained its property. These were the promises he made to the late Uche Chukwumereije when he led the Senate Committee on Education on oversight function to pay him a courtesy call at the Government House, Owerri. So since then many people had made incursions but the governor has helped us on our land across Nweorie River, Amakohia and Shell Camp.
The college is noted for producing notable teachers that are teaching in many institutions across the country and abroad, will it be your desire to see the institution upgraded to a university?
It is our collective desire to see the institution elevated to a university status. That is our vision. The federal government said it was put on hold, it was not cancelled. We are still hopeful that sometime someday the institution will achieve that elevation as an autonomous degree-awarding institution. You know we have been awarding degrees in education in affiliation with the University of Nigeria, Nsukka for the past 36 years, one of the oldest in the country and we believe that beyond all reasonable doubts that we are matured to be on our own. And that was what the federal government tried to capture at the time we were upgraded, but we know that we are still upgraded in quote when the federal government is ready they will un-tie us.
In the past the institution looked like a gloried secondary school, but today coming into the campus, one will notice many high-rising buildings some completed and some are yet to be completed, the area is quite expanded, how did it happen?
As I said earlier, the federal government take-over improved the funding of the institution. But then I am the provost of Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education extraction, I came from within, I knew the problems of the institution and I knew my colleagues and with them and the management we are collectively determined to ensure that whatever money that comes in is transmitted into something that people will see. So we already know where to channel the money that comes so that it will improve the academic excellence of the institution and that people will see and believe that indeed the hand of the federal government is in this institution.
What you have seen is the determination by a group of committed academics who transform the environment. We have travelled far and wide and seen what it looks like in other institutions abroad and within the country, so we didn’t want to be left behind. We still maintain our position as the ‘primus interpres’ (first among equals) among the colleges therefore we cannot maintain that unless we touch our environment.
Has TETFund being of any assistance to the institution in its quest to develop the environment for learning?
TETFund has helped us so much in the building of infrastructure in the institution. Actually during the last administration, a group of federal officers, including the minister of state for education came to the institution, the executive secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC) and that of the TETFund were all here and they commended the college for having effectively utilised the TETFund allocation to the college within the period. Right now we are almost completing the 2014 evaluation and we have started the 2015, so we don’t allow our TETFund allocation to accumulate. We utilise it and we engage dependable contractors considering the quality of work being done.
In the area of accreditation, how far have you gone to have the institution’s programmes accredited by relevant supervising bodies?
We run 56 programmes and 24 of them are at the Bachelor of Education level in affiliation with UNN. In 2014 the NUC came on accreditation exercise and out of the 24 programmes, 18 had full accreditation and six had interim accreditation, so these are the six programmes NUC revisited last month and I am sure that we will make it. When the result of that accreditation is released we would have had all our programmes fully accredited. But at the NCE level, because the college had the mandate to produced NCE teachers for the basic education system, we have about 28 programmes and we are awaiting the accreditation team to come from the National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE). We have applied and we are waiting for them.
What is the relationship between the management, staff and students of the institution?
It has been cordial except for the incident that happened when staff were unhappy because of the suspension of the university status, but after they understood what happened the relationship improved strongly. We see ourselves as a unit forging ahead for a common goal.
It is a norm with students to engage in indiscipline and cultism, to what extent do these exist in the institution?
Actually, cultism hasn’t been so much a problem because we have about 75 per cent female students. It is more pronounced in male-populated environment, so we have not had so much problems. However, we have what we call student-security on campus and these young men and women are members and they are doing a lot of work in that aspect. You know they know themselves better than security operatives know so they are the ones that detect such anomalies. In fact they report and assist the management and the security unit to tackle this. They live among the students, so they inform us when anything is about happening so that we can take proactive measures to stop anything that might undermine the peace of the environment. We are also very grateful to the police, DSS and sometimes the army, they have been very supportive, because, whenever we call on them they are here to help us.
How do you handle students’ unrests arising from lack of water, power supply, among others?
It has happened only once in my six years as the provost of this institution and it lasted for about two hours. It was because they did not have water and when we noticed that they were agitated because as I told you, the students-security had already told us what may happen for lack of water, and that made us to take proactive measure and even before they reacted we had provided water for them. We had an agreement with the students on the supply of power, and that is every night if there is no public power supply from EEDC, we supply them light from 7pm till 10pm and switch on by 6am to 7am for one hour. It is quite expensive to run these heavy generating sets, so the agreement is there and we have been able to keep our side of the agreement and that has helped us a lot. And of course once there is light, those responsible can pump water for them from the boreholes to the overhead tanks.
In the past six years, has there been any issue or challenge that made you regret your position?
Not at all because my coming to the seat was divine; I did not get here through politicking. I was given a mandate and God said to me that He will supply the means for which it would be done and it has remained that way. Personally, I am very grateful to God and to the federal government for supplying me the means to do the job because that is one of the reasons that can cause trouble. I have worked in this institution when we could not get salaries for five months and that led to agitation. Naturally, when people could not feed, but at this time our salaries are regular so we can now plan to take care of the family the much we can. That is the only thing that would have made me uncomfortable, but thank God we have not had such experience under my tenure.
What is your best moment as the provost of this institution?
My best moment was during the 50th anniversary of the college. I am the first female provost of the college for 50 years and I was the one that anchored the golden jubilee celebration. For me it gives me joy because I know that in the next 50 years making it a centenary, I will be remembered. I will not be here then but that would be a good memorial.
Who is Dr. Blessing Ijioma?
I had my secondary education at Queens College, Yaba, Lagos and finished at Queens College Enugu. In 1972, I gained admission to UNN where I had my first degree in Microbiology. I took up a job at the National Roots Crop Research Institution (NRCRI), Umudike and then transferred to Michael Okpara College of Agriculture then, now Imo Polytechnic, Umuagwo, Ohaji. I went back and did a master’s degree, also in Microbiology.
In 1989, due to Imo State policy, I was transferred to Alvan Ikoku College of Education. I had a PhD at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO). That was how I came over to this great institution. I have been a head of department twice, dean School of Natural Sciences, I have been the first female deputy provost, and now the first female provost of the college. I am also a member of the Nigerian Academy of Education; a fellow of the Nigerian Food Science and Technology; and a fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Environmental Technology.
What is your message to the Alvan community?
My message to the community is that we should through hard work for the nation, recapture our status as first among equals among colleges of education and pursue together our mission to arrive as a university or autonomous degree-awarding institution, as God will direct.