In this interview with , the Rector, Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTECH), Mr. Oluyinka Sogunro, called for the establishment of a polytechnic commission that will oversee the affairs of polytechnics as it is with universities, as well as adequate funding to enable the institutions compete globally, among other issues. Excerpts:
Since you came on board in June last year, how has it been running the institution?
I have been in the institution for so long so I know how it has been. We want to bless God because we are still surviving. We have had a stable academic calendar that is the major thing. Last year, we rounded up the last session in June and we have commenced another session. The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) also delayed the resumption of year one students. We have opened up collaborations with external agencies, for instance, the third gate of the institution has being demolished and currently being rebuilt by FCMB; in the next three or four weeks the project will be completed. We are also collaborating with CHAMS, AFRI one; a software developer, International Aviation College through our consult which will commence this January to build drones. We also partnered with Cassava Stakeholders Association; we have cultivated about 10 hectares of cassava plantation. We had a partner that came from China and wants to collaborate with us in the area of cassava starch, by the first quarter of this year, we are going to expand the plantation. They have taken samples and will be requesting for about five tonnes of cassava. We will also be collaborating with the Federal Institute of International Research Oshodi (FIIRO) and Technology Incubation Centre. Huawei recently donated 60 computer systems, refurbished the chairs and tables and gave us inverters, among others, running into several millions of naira. It is a good gesture, it was facilitated by the state government. That is in the area of collaboration and in the area of research we have gotten patent right for fuel-less generator, automatic jack, and biogas digester, though we are still improving on it. There are several research works going on right now. Some of our staff have also benefitted from TETFund grants to study abroad for those who want to do PhD and masters programmes.
Some experts are of the opinion that there is double standard on the part of the government when it comes to handling polytechnic education in the country, do you share in this believe?
The issue of dichotomy between the university and polytechnic has taken so long. During the Obasanjo administration, it was on paper that the dichotomy should be removed, but in reality, it is in Nigeria that everybody believes in university education. It shouldn’t be the case. University education is not for everybody; that is the mistake parents make everybody wants his/her wards to go to university. Polytechnic education is very key. By the time you attend a polytechnic and you acquire the adequate and necessary skills, the sky will not be the limit for you, you will use your hands to do so many things. People are looking for white collar jobs; we try to train students here to be employers of labour, not people who will be looking for jobs. By the time you finish, you should be on your own with adequate entrepreneurial skills to employ others and train them and before you knowit your family will grow. The National Assembly is working on the issue of dichotomy and I believe very soon, it will be signed into law. We have our own representatives in the ministry of education who are there, our association which is the Council of Heads of Polytechnics and Colleges of Technology in Nigeria (COHEADS) is there, National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) is also working on it; nobody is resting on his oars. Our members at the national assembly are also making the moves.
What has been your relationship between the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) of the institution and pensioners?
The relationship has been cordial with the unions. This institution has been known to be peaceful for some years, not until recently when staff were agitating for the implementation of CONTISS 15 salary structure. Thestaff were to be moved from their present position to another. We have a supervisory body just like NUC for universities, and for polytechnics, we have the NBTE. We received a notice from them in 2013 that some staff should be migrated and we recognised that and looked into that document in 2014 but we could not implement it. Some institutions implemented theirs, but got stuck due to paucity of funds; they could not go ahead with it. So we had to remove some allowances from it, but thank God that the Lagos State Government has been doing its best to give subventions to institutions. We were on that and as a state-owned institution, if there is a document from the federal government on certain issues, the document must be domesticated within the state, it is not binding on the state. It will be binding if the federal government is going to give the money or to increase salary. If the federal government is going to make that decision, it will be backed up with financial output. We have the federal and the state and by the time we get it from the federal government, we still need to take it to the state government to negotiate it.
Are the unions still agitating for it?
We were on that until recently when the unions came up and said we have to get it. On one hand, you must get the approval of the state government, the governing council here has the welfare of members of the staff at heart, they have tried their best to make sure that they take the decision to the next level. We have met and rubbed minds and we need to forge ahead. We thank God that the state government has said that in 2017, it will have to take responsibility of the implementation and institutions should look inwards and take it up by October, November and December which we are doing. We hope that this month, the state government will come in. In June 2015, they increased our subvention and we were able to resolve the matter to a greater extent. In this institution, we have three unions; students’ union, retirees, alumni and agencies. We have so many things we are confronted with. I don’t envy the governor or president. In fact, when I read the papers and people are saying things about them, it is very easy to criticize these days, but once you are saddled with responsibility, you know that there are enormous tasks. It is not easy, it is not new to me because I have worked closely with those who have been heads of this institution before so, I know what it takes. On the issue of staff union, the relationship is cordial. The retiree issue is one major thing that we were trying to resolve. There are two sets of retirees; the ones that are having problems are those who retired in 2010. You recall that the state government implemented the new pension scheme that took effect in April 1, 2007. At that time, we gave a moratorium that those who have three years more to leave the service either by age or length of service should be allowed to stay. We got a circular which was a law that if you don’t want to be part of the new pension scheme, you should be allowed to go by March 31, 2007. If you don’t want to go, then you remain. So if you don’t go by the end of March 2007, it is assumed that you are already in the new pension scheme. There was a moratorium for those who had probably spent 32 years in service, that means you have three years to go and for those who were to retire at the age of 60, but were 57 years old at that time; and those who were to retire at the age of 65 like our academics and they were 62 years at that time, so they had three years to their retirement. If you are not within that age bracket, then you have to stay. The major problem was that there was a communication gap and from the memos I have read, during the transition period when the former Rector, Olawumi Gasper left in 2007 and his deputy was acting in that capacity, that was when they brought the document on retirement and they minuted on it to the registrar and sent some people on a fact finding mission to see how it is been implemented and they came up with the proper interpretation of the law. They asked the then registrar to circulate it among members of staff. Along the line, something happened, but people just viewed it that anybody who wants to leave the system in the next three years should signify, which was wrong. That was what made some of them to go for retirement. It was a management problem at that time.
Is your institution benefitting from the white paper on needs assessment that will ensure that laboratories are upgraded and affiliated institutions updated or refurbished?
On the needs assessment, they came here some years back but we have not seen the outcome. That is one of those things the COHEADS was asking that they should give us. For this nation to move forward, polytechnic education is the key, otherwise, we will just remain where we are. Nothing has been done about it and as far as facilities are concerned, we are not relying on the federal government; this is a state institution, though we are going to benefit from it. The state government has budgeted N750 million for our accreditation coming up in the first quarter of 2017 and it has been budgeted for facilities. What it means is that Lagos is very serious about polytechnic education; we have not gotten that before in the history of this school.
It is believed that the Polytechnic Act is obsolete and needs to be reviewed. What efforts is your administration making toensure that it gets to the National Assembly for public hearing?
There have been some committees working on that, we have agitated for polytechnic commission and when that is granted, be rest assured that we will review the act on a regular basis, just like we have NUC for universities, NCCE for the teachers college of education, so when we have that commission, it will go a long way to assist us. It is before the national assembly.
Do you think polytechnic education is getting what it deserves in terms of funding?
Funding is a major issue, for instance in the budget presentation, the percentage allocated to education is beyond UNESCO standard which is 26 percent and I cannot remember when last Nigeria met that benchmark. As a state, Lagos is trying. Many institutions would have collapsed if not for TETFund. You will recall that many institutions could not pay wages of staff, then you see some going on strike. Most of the infrastructures are decayed, facilities are obsolete. For proper accreditation to take place, you must have a conducive environment, which goes a long way. It all boils down to funding; most institutions don’t have enough personnel, teaching and non-teaching, no equipment in the laboratory, furniture for their staff. For learning to take place, the environment must be conducive. In order for institutions to compete with the modern world, funding is the major thing. If there are enough funds, tertiary institutions would be able to do research. We try to develop capacity, though TETFund has been assisting in the area of academic and staff development. In terms of funding, kudos to the state government; it can do better. Some states are still struggling to meet up. So as far as education is concerned, the state is trying its best and it also strives to improve on the facilities that will make education conducive for learners.