Things will certainly not be the same again at Abia State Polytechnic (Abia Poly) Aba. The unraveling of the conundrum there has started in earnest.
For those who have been using Abia Poly as cheap political launch pad under the guise of unionism, sorry, your time is up, and your game is up in smoke.
It is poignant to note that we have those who know the in and out of tertiary education in charge now in Abia State. Governor Okezie Ikpeazu is a professional teacher who left the academia as Head of Department of Biochemistry of Enugu State University. He has taught at various tertiary institutions in Nigeria, including the Ebonyi State University College of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Maiduguri, and Calabar Polytechnic where he taught from 1990 to 1992 during his Ph.D programme at the University of Calabar.
The Commissioner for Education, Professor Ikechi Mgboji is not just a professor of Law, but also taught in Canada for many years.
What are the issues in Abia Poly? Or better still, what constitutes the conundrum that has defied solution before now at Abia Poly?
The management, teachers and workers of the school are apparently conniving to punish the students, rip off the Government, and each time questions are asked they resort to politics of unionism, going from one strike to another to demand for payment they’ve already collected.
It is an undeniable fact, though unknown to most members of the public, which Abia State Government does not pay teachers and workers of the school, but the state gives monthly subventions to the institution to augment its revenues, which are not remitted to the state.
Abia Poly is allowed to collect revenue, including school fees, and use same to pay salaries of workers and maintain the school. The subventions from the Government, which currently stands at N90m monthly, are meant to bridge the calculated shortfall between what the institution reports as monthly earnings and the money required to pay workers salaries.
Before the inauguration of the Ikpeazu administration, Abia Poly had a debt profile of N2b, owed principally to First Bank. As soon as Governor Ikpeazu resumed, the state wrote off the N2b First Bank debt. Available records indicated that the N2b debt was an aggregation of overdrafts taken by the institution for which they were paying high commercial interest rates to the bank.
It should be noted that at the time the representatives of the institution told the Governor that if the loan is settled they will be able to cut costs and run their operations even without requiring monthly subventions. If the Government had opted to use N2b to pay the monthly subventions it would have amounted to at least 22 months subventions. Note carefully that the Ikpeazu administration is just about 19 months old in office.
In addition to the N2b, Abia Poly has in the past 19 months received additional N825m from the administration of Governor Ikpeazu, as bailout and subventions from the state. All aimed at making sure that workers salaries are paid.
In November 2015, the school got N240m bailout. Subvention received from December 2015 to December 2016 amounted to N405m. Last week the school received another N180m subvention from the Paris Club refund inflow. Making a total of N825m in 19 months.
At the same time the school is receiving school fees from students. According to the school’s website, Abia Poly has a student population of about 15, 210.
In the 2015/2016 academic year, Abia Poly collected about N1b as schools fees from 14,718 students that used the newly implemented online school portal for school fees payment.
In the current academic year, they’ve collected N140m before the school went on Christmas break, from 922 students. This confirms that the school has collected about N1.8b from students since 2015.
None of that money was remitted to the government as they were not required to do so. So, the management of Abia Poly, in 19 months, have received about N4b from bailout, subventions from government and fees collected from students.
The big question remains: why is Abia Poly still owing workers salaries?
The State’s Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Obinna Oriaku, raised some pertinent posers when he was recently confronted by a concerned Abian during a live phone in radio program on why the school is still on strike.
His words: “You have asked about Abia Poly resumption and I feel we owe you an answer. Last week Abia Poly got two months from the Paris refund allocation committee which I am heading. This two months subvention amounted to N180m since our subvention is N90m per month. We expect they should call off the strike next week but Abia Poly problem goes beyond the two months paid.
“The school’s monthly wage bill is about N180m, which is very high and unacceptable by any standard. Beyond that is the fact that on assumption of office of this government we bought off a loan of N2b from this institution to free them from the debt and ensure they run freely and be able to pay the workers since what we give them as subvention is not necessarily paying their monthly salary just unlike other higher institutions in the state.
“Abia Poly have 50 workers in their library unit that has what can’t pass as a private law library. They have 40 workers in their medical unit. Among these 40, you have four doctors and 6 matrons earning fantastic salaries. Is Abia Poly now a hospital?
“Canteen workers are among those being paid. I am sure we all went to high institutions. During your days were those in the canteen not outsiders serving the students? In Abia Poly we have people washing plates in a canteen who will end up being paid pensions. Obviously the same Abia Poly workers are the problem with the school.
“The management of Abia Poly operates 40 accounts in multiple banks. This we have changed but they are resisting the change. They were collecting cash as school fees until recently when we engaged a consultant to enable online payments of fees. We still have about eight revenue accounts yet to be hooked on. Clearly we have politicians instead of lecturers at that institution and it is not acceptable. We are working on major changes in that school that will bring permanent solution to their problems,” Oriaku said.
It would also be recalled that recently, at a recent meeting with the Governor, the leadership of the organised Labour in Abia, called for sack of the management council of the institution.
Speaking on behalf of the labour unions, the Chairman of Abia State Chapter of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Uchenna Obigwe, said that the union can’t understand why an agency that is generating money can’t pay salaries as at when due.
“Students of Abia Poly are paying school fees and other fees which the management of the school demanded; we can’t also understand why the management can’t pay workers. So we think you should sack the management.” Obigwe said.
Meanwhile, the Rector Prof. Martin Ikechukwu Iheanacho, and Registrar, Mrs. Constance Evuline have since been asked to proceed on a six-month compulsory leave, while Prof. Ezionye Ebo and Chief C A Nwabughogu have been asked to take over as Acting Rector and Registrar of the institution respectively. This directive was contained in a statement signed by Dr. Eme Okoro, the Secretary to the State Government.
The Government also directed the immediate redeployment of all medical staff, including all the medical doctors working at the Polytechnic to the Abia State University University Teaching Hospital, Aba. This development, according to Dr. Eme Okoro, “are parts of the drastic steps aimed at repositioning the Polytechnic for better service delivery.”
It would be recalled that the Governor had earlier approved the dissolution of the Governing Board of the Polytechnic.
Buttressing the situation at Abia Poly, the State’s Commissioner for Education, Professor Ikechi Mgboji has this to say: “Clearly, the problem with Abia Poly is mismanagement. Why would a school, fenced round with walls higher than seven feet employ 95 security officers? Why would Abia Poly employ more than 40 staff to sell books in a near-empty bookstore? How did Abia Poly spend more than 24 million naira to renovate a room, barely two years after spending Two million naira on that same room? Why would Abia Poly spend more than 150 million naira to clear bush? Does Abia Poly really need to have heavily staffed canteen with pensionable workers when food services can be profitably provided by competent food sellers in Aba? Should Abia Poly have more than 1000 non-tutorial staff? When was the last time due process was followed in hiring of staff at Abia Poly? What happened to the billions of naira Abia Poly collected in 2016 from its students? Is the N30m Abia Poly spends every month on “overheads” defensible? These questions point to the inescapable fact that Abia Poly is the poster child for impunity, financial recklessness, and extortion of students. The real victims of the Abia Poly conundrums are the long-suffering students. They have suffered enough abuse, extortion, and cheating.
“Reports of extortion of students by lecturers are also being reviewed alongside the streamlining of jobs. It is unacceptable to have about 1000 non academic staff at that school which has far less number of academic staff. Even the qualification of the academic staff will be streamlined to ensure that the highest academic standards are maintained.”
Clearly the body language from Government House in Umuahia shows that the Ikpeazu administration is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that sanity is restored at Abia Poly. No amount of blackmail by politically instigated union gang-up will stop the wheel of change at Abia Poly as the government is determined to deliver an institution that can run smartly, pay workers promptly and focus on supporting the drive of the government towards enhanced local production of goods and services. However, a recipe to their inflated pains and frustration is here, as the unraveling of the monsters behind the conundrum has just started in earnest.
• Nwakodo writes from Aba