By Meluwa Utebor
ABA: Group under the aegis of The Foundation for Environmental Rights Advocacy and Development (FENRAD), has said that the withdrawal of accreditation from Abia State Polytechnic, Aba by the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) is a worrisome situation for the state.
FENRAD also said that the current students of the polytechnic will be confined to their homes just like those in the state’s university had been in the last six months following the strike by the Academic Staff Union of University (ASUU).
The group stated this in a Press Statement signed by the Executive Director FENRAD and the Head Corporate Accountability and Human Rights Enforcement, Comrade Nelson Nnanna Nwafor, and Barr. Akande Femisi and forwarded to newsmen in Aba on Saturday evening, that with the strike, tertiary education in the state is facing a huge setback.
According to FENRAD, in the statement, “The painful part of it all is that nobody knows how long it will take for the accreditation to be restored. FENRAD says, it represents a huge disservice to struggling and starving parents and guardians of students of the polytechnic, especially those who had just paid the tuition of their children and wards for the current session before this recent development.
“It is a big minus, and also blow, to the state as students of the said polytechnic are not only those from Abia but also those from outside the Southeast.
“FENRAD recalls that in his latest cabinet reshuffle and rejig exercise, Governor Ikpeazu, known by some of his admirers as “scholar in government,” had split the state ministry of education into two; one ministry to oversight basic education and the other post-basic education.
“Ordinarily, one would think that by expanding his cabinet beyond the size of the local councils (17) in the state, and creating two cabinet portfolios for the education sector, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu really would be bringing to an end all the challenges faced by the education sector which sadly remains one of the most underfunded sectors in every budget cycle.
FENRAD further said that contrary to this expectation, Abia people are treated to this sad development of removal of accreditation shortly after strike action by secondary school teachers over the issue of non-payment of salaries resulted in Abia junior secondary students starting their Junior WAEC examination behind others in the federation.
The situation in Abia shows that these two ministries have failed the people, considering that the Basic Education Ministry was to take care of education from primary to junior secondary level and the Post-Basic Education Ministry from senior secondary to tertiary level and asked why are teachers being owed at both levels under the two ministries?
“FENRAD regrets that late last year Abia State University Teaching Hospital complained of 22-month salary arrears owed them and would later embark on a strike last year’s November. Recently, after the Nigeria Medical Association’s (NMA’s) 62nd Annual General Conference of June this year (2023), the Association ordered Abia resident doctors to embark on indefinite strike action with other states briefed to show solidarity.
“How many Abians can travel abroad on medical grounds or to other states in any health emergency situation should the state healthcare sector collapse? We believe that the state doesn’t have funds to cover the travel expenses of her citizens for medical tourism in the face of dwindling revenues.
“To think this is affecting the state university’s teaching hospital is to say that issue of outstanding salary arrears is now affecting two key sectors – health and education combinedly.
“FENRAD is aware that some of the challenges were inherited by the Ikpeazu-led administration but wishes the governor Godspeed in tackling and surmounting these challenges.
“After all, has the government not failed already if it cannot tackle education and healthcare squarely?
“Governor Ikpeazu has always made known his “five pillars of development” among which education is a plank for a sustainable growth plan to put Abia on the path of recovery and self-reliance.
“With this development (deaccreditation), the meaning is that students of the polytechnic will no longer be mobilised for NYSC, and may suffer serious problems in the competitive and shrinking Nigeria’s labour market even as they are already by this same development disqualified from Industrial Training Fund and programmes (no longer likely to be hired by firms for industrial attachment). This is heart-rending, to say the least.
“FENRAD further called on Governor Ikpeazu to show and exemplify the designation of “scholar in government” by intervening to save tertiary education in the state from further disgrace.
“It is aware that he is a listening governor, a man who has education as part of his five pillar programmes for development in the state and failure to do this might indeed send the message that the governor, who recently was seen in pictures celebrating a fellow governor’s son’s graduation from a UK-based university, is indifferent to the educational needs of his state; and that perhaps the success story of Abia State regarding WAEC and JAMB breakthroughs has more connection with private schools, not the public or state-owned ones.
“We do not want this to form the assessment/perception of the governor or that of the state under his watch. Abians, who voted for the governor based on his educational qualification as a PhD in 2015 and retained him in 2019 would want to know why and how exactly salary arrears owed polytechnic staff reached that scale even after numerous bailout and other intervention funds have been sourced from the federal purse in the recent past.
“Thirty months without pay means the government has not paid her workers for two and half years; a picture that depicts disregard to international labour laws and conventions, even to God’s instruction and other biblical injunctions that they that worked be paid.
“We trust the Governor to rise to the occasion as Abia is indeed “God’s own” beyond appellation. While the government has come out to say it paid over N7 billion in subvention funds to the polytechnic since 2015, it is pertinent to remind the state that even though it is accepted that the polytechnic is autonomous, this does not yank them off entirely from state government and its numerous agencies.
“Again, the said N7 billion if true might not have met the current monetary needs of the school in the last two and half years. FENRAD calls on the Abia State House of Assembly, the seventh assembly, to interrogate this as the issue of salary arrears deserves urgent legislative intervention.”