Barely one month after Saturday Sun published a report indicating that all was not well with tertiary institutions in Abia State, including Abia Polytechnic, Aba, Abia State University (ABSU), Abia State College of Technical Education, Arochukwu (ASCETA) and College of Health Sciences and Management Technology, Aba, the hen has come home to roost.
Few weeks after the report published on September 20, with the headline: Lecturers in Abia eat bread of sorrow…Owed salaries for months, tertiary institutions crumbling, there appears to be more troubles for the schools with the sack of some of their heads and their lecturers now on indefinite strike.
Summarising the precarious state of affairs in an interview with Saturday Sun in his office recently, Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), Abia Polytechnic chapter, Mr Precious Nwakodo, said: “All is not well in Abia State Polytechnic, Aba. If you are owing me salary arrears, I can’t say all is well. Here, we have issue of salary arrears. As at September last year, we had salary arrears of eight months. As at today, it’s about four months’ arrears. The last salary we got was for April/May.”
The report further said that the institution, which is located in the heart of Aba, the commercial nerve centre of Abia State, “contends with the ruins that define the city. Coming into Abia Poly through the second gate on Aba – Owerri road, you quickly notice that all is not well with the institution. To start with, a heap of garbage welcomes you. Blocking part of the road, the decomposing waste sting you like a bee and you are forced to close your nose and quicken your step while passing the place.
“The overflowing garbage bin is a permanent feature there. ‘They only come to evacuate the garbage when it starts overflowing. And because they do not come regularly, the garbage bin is always overflowing, making it a permanent feature sort of,’ a teacher, who craved anonymity, told the reporter.
“And when you come into the school, you will also see another overflowing garbage bin by the second gate, which is the exit gate. Indeed, waste management could be said to be an issue in the school. For instance, on the day the reporter went to interview the ASUP chairman, wastes littered the front of the ICT building where his office is located.”
Agatha, a student, captured the situation thus: ‘During the rainy season, the students hardly put on shoes to school because your shoes will not be the same again. At a time like this, we wear sandals or something you can wash because of the mud you will wade through.”
The report also revealed that, as a matter of fact, “over the years, Abia Poly had contended with myriads of problems. First, it grapples with a precarious financial condition, resulting in its indebtedness to about seven banks. It was gathered that what the management of the institution was doing was tantamount to robbing Peter to pay Paul. A source said what the Rector was doing was ‘to put students’ fees into the bank and collect overdraft to pay salaries. When the school account is in red, he moves over to another bank with the same style. That is why the banks can longer guarantee us credit which we used in paying workers salaries.’
“It was learnt that First Bank has bought off the school’s debts to other banks. According to Nwakodo, “the institution borrowed money from First Bank with the express permission of the governor to primarily clear the institution’s indebtedness to other banks. The condition was that First Bank, which is the borrower, will clear debts to other banks. We want to harmonise our accounts into one bank.’
It was gathered then that the institution was indebted to First Bank to the tune of about N1.4billion and it could rise because of interest. Its wage bill was about N165 million while the state government recently increased its monthly subvention to N90 million. The shortfall is borne by the institution by way of internally generated revenue (IGR), particularly school fees and other levies. School fee in Abia Poly is high even as classrooms are overcrowded. While ND students pay N56,000 per semester, HND students pay N66, 250.
Few days after the report was published, the management addressed a press conference, expressing reservations about some aspects of it. Defending some of the issues highlighted in the report, the management argued that it was not the only institution indebted to a bank or owing lecturers, adding that the money taken from students who use the toilet was used to buy tissue papers.
Barely one month after the report, the tale began to twist, showing that all was truly not well with the institution, thus vindicating Saturday Sun. To start with, the Rector of the institution, Sir Allwell Onukaogu was sacked by the state government over some allegations. His removal came barely seven months to the end of his second tenure. Again, both teaching and non-teaching staff embarked on an indefinite strike because of the backlog of salaries owed them.
Similarly, the Provost of Abia State College of Technical Education, Arochukwu (ASCETA), Dr Christian Nwanmuo, who was recently reappointed against the wish of staffers, was sacked last week by the state government. Indeed, when the news of Nwanmuo’s removal hit town, the school turned to an open house party as workers and students put on their dancing shoes. “This is a welcome development; the best news in recent times,” one of them told the reporter. It was learnt that, as reflection of the mood in the school, all the staff were directed to come to school the day after the provost’s removal with containers of powder.
In a recent save-our-soul letter, the workers complained about “denial of staff promotions, non-financial implementation of promotions since 2008 and non confirmation of staff who are due. Appointment of Deans/Heads of Academic Departments (HODs) and Heads of Administrative Units (HOUs) without qualification and merit and disparity in real terms of salary given to staff on the same rank in different banks.
“Indiscriminate increase in school fees and imposition of levies on, as well as non-provision of necessary facilities for students thereby scaring potential students away and forcing the students population down to less than 1,000 in all departments.
“Proliferation of study centres (currently about 25 of them), thereby bastardizing academic standards and indiscriminate employment of new staff without due process, most of who are placed on salaries above what they earn and by so doing, escalating the wage bill of the college.”
Shortly after the report, lecturers at Abia State University, Uturu, went on strike for about two weeks. Their main grouse was that their salaries were not being paid as and when due. There is also the problem of inadequate manpower as well as teaching under uncongenial atmosphere. Meanwhile, the strike has been suspended for now, on compassionate ground, because of students writing their final year exams. Also affected by the shake-up is the College of Health Sciences and Management Technology, Aba where the head accused of running the institution like his personal estate was not reappointed.tweet Follow @@metrolens1