A drama unfolding around the accreditation of a tertiary institution in Abia State demonstrates the cavalier governance that is prevalent among the federal and state governments in Nigeria. A report published in The PUNCH describes how Abia State Polytechnic lost its accreditation status due to non-payment of staff salaries and allowances for more than 30 months. Such negligence and callous treatment of staff and students must be consigned to history before they bring the education system completely to its knees.
An account of the events that led to the loss of accreditation is an indictment of the state administration. The National Board of Technical Education lamented that despite the board’s efforts to persuade the school board and the state government to work towards debt repayment, both failed to act to decisive way. He noted that the establishment of these obligations is one of the key elements of the NBTE’s normative instruments for quality assurance in polytechnics and technical and vocational institutions under its jurisdiction.
The council recalled that it had taken further action by writing directly to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, but to no avail. In a state where people overwhelmingly cherish the acquisition of a formal education for the betterment of self and society, this is unfair.
But Abia Poly is not the first higher education institution in the state to lose its accreditation. In May 2022, the National Universities Commission withdrew the accreditation of Abia State University College of Medicine. The state chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association, Chimezie Okwuonu, blamed the loss squarely on the government. “Currently, at the end of April 2022, staff members of Abia State Teaching Hospital owe 25 months salary arrears,” he said. “The resident doctors have been on a cumulative strike for 18 months; other healthcare workers are also on strike, while a few of the doctors, mainly consultants, doctors and locum staff, although not officially on strike, are generally off work as the environment work is not in order.
Okwuonu said efforts to secure quick fixes have hit a brick wall. If only the government and its agencies had listened and worked with the NMA and other unions, this loss of certification would have been avoided.
However, the state has strongly refuted these accounts. He questioned the management of Abia Poly. Eze Chikamnayo, the information and strategy commissioner, said the Ikpeazu administration had since 2015 disbursed 7.17 billion naira to the school, releasing 92 million naira per month for 78 months. He insisted the school’s misfortunes were “self-inflicted” and the result of mismanagement. Regarding the closure of the medical school, the state government blamed this on the closure of ABSUTH, but admitted that the hospital “was closed due to issues related to the back wages of workers” .
Apologies do not absolve the government. He is the owner of the polytechnic school; it is up to him to ensure sound management, control and ensure the judicious use of the funds. He failed in his monitoring. If the direction of the polytechnic school was incompetent, it should have acted. Moreover, she has no excuse in the face of salary arrears long enough to cause the hospital to close.
Unfortunately, Abia is not alone in neglecting education. In addition to the closure of federal universities and many state universities for five months, the federal government failing to resolve the strike called by the University Academic Staff Union, many states owe professors, medical staff, other workers and retirees. Underfunded, ill-equipped and neglected, most public colleges, hospitals and other public institutions are chaotic.
Often it is not for lack of resources, but for priority. The governors simply have other priorities, mainly political ones, only focusing on education.
The neglect of education from primary to tertiary proves Nigeria’s leadership deficit. In other parts of the world, the ASUU strike, now entering its sixth month, has reportedly drawn undivided attention from the 36 governors and the president, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retired). Instead, they are preoccupied with politics and the 2023 election.
Worse still, they show open contempt for ordinary Nigerians and their plight. So while public universities remain closed and thousands of students stay at home, Buhari, several governors and ministers shared photos celebrating the graduation of their own children from foreign universities. What insensitivity!
Education is the foundation of successful economies around the world. It helps propel change in economies moving from underdevelopment to societies with favorable human development indices. Nigeria lags behind in the HDI in part because of the mess its rulers have created in the education sector, from the basic level of basic education to the tertiary level.
Recently, teachers in Abia declared an indefinite strike after 14 months of unpaid wages. And like most states, the state government failed to access the 715.07 million naira grant provided by the Universal Basic Education Commission in 2020. In 2021, UBEC revealed that 26 states, including Abia and the FCT, did not have access to N33.6 billion. expand basic education because they did not provide the 50% matching funding component. A total of N130 billion of the UBEC fund had not been accessed as of August 2021, according to Education Minister Adamu Adamu.
Experts say the right environment must exist for learning to take place. But Nigerian governments are not promoting this need; a reason why UNESCO has listed Nigeria as one of the countries where “teaching takes place, but no learning takes place”. The national literacy rate of 62.02% is low compared to its peers. In contrast, South Africa has a literacy rate of 87.05%, Egypt 71.2% and Ghana 79.04%.
The agony of students, their parents, professors and unpaid health workers in several states can only be imagined. The Abia State Legislative Assembly should intervene using its constitutional powers. It should allocate funds to repair state higher institutions and medical facilities and pay lecturers and health personnel. Every effort should be made to upgrade deaccredited institutions and restore their accreditation. All other state legislatures are expected to adopt similar measures. Governors should give education the highest priority. As a matter of urgency, the NBTE, NUC and other well-meaning actors in the education sector should unite to ensure that the education sector crisis in Abia is resolved without delay.