The Provost, Abia State College of Education, Technical, Dr. Philips Nto, is a World Bank consultant and former Commissioner for Finance, Abia State. In this online interview with some journalists, he speaks on the high rate of unemployment among youths, especially graduates of tertiary institutions, and how the government can address it, among others. Excerpts.
By Adesina Wahab
YOU assumed office about five years ago, how has it been?
When I assumed office as the Provost of the College in 2016, I encountered a lot of challenges. The College was in a state of total disrepair infrastructure-wise, academically and also staff members were seriously ill-motivated and their morale very low.
The entire place was overgrown with weeds and resembled an unkempt zoo. The perimeter fence was gone.
There was no electricity because it was cut off from the national grid. It was more or less a no-man’s land. Restoring the environment and making it conducive for academic activities became my topmost priority.
Through the assistance and support of the Governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, we were able to fix a few things especially the power supply and adequate security was put in place. The College is today running on pre-paid meter. On infrastructure development, we have achieved so much.
Almost three decades after the establishment of the College in 1993, no graduate of the College sighted the original certificate of the College because none was available before I came. My administration has finally broken that jinx.
We have signed the Certificates of all the graduates up to 2015. All our students now have the assurance that they will receive their original certificates once they graduate.
On accreditation, it is on record that before the present management, the College did not undergo any accreditation exercise for over 13 years until I assumed office. Again, through the fatherly support and assistance of Governor Ikpeazu, the College approached the National Commission for Colleges of Education, NCCE for accreditation of courses. That exercise was successful as almost all the courses in the College were granted full accreditation.
Mind you that our goal has always been to ensure that students who graduate from this College can be proud to say that they had an all-round education. We ensured that all our first year students and the ones I met on assumption of office had the usual academic ritual of matriculation ceremony which was not done many years before I took over.
It is important to note that there is a need for another round of accreditation of some new courses to beef the student population of the College and subsequently, the College’s internally generated revenue. Let me quickly add here that I met a College that was blacklisted by the Tetfund because of the diversion of funds. Thankfully, that has been restored and we have sustained the goodwill generated by our handling of Tetfund projects in the College.
Some people recently accused you of official misconduct, what is your reaction?
I had resolved never to take issues with anybody over frivolous allegations. First, I am only answerable to the State Governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, who is the Visitor to the College through the Governing Council. Secondly, I am currently focused on sustaining the legacy of infrastructure development and academic excellence I initiated in ASCETA since I assumed duties in 2016. I had refrained from speaking on this matter because of some reasons. I don’t want to dwell on something like that which is targeted at distracting me.
I am way too big to do what I am accused of. It is impossible to loot or mismanage the College’s account. Salaries of workers are paid the same day subvention drops into the College’s account. This is verifiable. Tetfund account is well-regulated so how can anyone loot or mismanage the fund and still achieve the numerous projects we have so far achieved?
What would you describe as your main achievements during your first term?
Like I said earlier, poor infrastructure was one of the major problems of the College because it looked like a glorified secondary school. Most of the buildings were those erected by the foremost educationist, Alvan Ikoku when the Aggrey Memorial Secondary School was founded in 1931 and were no longer habitable for human beings.
However, I decided to tackle that problem head-on. Today, we started and completed the School of Arts and Social Sciences Building, those of Business Education, the College Auditorium, School of Science Education as well as the College Library. Can you imagine, the College operated without a library? These buildings can be described as architectural masterpieces. Currently, the School of Education and the General Studies buildings are nearing completion alongside the landscaping of the College which is on the verge of being completed. We also renovated some existing buildings and hostels.
These buildings are fully equipped when completed. But before then, the College was blacklisted by TEtfund and we struggled to restore their confidence in us and from our performance so far, we have sustained and leveraged on their confidence to attract more interventions to the College. Let me use this opportunity to commend Tetfund for all its assistance. We have also restored academic integrity and stability.
What would you consider to be the greatest challenge your administration has contended with?
My greatest challenge then was lack of infrastructure development and of course, the irregular payment of salaries but thank God that for a year and more, the state government has tried and made almost regular the monthly release of subventions to the College. The governor has since then been living up to the promise he made despite the dwindling revenue from the Federation Account occasioned by the low price of crude oil.
Secondly, low student enrolment is another big challenge that makes it practically difficult to generate revenue through IGR. But despite that, we have achieved much more than we had hoped for.
Most institutions of higher learning in Nigeria are reeling under financial constraints. What is your experience so far?
If the truth must be told, the ugly trend is not limited to higher institutions of learning. The poor financial situation in the country cuts across all the sectors of Nigeria’s economy so tertiary institutions are not an exemption. My experience in ASCETA is not different. However, the Governor, Dr Ikpeazu, a renowned and former lecturer as well as an astute scholar does not play with tertiary education institutions in the state.
Through his assistance, we have sustained the payment of salaries in the College.
terrorism, banditry, internet fraud, kidnapping, and armed robbery, etc. All these are traceable to the inherited colonial curriculum which is no longer useful in the present-day Nigerian society. We inherited the study of English, Mathematics, Chemistry, etc.
They were good then but no longer relevant to the needs of society. Nigerians are supposed to be talking about skill acquisition and individual talent development but that is not what we are doing currently.
So many graduates studied English, Mathematics, and Chemistry, etc but they are far from getting employed because they were not developed skill-wise as a result of the curriculum foisted on them by the colonial masters in the tertiary institutions. Our curriculum should be structured in such a way that the talents of our youths are identified and developed irrespective of what they studied in the tertiary institutions. I call on all tertiary institution administrators to make skill acquisition a compulsory study in their institutions while talents should be identified and developed along with the course of study.
That is why in ASCETA we have made it compulsory that no matter what course a student studies, skills acquisition must be compulsory either in catering services, landscaping, leather works, metal works, and fabrication including computer repairs and food preservation, painting, woodwork, mason etc.
On graduation, the student must have a skill that will make him an employer without waiting to be employed in elusive government jobs. He doesn’t need to look for jobs but be an entrepreneur. So in ASCETA, we train job creators and not job seekers.
Some universities indeed have an entrepreneurship scheme as a course but it should go beyond the theoretical framework. Graduate unemployment has been a recurring issue in our national life as a nation. It became more serious or shall I say intractable with the poor economy of the country. We can only address it if we create graduates with technical and vocational skills.
Do you subscribe to the suggestion that we should halt the establishment of tertiary institutions and what are your reasons?
Nigeria as a country doesn’t have enough tertiary institutions whether private or public.
From my little findings, we have fewer than 600 tertiary institutions which are grossly inadequate for a country with close to 200 million population which has more of the greatest population among the youth that is still doing their first, second and third degrees. Compared to the US which has a population of fewer than 400 million people but with tertiary institutions of close to 6,000; this is grossly inadequate.
Somebody may say that those we have now are grossly underfunded which is true but the level of infrastructural decay especially in the public schools is immeasurable but let me use this opportunity to call on the FG to increase the education tax from one percent to five percent because the one percent which is used to fund Tetfund, the only education funding window for tertiary institutions is inadequate. With this, Nigerian tertiary institutions would no longer have many funding problems.
Also, I recommend that budgetary provisions on education be increased by states and FG to fund research, especially in these institutions. Telecommunication companies should be charged to increase their tariff so that the additional funds can be used to fund university education especially ICT for the possibility of curtailing physical contacts in lecture halls and embrace online lectures in line with Covid-19 protocols and regulations.
Another area of concern is the proliferation of universities by some politicians. These universities are set up not necessarily to adequately impart knowledge but as a mark of status symbol. This is not a good sign.