25 May 2011

Nigeria: Time to End the Kaduna Polytechnic Strike

The almost 50 year-old Kaduna Polytechnic, Nigeria's premier technical college after Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, is probably Africa's largest. Next to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, it is also the country's largest tertiary institution. Once upon a time it was arguably the country's best polytechnic, possibly even on the continent.

But while it seems to have retained its record in size all these half a century, its reputation as a quality polytechnic has been on a free fall since the turn of this millennium. The trouble with the institution, as with the country at large, has been its leadership, most notably under its current governing council headed by Senator U.U. Dukku, and its Rector, Dr. Danjuma Ismaila Isa.

The rot had long begun before Dukku's council which was constituted in February 2009. It had set in even before Isa's substantive rectorship which began in October 2003. But under these two, however, the rot seemed to have become cancerous.

Isa had acted as rector from January 2003 following the dissolution of the Professor Dahiru Yahaya led council under somewhat controversial circumstances. For two and a half years after he became substantive rector in October Isa managed the institution as a sole administrator in all but name.

His appointment was in itself rather dubious; he was not among the top three out of the several candidates that were interviewed for the job. And it seems once he got the job he did his best not to disappoint those who thought it was really above him.

At least this was the impression one is bound to come away with from the report of an eight-man ministerial visitation panel under Professor A. I. Essien that was appointed in February by the Minister of Education, Professor Ruqayya Ahmed Rufaí, to look into the causes of the long drawn strike by the institution's Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), a strike which had paralysed it since last year.

ASUP had gone on strike twice last year to demand the sack of the leadership of the institution over allegations of incompetence, mismanagement and corruption, among other vices. When it thought the authorities did not take its action seriously, it went on a third strike in January and vowed not to go back to work until its allegations were looked into and remedied. Five months on and two months after the visitation panel had submitted its report in March, the union seems to have stuck to its guns.

Sources inside the visitation panel say its report was damning of both the governing council and management of the institution. While the council was said to have been "inept and complacent," the rector was said to have concentrated virtually all management activities, including procurement, staff development and maintenance of the institution in his office.

The result has been reckless expenditure, recruitment, training and promotion of faculty, technical and administrative staff based on nepotism and favouritism rather on merit, and award of contracts without due process, etc. The sordid details of all these are truly mindboggling.

In the end the panel recommended the immediate dissolution of the council and the removal of the rector "with immediate effect." The panel also recommended that his two deputies should be relieved of their jobs and asked to revert to their teaching jobs.

Similarly the registrar was to be relieved of his job while the bursar was to remain on compulsory leave pending the outcome of an external audit the panel recommended should be made in to the institution's finances since 2005.

These and other recommendations of the panel should have brought the ASUP strike to an end especially given the fact that the minister had suspended the institution's top three managers simultaneous with the inauguration of the panel. In addition she had also pleaded with the union to call off its strike to "assist government to bring normalcy to the Polytechnic."

In the circumstance it is easy to blame the current mess in the institution on the union's stubbornness. Indeed the New Nigerian and Daily Trust did just that in their various editorials recently. The New Nigerian of April 29, for example, accused the union of adopting an "obdurate stance." It even backed the institution's leadership for proscribing the union even though it lacked the power to do so. The polytechnic authorities, it said, "had no reason to do business with ASUP, or even recognise it in the first place."

The newspaper was right to accuse the union of stubbornness. It was wrong, however, to ignore the source of that stubbornness. And this is the seeming reluctance of the Federal authorities to apply the very medicine they themselves have recommended as necessary for the polytechnic to begin to regain its past glory.

Since the panel made its submission, a white paper has reportedly been issued which has accepted the panel's recommendations virtually lock, stock and barrel. President Goodluck Jonathan is also said to have since approved those same recommendations.

It is difficult to see why the Federal authorities are finding it hard, if not impossible, to do what is obviously so right by an institution which has done so much for the development of this country, especially when all it would take is a stroke of the minister's pen.

Re: "The man who turned PUNCH around"

Dear Mohammed,

Thank you very much for your column of today ( May 18) in The Nation newspaper, which dwelt essentially on my tenure at Punch as chairman and the background events before my time.

I thank you for your observations and comments on my person. And, I would like to use this opportunity to let you know that I am happy that you and I had the opportunity to interact and got to know each other better as directors at the News Agency of Nigeria.

Concerning the reels of newsprint occasionally borrowed from Concord newspaper by Punch in the late 1980's, the fact is that they were then critical to the company's operations, as Punch would otherwise not have been able to appear in sufficient quantity on the news-stands.

The borrowed reels were, however, always replaced as soon as possible, whenever the finances of Punch became strong enough for it to do so, and the practice of occasional newsprint borrowing still continues between media organisations to this day.

Indeed, when Concord had its challenges, following from the political incarceration of Bashorun Abiola by the Abacha junta, Punch sometimes had cause to lend newsprint to Concord newspaper.

On the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC), I actually championed its establishment from the outset of my presidency of Newspaper Proprietors' Association of Nigeria, relying on the decision of the association at the Annual General Meeting at which I was elected.

As president, I led with vigour the negotiations with the advertising companies and the advertising agencies and we actually succeeded in establishing the structure for the take-off of an Audit Bureau of Circulation, including the appointment of the firm of Dafinone & Co. (Chartered Accountants) as auditors. In fact, being an actuary, I had thought the ABC's commencement would be one of the highlight achievements of my presidency.

It was our own members who actually changed their position, arguing that circulation figures in Nigeria are not a true indication of actual readership, as expressed by resolutions at the meeting of our association held at the premises of The Guardian newspaper on 28th

February, 2008 and on other subsequent occasions.

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