interviewBy Mike Ubani
Former Deputy Vice Chancellor, Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), Professor Mike U. Iloeje, is currently the Rector, Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu. He speaks to MIKE UBANI on his vision for IMT, and the need for adequate funding of technology-based institutions in the country.
May we know your vision for the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu?
I came in here as Rector of IMT in October 2011; that's barely eight months ago, on the appointment of his Excellency, the Governor of Enugu State, Sullivan Chime. My specific mission is to restore IMT to the standard where it was before in the tertiary education sector of this country. IMT, as you and I know, is one of the top three polytechnics in this country. The other two are the Yaba College of Technology (Yabatech), and Kaduna Polytechnic (KadPoly). If you want a slogan for my job here, it is 'restoration agenda'. We had derailed in the past, and so my job here is to restore every aspect of our academia, including research, public service, training, development and community service.
What are the constraints you face today in IMT?
The very first thing that we need here is influx of funds. Why do I say that? You can quote me. What we get from internally generated revenue from student fees and charges is N35 million on the average every month - based on our downsized number of students. Now, what we get from government today is N21million which we are grateful for. If you add the N20million that government gives us with the N35 million that we generate, that means N55million. But my monthly wage bill here is N158 million. We are begging the government and every concerned stakeholder to come to our aid so that we can continue to provide our services at the desired level. We would be more than grateful if the state government can come to our assistance by increasing our monthly subvention. They have done so for other tertiary institutions in the state, for example, our sister institutions, the Enugu state University of Science and Technology (ESUT) and also the Enugu State College of Education (Technical). I want to use this medium to thank the government for the consistency at which they release our monthly subventions. We also beg them to see if they can increase the funds so that we can continue to pay our workers. Currently, I owe two months' salary to our workers, and you know a worker deserves his wages. Just last week, I gave a directive to the bursar to see if we can pay April salaries, which we have done. We thank the government for that, but we still owe May-June. We have carefully managed this place so that there is industrial harmony and stability.
Another problem is racketeering. The academic content of our programme has been abused by lecturers and many of our staff members through unbridled extortion of money from students; unauthorized and illegal sale of handouts and textbooks that are substandard, but which students are made to buy. This is what you euphemistically call 'buy or die'. If you don't buy that textbook you will 'die' academically. People proliferate textbooks that are neither edited nor reviewed, and compulsorily require the students to buy them as a necessary pre-condition for passing their courses. I am in the process of making sure that that stops in IMT. It is wrong, it is unprofessional, unethical and morally wrong and so we must stop it. And any person that has been reported to me as being guilty of that offence or even alleged to have committed the offence, is usually given an opportunity to defend himself. If he is found guilty, he has a chance of an appeal, and if the evidence against such a person is overwhelmingly correct, disciplinary measures are taken against such a person.
Has anybody been found guilty of these offences, and what disciplinary measures did you take against such a person?
Yes. Some lecturers have been found guilty, and consequently some of them have had their appointments terminated, and some have been suspended. Some lecturers have also been made to refund monies extorted from students.
What are the major components of this restoration agenda?
We want to restore the confidence of people who send their daughters or wives to IMT, that their academic progress will not be compromised because of sexual harassment. You must have heard of the slogan: 'if you don't sleep with a male lecturer, you will 'die' academically' or 'sex for grade'. In the last eight months that I have been here, I have terminated the appointments of two members of staff on sexual harassment charges. I am reassuring every female student here that her human rights will be properly defended by this institution. Let me sound a warning through LEADERSHIP Newspaper, that IMT is no longer an institution where female students are sexually harassed. If there is any reported case, the accused person would be given ample opportunity to a fair hearing following our regulations and the rules of natural justice, and if the person can vindicate himself, fine, otherwise he should be ready to face the prescribed disciplinary measures.
Has the IMT accreditation which was withdrawn by the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) been restored? and how?
Yes. By this time last year, the accreditation to offer the National Diploma (ND) and Higher National Diploma (HND) was withdrawn by the NBTE, which is the regulatory and supervisory body. What that meant was that the HND graduates - about 15,812 of them - were denied the opportunity to be mobilized to do their National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme along with their colleagues from other parts of the country. The Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) was mandated to stop admitting students into IMT. We were given the option of what is known as 'zero steady population'. We went to Kaduna and pleaded our case, and we have restored the accreditation that was withdrawn. We were given operating guidelines which include the capacity of students that we can carry.
What are you doing to rehabilitate the dilapidated buildings in IMT?
In fact, the rehabilitation of some of those dilapidated physical facilities that were established in 1972 by Prof. Chijioke, the pioneer Rector of IMT, is part of my restoration agenda. Many of our machines in the IMT Industrial Centre are those old, World War II leftovers that are calibrated in inches. The world has gone metric but many of our equipment are not. Recently, in that same programme of restoration agenda, we have taken delivery of so many equipment in our Industrial Centre. They are brand new machines - cutting edge technological machines. This will help to expand our resource base so that we can also expand our student enrolment. There are also other things that we are doing on ground here, in terms of academic programmes. IMT is a brand name. IMT is known worldwide, not just in this country. Our department of Fine and Applied Arts is one of the best in Africa, but the institution has not marketed that department as aggressively as they should do. Since assuming office, I have enabled that department to create a website where the sculptors, the artists and other people in visual and creative arts can market their products in the international marketplace, upload their works of art at a price that people can access them and know what they can do; and all that will be to the glory of IMT. And also as part of our restoration agenda, I have attracted a conference attendance grant from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), which is available for all Nigerian universities and polytechnics. There is currently the one on ground where any academic member of staff of IMT, who wants to attend any overseas conference anywhere in the world, can access that grant up to half a million naira. But it must be an overseas conference for a learned society or professional society, so that if I can get 15 people to go in the next three months, you can see the ripple effect it would have in this institution: it would synergize and jumpstart the academic revolution here. On the physical structures, I am putting together a restoration agenda committee - every department will have a restoration agenda committee where the departments will tell us the needs of that department or school, and how to bring their facilities to the level required in the 21st Century, and that will be compiled. And I will tell the owners of the institution, which is the government and people of Enugu State, how much it is going to cost to bring the institution to the level I want to take it to.
Against the backdrop of these constraints, are you in a position to attract good lecturers here?
If the truth must be told, some of our academic staff have no business being here. For example, when I came here eight months ago, the head of department of mass communication absolutely had no qualification in mass communication. I have chosen mass communication because I know that is your area. The person charged with the responsibility of providing academic and professional leadership in that department had absolutely no qualification, no certificate or training in mass communication. You cannot be ordained a priest in the Anglican Communion and you want to be a Bishop in the Catholic Church. But in fairness to him, he has a HND, BSC and Masters Degree in fine and applied arts. I removed him from mass communications, and made him the head of department of fine and applied arts. If you put a carpenter in charge of masons, the job will not be done. So, what I am trying to do is to use what I have in the best possible way to get to where I want to go. When I get more funds, then I can aggressively go out to employ better qualified people. We have a proposal to establish a radio station in IMT. When we get this station on air, students in the mass communication department will know how to operate a radio station. An institution as old as IMT should have a radio station.
What is the student population of IMT?
When I assumed duty, IMT had about 35,812 students. That's far above what the NBTE approved. But in restoring the accreditation that was withdrawn, the NBTE gave us our approved student carrying capacity - which is 7,080 students.
Does that figure represent the number of students you are allowed to admit each year?
No, not at all; that represents the overall number of students that we are supposed to have here.
So what did you do with the surplus?
They just don't disappear into the thin air. We are gradually reducing our student population. For example, in the 2011/2012 academic session, there were over 20,000 students who indicated their interests to enroll in IMT, but we are allowed to admit only 1,200. It means that 94 percent of those interested in getting admission into IMT cannot be accommodated or offered admission. This creates a bigger social problem such that our children in this part of the country don't have access to tertiary education.
Are there things you are doing to generate revenue internally?
Yes, of course, the UniAir programme is being re-invigorated. We have admitted some students into that programme. We also admit students into the preliminary studies to remediate some of their deficiencies. I don't see any reason why IMT cannot run a skill-based training programme for vulcanizers so that they can be better equipped and qualified artisans and technicians. In places like Ghana, they have such programmes in bakery and printing technology. These are not certificate-based programmes, but skill-based programmes.