Prof. Illoeje’s one-year report card…
From PETRUS OBI, Enugu
About a year ago, the Institute of Management Technology, IMT, one of the leading polytechnics in Nigeria, was almost buried when it was proscribed by the supervisory and regulatory agency, National Board for Technical Education, NBTE, and its accreditation to run the National Diploma programmes and the High National Diploma Programmes withdrawn.
As if that calamity was not enough, its graduates were rejected by the NYSC directorate, and, JAMB, the only body authorized by Decree 34 to process admissions into tertiary institutions in this country was also asked to stop processing admissions into IMT; in fact IMT was said to have been deleted from the JAMB computer memory.
IMT was totally balkanized; the staff was demoralized as they didn’t know their fate whether the place was going to be closed or not. “Students were traumatized by lecturers who actually engaged openly in extortion of money, sale of illegal and unauthorized handouts, awarding of grades for none academic considerations, for sex and for other financial gratifications,” the Rector, Prof Michael Uwaezuoke Illoeje, recalls. “It was an IMT with decaying infrastructure. With the degree of decay in IMT, nothing seemed to be working. It was a case where some members of staff had spent 20 to 25 years of their active service but were no longer sure whether they were going to retire and get their benefits from an institution that was about to collapse.”
What he refused to add, out of modesty, is that it was at this point that he (Illoeje) a Professor of Animal Generics and experienced administrator was drafted to salvage the dying institution which had been a pride of South East and which opened the doors to tertiary education to many in the zone. Illoeje’s appointment was sequel to the sacking of the then management of the institution by the government of Sullivan Chime. The new Rector, who professed taking the job almost by default, noted that, “anything that goes wrong went wrong because of a human neglect and if it has to come right too, it has to be through human effort. So I was challenged; I come from this part of the world, I come from Enugu and with my administrative experience I saw no reason why I couldn’t have the skills to deliver IMT back from the ‘graveyard.’ So it was a personal challenge and I am happy I took it up because it’s also my own way of contributing to the future of our youth who want to enter the tertiary institution through the IMT window.”
One year on, and the rector is proud to beat his chest and tell the world that IMT has bounced back. “I came in here middle of October last year; the first task in front of me was to resurrect this place; in order to do it I had to go to Kaduna and dialogue with the management of NBTE; I found also that they’ve been fair to IMT in terms of giving them ample opportunity to remedy the deficiencies and their departure from well-laid down criteria.
We worked out a programme of gradual compliance to NBTE criteria and it was based on trust; and as soon as I came out with a roadmap to rectifying the deficiencies in IMT, I got a very beautiful letter from them restoring the withdrawn accreditation; I got that in December 2011; barely two months in office.
I went and spoke to JAMB and gave them a guarantee and work plan for complying with JAMB criteria; I am happy to tell you that JAMB immediately wrote to us and started processing admissions into IMT; they processed the 2011/2012 academic and currently they are processing the 2012/2013 academic year. I also went to the NYSC with 15,812 IMT graduates that were roaming around the streets of Enugu and other cities in this country, unsure of their fate, of whether they will join their mates for the one-year youth service or not. I spoke with the authorities at NYSC and I gave them a credible downsizing programme and we decided together that the best way was to face out the mobilization in three phases and the last batch are already in service now. With these assurances, they also saw the transparency and my dedication to be able to bring IMT back to play at the national level. With these efforts, we were able to bring IMT back. IMT can now admit, graduate and offer the ND and HND certificates.”
What else did you do to get the institution on track?
Somebody called me recently and said, this time, last year she didn’t know that IMT would be alive. So, having sorted out the external problems of IMT, I then turned inwards to clean up the stables, so to speak, because most of the problems were internal. I started to work on the staff and I found out that the best way is to put programmes on the ground to address the welfare of the staff because a happy worker will be an effective worker.
I looked at their pay-package and discovered that there was a salary structure that was approved for them in agreement with government way back in 2005 that had not been implemented. IMT workers were the least-paid at the Polytechnics level in this country. I looked at it and was able to put together a powerful advocacy to the owners of IMT who are the government and the good people of Enugu State through the Commissioner for Education, and finally, on July 23, this year, the Governor himself saw our argument and graciously approved almost a 600% increase in our wage bill; we went from N20m monthly subvention to N120m.
So I must use this medium to thank the Governor who is the Visitor to our institution for coming to our assistance and also the Commissioner for Education who packaged this deal and was able to support me. Having gotten that, I quickly deployed the fund to service the salary wage bill and I am happy that one year after I had come here, our staffs are now earning jumbo salaries.
They are happy and they are working better; they come to work earlier, they sit there throughout and they deliver the job. I discovered that many of our staff are poorly-trained and poorly-qualified for the job so I put up a programme for conference attendance; I got some money from Third Fund and I am deploying that money to exclusively fund attendance and participation in international conferences and learned society workshops and meetings for IMT staff. I will fund and I have continued to fund any staff that gets his papers accepted for publication and presentation anywhere in the world. Currently, as I speak, about 23 of our staff have travelled overseas and come back on that project. Some have gone for conferences in Texas, California, South Africa, Austria, Canada, many places. As I speak now, I got a phone call from two members of our staff who are presenting papers in Turkey; one will be going to Austria at the end of the month.
If I can get ten people traveling overseas from IMT to present international papers, this place will be bubbling. I also have got funds which I will specially deploy to train IMT staff to obtain higher degrees in any university in the world; all they have to do now is to get a letter of admission. IMT will sponsor it. I am also willing to give such staff study leave with full pay; so far, only one staff has risen up to that challenge and he will be going to Strathclyde University in November this year to pursue a two-year PHD degree programme and I am approving for him too study leave with full pay.
The only condition is that he will sign a bond that he will not abscond from there; he will come back and serve IMT. I insist on oversea universities because I want cross fertilization of ideas; no longer will I tolerate our staff running around at our backyards and taking programmes in universities around…not that they are not nice but if you go overseas, you’ll be playing at the global market place. I want IMT to be a recognizable name on the Internet; that’s why I am sending them there. In addition to that, staff must be ICT-compliant and I have put on ground a systematic training and workshop programme for IMT staff who wish to be ICT-compliant; initially, people were not accepting it eagerly. I now put an icing on the cake and said if you do that programme for three days and pass I will give you a laptop; and now the response is tremendous. The first one I hosted, they were 50 participants and they worked hard; at the end, all those who passed, I think all of them passed, were given a laptop. The second batch was for 40 people and I am happy the way people are buying into the programmes.
How are you handling the issue of students because they are part of the system?
Just this morning, I had an audience with the student body and I told them that institutions of high learning are expressively founded for the benefit of the students; to avail them with opportunities to have education. So, we are here, primarily, for the students. I have been able to stimulate enough followership from the students that in the past one year, we have not had any disturbance from students, which is contrary to what used to obtain here. Exam periods are trying periods for students; it is at that time that recalcitrant students and professional students who are here for other reasons rather than academics, seize the opportunity to create mayhem on campus. We have not had that in the past one year that I have been here.
Our examinations have been peaceful; they went on as programmed and this is courtesy of participation by the students; I have included and carried them along in everything we’ve done on campus here. I have made my doors open to them and involved them as equal participants in formulating policies. We had little hiccups with students when we had a minimal increase in the school fees which was occasioned by the removal of fuel subsidy and also inflation rate in the economy.
I carried the students along and at the end of the day, whatever compromise we reached was unanimously agreed by student body and members of management. I am also aware of the deplorable living conditions of our students on campus; the hostels are in terrible shape, some of them are not fit for human occupation.
I also know that the physical development of this institution cannot be left alone for the government to fund so I am involving a private partnership participation in reconstruction and rehabilitation of IMT. We have advertised for refurbishment and renovation of two hostels on a Build, Occupy and Transfer, BOT, basis; we want entrepreneurs who will come invest in project IMT, renovate the hostels at the end of the day they will charge an acceptable and agreed hostel fee which they will maintain for an agreed number of years after that property reverts to IMT ownership.
We are also looking at getting funds from Third Fund and other federal organizations to run this IMT; I have asked Third Fund to collapse some of our grants which previous administrations in IMT were not able to reach; if we can collapse them then I will go into building of some academic structures. Meanwhile, I am trying to justify the ones that have been given to us. Right in front of me today is a status report on all the on-going third fund projects in IMT; some of those projects are construction projects; the other ones are procurement and furnishing. The construction projects are very gigantic; one is the construction of a new complex for School of Engineering, another one a new complex for School of Technology, another one for entrepreneur centre and another for the library. These are very big projects costing almost a billion naira.
Fifty percent of the contract sum has been disbursed to the contractors and to avoid littering this campus with uncompleted projects I am aggressively pursuing the contractors who have received public funds to see that they deliver on the projects. I have compiled a status report as of September this year and I am forwarding that to the government of Enugu State and also to the House of Assembly so that we maintain public accountability to public funds meant for IMT. I am happy also to say that some of those projects are on; with careful monitoring and careful use of the funds, those four construction projects will be completed before this time next year. I will use facilities available from those new projects to ask for a commensurate increase and expansion of our student enrolment in order to justify the increase in our resource base. There are other projects in that third fund projects. If the contracts, after one year, are still less than 2% completed, I will bring the names of all the companies to the public domain.
There have been public outcry over the standard and quality of graduates in recent times; are you doing anything to check that in IMT?
When I came here, there was a letter they sent to me and they used one word that I have never heard all my life they called it “academic amnesty;” I told the person I thought amnesty was the one Yar’Adua gave to people in Niger Delta. But this amnesty meant in effect letting people pass through who do not have the prerequisite entry requirements. Somebody wants a certificate in Mechanical Engineering and he didn’t have Physics at School Certificate level and you are trying to make amnesty for that person; it doesn’t happen, and I told them it will not happen under my watch.
So one effective way that I am handling that is that nobody will be admitted into any programme in IMT if he doesn’t have five credits in relevant subjects which must include English Language and Mathematics. It’s been there but not rigorously adhered to; so right from 2011/2012 under my tenure, nobody will ever be admitted into IMT if he doesn’t have these basic requirements. If we can ensure that basic entry requirement, it will affect our output because garbage in is garbage out. What I also want to introduce is summer schools. In this country, the schools that are running it are some private universities that provide three months of summer for students who have a failing grade in one subject; so it’s no longer a carry-over but they come back and for ten weeks of summer they repeat that course so that they will be here on time; they will not spend extra years.
It reduces taxpayer’s money and stress on the parents; they do it in Ghana and that’s why parents send their wards to Ghana. So, I am looking at the possibility of starting a summer school in IMT so that any student that has a failing grade in a course will have opportunity during the summer period to pay extra fees to run that programme and teachers involved will also receive extra from the fees they paid.
Were there challenges or problems encountered so far in trying to reposition IMT; may we also know if there have been casualties?
Of course, if you want to read Medicine, you should not be afraid of blood. Here, there have been bumps; I have had tremendous pressure from people to cut corners but I think the best way is to be consistent. I have had very difficult situations to insist that disciplinary measures are consistent with the rules. In the past one year that I have been here, it’s been my unfortunate responsibility to terminate, suspend, or in one way truncate the career of many staff in IMT.
Many of them I have sent on suspension for specified period of time for offences clearly articulated in our regulations. One or two of them, I have had to terminate their appointments here for things like sexual harassment which you and I know is unacceptable; some I had to visit with suspensions and other disciplinary measures for illegal sale of unauthorized handouts and extortion of money from students or award of grades for reasons other than academic performance. I have also had to demote some academic staff here and put them under a moratorium for a specified number of years because they awarded grades for considerations other than academic performance of the students. Because I believe that a student has the right to earn a grade that is commensurate with his academic input in the examination he has taken.
I have also had the unpleasant responsibility of insisting that rules are adhered to; and anywhere you are doing a clean-up programme, you know you must have aspersions and innuendos from people who feel you are stepping on their toes both from within and outside. But let me say on a happy note that the owners of this institution, the government and the good people of Enugu State have been solidly behind me in helping to eradicate some of the bad practices here. Of particular example is the admission process, which you know that if you are not iron clad in your adherence to criteria for admission it can be hijacked by interests which are not academic.
I have had that difficulty here during the first admission exercise I had but, I am happy to report to you that those people, for one reason or the other I did not favour, have come around to say that I am doing the right thing and that it is important for posterity.
And this year’s exercise will be a build-up on the last year’s because people now know that admission into IMT will be according to strict guidelines which are in the public domain for everybody to know. So, there have been problems here and there but he whoever is afraid of problems will never get on; but I also take some of these problems as challenges, opportunities to reform this place.
What are your projections for the next one-year as IMT rector?
Next one year I am going to aggressively look at the physical facilities. I took the first one-year to look at the administrative set-up; putting on ground powerful institutions that could enable me to go into the second phase of physical facilities. This place needs a lot of revamping of our decaying facilities; if you take a trip to our industrial centre you will see machines that were brought there after the war; they are calibrating in inches; that was before Nigeria went metric; those things are obsolete. So my next target is to look at physical facilities to see how we can revamp them; I am going to start with the roads and we are in the process of asking our governor to assist us in that direction. We also look forward to cooperate with public-spirited individuals to put up structures; we intend to put state-of-the-art buildings like you see in other big institutions. On a final note, I think I like your newspaper, please keep it up.