By Enyeribe Ejiogu

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The attainment of the federal government’s goal of increased participation of youths in wealth creation will go up a notch when the Microsoft Imagine Academy domiciled at South Atlantic Polytechnic, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, is formally commissioned in May.  Early this year, in February, a 23-man accreditation team from the National Business and Technical Education Board visited the polytechnic, which is the brainchild of Pastor Bassey James, senior pastor of Royal House of Faith, Lagos, to evaluate the institution. In preparation for the formal commissioning of the polytechnic on May 25 and subsequent commencement of activities in September, Pastor James spoke with Sunday Sun.

What is the major goal that you want to achieve with the polytechnic?

The major goal is to contribute to the development of Akwa Ibom State, to enhance the working capacity of our people and increase productivity. We want to give polytechnic education a different face.

How do you want to do that?

By providing massive infrastructure in terms of equipment for learning; providing ample opportunities and conducive atmosphere for skill acquisition and entrepreneurship development, which is currently lacking. For this reason, we have established a business and entrepreneurship development school, which will train young people who are coming into leadership. Most of the polytechnics do a lot of theory. We want to train these young people to become information technology entrepreneurs. There is so much that can be done with information technology – it is a wide field where new opportunities are still unfolding everyday. That is why we went into cooperation agreement with Microsoft Imagine Academy, which has given us a licence to represent them in the South-south and South East zones of Nigeria. So we are reaching out to senior secondary schools to attract young people who can be trained with the latest information technology skills that will enable them become micro-entrepreneurs. The new relationship with Microsoft Imagine Academy has given South Atlantic Polytechnic an advantage over other polytechnics. We are seeking to be among the top three polytechnics in the South South and South East and one of the best six in Nigeria. The partnership with Microsoft Imagine Academy will provide intensive practical information technology education that is fully focused on developing and deploying applications that solve problems.

In the area of skills acquisition, we have training programmes in fashion design, welding and carpentry, etc. Already, the carpentry section is producing all the furniture being used in the school. The tailoring unit will make uniforms for schools and corporate bodies. So you will find that while learning, the students will also be earning mon for themselves through their efforts, such that by the time they complete their training they will have seed capital. Then they would qualify for additional financial support to enable them set up micro-enterprises of their own without having to seek paid employment. As part of the process of actualizing the purpose for establishing the Microsoft Imagine Academy, we have also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Youth service Corps Scheme, to train corps members in entrepreneurship.

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To what extent have you gone in actualizing all these things you have reeled out? Are the infrastructural facilities ready? Secondly, what level of response have you received from the schools and states that you have contacted within the catchment area of the polytechnic?

We added four blocks of classrooms to what we had before.A huge block has been prepared and equipped for the Microsoft Imagine Academy and it is ready for use.  In preparation for take-off, we have reached out local government chairmen to sponsor groups of youths from their local government areas for the entrepreneurship training as way of empowering them, reducing unemployment and youth restiveness.

In addition, we have contacted the major secondary schools in Akwa Ibom State as well as the faith-based organisations and the relevant government ministries, department and agencies, to encourage them to avail their students of the benefits of the Microsoft Imagine Academy. We have particularly advocated that ministries, department and agencies, who should encourage their workers to acquire information technology skills that they can deploy in earning extra income in their spare time.

For a polytechnic of the nature you are trying to build to work effectively and achieve the things you have itemized, it greatly needs the right intellectual resource base. How will you overcome that huddle?

We are bringing in close to 12 professors from across the world that will be special backbone of the intellectual resource centre of the School of Business and Entrepreneurship. These are people who have indicated interest in imparting knowledge to produce a new generation of young entrepreneurs. They will attend to vital issue of leadership and mentorship. We are also bringing knowledgeable people who have successfully operated in Nigeria as entrepreneurs, to impart practical knowledge to our students. For instance, the former governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, will be the guest speaker at the inauguration programme planned to mark the formal commissioning of the school on May 25, 2019. On that day, we will have the presence of the Akwa Ibom State Governor Udom Emmanuel, who is a seasoned former banker, to perform the commissioning of the Microsoft Imagine Academy and also formally declare the polytechnic open for teaching, training, learning and research. Subsequently, academic activities will start in September 2019.

I see the planned take-off of the polytechnic as a democracy day gift to President Muhamamdu Buhari and my state governor, who is one person that loves investments. For us to attract the endorsement of Microsoft Imagine Academy is a major achievement for Akwa Ibom.

On the day of the formal commissioning of the academy, Governor Udom Emmanuel will lay the foundation stone for the hostels. He will be supported by Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu and other dignitaries. In a nutshell, our real desire is to create a mass of young entrepreneurs who will in turn create an ocean of prosperity. There are so many young graduates with certificates but have no employable skills. Through the polytechnic, I want to produce micro-entrepreneurs who will also create jobs too.

In the South South and South East, we have people who are enterprising. We are bringing people from Indonesia and China for cross-fertilisation of ideas that will create products and services. My simple belief is that we can create massive employment through micro-entrepreneurs in the South East, South South and Nigeria at large, so tat young people will no longer depend on government for non-existent jobs. That is the desire of the federal government. Governor Udom Emmanuel is talking about it too. Now the federal and state governments must now walk the talk by partnering with us in this patriotic and laudable venture, so that through massive entrepreneurship development programmes of the kind that is about to start off, we will be able to take young people off the streets. We must deploy information technology to produce entrepreneurs who will use IT to create wealth and economic prosperity for themselves and others. With information technology, we can achieve a quantum leap in prosperity. We must learn from China.