Dr. Philip Nto is a university don; a former Abia State Commissioner for Finance and now deployed to Abia State College of Education, Technical, Arochukwu on, what could be described as, a rescue mission.
In this interview with PETER OKORE during a facility tour to the College, Nto barred his mind on how he has used TET (Tertiary Education Trust) Fund to transform the institution. It is also his conviction that without TET Fund, most tertiary institutions in the country would be surrounded by bush, saying that TET Fund facility is a blessing to tertiary institutions that can make effective use of it.
This area has a place in history. Give us a little background of this Abia State College of Education Technical, Arochukwu (ASCETA}.
Thank you! This College was established in the 30s by a renowned Educationist, late Dr. Alvan Ikoku with the name Aggrey Memorial College Arochukwu to provide secondary school education to students. It enjoyed maximum patronage before the Nigeria/Biafra civil war, because of its advantaged border community location which drew students population across the entire former Eastern Region of Nigeria, majorly from present-day states like Imo, Akwa-Ibom, Cross Rivers, Ebonyi, Abia and beyond.
When Abia state government took-over the School, the college was re-named Abia state College of Education, Technical; designed to produce middle-level Technical teachers for the state School system. States creation has affected student-enrolments. This college was one of the famous institutions in the then Eastern Region of Nigeria which has produced eminent Nigerians.
What shape did you find ASCETA when you arrived new?
I inherited a College that was overgrown with weeds, outdated buildings erected since 1931, poor environment and unhappy workforce. We inherited abandoned projects, like the Fish Pond and TETFund Education Block and an institution whose students passed –out without certificates…
Why no Certificates?
Because the courses they did were not accredited by the National University Commission, NUC. This was why their students were rejected by Labour market and Tertiary institutions, for those who clamoured for further studies. In fact, between 1999 till 2016 when I took over, no certificates were issued to any graduating student from this College. But, I have collected all the Certificates, signed and issued to the affected students.
After that I tackled the issue of light by hooking the Campus to the National grid to ensure steady power supply as well as cleared the environment to enhance healthful habitation.
Have all the Courses you offer received full accreditation from the NUC?
Immediately I came-in, my priority was to seek accreditations for courses offered in this College. Now, virtually all the courses offered have received full accreditations, except two that got provisional accreditations. We are making serious efforts to accredit them, including Physical and Health Education.
Apart from the core courses, I have made it compulsory for our students to offer ONE skill acquisition or Vocational course as Optional/Compulsory Elective course. The essence is to make our products job creators, rather than job seekers to fall in-line with the state’s Education for Employment (E4E) Programme. The State governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu is personally sponsoring 85 students engaged in this our Vocational programme.
What is the host community/College relationship like?
We are enjoying cordial working relationship with host communities. Some philanthropists from the communities and Old students of the College have been showing concern in the College. But my regrets are poor environment and poor road networks to and fro the College. This is affecting students’ enrolments.
However, we have established two satellite campuses at Aba and Umuahia, respectively, to make the services of this College accessible to more people. All the Campuses are of equal standards with what obtains from the main Campus.
In addition, we have re-organised the security architecture of the College to ensure efficiency and security of staff, students and properties of the College. We have established the system of using our in-house staff and students to supervise and monitor all on-going physical projects in the College premises to ensure they conform to established specifications. This practice makes it difficult for contractors to do any shoddy jobs for us. I have, for the first time, organised Matriculation for new students as part of efforts to make the environment lively and as a sense of belonging to students.
We hear of TETFund intervention grants to Tertiary institutions. Have you benefitted from it and how has it helped to transform ASCETA?
Yes, we have benefitted. TETFund is a blessing to tertiary institutions in Nigeria, if you utilize it efficiently. In fact let me say it here; without TETFund, most tertiary institutions would be empty land-spaces overgrown with weeds and forests.
TETFund has turned ASCETA to a construction site. You can see the number of physical infrastructural developments going on simultaneously here. The feat was achieved within the five years I assumed duties as the Provost. I attribute the development to hard work and support from TETFund and the Abia State government. This institution was almost dead and was just awaiting its burial when I came in. I have since resurrected it from dead. I’m glad to say that TET FUND’s grant has been of immense help to us. I will suggest that tertiary institutions should be allowed to take decision for what they want to use TETFund grant for.
Is it true that ASCETA was blacklisted from accessing TETFund grants? If yes why?
Yes! One of the essential conditions for accessing TETFUND is that you must start and complete any TETFund project with their money and account for it. A former Provosts here (name withheld) started a building and fishery projects with TETFund money, but could not complete them long before he left. After awhile; when nothing positive was heard about the projects, the managers of TETFUND blacklisted ASCETA.
Faced with this scenario, how easy was it for you to access grants to do what you are doing here?
As stated earlier, I came in 2016 to meet ASCETA with uncompleted TETFund Hall, a Fish pond, dilapidated ancient buildings erected since 1931 and all others. In respect for the fame of the late proprietor, Dr. Alvan Ikoku in the field of Education, I entered into serious discussions with my staff and stakeholders on the way forward for ASCETA. We resolved, among others, to source for funds to complete the TETFUND Hall and Fish Pond and put them into use before anything else. This was achieved in a record time. We now use that Block as the College Conference Hall, classrooms, Biology, Physics and Chemistry Laboratories, while the Fish Pond has been put into use.
Thereafter, I approached TETFUND managers with our case and prayed that the embargo on ASCETA be lifted as well as be allowed to access their facility. This was granted. I then applied for TEDFUND and got it. This relationship has been on till date.
Can you name some of the projects you have started and completed in obedience to TETFund guidelines?
Definitely, yes! With TETFund I have been able to start, complete and equip a number of buildings and structures here, in accordance with TETFund specifications. The Buildings have similarly been allocated to various Schools, programmes and sections of the College as follows: School of Education; School of Business Education; School of Science Education; School of Vocational Education; Administrative Block which will house the Provost’s Office; a Modern Library with 500-seater – capacity, named after Dr. Alvan Ikoku.
This Library is the biggest amongst Colleges of Education in the South-Eastern States. When functional, the Digital section of this Library will be linked to Washington DC Library of Congress in U.S. We are using TETFUND to furnish and purchase Books for the Library and other Halls.
The rest of the structures are a Lecture Block, fitted with magic electronic boards to connect other Halls and a- 350-seater capacity Auditorium as well as School of Arts and Social Sciences. We are now at the process of equipping and furnishing all these Halls.
For clarity, the School of Arts and Social Sciences also has Electronic Magic Board installed in each hall to access other Halls to capture Lectures delivered anytime, anywhere in ones’ absence. It is important to note that by adopting this magic Boards, we are de-emphasizing physical contacts, in compliance to COVID-19 pandemic protocols.
The School of Science Education has two well-equipped Gymnastic Halls. The type of equipments we are installing are designed to offer practical experiences for students of the School of Physical and Health Education.
Apart from the above structures, we are converting two inherited old buildings into modern structures. Presently, we are using one for the School of Education, while the other, Adna Hall, serves as Auditorium – all in memory of late Dr. Alvan Ikoku and family.
What is your internally generated revenue (IGR) like?
Student enrolment determines our IGR. For now we are battling with about 300 students. But we hope to hit 3,000 by the time I round-off my tenure. That notwithstanding, the gym halls we have will also generate revenue for the College. People from outside are free to come-in here to do their daily physical exercises or physio-therapy and pay some token fees.
Again, our Fish pond is functioning. With the help of Federal Ministry of Agriculture, we now raise bees, process and market honey to generate revenue for the College.
Do you have provision for capacity development for your staff?
Yes, we have. TETFund provided about N700 million for staff development. The School of Vocational Education is designed for capacity building. When I came- in here I discovered that most of the teaching staff had no requisite qualifications to do the work they were doing. So, when the College started accessing TETFUND, a good number of staff utilized the opportunity to go for further studies within and outside Nigeria. Most of them have returned with their Masters and Doctorate degrees and have been appropriately deployed in their rightful fields of studies.
What’s the driving force behind these achievements?
The driving force is the desire to make a change in this institution. This is what I have in mind wherever I go. Basically, I identified the problems of this college, right from the day I stepped into this compound and I faced them squarely. I intend to achieve more by the time my tenure ends.
We are insisting on qualitative education in Nigeria. What’s your take?
My worry had been how products of this institution will gainfully survive in the competitive larger world after leaving College. I am thinking of Education for sustainability. In response to this thought, I introduced Skill acquisition as a compulsory course. Here, students are expected to learn tiling, carpentry, shoe-mending, electrical installation, block molding, car repairs, repairing household fittings, etc. With these, students of this College will distinguish themselves from among their contemporaries elsewhere on graduation.
Generally, let me suggest that acquisition of one or two vocational skills by students be made compulsory in all Tertiary institutions in the country to stem-down un-employment.
Presently, this College awards the NCE (Technical). Do you have plans to make this College a Degree awarding institution?
Oh yes! This College is growing. I inherited an affiliation of this College with Abia State University, Uturu (ABSUU). When I came-in, I brought-in Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike (MOUAU), where I’m coming from. We are doing everything possible to meet the requirements of the NUC for the accreditation of all the programmes we offer here. As soon as we are through, we will start awarding degrees of ABSUU and MOUAU from here.