Kaduna Polytechnic and the Dividends of Merit In Higher Education, By Auwal S. Anwar
In just one year, the new administration of Kaduna Polytechnic has remodeled the inner working mechanisms, as well as the outlook of the institution.
Exactly one year ago, the story of Kaduna Polytechnic was that of a higher institution of learning in its most trying moment. It had become a shadow of itself with lost academic sessions and countless bouts of industrial actions accumulating into years. The tale was that of a perpetually distorted academic calendar, disoriented staff and dislodged students. It was barely holding on with dilapidated and decayed physical infrastructure. With over N600 million in liabilities and six rectors in seven years, the Polytechnic was on the fastest lane to the doldrums.
This should not have been the picture of Kaduna Polytechnic, which is the pioneer technology institution of northern Nigeria established by in 1956 (as Kaduna Technical Institute) to provide the northern region with technical manpower when the British were leaving. This is a Polytechnic with more than 160 PhD holders, more than that of many second-generation Nigerian Universities. It has more equipment in its engineering departments than many Nigerian polytechnics put together. It boasts of a former head of state, six senators and triple-digit number of the members of the National Assembly in its alumni register. Indeed, it is the largest polytechnic, in terms of capacity and size, in subSaharan Africa.
This must explain the federal government’s decision, in the third quarter of 2017, to seek for the best possible hands to turn this Polytechnic around. The minister of education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, was on record desperately searching for a solution to the Polytechnic’s situation. Perhaps that was why the federal government appointed Alhaji Yusuf Hassan, a seasoned administrator and an accomplished businessman, to head the Governing Council that was to recruit a befitting rector for the declining Polytechnic.
The Council set about the task with the noble goal of finding only the best person for the job. It advertised the post nationwide and also constituted a search team that solicited for applications from identified, seasoned technocrats that included Professor Idris Bugaje, who was the immediate past director general of the National Research Institute for Chemical Technology and a former rector of the Federal Polytechnic, Nasarawa.
Although Bugaje declined the invitation to apply, three times, ‘for personal reasons’, he was eventually convinced to accept it by some key stakeholders in the future of education in Nigeria. He turned out to be the last applicant interviewed in a list of 28 shortlisted quality potentials, and he emerged the first-place holder in the results submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari who duly appointed him with effect from October 2017.
On the new rector’s arrival at the Polytechnic, he found a system in near total decay. To start with, the academic staff were already on strike again. Ostensibly, the staff had lost confidence in the erstwhile management that piloted the affairs of the Polytechnic, with charges that varied from poor policies to unpaid allowances. The non-teaching staff were suffering from low morale due to stagnation, poor appreciation and few training opportunities. The students enrolment was at its lowest due to the loss of confidence in the indefinite and indeterminate academic calendar of the Polytechnic.
In addition to these, the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) had frozen intervention in Kaduna Polytechnic as a result of the failure of past adminstrations to account for funds previously made available for infrastructural development. The newest structure in the College of Business and Management Studies was built in 1985!
In the face of these daunting challenges, Bugaje went about his task with uncommon determination and zeal. He quickly engaged the academic staff, met some of their needs and promised to address the rest as the situation improved. He was able to convince them that they were his prime partners in the future of the Polytechnic, describing them as ‘the conscience’ of the system. The local chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) returned to work and have been there for everyday of the last one year.
Bugaje tackled the issue of stagnation by promoting all those that satisfied the promotion criteria. Some had been on the same level for more than 10 years. Some had not been confirmed for more than 20 years! One year later, the new rector has promoted more than 1100 staff of the Kaduna Polytechnic.
To institute the culture of financial accountability and transparency, he employed a financial solutions technology that monitors all funds inflow and outflow for the Polytechnic. This information is made available to all key stakeholders in real time. It eliminated the culture of rumours about the financial standing of the Polytechnic, with resultant sanity and propriety in the demands of all organs of the institute.
The new administration streamlined the composition of the over-bloated Academic Board back to that prescribed by the Polytechnic’s Act. This shrunk the over 150 membership to about 50, thereby reducing the quantity but increasing the quality of deliberations for better, faster resolutions of academic matters. Consequently, academic activities received a boost of new life, shortening the residence time of students to the minimum.
The administration instituted a zero-tolerance policy for academic and financial corruption and chased them with unbridled drive and fervour. The issues of extortion, sexual harassment and criminality were engaged tactfully and effectively, such that at the end of this first year, the Polytechnic is now wearing a new garb of chastity – leaving the guilty staff with various punishments that included suspensions, warnings, disengagement and dismissals in its wake.
Bugaje decentralised powers from the rector’s office to allow for decision-making to get closer to the root of problems. A situation whereby not a single, bad plug could be replaced in a vehicle without the signature of the rector was not good for optimal capacity utilisation. A rector’s waiting room flooded with directors, heads of units, visitors and students was not what it should be in the 21st Century administration of education. With the decentralisation, the rector is now able to have a finer, neater grip of the internal mechanisms, while adequately exploring external sectors for the development of the Polytechnic.
This approach allowed the management to reassure TETFund, such that the organisation then released some of the outstanding allocations immediately. The management was able to convince some participants in the private sector to partner with it in providing solutions for the dilapidated accommodation infrastructure, such that a public private partnership has just been signed to provide befitting accommodation facilities on the campuses.
Other collaborations with universities in Malaysia and India were entered into to upgrade the quality of training and research outputs of the Polytechnic. Recently, Kaduna Polytechnic and ABU Zaria agreed to jointly run degree programmes in eight core disciplines that include engineering and architecture.
Beyond this, Bugaje has introduced a new Centre for Technology Development (CTD) in the guise of those obtained in the advanced world. The Centre aims to bring together the academia, the industry and the private sector to provide technological solutions for development. The CTD has received the endorsement of the minister of education, governor of Kaduna State (whose special assistant is on the implementation team), director general of National Automotive Design and Development Council and many others.
In just one year, the new administration of Kaduna Polytechnic has remodeled the inner working mechanisms, as well as the outlook of the institution. It has reinvented the business arm of the Polytechnic, the Kadpoly Consult Limited, into a profitable venture. It has also produced the first strategic plan document that will chart the course for development, spanning the year 2018 to 2023, with all stakeholders on board.
These are some of the dividends of merit that are being received by Kaduna Polytechnic as it enters a new phase that will surely help it to reclaim its prime status in the provision of quality tertiary education in Nigeria. It is also being positioned to play a big role, through CTD, in the emergence of Nigeria as a player in technological innovations.
Auwal S. Anwar writes from Tafawa Balewa Way, Kaduna, and can be reached at email@example.com.