FENRAD recalled that the issue of non-payment of 22 month salary arrears in November of 2021 also led the staff of Abia State University Teaching Hospital to embark on a strike.
The group in a statement signed by the duo of Comrade Nelson Nnanna Nwafor, Executive Director, FENRAD, and Barr. Akande Femisi, Head Corporate Accountability and Human Rights Enforcement, regretted that students of the polytechnic would be confined to their homes, just like their state’s university counterparts.
The statement partly reads: “The painful part of it all is that nobody knows how long it will take for the accreditation to be restored. This represents a huge disservice to struggling and starving parents and guardians of students of the polytechnic, especially those who had just paid the tuition of their children and wards for the current session before this recent development.
“Worse is, it is a big minus, and also a blow to the state, as students of the said polytechnic are not only those from Abia but also those from outside the Southeast.”
FENRAD recalls that in his latest cabinet reshuffle and rejig exercise, Ikpeazu, known by some of his admirers as “scholar in governance”, had split the state Ministry of Education into two; one ministry to oversee basic education, held by Chief Ukwu Rocks; and the other post-basic education to be overseen by Barr. Chijioke Mark.
It stressed that expectations was that by expanding his cabinet beyond the size of the local councils 17 number in the state, and for creating two cabinet portfolios for the education sector, that the Governor would be bringing to an end, all the challenges faced by the education sector which has remained one of the most underfunded sectors on every budget cycle.
The statement adds: “Contrary to this expectation, Abians are treated to this sad development of de-accreditation shortly after strike action by secondary school teachers over issue of non-payment of salaries which resulted in Abia junior secondary students starting their Junior WAEC examination behind others in the federation.
“The meaning is that these two ministries have failed Abians, considering that the basic education ministry was to take care of education from primary to junior secondary level and post-basic education ministry from senior secondary to tertiary level. Why are teachers being owed at the both levels under the two ministries?
“While some won’t want to ask why NBTE would withdraw accreditation from Abia State Polytechnic, it is also necessary that these concerned Abians study the release from NBTE wherein the Board said it went the extra mile writing the Governor over issue of non-payment of salaries which affect the Board’s quality assurance visits and performance and competence rating mechanisms.
“The questions are: how did the Governor engage the Board? Were there memos ordering the post-basic education ministry to open a channel of communication with the Board or to look into grey areas of salary arrears by interfacing with state Ministry of Finance through inter-ministerial engagement? What did the Ministry of Finance do differently to address this ugly development?
“Recently, after Nigeria Medical Association’s (NMA’s) 62nd Annual General Conference of June this year (2022), the Association ordered Abia Resident Doctors to embark on indefinite strike action with other states briefed to show solidarity. How many Abians can travel abroad on medical grounds or to other states in any health emergency situation should state healthcare sector collapse?
“It is our belief that the state doesn’t have funds to cover travel expenses of her citizens for medical tourism in the face of dwindling revenues.
“To think this is affecting the state university’s teaching hospital is to say that issue of outstanding salary arrears is now affecting two key sectors – health and education combined.
Governor Ikpeazu has always made known his “five pillars of development”, among which education is a plank for a sustainable growth plan to put Abia on the path of recovery and self-reliance. With this development (de-accreditation), the meaning is that students of the polytechnic will no longer be mobilised for NYSC, may suffer serious problems in the competitive and shrinking Nigeria’s labour market, even as they are already, by this same development, disqualified from Industrial Training Fund and programmes (no longer likely to be hired by firms for the purpose of industrial attachment)! This is heart-rending, to say the least.”
FENRAD said it was not ignorant that some of the challenges were inherited by the Ikpeazu-led administration but wished the Governor God speed in tackling and surmounting the challenges.
It called on the governor to show and exemplify his accolade of “scholar in governance,” by intervening to save tertiary education in the state from further disgrace, saying: “We are aware that he is a listening Governor, a man who has education as part of his five pillar programmes for development in the state.
“Failure to do this might indeed send the message that the Governor, who recently was seen in pictures celebrating a fellow Governor’s son’s graduation from a UK-based university, is indifferent to the educational needs of his state; and that perhaps, the success story of Abia State regarding WAEC and JAMB breakthroughs has more connection with private schools, not the public or state-owned ones.
“We do not want this to form the assessment/perception of the Governor or that of the state under his watch.
“Abians, who voted the Governor on the basis of his educational qualification as a Ph.D holder in 2015 and retained him in 2019, would want to know why and how exactly salary arrears owed polytechnic staff reached that scale even after numerous bailouts and other intervention funds have been sourced from federal purse in the recent past.
“Thirty months without pay means the government has not paid her workers for two and half years; a picture that depicts disregard to international labour laws and conventions, even to God’s instruction and other biblical injunctions that they that worked be paid.
“While the government has come out to say it paid over N7 billion in subvention funds to the polytechnic since 2015, it is pertinent to remind the state that even though it is accepted that the polytechnic is autonomous, this does not yank them off entirely from state government and its numerous agencies. Again, the said N7 billion, if true, might not have met current monetary needs of the school in the last two and half years.”
While saying that the time to act as “a scholar in governance” is now, the group called on the Abia State House of Assembly to interrogate the anomaly, noting that the issue of salary arrears deserves urgent legislative intervention.