Students of the Kogi State Polytechnic, Lokoja, recently embarked on a peaceful demonstration over some demands. The rector of the institution, Alhaji Isa Mohammed, in this interview with YINKA OLADOYINBO, clears the air on some of the reasons for the agitation of the students.
What is the latest development on the protest embarked upon by the students of the polytechnic?
It is not appropriate that students were protesting to demand for the removal of the rector; the protest was a peaceful one which saw the students carrying placards to highlight their problems, which include water, electricity, toilet and the clinic not giving them drugs. It was incorrect to say that the rector and members of management were chased out of the school. The demonstration started early in the morning around 6am. The rector wouldn’t have come to the office that time, neither the management team. On the issues raised by the students, I am a pioneering staff of the school; so, I know the problems. But it is the same problems that are facing other institutions of higher learning.
What are those problems and how are you solving them?
The major problems are electricity and water. When I came on board last year, I started working on water issue. We dug borehole and mounted a very big surface thank, and the water flows without any hitch. We have another overhead tank where we pump water to and discharge to hostels and at times we complement it with tankers; so, water has not been our problem since I assumed office as the rector. I discovered that students sometimes can be nonchalant in the use of school’s facilities. Each time they go to the tap, they would remove the head and water would be gushing out and we keep on replacing them. On the issue of electricity, we have never had power supply disconnected by the electricity company. What happened was that there was a storm that felled a very big tree and which affected just a section of the hostel. I directed that other trees that were close to the buildings be pulled down to avoid future occurrence. This took us just three days and on the fourth day, they embarked on the demonstration. The students were not patient, what would have happened if we have recorded serious casualty as a result of falling of trees?
What then do you think could have been responsible for the protest by the students?
The protest was masterminded from outside. Immediately they started the protest, I invited the manager of the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company and asked him in the presence of students if we were owing them; and he confirmed that we have never been indebted to them. I now directed that since they cannot wait until we cut down the remaining trees, they should go ahead and restore the light, it was not the Abuja Distribution Company that restored the light, it was an internal arrangement because it was a very minor problem. On the issue of hostels, we have cleaners who are supposed to be responsible for the cleaning of the hostels, but students are nonchalant in the use of hostel facilities. Last year, the female students complained that they didn’t want to use the normal water system; that they wanted the squatting type, and we changed all of them. Another problem is that they would go and defecate somewhere and then throw the substance into the toilet, blocking the flow. We have more than enough lecture rooms and we are still constructing more. On insensitivity of management to their plight, this is the aspect that touches me most. As a rector, I still teach. I don’t just wait in my office for them to come and tell me about their problems.
Are you saying that the demonstration was sponsored by people from outside the campus?
Yes, because we have instances to believe that. For instance, on the day of the demonstration, after the students had agreed to return to their hostels a boy who was formerly the Students Union Government President came into the campus from town and insisted that I could not go in the school premises. But other students disagreed and asked him why he wanted to prevent me from entering the campus. They wanted to descend on him, but I aksed them not to take law into their hands. When I saw that there was going to be serious problem, I returned to my house instead of going in. But what surprised me was that the boy was saying that why should an Ebira man be a rector? That it is the turn of Lokoja. I contested for the post. I was interviewed. I was not picked. I went through the rigour, and God blessed my candidature and I came out first. When pressure was mounted on the former governor about my appointment, he said no; merit must prevail. Since then, we have been hearing that some people said they will make the school ungovernable. That is why I have faced the two important areas that can easily generate crisis, water and electricity.
Apart from the area of amenities, what are you doing to enrich the academic profile of the polytechnic?
Our major mandates are teaching, learning and research. The rector is to provide the enabling environment. Capacity building is one of our priority areas, because in an organisation, the human element is very important. So, my lecturers are being encouraged to go for further studies both within and outside the country, in addition to attending conferences and seminars. In this area, I want to pay tribute to TETfund. They have been so wonderful. Unless a member of staff is lazy, there is abundant opportunity for anyone to develop. In the area of infrastructural facilities, apart from the intervention of TETfund, we have constructed hostels from our little IGR, especially in our School of Engineering, Itakpe. More classrooms are being built. Our workshops and laboratories have state-of-the-art facilities there. The last time that the Needs Assessment committee set up by the federal government came to our school, they testified that Kogi State Polytechnic does not need more equipment because what we have in stock is more than what is obtainable in some universities.