The Federal Polytechnic Oko has over the years been labeled with various appalling names, ranging from a glorified secondary school, occult school, infrastructural decay institution and school where its students can not speak simple English beside vernacular and Igbo. However, in this interview with journalists, the Rector, Professor Godwin Onu disclosed what led to the turn around of the rot in the system. Excerpts:
By DAYO ADESULU
HOW has the journey been for the past three years?
It has been quite challenging and a little rough in some cases, in some other cases excruciating. We came in with my team. The Registrar was my PRO before he became the registrar. Ever since then, we have been working together, trying to build a future for the institution.
In giving that institution to a large extent, we tried not just to be creative and innovative but also remodel the behaviour and build human infrastructure. We invested a lot on physical infrastructure. We believe too that physical infrastructure cannot be sustainable if there is no human infrastructure. it takes human infrastructure to sustain the physical structures.
In trying to do this, one cannot say we had all the instruments we needed to execute these laudable objectives. We had financial challenges. It is common to this institution.
Executive key projects
It also affects other institutions. No institution has enough to execute key projects. what makes the difference is the ability to manage what you have. That accounts for all you have been seeing here. I am an environmentalist. That is why we brought in a lot of aesthetics. I am in love with plants, trees and grasses and nature. The whole essence of technology is man’s ability to conquer, exploit and make use of nature. Others are instruments of accomplishing technological innovations. To a large extent, we have been able to achieve that.
How did you address the rot in OKOPOLY?
You cannot build human infrastructure without making the staff happy. One of the issues we tackled was clearing over three years arrears of promotion of our staff. They were not promoted for more than three years. some even had more than nine years without promotion. When we came in, we cleared all of them. We have finished the 2012 promotion already and everybody got letters before the end of the year. For that of 2013, we are working to ensure that before the end of the year, every qualified staff would be promoted.
When we came in, we met a lot of dilapidated classrooms, offices, broken windows, empty classrooms without chairs. Students stand up during lectures, some offices had rickety window blinds, broken windows, water coming in from outside and destroying files, leaking roofs and ugly ceiling boards. We had to embark on serious renovation.
We made it a policy that every office must be tiled. We succeeded in doing that. Every classroom must be tiled. We replaced the windows and gave the institution a facelift. We changed the broken wooden windows with sliding windows. We removed the rusting corrugated roofing sheets and replaced them with long span of high quality.
We pulled down the sagging ceiling and replaced them with PVC in all the offices and classrooms. We made a policy that every classroom must be fully air conditioned. To a large extent, we have succeeded. Most classrooms do not have air condition but we are making the arrangement to do that in all the classrooms. If we get this year’s intervention, we will make air condition available in all the classrooms.
If you see the new structures we are putting up, each classroom has inbuilt toilet. That should be a standard toilet, the type you find in the airports, that is the direction we are going. My first day in office, I saw workers hitting hard on Olympus typewriter and I was surprised. I asked them what they were doing and they said they were typing. We cleared all of them and replaced them with computers.
We are computerising everywhere, both the registry, bursary and the rectory. You can see the new structures, the CBT, where our post-UTME examination is going on. We have over 40,000 students, taking the post-UTME. Every day, we take not less than 5000 students and before 2.00pm, they have finished the computer-based test. This is the first institution in this country doing this. I can boast of that and beat my chest that this is the first institution, both university or polytechnic, having over 1000 computers for computer-based Post-UTME examination and we are succeeding.
We started the CBT semester examination last semester. We started with the department of Public Admin. The beauty of the whole thing is that students get their results that same day for the semester exams. When they finish the exam, before they get home, they will see their results alert in their phones and the phones of the sponsors.
That helps the parents to monitor the performance of their wards in the institution. it saves a lot of time. It saves a lot of money that could have be spent on printing answer scripts. It adds credibilility to the process and the system. Students cannot cheat because the questions in a particular row are joggled. The computers are timed, such that at the expiration of the allotted period, the system shuts down. There is no harassment, no missing script, no missing results. No complain that this lecturer did this to me or that.
Lecturers also had enough time to look at other angles, like research. A situation where lecturers spend all their time marking scripts, year in year out, leaves them stressed out, such that at the age of 60, the person will die.With this, we removed a lot of academic load on them. They submit their questions and go home to do their research or even go on holiday if they want.
We have agreed that every other department will join in the CBT exams in the second semester. If we can succeed in hosting 40,000 students, why can’t we succeed in handling the thousands we have here. It is an innovation and I pray that other institutions would follow suit and join what OKOPOLY is doing because we don’t want to be second to any other institution.
How did you generate fund for to execute those projects?
Some of them are projects carried out with internally generated revenue. Some of them are projects supported by TETFund special intervention and normal intervention. Some of them are capital projects. If you add the projects together, I know they are not less than 16 two-storey buildings that are going on at the same time, with some of them already completed.
Even at this, I didn’t count the Medical Centre. It was started in April and it is already completed. it will be commissioned this October. We completed it within six months. Mass Communication Department initially had a dilapidated bungalow before we came in. I came in and demolished it. The Exams and Records was also one dilapidated bungalow but I demolished it and erected a new structure.
We suffer the problem of land space so we have to emphasise on high-rising building. More of them are still in the process because we have new programmes coming up that require spaces. Very soon, our full energy will be channelled to the main site.
Does your institution have any linkages with other academic institutions?
When I came in here, we didn’t have any linkages at all. But, we adopted the slogan Going Beyond Borders and that is why we have been reaching out to other institutions. Our first point of call was India, as a fellow commonwealth state.
We signed MoUs with several Indian institutions. We had a collaborative conference recently at Sharda University, India and about 15 of our staff attended that conference.
More Indian universities are also asking us for collaboration so we will be going to India again in November to sign another MoU with another school. About three weeks ago, we signed an MoU with the Galilee Institute, Israel, for collaborative research with our staff.
We are going beyond that to the United Kingdom to Waterford Institute, Ireland. They selected about six polytechnics to collaborate with and OKOPOLY was among the chosen. We are also about to sign an MoU also with the School of Aviation, Zaria. so, we are spreading in various areas.