Not too long ago the Rivers State Government submitted a bill to the Rivers State House of Assembly (hereafter, RVHA) seeking the conversion of the Rivers State College of Arts and Science to Port Harcourt Polytechnic. The bill had hardly gone through the 2nd reading when it was swallowed by the drumbeats of controversy. The fear was that it would be at best stillborn..... Read More
Not too long ago the Rivers State Government submitted a bill to the Rivers State House of Assembly (hereafter, RVHA) seeking the conversion of the Rivers State College of Arts and Science to Port Harcourt Polytechnic. The bill had hardly gone through the 2nd reading when it was swallowed by the drumbeats of controversy. The fear was that it would be at best stillborn.
No issue has generated so much public interest in the media recently like the renaming of RIVCAS. The views and opinions expressed were diverse, contentious and polarizing. This essay therefore is intended to give the public more facts and insight for the justification to rename RIVCAS, Port Harcourt Polytechnic. The essay would also highlight some of the events leading up to the public hearing, as well as the eventual passage of the Port Harcourt Polytechnic Bill 2016 into Law.
More importantly, the write-up would also give us - the RIVCAS community, the opportunity to tell “our story” rather than “their story”, otherwise it would be like one listening to his own obituary.
Our Story not Their Story
Undoubtedly, the conversion of RIVCAS to Port Harcourt Polytechnic can be likened to an organism that has undergone complete metamorphosis. The institution began as the Rivers State School of Basic Studies in 1977. It was among 11 (eleven) such schools established across 11 States of the Federation to provide instructions at the remedial and advanced levels for the Educationally Less Developed States (ELDS), of which Rivers State was one.
However, following the change in the National Policy on Education and subsequent introduction of the 6-3-3-4 system of Education, the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) refused to grant examination centres to Schools of Basic Studies across the country because of the absence of the 3 years Continuous Assessment (CA) component as required under the new system. Similarly, the refusal of the affiliated universities to continue the admission of IJMB A’L candidates from the school made matters worse. The result was the drastic drop in the enrollment into the institution. The option therefore, was to convert the institution to the Rivers State College of Arts and Science in 1991 (See Edict No.12, 1991). Similar developments occurred in many other states of the Federation. Under the new law, the objectives of the college included among others:
“To provide courses of instruction and training and other facilities in Engineering, Sciences, Technology, Management Sciences, Environmental Sciences, Humanities and Social Sciences”.
This mandate the institution has satisfactorily delivered in the course of its 25 years history. This is attested to by the recognition accorded it by the various regulatory agencies of tertiary education in the country, such as the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), Joint Admissions Matriculation Board (JAMB), Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) and the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC), to name but a few. The Directory and Bulletins of these supervising agencies account to this fact.
Rivers State College of Arts and Science is accredited by the NBTE to award both the National Diploma (ND) and Higher National Diploma (HND) in some courses. Between 2012 and 2016 the institution has mobilized 5 (five) batches of its graduates for the NYSC Scheme.
In 2012 the institution accessed One Hundred Million Naira (N100,000,000) from the TETFUND for the construction of a two storey 18 Classrooms/Office Complex. This building has long been completed and is now in use. Unfortunately, however, this window of funding has been closed by TETFUND because the name “College of Arts and Science” is an aberration and does not exist in the glossary of TETFUND. Consequently, it was necessary to rename the college to Port Harcourt Polytechnic to enable it access funds from various external intervention agencies to build its infrastructure, develop its human capital and give the institution visibility.
Public Hearing at RVHA Complex
As anticipated the public hearing of the Port Harcourt Polytechnic Bill 2016 was well attended by the various stakeholders in the education enterprise, both within and outside the state. The event was held at the auditorium of RVHA Complex on 27th June, 2016. The collation of memoranda began as early as 8:00am and accreditation of the audience began almost simultaneously. Before 10:30am when the public hearing began the auditorium was overflowing and as a result the exit doors were thrown open to allow ventilation. The air conditioners in the auditorium were no longer efficient because of the crowd inside.
The public hearing was declared open by the Speaker of the Assembly, Hon. Dabotorudima Adams after prayers. Before taking his leave, the Speaker, called for a meaningful dialogue and hoped that the views expressed during the public hearing would help in translating to reality the actions of the government in renaming RIVCAS to Port Harcourt Polytechnic.
The main session was chaired by Hon. Martin Chike-Amaewhule, the Chairman of the House Committee on Education. He called for decorum and respect for all the views that would be expressed by both the opponents and proponents of the bill.
The first presentation was from the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice of Rivers State. He was represented by Barrister, Mrs. Helen Fiberesima. She called for the speedy passage of the bill since it was for the overall interest of the state. In support of this position, the Hon. Commissioner of Education, Professor Kaniye Ebeku allayed the fear that the conversion of RIVCAS would negatively affect the existing Polytechnic in the state. He assured that the State Government will continue to fund the two institutions – Kenule Saro-Wiwa and the Port Harcourt Polytechnics within the limits of her resources. And that contrary to the views expressed outside, the state was only renaming RIVCAS, which had already achieved Polytechnic status over 10 years ago. In fact, he called for the approval of the bill without delay to enable various regulatory agencies accord the institution the right and privileges it deserves. He cited the case of the UK where most of the institutions of higher education were converted to Universities in the 1990’s.
In his own presentation, the Acting Provost of RIVCAS, Dr. Sam B. Kalagbor aka “IGR and the man with Midas touch” articulated his reasons for the existence and renaming of RIVCAS to Port Harcourt Polytechnic to be predicated on the law which established the college “to grant Diplomas, Certificates and other distinctions” (See Article A8 Section 2(c) of Edict 1991). This was what gave legitimacy to the institution to be recognized by the NBTE in 2006. The Acting Provost, Dr. Sam B. Kalagbor then appealed to RVHA “to give a robust and favourable consideration to the bill for a change of RIVCAS to reflect its polytechnic status.
Another proponent of the bill was Dr. Godpower Ikechi Nwogu, a former Provost of RIVCAS, and now a Commissioner in the Rivers State Civil Service Commission. Dr. Nwogu expressed delight with the bill and urged for the quick materialization of the legitimate cause, a process he had pioneered while the provost of the institution.
Then it was the turn of Chief Gani Topah, of Ken Saro-Wiwa Associates, one of the strong voices against the conversion of RIVCAS to Port Harcourt Polytechnic. He contended that renaming RIVCAS was political incorrectness as it would lead to the drastic drop in student’s enrollment into Kenule Saro-Wiwa Polytechnic. He concluded that it would result in the underdevelopment of his people. Accordingly, he called for the Assembly to kill the bill. He was supported by other of his associates who suggested that rather than convert RIVCAS, the institution should be collapsed into a campus of Kenule Saro-Wiwa Polytechnic. This view did not resonate with the public who booed and shouted them down, accusing them of raising ethnic sentiments.
At this stage Professor Okey Onuchukwu of the University of Port Harcourt submitted that the conversion of RIVCAS to Port Harcourt Polytechnic was apposite. He opined that the opposition to the conversion of RIVCAS to Port Harcourt Polytechnic was misguided and illogical. He averred that the conversion of RIVCAS rather than diminish the Kenule Saro-Wiwa Poly would positively impact on it as the two sister institutions could synergize in areas of cross-fertilization of ideas, researches, sabbaticals, transfers, seminars and conferences for the advancement of the world of scholarship. He stated that this explains why institutions are measured by the biblometric indices of staff and students. Professor Onuchukwu further argued that the conversion of RIVCAS would not result in low students’ enrollment into Kenule Saro-Wiwa Polytechnic because both institutions cannot exceed their carrying capacity of 30 students for the Sciences and Technology and 40 students for the Arts and Management Sciences.
Professor Addison Mark Wokocha, the Registrar of the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria in his paper opined that the name RIVCAS was misleading and anomalous in the onomastics of tertiary institutions in Nigeria vis-à-vis its polytechnic mandate. He inferred that this was the reason why the institution was being denied funds from external agencies like TETFUND and other corporate citizens. Professor Wokocha therefore called for the speedy passage of bill for the purpose of changing the name to Port Harcourt Polytechnic.
Perhaps the most salient argument for the conversion of RIVCAS to Port Harcourt Polytechnic was the one canvassed by the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board (JAMB). JAMB had noted in a letter dated 11th November, 2009 that the name RIVCAS was not attractive to prospective applicants and called for a name change. This it contended was responsible for the low enrollment into the institution in spite of its high caliber manpower. The letter was read out by the Zonal Director, represented by Mrs. Obiageri Dickson.
In his own submission, the ASUP National President, Comrade Usman Y. Dutse represented by Chibuzor Asomugha supported the bill renaming the institution in view of the importance of the city of Port Harcourt, as the hub of oil of gas industry in Nigeria. He commended the thoughtfulness of the Rivers State Government in the construction of the bill, which to him articulates what the ASUP National had been clamouring. However, he suggested the amendment of some sections of the bill, which from his “python’s eyes”, as the Ikwerre would say could be problematic in future. These had to do with the selection of the Rector and tenure. He suggested that rather than limit the appointment of the Rector from within the institution, the space should be enlarged to avoid mediocrity, rancor, witch-hunt and lacunae in future. In other words, the position of the rector should be advertised both internally and externally. He also canvassed for a single tenure of 5 years for the Rector in line with what is obtainable in the other similar institutions in Nigeria.
Solidarity speeches in support of the conversion of RIVCAS were also received from the leadership of the Students Union Government (SUG) and National Union of Rivers States Students (NURSS), RIVCAS Chapter as well as Chiefs and Elders of the state.
Generally, the public hearing was robust and eventful, and for this the Governor of Rivers State Chief Barr. Ezenwo Nyesom Wike must be commended. The public hearing was declared closed at about 2:35pm with a prayer shared by the Chief Whip of Rivers State House of Assembly (RVHA) Hon. Evans Bipi.
From the various presentation summarized above, it is manifestly clear that the conversion of RIVCAS to Port Harcourt Polytechnic is popular and has wider acceptability among the stakeholders in the education enterprise. This therefore is “our story” not “their story” and we call on all to support this laudable idea whose time has come in order to move the institution “towards greater heights”.
Ndidi Justice Gbule, PhD.