By Jerome-Mario Utomi
It is a common knowledge that the College of Education, Agbor in Delta State of Nigeria, established in October, 1979 by the former Bendel State Government, to engage in the training of professional teachers; a training that shall lead to the award of the Nigeria Certificate in Education (NCE), was recently upgraded to a fully-fledged University by the Dr. (Senator) Ifeanyi Ekwueme Arthur Okowa led administration in the state.
While deltans particularly the people of Ika nation continue to savor the euphoria occasioned by the upgrade, there are, however, two silent but vital points the vast majority of the people in the state are yet to know about the former College. First is that before the recent formal upgrade, the college with effective leadership, and about one hundred and thirty (130) lecturers with Doctorate Degrees has in material terms eminently attained the status of a university. This claim is further evident in the awareness that the entire college is visibly dotted with world class infrastructures and state of the arts learning facilities. Secondly and very fundamental point is that only few people knew about the identity of the man behind this integrated academic cum infrastructural deployment in the institution.
This particular understanding came into view recently during a farewell media interview/parley with Dr Joseph Ukadike, the outgoing Provost of the College.
On that day, at that time and in that place, I listened with rapt attention to his use of vivid evidence and carefully carved emotional match to demonstrate how humility, cordial relationship with staff (teaching and non teaching staff), and his habit of putting himself in the position of the students’ parents, set the stage for the success his administration recorded in the College. His exemplary leadership account which I had considered strange and untenable left me lost in the maze of high voltage confusion as I laboured to fathom how possible it was for a public office holder in Nigeria of today could be this human and humane.
To douse the nagging helplessness enveloping me as regards comprehending what he was dishing out, I immediately classified my reaction into double folds. First, I concluded that only God knows why he created Ukadike with immeasurable wisdom and leadership acumen and used Governor Okowa’s knack for talent to discover him to be the provost of the college. Secondly, I felt how rewarding it will be at this critical moment of our existence if such leadership qualities are again harnessed by the state Government or at the national level to help re-position the nation’s drifting educational system.
Essentially, aside from the fact that Ukadike used the platform to offer road maps for restoring the health and vitality of the nation’s education sector and propose a strategy for re-introduction of humility and accountability to its proper role at the heart of public leadership process in Nigeria, there are more reasons fuelling my belief.
Let’s go into the particulars of these claims.
He said; over the years, as a lecturer, you can never see me having any problem with any student. Instead, I will be at the side of solving their problem, giving them succor, showing them kindness. I always put myself in the position of the students’ parents. I discuss and pay their school fees at times and I ensure that no student is sent back home for inability to pay school fees. I always create an avenue which always gives them a soft landing. I admonish and encourage them a lot. Whenever they make a demand, I try as much as possible to meet 80% of their demands. You know that in dealing with students, one needs to be proactive and friendly. These things enhanced my good relationship with them.
Through this process, we were able to curb anti-social activities among the students. As a social studies engineer, I always interact with human beings and solve problems. That is the essence of social studies. In school, I also made use of a lot of committees.
We have an Anti cultism committee that monitors the students, advising them. There is a committee on examination malpractice that goes to the halls to monitor examinations and discourage students from indulging in any form of malpractice. We have a committee for peace promotion in the premises. Membership of such committees is drawn from NCE and degree levels. By involving the students in these committees, we made it participatory. We involved them (students) so that they will be able to talk to their mates. He concluded.
On his relationship with academics and non teaching, lets listen to him; I was conscious of my coming from inside. Humility was the keyword. I was with them, mixed up with them, socialized with them, I didn’t carry my shoulders high, I didn’t tell them that I’m the provost, that I’m above any other personnel. I attended meetings with them, solving problems and any challenge with them because I nurtured the belief that after my tenure, I am going back to them. Therefore, humility was my watchword.
As regards academic and infrastructural deployment in the school, he has this to say; the fact is that my administration provided a lot of infrastructures that are far better than some of the universities in the country. It was as a result of this fact that made the University of Benin give us the permission to operate a masters’ programme.
But at a point, came this policy that says college of education cannot run masters. We have already done all the necessary things but when I saw that the politics was becoming too much, I decided to abandon the programme and focus more on having our own University. Before now, whoever that visits the college knows that it is worthy enough to be converted to a University. So, before the conversion, Agbor was already a University material.
It was announced as University of Education first but we went for the public hearing at the Delta state House of Assembly in Asaba and drew the attention of the Committee to the fact that turning the College to University of Education is limited in scope. At the public hearing, I argued that Agbor is big enough to be turned into a conventional university. And if that is done, there will be more gain for the people, more gain for the community.
On funding of the college, he said that Governor Okowa assisted immensely in stabilizing the system. And when funds are coming from outside, I always intimate him (the state Governor) and he always gives me the go ahead. Another good source of our funding came from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND). One thing about TETFUND administrators, he explained, is that if they give you any funds and you are not able to deliver, they will not come again.
But here at Agbor, our case is a different one. Interventionist groups like coming to Agbor College of Education because of the humility of the leadership and because of the trust we enjoy. They know that if they come to Agbor, they get the value for their money. Their money will not be diverted or siphoned. Here, we are reputed for project delivery. I have been able to manage the system to the extent that even now that I am about to go, they (TETFUND) still dropped an intervention fund for me, which I am hurrying now to implement and deliver.
Finally, while attributing his success to God Almighty and support from the state Governor, Senator (DR) Ifeanyi Okowa, Dr. Ukadike added that his love for education/teaching also contributed appreciable. Hear him; well, naturally I am a teacher, I have been a teacher, I have taught throughout my life. If you look at my credentials, I started as a TC 2, from TC 2, to PH.D. So I have been a teacher trying to inculcate knowledge and discipline so that we would have an orderly and peaceful society, the kind of society in which the youths are our pride. It is my profession, I like teaching, impacting on the youths and the entire society.
Utomi, is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;firstname.lastname@example.org/08032725374.