Elder Idongesit Demas Udom is from Idung Nneke in Ukanafun Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State. He is the founder of Sure Foundation Polytechnic, Ikot Akai, in Ukanafun Local Government of Akwa IBom State.
In this exclusive interview with EDITH CHUKU, he spoke on the lingering strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities ASUU, the state of education in Nigeria, sexual harassment of female students by lecturers in tertiary institutions, among other issues of concern.
‘School na scam’ is a common saying in Nigeria, do you agree to this slang or you think school is really worth it?
Hundred per cent. A school, education generally, apart from God, is the only thing that can change your destiny. Take for example, under normal condition, I shouldn’t have opportunity to even get to secondary school, but by the divine favour of God, I had a scholarship to go to secondary school, I had a scholarship to go to university in the US and that education transformed me completely, from a son that should not be recognized, to an international oil and gas manager, who now also doubles as the proprietor of a private polytechnic. So schooling and education transform somebody’s life, changes destiny and can make you what you wouldn’t have been without education.
Speaking of education transforming lives and changing destinies, how has it addressed the issue of unemployment?
Well, majorly government. A large populated country like Nigeria that has no industry, you are bound to have that problem, we need to build more industries, we need to give the children functional education, education that even if a child comes out, should be able to set up a business of his own, not depending on government.
For example, if you go to a polytechnic to study welding and fabrication, you should be able to set up a wielding workshop that will be able to take care of iron doors, windows, protectors, so many things a welder can do. Or you studied automobile engineering, you should be able to set up an automobile inspection and servicing company that will take care of all the repaand maintenance and there are so many courses you can be on your own like computer science, computer engineering and so on.
But if in Nigeria, majority of the people, I will say five million Nigerians want to study philosophy for example. I’m not saying it’s a bad course, there are some courses you cannot establish something on your own even if you are given a capital.
So, that constitutes a problem, and that is why now the government is talking about entrepreneurship, learning a trade that you can start something on your own without waiting for the government, like most of us did. So generally, education is not bad, unemployment is created, caused by lack of industries.
If everybody has something to do like I established a polytechnic and I started with employment of 235 workers, that was a lot of employment, supporting the government. Another person should be able to start up another small scale industry that will also employ, so that everybody will not depend on the company, like you now, you can set up a small company like magazine company and so on, there are so many newspaper companies that are owned privately, like Abiola used to have the Concord Press.
Everybody cannot depend on government and students have to examine the courses they pursue in universities and polytechnics so that they can set up a business of their own or they can gain employment in the industries, instead of waiting for government alone.
Is that to say that the Nigeria educational sector is not faring well at all?
What I don’t like about Nigeria educational system is all these incessant strikes; ASUU strike and so on. Apart from all these strikes, the educational system is almost the same thing as what is obtainable overseas.
I studied in America and apart from the fact that at that time I went to America, they had more practical, in fact laboratories and you can work part time in the industry outside school to gain more practical experience.
But theoretical content and other things I will say they are the same. Nigerian Universities and Polytechnics may be even doing higher or same if we remove strike, but the problem now is when you finish school, where are you going to work? Just like you asked me before, when we don’t have industries like America and so on, when you do not have more opportunities outside, but the curriculum is very rich, Nigeria curriculum, for example the university curriculum, the NBTE curriculum, they are very, very rich if the school should comply and follow the curriculum.
Another problem I see with Nigeria education is indiscipline among students. In the US that I went to college, if you don’t have at least 70 per cent attendance, you will not even write a semester exam. But here, you will see a student that will not attend classes for even one and half month, some of them will even be admitted.
It’s not acceptable in other countries. A student must have up to 80 per cent attendance before writing exams and lecturers sometimes will go to school three times a week, or three days a week instead of going to school the whole week.
Even when they don’t have lectures, they should be attending to students who have problems on academic work in their discipline, but we don’t have that, quite unlike the US. So or in Britain, where you have educational advisers in your department that you can always consult, anything you don’t understand they will put you through.
Here, you go to a lecturer, you will have to pay extra money, they say we don’t have time. So, if we can brush up that student’s attendance and even lecturers’ attendance, I think that our curriculum will be effective.
ASUU has been on strike for over four months now, how does this make you feel?
Well, that is why many years ago, I have five children, out of the five children, only one went to Nsukka, went to public university. I believe in the private universities, private polytechnic, where there is no strike. All my children, except one like I mentioned, who did medicine, all my children went to private universities and there was nothing like strike.
They were doing very, very well and that is why they are also successful outside their university education. So, now that students have stayed away for more than four months from the school, they have to learn and acquire skills, skills that are related and can enhance their knowledge of their discipline or course being studied.
For example, if the child was doing computer science in the university, I will send him for a six months computer training, go and learn maybe programming, go and learn networking, go and learn so many things that will help you stay concentrated and will make them know that they are still pursuing their carrier, do it, than students staying at home doing nothing.
Some of them will join armed robbery, join cultism and doing what is going on now in Nigeria because of poverty or lack of guidance by parent and so on. It’s unfortunate situation.
Away from that. What do you think is responsible for the incessant cases of sexual abuse of female students by male lecturers in Nigerian institutions. Some lecturers have been arrested, charged to court, dismissed from work, yet cases of sexual harassment are still on the increase. What exactly is wrong?
The management of schools is to be blamed. Sexual harassment is just like cultism in the university, I remember my school, when we started some years ago; in fact two years after, a girl reported a lecturer of harassment. I sent the lecturer away.
Another girl reported a student that befriended her and after sometime the girl did not want to continue and he started going to fight, we sent the student away. So, if a school is serious with the lecturers who are involved indeed, you will see that that discipline will be there and also the dressing mode or dressing code is terrible as you said.
A situation that you have so many beautiful girls that will keep their breasts open and even with the short skirt they are wearing now, some of them don’t even wear pants again, it should be forbidden in a good school. Management should look into it in a good school and don’t allow that. So the students, the lecturers and management have a part to play.
It is not new, it was there before, but so many universities and polytechnics managed it very well and it started right from secondary school. So I think it’s management problem. We have to address our lecturers and address our students continuously, and say if you do this, you will be sacked, you are no more our student, you will have suspension.
Then if we are serious, that is why some private schools wanted to introduce trousers and a shirt for students but students protested that they are adults and in a public university you cannot force a student to wear one kind dress and so it’s something that can be addressed by management of individual schools.
What is unique about Sure Foundation Polytechnic?
The uniqueness of Sure Foundation Polytechnic, one, it’s a private polytechnic that does not believe in strike.
Two, we don’t believe in cultism, there is nothing like cultism in our school and any indiscipline like even small stealing, somebody stole somebody’s computer in my school, we will arrest you with police and invite your parents and so the discipline of our school, no cultism in our school, the standard of academic learning and even the equipment of our facilities, you come for example, girl dormitories is a six in one storey building that can take care of 700 to 800 students, that you cannot even have in some federal and state universities.
So, my school was built from the overseas perspective where I attended and also from the Christians angle and we put in those rules that there must be no cult, no stealing, no sexual harassment, then the academic standard must be very rich, the school must be very, very equipped for the modern and future education and we started with future courses like electrical engineering, electronics engineering, computer engineering, computer science, advanced mathematics and statistics, before we now added accountancy and public administration.
So, it’s a centre of excellence and it is located, I had money to bring the school to Uyo but I had to take it to a serene environment where students will concentrate, no plaza to go to, Ukanafun there is no place to go, when you enter Sure Foundation you are out for learning. So those are the unique features of Sure Foundation Polytechnic.