Posted by By Emmanuel Mayah on
It is not for nothing that in many countries overseas, certificates from Nigerian tertiary institutions are hardly recognised. Reasons to this are legion, yet a private polytechnic in Lagos has just added another novelty.
It is not for nothing that in many countries overseas, certificates from Nigerian tertiary institutions are hardly recognised. Reasons to this are legion, yet a private polytechnic in Lagos has just added another novelty.
For someone living outside Nigeria, it would be impossible to imagine that what went on, this particular day last December actually was orchestrated by an institution of higher learning. Like most hideous plot, it took one day to hatch, two days of dress rehearsal and several months to knock together. It was supposed to be one of the institution’s best kept secrets; however, because of the very nature and the long chain of players, it was only a matter of time before someone opened the Pandora box.
Indeed, the last time anyone heard of a ruse so gutsy was in the inglorious reign of 419 business when Advance Fee Fraud syndicates, posing as Central Bank governor, Petroleum Minister or whatever caught their fancy, hosted their foreign victims inside government offices which they had rented for a few hours. Decorated with the necessary paraphernalia, clerks, secretaries and sometimes police orderlies, they sit behind big desk brandishing phoney contract papers, receiving important calls from the‘Head of State’, offering tea to their prey and at the end succeeding in dazzling their ‘mugu’ into parting with millions of dollars.
Though this killer formula which earned the country enough odium is well-known even to amateur tricksters today, it was the same formula employed by Nigeria’s foremost private polytechnic, the Lagos City Polytechnic, to wangle a much needed accreditation from visiting inspectors from the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE).
For men who now run the school, founded ten years ago by Mr. Babatunde Odufunwa ( addressed as Chairman), selling a dummy to the NBTE was an idea not too difficult to come up with. Saturday Sun’s investigation revealed that weeks before the crucial day, about eight professionals were rented to pose as lecturers in the newly established department of Electrical/Electronic Engineering. Until this hoax was brazenly pulled through, the concept of mercenary in Nigeria’s educational system was limited to proxies hired to write WAEC, GCE or JAMB examinations for lazy candidates. Because it lacked high quality academic staff to answer NBTE’s technical questions, the private polytechnic desperately resorted to recruiting mercenaries to help it pass NBTE test.
Painting a lurid picture of the scam that went on that day, an obviously scandalised lecturer, who was on the polytechnic staff until a few months ago and who Saturday Sun had tracked down in the course of the investigation, said: "I don’t know where they imported those so-called lecturers used for the Electrical/Electronics accreditation. We were only made to co-operate with them because more accredited courses meant more students and more revenue for the school. In fact, the mercenary lecturers were shielded from us bonafide staff members.
"The Accounting office which is on the second floor was evacuated to crate a befitting office for them. The place was equipped with new computers. The school opened for each of the mercenary lecturers a file detailing their employment history, academic records, fat wages and the likes. So they were there to pose as qualified personnel to run the new department. But after the accreditation exercise, the mercenary lecturers disappeared; so did the computers. The Accounting staff have since returned to their offices."
Still in pursuit of details of the accreditation scam, more facts were to emerge, all capturing the immense capacity of this institution of higher learning to circumvent the rule. But if the accreditation scam was a brutal shock, more was to come as Saturday Sun discovered that in this private polytechnic whose motto is "Technological Upliftment," it is possible, for a princely fee though, for a student without the minimum O’Levels to pursue and complete both OND and HND programmes within three years.
What more, candidates without credit in Mathematics and Physics are admitted to read Engineering, just as the Polytechnic is known to have at various times gone to secondary schools to shop for lecturers. At the end, it was the polytechnic’s curious system of giving admission to every Dick and Harry, whether they can defend their O’Level certificate or not, that prompted this reporter to close in on the Lagos City Polytechnic. Having listened to a dejected lecturer moan that "there is no magic you can do as a lecturer when the quality of intake is poor", Saturday Sun, in an undercover assignment, engaged a bus driver and armed with a very poor GCE result, took him to the Polytechnic to buy him admission to read Banking and Finance.
Education without tears
Even without a fore knowledge of activities in Lagos city Polytechnic, the location of the school raises serious questions for a first-time visitor. Accessed by winding and narrow streets that can barely take two cars at a time, the school is located in a crowded neighbourhood populated by artisans, spare parts dealers and motorpark urchins. Further down the street is a rusty railway track that runs parallel to the Oshodi-Sango Motorway. The only language in this neighbourhood is buying and selling. Of course, with the Polytechnic, some of the marketable items are admission letters and diploma certificates.
When Saturday Sun arrived the school on Bashiru Oweh Street with his protegee in tow, he found the school premises even more suffocating. The Polytechnic turned out to be a five-storey building on a piece of land, with each floor of the building representing a faculty or administrative offices.
On the ground floor is the Admission office where admission forms are sold, sometimes uptill two weeks before semester exams. On this floor too are squashed the staff room and the Accounts offices. The first floor accommodates the Computer Science department as well as offices of the Rector, Registrar and Bursar. The second floor is the Accountancy department while the third is the School of Business and Management. On the fourth floor is School of Secretarial Studies while the library occupies the fifth floor. A new building, just on an adjacent plot of land, is the newly-established School of Engineering.
The admission process began with this reporter purchasing a form for N2,500 in the name of the bus driver. In response to a question from the reporter who was playing a keen guardian, the Accounts Clerk gleefully informed that there would be no entrance examination of any sort and certainly nothing of Poly-JAMB examination required to get a place in any of the Federal or State Polytechnics.
It was gathered that the Lagos City Polytechnic actually started as a Computer College. Granted licence in 1996 by the NBTE, the polytechnic was to be fed mostly by products of the computer college who still desired to have a taste of higher education. Then, there are the dregs of the academic world who - having tried all the tricks in the book, but still cannot pass WASC, NECO, JAMB or Poly-JAMB and having come to their wits end but yet gripped with a longing to be recognised as undergraduate - made the choice of seeking refuge in this Ikeja-based private polytechnic. The driver used for this investigation belonged to this group.
Saturday Sun further gathered that the system run by the Lagos City Polytechnic allows for two categories of students. There are what are called the ‘Regular Students’ and the ‘Conditional Students.’ As the names suggest, the regulars are students who have the minimum four credits at O’Level while the Conditional Students are those whose O’Level papers fall below the minimum academic qualification.
The result presented by the bus driver spoke for itself. This admission seeker (names withheld) has F9 in commerce, C6 in Financial Account, F9 in Economics, D7 in Government, D7 in Literature in English, D7 in English Language, C5 in Mathematics, F9 in Agricultural Science and D7 in Biology. Elsewhere, he would have been advised to go back home, register with any of the ubiquitous coaching classes in town and take another shot at WASCE. The closest he would have come to any tertiary institution was a one-year remedial programme, but here at the private polytechnic, he and his likes are given direct entry to ND programme but just tagged ‘conditional students’ and told to make up their O’levels before the end of the ND programme.
Because this reporter and his ward began seeking the admission in early April when the polytechnic was preparing for first semester examination, they were advised to process the admission form against what they called "Second Batch of ND1 students" ,billed to resume school in May/June. Had the candidate come some weeks earlier, the bus driver possibly would have been among those writing their first-semester examinations at the moment.
One of the conditional students currently writing his semester exams is Nwandu Chukwunedum Andrew. He was given provisional admission to read Banking and Finance.
Dated 28 November 2005 and signed by the registrar, Mr. Oluwole Oragbade, Nwandu’s admission letter read thus:
"With reference to your application for admission into this institution in 2005/2006 session, I have pleasure in informing you that you have been offered provisional admission to a two-year FT National Diploma course in Banking and Finance.
"I would like to emphasize that this provisional offer of admission is subject strictly to your meeting in full, the advertised requirements for the course. To establish this, original copies of your certificates will be cross checked with records of the awarding authorities.
If at any time it is discovered that you have not met our advertised requirements, or that your admission is based on false information supplied by you, this offer will be withdrawn automatically. The Polytechnic also reserves the right to dismiss any student whose conduct, class attendance or academic records prove unsatisfactory.
"The provisional admission is also subject to your completing the attached Form of Acceptance and your returning it to the school’s Bursar with a non-refundable deposit of N2,500 in bank draft made payable to Lagos City Polytechnic, Ikeja not later than 5th December, 2005, failing which the offer will be withdrawn and your place given to another candidate.
"You will be required to pay the following fees before registration. Please note that this schedule of fees is subject to review by the Polytechnic within the period of the programme without prior notice."
The fees stated in the letter included tuition fees N60,000 per session, Registration fees N500, Examination fees N500, verification of credentials N700, Identity Card N1,250, Library fee N500 and Matriculation fee N1,250.
The student was also expected to pay per semester two more fees called Regularization of Admission N3,000 and Information Technology N2,000.
From the documents provided for the provisional admission, one particular form was curiously tagged "Undertaking for conditional Admission," Apparently, it was a ridiculous attempt to play safe and make a fetish of standard while at the same time bending the rule to accommodate academically unfit students who Saturday Sun learnt are in the majority of the school population.
The undertaking for Conditional Admission reads: "I (names of the conditional student), on my admission into Lagos City Polytechnic do hereby undertake to make up my admission entry requirements of four credits in relevant subjects at not more than two sittings not later than the third semester as a full time (student) and fifth semester as a part time student of my course.
"I also agree that I should be disallowed from writing the 4th semester examination as a full time student and the 6th semester examination as a part time student if the deficiencies are not remedied.
"I fully understand that failure on my part to abide by this undertaking will result in my admission being withdrawn without any notification."
OND, HND in three years!
Anyone would have thought that bad as the Nigerian educational system is, provisional admission was enough tempting offer for youths desperate to acquire one form of certificate or another. Saturday Sun’s investigations revealed more. Here, at the Lagos City Polytechnic, three years is enough for those who know how, to complete both ND and HND programmes. It sounded far-fetched at first even to this reporter, yet it turned out to be true.
This possibility is just an ingenious interpretation of the notion in most schools in Nigeria that education should be treated purely as an investment.
The marathon system, Saturday Sun discovered, is an offshoot of yet another peculiar design that permits the Polytechnic to run four semesters in a year instead of the two permissible under the Nigerian educational system. The idea is profit driven and strives to get two academic years out of one year. It works like this: In January, what is called the first batch of ND1 students effectively commences their first semester.
Though the admission letters say the semester begins December, the new students, just loiter around because December is the only month all the lecturers are allowed a two-week break. When the semester ends in April/May, a second batch of ND1 students starts their own first semester in June. In fact, the admission door is open to a second batch student that comes in July and even August. This second batch is the beginning of a new academic year for a different group of ND1 students. The first batch ND1 student returns for second semester in July and ends it in September/October depending on the vagaries in a particular year.
The first batch goes on a long holiday while second batch experience their second semester between October and December. As they (second batch) write their exams in December, first batch returns for ND2. After their examination in December, the second batch, without interruption, joins the first batch for ND2. The two groups overlap and sojourn on. The combined ND2 class have their first and second semester and pass out together in August.
This means that a second batch student who started ND1 say in June/July 2005 would had completed his ND2 in August 2006, a record 13 months. When the same process is repeated for HND programme, he would had completed both OND and HND in 26 months. If the students are gracious enough to observe the mandatory one-year Industrial Training (IT) in between both programmes, he would had spent precisely 36 months. If he spent lesser time on IT, then he would had achieved his HND dream in less than three years.
Lecturers sourced from secondary schools
It was gathered that several times in the ten-year history of the Polytechnic, the tertiary institution has had to invade both private and public secondary schools in the desperate search for lecturers. Slave labour wages and repressive instinct of the school authorities, have made sudden exit of lecturers unavoidable. With the students occasionally left in the lurch on this account, the school is said to have had case where the headship, would just get anybody from anywhere to stand by the blackboard.
A case in point was in February this year when one Mr. Emenike, an English lecturer in General Studies, left the school only to be replaced with a teacher brought in from one of the neighbouring secondary schools. His replacement turned out to be a huge joke before the students and after three days of fumbling in the class, an embarrassed higher authority had to order his sack.
Saturday Sun gathered that on an almost two monthly basis, the Polytechnic always advertises for lecturers. Between December and March this year, not less than eight lecturers have left the institution, creating a disruption in the academic system that can only best be imagined. They include Barrister Ademola Alebiosu, Solomon Oyedokun, Nuhu Gado, S.O. Aderibigbe, Nike Akinola, Don Emenike, one Mr. Rufai of Computer Engineering department, and Mr. Oladiran of Accountancy department.
Some of the lecturers spoken to lamented that they were driven to work every day to the point of exhaustion. For all his effort, a Lecturer 2 in the Polytechnic receives N20,000 a month. An Assistant Lecturer receives far less while the most senior lecturer in the school, nicknamed ‘prof’ by his colleagues, on account of his ‘jumbo’ salary goes home with N29,000 a month. This was even after he got a ten percent increment in what was called an enhanced salary structure.
Even when the schoolownership allegedly makes a profit in tens of millions a year, staff motivation is still very low. A lecturer in Business Administration department bemoaned his fate thus: "We are treated no better than slaves. As a lecturer, you work 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday. From Friday evening, part-time students come in and you teach 6pm to 10pm. You teach the whole of Saturday and come back 12 noon after service on Sundays. By Monday, the circle continues. There is no rest. Cases of mental breakdown is common here. Here, you are expected to teach non-stop from January to December. The only break for lecturers is a two-week holiday during Christmas. The school does not encourage research of any kind; just teach what you can teach."
Still pouring out his frustrution, the lecturer continued: "As a lecturer you must sign the register latest 8.30am whether you have lecture or not. There is no allowance of any kind, besides what has been worked into your salary. You teach, conduct exams, mark about 1,000 scripts; there is no invigilation allowance, no marking allowance, just your salary. The school used to give us N40 a day for pure water. They paid us N200 a week. That was cancelled about a year ago. For Christmas bonus, one bag of rice is given to six lecturers. You are to use that to celebrate for two weeks, then you come back to face another January to December".
Virtually all of the lecturers spoken to said that since they are made to teach a second batch of students while their counterparts in other schools are resting, they technically do two-year work in one year. The workload is such that a lecturer will at the same time be marking second semester scripts for first batch students as well as first semester scripts for second batch students. In that frenzy, he is also expected to commence lecture for second batch students now in their second semester. As a result of the workload, they may not be able to finish marking when exams for second batch students begins.
This means they will be made to invigilate while still marking old scripts. In that confusion, first batch students return and the already harassed lecturers will still be expected to teach them too.
Saturday Sun gathered that because of the exodus of lecturers, some courses are abandoned mid-way, yet students are expected to write exams on them. At the Amuwo Odofin part-time centre of the polytechnic, there is a common joke that the shortage of lecturers was such that the Centre Coordinator was once asked to go into the street to look for lecturers.
Late last year, during the accreditation exercise, the school authority allegedly threatened some of the senior lecturers, saying that they would soon find out how many of those receiving ‘jumbo’ salary would be left once the NBTE officials are gone. Indeed, after the NBTE exercise, Mr. Rufai, Aderebigbe and Oyedokun (the HOD) were allegedly forced out of the system. In their place, some technicians were allegedly brought in from the nearby Computer College. Similarly, after the accreditation scam, the rented lecturers were said to have hung around for two more days after which they disappeared. The school allegedly brought in some technologists to take their place. The situation is such that one lecturer told this reporter that Computer Engineering and Electrical/ Electronics departments do not really exist. "For now it remains a figment of someone’s imagination".
N2,500 imprest for HODs
Investigations further revealed that poor quality of academic staff has persisted at the Lagos City Polytechnic simply because the school is unwilling to pay remunerations, sufficient enough to attract good and enviable hands. Nothing drives home the point better than the revelation that Heads of Department (HOD) receive N2,500 each as imprest every month.
About two years ago, the school responded to agitations for salary increment by introducing what was called ‘Welfare Account’ with the Rector and Bursar as signatories. This special account was a pool of sundry levies and fees such as for late registration, ID card, etcetra. The amount collected was to be shared every quarter among the staff to improve their welfare.
Saturday Sun gathered that in the first quarter after its introduction, over N1 million was generated. At least, one million naira was declared to be shared. Some of the lecturers received as much as N25,000 which they hailed as "Udoji allowance". In the second quarter, N700,000 was declared to be shared, but the school authorities soon began to erect roadblocks to rob some staff members of the dream bonus. While the booty dropped to N15,000 one lecturer, Mr. Oloba of Accountancy department was denied his share because the boss said he did not see him at the school’s marticulation ceremony in 2004.
Seeing how much was coming into the account, top shot was said to have developed more than a passing interest in the Welfare Account. He allegedly put heads together with the another senior management staff to come up with a 20-point criteria before anyone could benefit from the sharing. No one met all the criteria in the third quarter, hence no money was shared. At the end, the Welfare Account was hijacked by the ‘big Oga’ who magnanimously added N1000 to salary across board.
Another money matter in the school is the compulsory N2,000 for Infotech paid every semester by the students. Some of the students who spoke to Saturday Sun on the understanding that the reporter was a new student, called the payment extortion. They said they were made to believe that the N2,000 was to enable them register via the Internet and to check the results on-line. Meanwhile such 1T facilities do not exist in the school.
Another irregularity recorded during the NBTE visit was that the school authorities forced the lecturers to delete the M and C differentiating ‘Merit List’ and ‘Conditional List’ (students who do not have the minimum O’Level) before the result list was presented to NBTE officials