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AKSU HONORARY DOCTORATE: REMEMBERING AKPABIO FOR GOOD

By N.T.A EFO

“Great men are the ambassadors of providence sent to reveal to their fellowmen their unknown lines. When reverence for its great men dies, the glory of the nation will die with it.” – Andrew Coolidge, 1923.
Sentiments apart, of all projects, policies and programmes of the administration of Senator Godswill Akpabio as Governor of Akwa Ibom State, the free and compulsory education policy was one of great foresight; impactful and actually armoured the Senator.
The policy came out of a passion to right the wrongs providence had done him – and probably many others he knew of. In an interview a year after the policy kicked off, Akpabio said “Having lost my father at six months and raised by a struggling mother could not afford the fees for all of us. And I decided in those dark days of despair that if God ever made me great, I will make sure all poor children can go to school.”
Agree with me or not, Senator Akpabio was a greater ambassador of providence to the society especially in the area of education for which a passion for change was his driving force.
This passion pervaded all steps of the education pyramid, including the tertiary, which saw him start an Akwa Ibom State University (AKSU) from the snail waste in a wasteland of abundance opportunity.
The story of AKSU, which this week honoured the Senate Minority Leader with a worthy Honorary Doctorate Degree, is a story created by the same passion to leave an imprint in the sector. AKSU became the successor to the Akwa Ibom State University of Science and Technology (AKUTECH) which was well thought out, planned and thought to have been well implemented by the administration of Obong Victor Attah.
Obong Attah was himself visibly embarrassed at what AKUTECH was at his exit: a University on paper, staff on prolonged training courses overseas and its administration on jolly rides overseas, always on a peer preview mission to create Africa’s best Science and Technology University, a passion Obong Attah himself had longed to leave on ground. But what was AKUTECH when Senator Akpabio went on a first inspection? A long expand of swampy land outstretching two local government areas, Mkpat Enin and Eastern Obolo; a few uncompleted buildings hurriedly put up by its undertaker, then Vice Chancellor, Professor Akpan Ekpo, when he heard the new Governor was visiting. I was on the trip and I could see the surprise on the faces of the Governor and his entourage. Having been members of Obong Attah government and having known the monies appropriated for and the reports and comments of the Professor Akpan Ekpo on the University in the media, it was shocking to see that nothing was AKUTECH and AKUTECH was nothing. Professor Akpan Ekpo himself couldn’t tell why AKUTECH was the way it was.
Pronto, Akpabio, in council changed the concept of AKUTECH. He wanted the children that would leave his free education programme, at SS3, to have an opportunity to further their education through an additional option. He set up the Akwa Ibom State University and ordered that the University Staff School at Ikot Akpaden, which the tour had wondered why it was built before the administrative or any faculty block at AKUTECH, be used as site for the University. Today, the site still served as the University’s main campus. The Governor in council also recommended a multi-campus structure for the University. The Obio Akpa College of Agriculture became a campus.
Its first matriculation was a celebration of some sort, akin, but not in size, to the celebration that heralded the landing of the first plane at the Ibom International Airport. Students practically mobbed Akpabio while security agents had a hard time trying to stop them.
The school has rally grown. The convocation ceremony in which Akpabio was honoured was a combination of the second and third. From two faculties at inception, the University now has six faculties, Education, Science and Engineering at Ikot Akpaden; Art, Social/Management Science and Agriculture at Obio Akpa. Over 90% of the student populations are Akwa Ibom children, some of whom are graduates of the Akpabio free and compulsory education programme. The education sector is an area which throws up, always, good memories of the Senator as Governor.
The policy thrust of the free and compulsory education programme was “to produce a very vibrant, literate and well focused population in the next five to 10 years.” To ensure payment of fees for all kids, the government paid subvention to primary school head teachers at N100 per pupil per term and N300 per student per term to secondary school principals.
There was massive rehabilitation and construction of educational infrastructure. Through the Inter-Ministerial Direct Labour Committee, almost every year, the government built several new classroom blocks and rehabilitated several others. The administration recruited teachers yearly including 1000 absorbed from a Federal Government Universal Basic Education programme and the controversial 5,000 teachers recently sacked by the government of his successor. The government also procured exercise and text books for pupils and students across the state. In fact, the free and compulsory education programme became a template for support towards government by politicians and others. At constituency briefings and other political events, lawmakers and other politicians donated branded exercise books to constituents. Others, especially those who aspired to political offices, also donated branded exercise books in support of the policy to students. Enrollment into schools tripled and it posed a challenge to the programme. Funding had to be increased.
Apart from AKSU, the Akpabio administration impacted on other tertiary institution in the state and beyond. The Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic was completely turned anew with new roads, buildings and extra funding. The Federal Government owned University of Uyo benefited immensely from the Akpabio tenure through roads and funding support which enabled the more courses in the institution to be accredited. The University of Uyo Teaching Hospital also benefited immensely. The Federal Polytechnic Ukana took off and is still on ground due to the unreserved benevolence of the Akpabio administration.
The performance in the sector threw up accolades from the sector. Honorary Doctorate Degrees came in quick succession, some of which he accepted and several of which he turned down. Among the ones he accepted were Doctor of Law, University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Doctor of Law, University of Calabar; Doctor of Public Administration, Nnamdi Azikiwe University; Doctor of Management Science, Nigerian Defense Academy; Doctor of Management Science, Federal University of Technology, Owerri; Fellow, Federal Polytechnic, Kazaire; Fellow, College of Education, Bauchi.
Efo, a media practitioner, writes from Uyo.

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