Staff empowerment as an institution’s agenda for nation building

An insider’s perspective of Professor Iloeje’s leadership of the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu

The National Policy on Education spells out the four institutional objectives for Nigerian tertiary schools as, teaching, research, dissemination of information, and storage of knowledge. Extant research shows that Nigerian institutions have underperformed in three of these mandates but somewhat meet the goal of storage of knowledge; which relevance to the development of the nation has, however, been questioned by some scholars.

Knowledge is a key driver of growth and development. Skills that make for innovation, technological development and the understanding of complex societal, economical and environmental situations are built at the tertiary education level. No nation can compete favourably in the knowledge economy without a workforce that effuses these abilities. Indeed, this has been the mainstay of developed countries.

Thus, the future of the Nigerian state is dependent, firstly, on the quality of knowledge and skills that can be engendered in the burgeoning young population of students of Nigerian tertiary schools; this can only be possible with a very knowledgeable and skilled academic staff. Secondly, the place of research and the communication of research outcomes in tackling developmental problems must be prioritized.

It is, therefore, on this background that one needs to appreciate and support the efforts of IMT’s current management, led by Professor Mike Iloeje, to improve staff capacity, with the ultimate goal of enabling the institution fully realize the objectives of the Nigerian National Policy on Education. Only in its recent history has the Institute experienced such massive drive in the areas of staff training, provision of grants for academic research, sponsorship to overseas conferences and a general improvement of welfare.

The Nigerian educational environment is beset with a multiplicity of challenges. These challenges exist within the concentric circles of formal school learning consisting of the student, the teacher and the environment. In a recent research paper on the state of mass communication education in Nigeria, I drew from empirical evidence and argued that the environment is the most affective factor in determining formal school learning outcomes. For the environment is variegated in nature and exerts overbearing influence on the student and the teacher in the educational process. As conceptualized by John Dewey, environment constitutes ‘those conditions that promote or hinder, stimulate or inhibit the characteristics of a living being’.

Hence, the right environment is imperative to the production of desirable learning outcomes and therefore for development. The renown American educator, Isaac Kandel, in his treatise, Methodology of Comparative Education, stressed the relationship between a country’s development and its educational environment when he asserted, ‘as is the state so is the school. What you want in the state you must put in the school’.

Thus, I shall borrow from my own personal experiences as an academic staff to demonstrate how Professor Iloeje’s management style is foisting the right environment that will promote academic excellence in IMT. One needs to first admit the challenges Professor Iloeje had to contend with following his appointment as IMT Rector. They were several, with the imminent ones being the loss of accreditation of its programmes, and the delisting of the school by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board as well as by the National Youth Service Corps. IMT was thus, in a chaotic state. Students and parents were agitated by the ugly development and staff were uncertain of how these events would affect their jobs and wellbeing. It is therefore to Iloeje’s credit that these challenges were resolved within a few weeks of his taking up office.

On a personal basis, I had lost every sense of belonging in the system (I believe there were some other staff who felt the same way) primarily because since joining the Institute in 2006, with over 13 years post NYSC cognate industry experience, I was stagnated. My many letters to management throughout that period for the regularization and confirmation of my employment were never acknowledged. In September 2012, following a letter to the Rector to the effect of this anomaly, an interview was conducted for those of us as affected and formal notifications were issued to us in October of same year regularizing and confirming our appointments with the Institute.

Comparative to the past, the facts indicate that the present management is responsive to the yearnings of staff in the area of welfare. Not only have we witnessed significant rises in wages, staff promotions have been regularly conducted and published. Also, there have been numerous trainings of staff to improve their IT and research proficiencies. Overwhelmed by these, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, IMT Chapter, in one of its meetings moved and adopted the motion to commend Professor Iloeje for this feat.

A flyer circulated by the union at that forum best illustrates the impression of staff with Iloeje’s management. The Rector is pictured in a cartoon, lowering two baskets borne over his shoulders, from a platform, to IMT Staff. The baskets, filled with goodies, are each labeled “promotion, migration and payment of salary” and “funding”. The staff, portrayed in a jubilant mood are helping themselves to these goodies, apparently dazed, as they ask, “is this a dream” and chant, “our Lord is good”. Students are seen on the background cheering, “Happy days for us”. The headline of the flyer reads: “Prof Iloeje: An Evolution and a Revolution”.

It is a well established fact that Professor Iloeje has thrown himself, with much enthusiasm, to the cause of changing IMT for the better, by creating the enabling environment for the harnessing of the creative potentials of its workforce and students. The spate of communication from management to staff publicizing the availability of funding for the purposes of further studies, conference attendance and research is unprecedented.

I am a beneficiary of the TETFUND grant for conference attendance. However, before this grant became well known and publicized, the present management had sponsored me to an overseas conference in February 2012, from the institution’s budget for conference attendance. My application for the sponsorship received swift treatment and approval. I was not acquainted to the Rector at the time. I did not have to meet him or to lobby for it. I was actually surprised that no question was asked regarding my indigene status or family connection; clan politics had polarized the IMT family creating sacred cows and predicating appointments to positions of office, rather than on basis of competence and qualification.

If I was surprised that my application was attended to promptly, I was to receive a shocker when on my return from overseas I wrote to appreciate management for the gesture. Two days later I received a formal reply from the Rector thanking me for the letter of appreciation made to his office. Before this time I had never had any letter sent to management acknowledged. Professor Iloeje’s action demonstrated to me that he is a man that places value on people. His accessibility to staff is another attestation to this fact. Only recently, during Bishop Onaga’s visit to the Institute, the Rector on sighting me at the reception, walked briskly towards me, thrust out his hand and to my amazement, called me by my surname. I never imagined that he would remember my name.

It is imperative to consider the overall advantage the trainings and conference attendances hold for the advancement of the Institute and the Nigerian nation. As academic staff are encouraged to interact at the global level with their colleagues, by engaging in research, presenting at conferences and subjecting to peer reviews, knowledge capacities are expanded. The multiplier effect will be high quality teachers to deliver the desired education for the development of the country.

It is instructive to note that UNESCO attributes the key challenge that has sustained underdevelopment in many nations to lack of qualified teachers. In a recent research report by its Committee of Experts on the Teaching Profession, UNESCO stated inter alia:

one of the primary reasons why many countries fail to educate their children and their adults is the lack of qualified teachers — properly trained to high standards, adequately paid to attract, retain and motivate good people to teach, working in effective teaching and learning environment.

Also, Roy Chikwem in his paper on “Higher Education in Nigeria”, lamented that “today, we only produce the worst set of uneducated tertiary graduates that cannot structure a simple sentence”.

This can all change, beginning with IMT. We need to embrace the wonderful opportunities as presented by the current management. To start with, the teacher to student ratio has made it possible for the academic staff to teach and supervise students work more effectively.

Tertiary schools are rated based on the visibility of their academic staff through such activities as conference presentations, innovations and research publications in journals. Thus, by regular appearances at conferences, IMT has been placed on the world map of reputable international institutions. Added to the interactive school website, now regularly updated, there is no doubt that IMT’s reputation has increased under the current management.

I will like to conclude by admitting that there are inherited problems that still require the attention of Iloeje’s management.

Firstly, some of the buildings that house students and staff are in states of disrepair. We are of course aware that enormous funds are needed to repair these structures and their surroundings, and understand the weight that is already being borne by the administration that stretches its resources. In this wise, I implore management to hasten and broaden its already proposed private entrepreneurship intervention in the renovation of student hostels to extend to departmental structures. This will no doubt further enhance the environment of education that is already being engendered under Iloeje’s leadership. Perhaps another workable approach will be in mobilizing IMT’s well-to-do alumni to participate in the “Revolution”. An homecoming event will not be out of place in achieving this.

Secondly, management may need to kowtow the way of world leading academic institutions who demand an objective driven tenure-track programme plan from all candidates wishing to be appointed deans, directors or heads of departments. It is enigmatic that a particular set of people will always be recycled in every management. Succession planning is critical to the survival and success of every human organization.