Apart from many of its schools being dilapidated, Akwa Ibom also has shortage of public schools.
This state of five million people has just 250 public secondary schools, a 2016 data shows. And a number of those schools, including the four science colleges and the seven technical colleges, are in ruins.
Among the neglected lots, the Government Technical College, Ikot Ada Idem, Ibiono Ibom Local Government Area, presents a shocking irony. It had state-of-the-art facilities, well-built classrooms and top quality teachers when poor planning by the state government led to its abandonment.
These facilities are now rotting away, a development that has infuriated not a few taxpayers.
Built more than 30 years ago, the school was shut down seven years ago when the government proposed converting it to a faculty of engineering of the state-owned polytechnic. In line with that plan, the college’s 2000 students were transferred to other schools in the state. It was then shut down, and left unused for years.
Because it has been abandoned for so long, the 14 classroom blocks, the administrative offices, the assembly hall, and the technical workshops in the school are now at various stages of decay.
The roofs of the buildings have collapsed, while weeds have grown tall inside them. Tall grasses overshadowed the staff quarters and other buildings when this reporter visited in early April.
Standing by the side of the staff quarters was a collapsed building which used to serve as the college refectory. Adjacent it was another collapsed building.
The technical equipment worth tens of millions of dollars were rotting away.
A section of the school facility was already taken over by herdsmen who resided there with their cattle, while another section was occupied by squatters said to be returnees from the contentious Bakassi Penisula.
Cow dungs littered everywhere.
Some of the Bakassi returnees were cooking in a classroom that had become their makeshift kitchen when this reporter visited the facility in October 2017. Malnourished kids ran around, naked.
A repeat visit to the abandoned college on April 14 showed that nothing had changed so far; the herdsmen and the Bakassi returnees were still occupying the premises. There were signs that the corridors connecting the various blocks in the school were now being used as makeshift kitchen as well.
The abandoned college, with its classic architectural design, sits on a large expanse of land by the Uyo-Ikot Ekpene-Aba Highway. It can be easily spotted as you drive through the highway, a few kilometers from Uyo.
The roads inside the college premises are asphalted and lined with street light (they aren’t working anymore, though). Down the hill, behind the college, is a local stream where students used to go swim and fetch water.
In its glorious days, the college was highly rated and very well respected, compared to other technical colleges in the state.
In those good old days, the students were taught refrigeration and air-conditioning repairs, mechanical, electrical, civil works, carpentry, and automobile, and other trades.
READ PART ONE OF THIS SERIES HERE: INVESTIGATION: Learning In Tears: Inside the massive decay in public schools in oil-rich Akwa Ibom
“When you come out from the school and you know the practical very well, companies would be looking for you to employ you,” Etim Udoh, an alumnus of the school, told PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr Udoh studied at the college mechanical department in the 80s. He now runs a popular fabrication yard in the capital, Uyo. He specialises in the design and fabrication of industrial machines like cassava and palm oil processing mill.
“We had good workshops then,” he says of his days in the technical college.
“There are people in today’s Akwa Ibom who would have been self-employed if the school were functional.
“After graduating from the college, there’s no way you would not have something useful to do with your hands,” he said.
One man who has hired Mr Udoh and could attest to his skill is Sunny Ayang, a former commissioner in charge of rural development in the state who now runs a toothpicks production plant.
“He is very good,” Mr Ayang says of Mr Udoh. “There’s nobody who runs a production factory in Uyo who doesn’t engage him.
“When the Taiwanese came to install my equipment, they shipped in a long sprocket, they machine was turning in the reverse. When Etim (Udoh) came and merely looked at the machine, he knew what the problem was before the Taiwanese could even explain,” he said.
Ibanga Asanga is another alumnus of the college. He studied refrigeration and air-conditioning technology and was employed immediately after graduation from college. He later left paid employment to set up his own business of maintenance and repairs of air-conditioners, in Uyo. Today, banks, government departments, and universities are among his clients.
“I can say that the Government Technical College, Ikot Ada Idem, helped me 100 per cent to be what I am today,” Mr Asanga told PREMIUM TIMES.
“In Akwa Ibom State today, it is only Government Technical College, Abak, that is doing refrigeration and air-conditioning, but they don’t have standard equipment like Ikot Ada Idem. The equipment at Abak is just ‘manageable’,” he said, while pleading with the state government to consider re-opening the school.
“We are still feeling the school,” says Okokon Akpan, another alumnus of the abandoned college.
“There were times we used to have a senior government official brought fabrication work for our department to do it for him. They used to pay us money for the time we spent in helping out with the fabrication. The head of the department then used to give us small money for what we were doing.
“There were days we were even asked to stay back in the college for some paid jobs during holidays,” said Mr Akpan who studied mechanical works in the 90s and now specialises in the installation of intercom and cable television for companies and private homes in the state.
The college apparently would have helped many youth become self-employed if it were still functional, alumni said.
Ironically, Akwa Ibom occupies an unenviable second position among states with the highest unemployment rate in Nigeria, according to a 2018 data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
“If you call 50 university students now and ask them what they are studying in school, they would tell you banking and finance, marketing, management. What are they going to manage? What would they be financing? You want to set up a small factory and you are looking for a machinist, and you can’t find any,” said the former commissioner, Mr Ayang.
“Most people running factories today in the state are hard put to find skilled workers. I have that challenge. We need people who will operate, maintain and repair machines.
“Eighty per cent of the youth in the state should go through technical colleges where they can acquire skills to be self-employed,” Mr Ayang said, adding that foreigners from Togo are now the ones doing tiling and other auxiliary services in newly built houses in Uyo and its environs.
Traditional rulers and community leaders in the college’s host community have now begun to pressure government to reopen the school.
Twenty-four chiefs, under the aegis of the Southern Ibiono Ibom Council of Chiefs, wrote to the state Governor, Udom Emmanuel, three months after he was sworn-in in 2015, calling his attention to the negative effects of the continuous closure of the school.
The college served at least 24 villages when it was functional, the chiefs told Governor Emmanuel in their letter.
“Today, there is no government post-primary school in the 24 villages. All the euphoria about free education does not benefit our children,” the chiefs said, adding that several children from their communities were involved in “avoidable” road accidents because of traveling to the neighbouring local government areas of Itu and Ikono to attend secondary school.
The chiefs continued: “The Representatives of Ibiono Ibom in the State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Ime Okon undertook a facility tour of the school and his efforts resulted in including the school in the budgetary estimates of 2013/2014.
“The present Paramount Ruler of Ibiono, His Royal Majesty, Okuku Ime Udo Usoro Inyang, the Academicians of Ibiono Ibom, Ibiono Ibom Welfare and Development Union (IIWADU), Ibiono Ibom Traditional Rulers Council, and individuals have all requested the state government to reopen the school, but these fell on the deaf ears of the state government.”
Two years after their letter to Governor Emmanuel, the college is yet to be reopened. And there’s no sign that it would be reopened soon.
Gabriel Okoh, the Village Head of Ikot Ada Idem, is disturbed by the situation.
“What have we done wrong against the government that they have allowed this school to remain closed for this long,” he said with a forlorn look when PREMIUM TIMES met him in his palace.
The President of Ibiono Ibom Welfare and Development Union, Effiong Inyang, said the government was unfair to the people of Ibiono by allowing the college to remain closed for so long.
“If you go to the school, there are lots of unopened containers with equipment and instruments that have not been used. It doesn’t make sense that we in Akwa Ibom keep crying that we don’t have when we have so much.
“And then even when the government is saying that they have free education, we see children roaming the streets during school hours.
“With respect to whoever is at the helms of affairs in the state, it seems we have been over-blessed by God, and that is why we are abusing these things,” said Mr Inyang, who is a medical doctor.
When contacted, the Commissioner for Information in the state, Charles Udoh, told PREMIUM TIMES the government would announce its plans for the abandoned college “in due course”.
This is the fourth in a six-part series on how corruption, poor budget planning and implementation, and outright neglect led to the near collapse of public education in Akwa Ibom, one of Nigeria’s richest states.
This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting