Professor Idris Muhammad Bugaje is the Rector of Kaduna Polytechnic, until his appointment, he was the Director General of the National Research Institute For Chemical Technology (NARICT) Zaria. In this exclusive Interview with ISAIAH BENJAMIN and NONYE EKWENUGO, he bares his mind on series of issues, the need for skills development in the country, the Ajaokuta – Kaduna- Kano (AKK) gas project, polytechnic measures in place to contain covid-19 and how he has been able to transform the institution within the past 3 years and his future plans for the institution.
As the Rector of the Polytechnic, can you tell us how it has been since your assumption of office in 2017?
I assumed office in October 2017 as Rector of Kaduna Polytechnic and it has not been very easy in the last 3 years, but thank God, we have been able to resolve many of the challenges. I could remember that when I came on board, the major problem was industrial harmony, there were a lot of strikes, almost every semester there must be a minimum of one local strike and the very week I assumed office, ASUP was on strike, that was how bad it was. The point is, Unions, most of the times, but not all the time, whenever they have genuine reasons they go on strike to press home their demands. So the best way to run Institutions, especially academic Institutions, is to open up. You have to open up your administration and finances so that the Unions will have access to know what comes in and what goes out and you should also take them into confidence and discuss with them on ways forward. Immediately we came in, we developed and installed a software which allowed Kaduna Polytechnic income and expenditure to be monitored by all stakeholders, not only the Rector but all Principal Officers even the Union leadership were given passwords so that they could see what come in and what gets out. By so doing, unions, if they are reasonable, will understand that some demands they may be making, are not tenable. This is because if you tell them to go and check the balances themselves, they will know that is not just possible, this way we were able to take them along accordingly.
Secondly, our committee system embedded the Unions leadership such as the housing committee, rehabilitation of staff houses committee and different other committees on staff promotion and discipline and so on. We saw them as stakeholders. To me, the Unions are even greater stakeholders than the Rector, because the Rector is just coming in for a period of four years and he may leave, but the unions shall remain in the system forever. So I regarded them as major stakeholders. I met with them for the first time and I told the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) that if it were to be a Democracy not Bureaucracy, ASUP Congress would have been my parliament, I will be seating as Chief Executive and consulting my parliament on whatever decision I will take. But along the way, there were some issues, which I wouldn’t want to mention the details. I had to stamp my feet and now we are working together smoothly with no issues at all with all the three major unions. We try to understand them, we try to take them along and if other institutions will also do the same, with nothing to hide from their unions, open up their accounts to the unions, they will cooperate with you and you will see wonders. Pay them their dues because you need to motivate them, so if they have outstanding dues, clear them without unnecessary delay. That’s why in the three years since I came in, there was not a single local strike.
When I came on board, I also met a lot of liabilities over N600million of small contracts, ranging from 1 million and 2million contracts which were not capital projects, being owed hundreds of contractors, some of the contracts were awarded in 2003 and 2004, 13 years or 14 years before I came into office and they were not paid. I also met about 58 court cases, some of the Polytechnic vehicles were being impounded through court orders. These were some of the challenges. So we had to verify those claims and those confirmed were taken to the Governing Council who gave us approval to pay those liabilities over 4 years period of time from IGR. We have so far paid up to 60 to 70 percent, what is outstanding is just 30% and we intend to pay that within the coming year and that should be my forth year and with that I intend to clear all the outstanding liabilities.
Also, the court cases have dropped down to about four, so we have fewer outstanding court cases. Some of the court cases, we even had to send lawyers to Lagos which was very expensive. We have been able to settle all those ones and now we are having few cases and we hope these remaining ones will also be resolved soon.
The third challenge, which is very important, was loss of accreditation. On 4th of October 2017, when I assumed office, Kaduna polytechnic had lost 85% of its accreditation of academic programs. In other words, most of the programs were being run in the Polytechnic illegally. NBTE only had given approval for only 15% of our over 100 programs. That was another area that we had to look into urgently and today we have achieved 95% accreditation with the remaining 5% given interim accreditation because we did not have enough money to meet up with all the demands. But they are few, such as Mechanical Engineering Department and few others that NBTE refused to give full accreditation and if not for Covid-19 pandemic, we were planning to get over the outstanding ones and move them to full accreditation by 2020. We have also introduced new programs such as Railway Engineering, the first National Diploma program in the country. I must also thank the cooperation we received from the Governing Council. We had a very understanding Governing Council and we also thank the Unions for their understanding and for their support. I think that spirit of cooperation helped us a lot.
When you assumed office you were not comfortable with the dilapidated structures on ground which you described as unfit for animals, what is the situation now?
The structures I met on ground were terribly dilapidated, the hostels were in bad shape, I never believed human beings could live in that kind of structures. The departmental roofs were leaking all over, roads and drainages were in bad shape, the capital budget we get annually was not enough for the rehabilitation of infrastructures. We now have about 27,000 students and the problem is we get the same amount with smaller Polytechnics whose student population is leass than 1000. This is bad. The envelope capital budget system must be stopped. Allocation should be based on needs, size and other criteria and not just uniform blanket allocation.
I must also thank the Ecological Fund, we wrote to them an SOS letter and they swiftly brought an intervention for rehabilitation of roads on two campuses. Federal Ministry of Works and FERMA also intervened and rehabilitated some of our roads. We also wrote to the Energy Commission of Nigeria and they gave us some street lights. We had to write to a number of agencies to come to our aid.
Furthermore, we appealed to the 19 Northern State Governors, through an elder statesman, the Grand Patron of the Kadpoly Alumni Association, General Abdulsalam Abubakar, GCFR, former President. A former Registrar facilitated that. General Abdussalami wrote to the Governors that they should come and intervene because this was a Polytechnic that belonged to the Northern Region, and now that it was collapsing infrastructurally, let the state governments intervene. We presented to Gen. Abdussalam a bill of 1.5 billion for rehabilitation. So he split it and allocated that to the different 19 State Governors. Many have made promises but it is only the Governor of Kano State, His Excellency Dr. Umar Ganduje, that responded and we are grateful to him. The appointed contractor came and has taken stock of the rehabilitation and any time from now we are expecting work to commence. We are going to remind all the other Northern Governors and we shall use our Alumni Association for the follow ups. Fortunately also, we have been able to get funds from TETFUND this year for rehabilitation of some structures. However, our greatest source of funds for the rehabilitation was from IGR. We are also grateful to the ICRC, Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission, who have assisted us on a Public Private Partnership (PPP) and today we have signed the contract for rehabilitation of the 18- Block Students’ Hostels at the cost of about 744 million which will be funded by the private sector to rehabilitate, furnish and manage the hostels for about 14 to 15 years and then handover to the Polytechnic. This was approved by the FEC and we are the first Institution of Higher Learning to do this kind of hostel rehabilitation through Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission (ICRC).
We intend to go into another ICRC process, what is called SWAP to build more hostels and Workshops. Kaduna polytechnic has almost 200 houses in the city, outside the Staff Housing Estates on Campuses. With some of these 200 properties within the city of Kaduna worth billions of Naira, we intend to invite ICRC, advertise and invite private sector to take ownership of some of those properties, 5 or 10 of them, and they will come with equivalent money as approved by ICRC and FEC, to build more hostels and workshops and with this create conducive environment for students for them to be able to grow academically. We have very brilliant students and we are trying our best to create that conducive environment for learning.
Kaduna Polytechnic has developed two major technologies, the medical oxygen, and Hydrochloride plants as part of measures to fight the Covid 19, what will be the advantage in the post Covid era?
Yes, there is medical oxygen plant and there is also hypochlorite plant, these are the special interventions we have developed for Covid-19 and post Covid era. After Covid, the plants shall still be useful. Medical oxygen is very badly needed now, do we need to import medical oxygen while oxygen is available in the air? 25% of air we breathe is oxygen, but respiratory equipment requirement is concentrated oxygen, 99.9% pure, so that they use the machine to deliver it into the lungs for absorbtion into the body system. If you use ordinary air with the respirators, you are already at a disadvantage because 75% of the air is nitrogen. It is pure oxygen that is needed for somebody suffering from Covid 19. So we felt we better produce this medical oxygen locally, since it is not rocket science. It is something that can be done. Our Engineers therefore designed the plant and the cost of fabrication and installation is just about N60 million. Some of the components will be fabricated in the Polytechnic while a few others shall be imported from China, especially the compressors because we are going to operate and deliver the oxygen in cylinders at a very high pressure, close to 150 bar. For that reason you have to buy high quality compressors, this we can’t fabricate in Nigeria. Our intention is to set up this process plant that can now produce medical oxygen in metal cylinders or bottles which can be moved to hospitals to help in the fight against Covid-19.
The other one is the fumigant, hypochlorite, either as sodium hypochlorite or hypochlorous acid. The raw material is ordinary table salt. Do we need to continue importing it? We don’t need to. Table salt is sodium chloride, if you put it in solution in an electric field, you can now split it, the sodium will go one way, the chlorine will go another way, you can now allow sodium to combine with water to become sodium hydroxide releasing hydrogen, then the chlorine you can now collect it as gas, it will react with the sodium hydroxide to form sodium hypochlorite and that is the major chemical being used for fumigation by the Federal Ministry of the Environment and its parastatals in the airports, offices, schools and so on. Nigeria is importing most of this, so we felt we better produce it locally, this was also not a big challenge. We were able to put up a design team, under the Center for Technology Development. The design and its simulation were vetted and approved. We wrote proposals to a number of agencies and let me thank TETFUND, especially the Chairman of the TETFUND, for directing that TETFUND should sponsor this project and we are hoping that before the end of the year, we are going to invite you people to see the commissioning of those two process plants. And once done successfully, then we can replicate them. You asked, after Covid-19, what is the use of these two process plants? After Covid 19, medical oxygen plant can be used for oxyacetylene welding in fabrication workshops. We don’t even need to reach 99.9% purity, even if it is at a lower purity, it will be okay. Also hydrochloride is the constituent of all the bleach that is being sold in the market. We shall therefore continue to produce it for other domestic uses. So the two plants will have use after Covid 19 is gone, but for our motivation now is to fight Covid 19.
Talks are at advance stages to reopen tertiary institutions, how very prepared is Kaduna Polytechnic to reopen against the Covid 19 pandemic?
We are more than ready to reopen. Besides the two plants I discussed earlier, Kaduna Polytechnic has also made contributions in the conventional Covid interventions. We have developed manual and automated hand washing machine with a version that can give you the latest Covid 19 statistics in the world using the ‘Internet-of-a-Thing’ technology. We also have produced our Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). PPEs are being sold for N15,000 in the market while our own is of high quality and cheaper, selling it about N10,000. We have also produced nose masks and sanitizers in our Textiles Department. We have supplied some sanitizers to Kaduna State Government and to some institutions outside Kaduna State. We have really done a lot in these areas, because whatever technology you talk about in this country, we have it here in Kaduna Polytechnic, so I will say we are very ready. Kaduna polytechnic is very prepared, our clinic has been upgraded, our hostels are undergoing rehabilitation, we have also created out Task Force in line with PTF and NCDC guidelines, but ours is called Post Covid Committee, because our target is that we should put Covid behind us as quickly as possible. We have already created all what is necessary, our Students Union has produced more than 10,000 face masks and we have enough sanitizers. However, we recommended to government for staggered reopening of schools. Let every institutions in the first instance take 25% of its capacity, this will allow social and physical distancing; for example, let HND resume for some weeks they do their exams and go, then next ND 2 should follow, followed by HND 1 and ND1. This way, we would not have congestion and it will also ensure social distancing in classrooms and after that we can move to 50% in 2021, this is the only way out. Our laboratories are presently not being utilized and the equipment will start rusting and the students are also being demoralized at home doing nothing. Of course we created our new e-learning platform but we have decided not to conduct exams on the platform except through traditional methods because some of our students are living in rural areas with poor internet access. Our laboratories and workshops will provide practicals because we are a Polytechnic, that is why we proposed staggered reopening. We have written to the Federal Ministry of Education and we stated our intentions and we are hoping it will be approved in due cause. Our immediate neighbors, Republic of Niger, have reopened all schools. People are going to markets, doing political campaigns and so on. So why should education suffer. Staggered reopening will be a good option in the present circumstance.
The Ajaokuta – Kaduna – Kano (AKK) Gas pipeline project has been commissioned by President Muhammed Buhari, of what advantage will this be to the North?
AKK shall be a game changer, if we harness the benefit of AKK , it is going to change the narrative completely. It will bring about massive employment opportunities, it is going to supply electricity to our industries, it is going to be a source for urea fertilizer, methanol, ammonia and several other petrol chemicals. My only concern is that the State Governments of AKK project seem not to be picking up the opportunity fast enough. After the ceremony of commissioning and flag off, nothing is happening. The private sector needs to be sensitized on the potentials of AKK. Natural gas and agriculture, if we harness these two very well, Nigeria will make it to the top 20 economies in the world. Natural gas to me is more important than crude oil. Crude oil pollutes the environment while natural gas is clean. The potential to convert natural gas into several petrochemicals is its major advantage. It can also revive the ailing or closed down industries in the North. At some point 10,000 textile workers lost their jobs in Kaduna due to energy challenges. So availability of natural gas will be a massive game changer in Kaduna because what killed those textiles basically was energy, electricity supply was very incoherent, they were buying very expensive fuel oil for heat generation and our government then allowed the importation of cheap textiles from China. These were what killed Kaduna and Kano textile industries, and now there is an opportunity to use and produce electricity and process heat needed by the textiles. Even cars, if you don’t want to use petrol and diesel, all you need is to get a gas cylinder in your boot, get the cylinder filled with Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) install a flow controller and connect to the top cylinder of your internal combustion engine. In India, CNG is half the price of petrol and is widely used in transport.
Natural gas has other potentials, we need to sit on a Round Table and discuss with State Governors and the private sector. Kaduna Polytechnic is writing a proposal on that to the stakeholders. We are a small institution, but we felt that there is need for sensitization, the private sector in the North needs to rise to the potentials of this great intervention, The state governments need to give the necessary incentives. We need to bring them together, so that we know what we can do to seize on this opportunity. My other concern is that the power they are going to generate, 3600 MW, which is more what is proposed for Mambila, we should not dump it on the national grid which is presently weak. We should rather create what they call ‘captive power’ or ‘embedded generation’ whereby the power plants are connected by mini-grid to industrial clusters, so that they can get 24/7 power supply.
Do you see our political leadership with the political will to carry out some of those advocacies you are talking about?
That is why I said we need to bring in the private sector, but the States also have to give the incentives. If I want to put up a Urea Plant in Kaduna to produce Urea Fertilizer from Natural Gas, to help Agriculture in this part of the country, what are the incentives the state is going to give? Are they going to give me free land and some tax holidays so that I will be able to produce, and be able to recoup my investment early? There is need for the state governments to come and tell the private sector what incentives they are offering. Look at what Lagos state Governor is doing, especially former Governor Ambode, they were mobilizing investors locally and from oversees, and that has changed the entire economy of Lagos to the extent that Governor Ambode declared Lagos as the fifth largest economy in Africa, displacing Angola. Angola’s GDP used to be the fifth, Lagos displaced it during Ambode’s time, just like California one time was declared the fifth largest economy in the world. Why!!?? Because of the industrialization that is taking place in Lagos. The industries that closed from the North, they moved to Lagos, because an enabling environment was created by the state Government. Our northern Governors need to give priority to industrialization so that employment is created for people and prosperity grows. This is the only way to stop the current insurgence, Civil unrest and banditry across the Northern States. There is no other way to it. And we should thank Mr. President for this great Intervention. My only hope is, before he leaves office in 2023, let him also complete the other wing of the network by doing the North Eastern flank, Natural Gas Pipeline through the South East, to Biu, from Biu, Gombe, Bauchi, and finally to Kano. That would complete the Northern flanks of the National Natural Gas Network. Natural Gas has been supplied to Lagos and Ogun States, Calabar, Port Harcourt for a very long time. Nigeria now even delivers it to West Africa, up to Ghana for the past two decades. Nigerian Natural Gas was responsible for the stable power supply enjoyed in Ghana. But I don’t know what happened, it was never extended to the North all these years, except now. I mean, we were serving gas to West Africa, and the North had been excluded except now. So am hoping we shall take this opportunity, the state governments should quickly bring the Private sector on board, let them even bring foreign private investors, so that they can discuss these opportunities, so that we make this AKK gas pipeline a huge success.
Discussions on the possible Conversion of Kaduna Polytechnic to University of Technology has been in the public domain for long, do you see it coming to reality during your time?
I am not keen on converting Kaduna Polytechnic to university at all, except if we are to be allowed to run our Diploma concurrently. Yes I am a Professor but that was by accident because I decided to move from Polytechnic to University at a stage in my career. My concern is we have lost focus in this country. Every Polytechnic is clamoring to become a university sometimes they call it university of technology. At the end of the day, who will produce the skilled manpower needed to run the economy. If everybody becomes a degree holder, who will operate the machineries in Industry? An Engineer is trained to design but the actual work of construction or fabrication is that of the Technologist!, We should have more Polytechnics than Universities but today we have 171 universities with only about 70 Polytechnics. China recently converted 600 Universities into Polytechnics because China understood what grows their economy. But here in Nigeria every Polytechnic wants to become a University. What we need is more Polytechnics and they should evolve to Skills Hubs, diversifying away from the conventional Polytechnic Diploma training. We recently did a ceremony to award 33 Assessors Certificates to qualified Quality Assurance Assessors for skills development. Polytechnics must open up this window on skills training under the NSQF, National Skills Qualification Framework. We shall soon start our NSQF training program with our neighbours, the Old Panteka Market, because we realized that Panteka is the one of the largest hub of fabrication in the whole of Nigeria and yet they have been operating and training like that for over 50 years without certification very informally and that is why the artisans in Panteka are choked up. They have about 38,000 artisans there operating in shifts that is more than the population of students of Kaduna Polytechnic. Yet they stay there 10, 15 or more years without certification. We may be the first Public Polytechnic to introduce NSQF training which was approved by FEC in 2017. So we can start giving them certificate for their skills level 1,2,3 up to 6. Level 6 is equivalent to PhD in the employment world. This way of apprentice training was the dominant method of training in the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. It was after the First World War that people paid more attention to university and now the world is realizing its mistake. The world is now reverting back to that training window, that is apprenticeship training. Recently President Trump issued an Executive Order in the USA, that skills qualifications should be given priority and be put ahead of degrees in employment. The whole world is moving into skills and the lasting solution to Nigeria’s problem of unemployment is that we move into skills training so that our young people, who may even have degrees or Diplomas, will come down and do this skills training, let them get a skills qualification that is globally acceptable. Llet them have the skills certification with which they can move out of Nigeria for jobs. Otherwise, government cannot meet up with the problem of unemployment. AKK gas pipeline is going to employ over 1000 welders, from where will you get them? And that is why Kaduna Polytechnic is presently giving refresher course on welding to prepare them for employment for AKK. They will surely be tested in welding skills. We need to put emphasis on skills. Skills are more important to me than all the conventional degrees and diplomas because with skills you can even be self-employed.
Is Kaduna Polytechnic having enough manpower to run its affairs effectively?
Kadploy has PhD holders more than many Federal Universities and in skills training we now have the largest concentration of skills Quality Assurance Assessors and Verifiers in Nigeria. To get to this level on skills, we spent 16 million last year from our IGR to train the 40 NSQF Assessors, 36 out of the 40 passed with only 4 as casualties. In the whole of Nigeria the Quality Assurance Assessors are only 1380; we have now added another 36 making it 1426 which is a major improvement though not enough. Ethiopia with half our population has 35,000 Assessors. We need to do more in this area of skills training and government needs to give more funding for skills development. The mandates of the Polytechnics should be updated with skills training being made to be at par with Diploma training.