In my many years as a journalist, there is one thing I have always avoided: commenting on issues that are controversial in nature. Such position has served and helped me a lot, at least I can see and analyze issues from a detached and unbiased perspective, even though I may not freely comment on them, at least in public.
But when a man supposedly in a position of trust takes leave of fundamental principles and becomes uncouth and uncontrollable with his tongue, raining abuses on the people that are his landlords with such earthy candour, one’s patience snaps. Such principle, no matter how hard one fights to keep to it, breaks to smithereens especially when one is involved.
I am talking about Mr Godwin Ikechukwu Amasiatu. Do you know him? Perhaps there is every possibility you don’t. He’s not a celebrity, and doesn’t talk quite often either. But I can bet that each time he does, he comes out messy and leaves a blaze of controversy, as he has done in the present circumstance.
Not to keep you guessing for long, he is the Rector of Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Unwana, Afikpo. He’s been there for long, first as a lecturer and now as an administrator.
For some months now, he’s been in the news, making bizarre comments and casting aspersions not only on the Unwana community, his immediate host, but also on the generality of Ebonyians. In the March 24th edition of the Daily Sun newspaper, Mr Amasiatu threw caution to the wind and mustered the courage to call on the federal government to relocate the polytechnic out of Unwana, and by implication, out of Ebonyi state; only he came short of suggesting Orlu—his town—as the ideal place.
His reason for such unguarded utterance was, among other things, that the school was not making enough money. “The location of the polytechnic in a remote area has hindered patronage from the public and it has made it impossible for us to generate funds internally,” he said.
However, one would not have cared to respond to such spurious and defective comments if they had not come from such a highly placed official like the Rec¬tor of a federal polytechnic. To say the obvious, his reasons are utterly baseless, irreconcilable, mischievous and flawed. I want to ask Amasiatu: when did market forces and economic considerations become the criteria for the location of higher institutions in Nigeria? If he complains that Unwana is “very re¬mote” and therefore not suitable for the location of a higher institution, didn’t the federal government know that Unwana was no New York or Johannesburg be¬fore locating it there?
If economic consideration is the criteria for locating institutions, why is University of Nigeria sited at Nsukka and not in Lagos or Abuja? Does Amasiatu know where the Federal Polytechnic Idah is? What of Rivers State Polytechnic at Bori, or Federal Polytechnic at Mubi? All these towns were little hamlets, which were shot into limelight by the federal institutions located there. Let the rector visit Bori, where Karl Maier described in his book This House has Fallen as full of “run down mud-brick houses with no road, no water and creeks that stink of oil” and see if he will not come out with the impression that Unwana is Washington D.C.
If he is of the view that Unwana community and by extension, Afikpo, is not building enough houses for students to rent, is Amasiatu not indirectly admitting his failures? Is he not telling the world that after over six years at the helm of affairs in that institution, all he could achieve is to call for the school’s relocation instead of embarking on infrastructural development? In short, can Amasiatu relocate Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic out of Unwana? If he can, then he can equally climb Mount Everest without Sherpas!
It is the height of ingratitude and ill-humour for the rector to accuse Unwana community and by extension the Ebonyi people of being lackadaisical towards education. It is like giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it. If Amasiatu does not know, but I know that he knows, Unwana was the first community after Onitsha where the whiteman settled in 1880. It has the reputation of being the flowerbed of education with the first primary school in the whole of Ogoja province, established in 1888. That is why Dr Akanu Ibiam could have been the first Igbo medical doctor had it not been for the short stint he had in agricultural science.
If Unwana or Ebonyi people are lackadaisical about education, it is because the rector has denied them admission in the only federal institution, which should have been their first port of call.
It is true that Amasiatu has the freedom to say what¬ever he wants to say and canvass whatever views he wants as provided for in the constitution, but such free¬dom, even in the most advanced democracies as he knows, still has its limits, and pouring invectives on a people, I think, is not one of them. You don’t come into a man’s house and pour spittle on him and expect to win his plaudits or a handshake. No. It is only in a peace-loving state like Ebonyi that such a Goliath could say or do whatever that tickles his fancy even if they verge on the sensibilities of the people and go home to enjoy pounded yam without a David challenging and wrestling him down.
In fact, what is so annoying is that it was just at the time Ebonyi State government chose to honour Dr Akanu Ibiam, former Governor of Eastern Region whom the institution was named after, that the rector considered fit to launch his tirades, perhaps to spite us. This perhaps explains why there was no presence of the polytechnic community during that grand occasion. If the rector had been there; he would have listened to the guest speaker, Dr Alex Ekwueme, (Vice President of Nigeria when the institution was conceived) who incidentally laid the foundation stone of the institution, talk on why the federal government left the cities and located the poly at Unwana and named it after Ibiam.
However, it is important to observe that since the institution was established some 22 years ago, successive rectors appear to have embarked on a policy of unremitting injustice against the host community and state. For instance, of the over 500 junior workers in the institution, less than one-third are Ebonyi indigenes even when the federal government guideline concedes that to the state and community where such establishment is located. Mr Amasiatu, Dr Epelle and Zak Obanu, former rectors of the institution should be blamed for the poor infrastructural development of the school. They came and saw and looted everything.
If you visit the school, you would see that there has been no visible effort by the leadership, either past or present, to develop the school. By naming the federal polytechnic after a personality like Ibiam, the dream was that the school might grow into a.giant oak, shining forth and penetrating into darkness. But today, that dream is gone; corruption and inefficiency are being fostered leading to a decomposition of managerial will.
Since Amasiatu took over the leadership of the institution from no¬where, it has been one controversy and strike after another, and in all of them the police have become a bristling wall of strength as they are called in at short notice to deal with perceived enemies. And his approach to them is usually crude and bizarre, some¬times tantamounting to mending a wrist watch with a pickaxe!
For instance, last April the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) and the Non-Academic Staff of the institution went on strike to protest, among other things, the non-payment of their allowances. What he did was heap a charge of stealing against union executives, call in the police, and formed a parallel union which was christened Progressive ASUP. All those who took part in the strike were denied their February salaries.
As it is, the Berlin Wall has not fallen in that school; there is a wall of silence as people still speak in monologue rather than in dialogue. Freedom of opinion is a luxury there, not a right. It is however incongruous and ambivalent that such could be happening in an institution which was, among other things, founded to promote inquiry and freedom of opinion. Today, people are held hostage and unionism that is supposed to act as a counterpoise to dictatorship is dead because union executives are not free to disagree with the authorities.
However, Ebonyi State government should intervene. Since the history of that institution no Ebonyi indigene has been appointed the rector upon the fact that we equally have credible and qualified candidates. Now, in other federal institutions across the country, none indigenes are not allowed to head it. The state government should rise to the occasion and ensure that no non-indigene is ever appointed to come and insult us again. It cannot fold its hands and watch while the only federal polytechnic in our state goes under.
W.H. Auden says that “Narcissus does not fall in love with his shadow because it is beautiful, but because it is his”. If people like Amasiatu do not love the Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic for where it is located and want it removed, we still love it for what it is named and would fight against its relocation.
Because it is ours, we cannot let it die.