By Godwin Otang
New tertiary institutions in Nigeria often take off from existing infrastructure, usually donated by the federal, or state government or the local government. However, in the case of the Federal Polytechnic Ugep in Cross River State, there was no already-made temporary site provided for takeoff.
The newly appointed rector of the polytechnic and his team had to go through the long route of gathering resources to construct new buildings and acquire facilities and other infrastructure on land donated by a community leader.
The federal government under President Buhari in 2021 had approved the establishment of the polytechnic and seven others. Each polytechnic was to receive N2 billion as a takeoff fund.
But two years later, the Federal Polytechnic Ugep has only accessed about a quarter of the earmarked takeoff fund while some of its counterparts have fully received the takeoff grant and more.
For instance, the Federal Polytechnic Kaltungo in Gombe State has received more than N2 billion from the federal government. However, the Federal Polytechnic Ugep is still ahead of two other new polytechnics in Enugu and Benue states in terms of the amount received from the federal government.
A top official of the institution who spoke on the condition of anonymity, because he was not authorized to talk to the press, said that the establishment of the federal polytechnic “has not been a rosy experience”. The source decried the lack of support from the State Government.
“For other polytechnics that were established at the same time, you need to see the patronage they have enjoyed from their state governments,” the source said.
“No federal school has started in any state that doesn’t align with the state government for a take-off. When Buhari established these federal polytechnics, the president asked us to go and meet with our various state governors, to know how to access locations for takeoff since lands are under the custody of the states, but up till now, the management of Federal Polytechnic Ugep has not had any audience with any governor in Cross River State, despite all the attempts we have made.
“When we came to identify the temporary site in Ugep, it took us more than six months. We ended up with a dilapidated Secondary School that was abandoned for 25 years. Part of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) money was used to relocate the site. There were no roads. We had to construct roads and all. None of the newly established eight Federal Polytechnics, apart from us, had this kind of experience. Most of them had their state government giving them temporary sites to kick off, unlike us.”
He added that the Federal Polytechnic Ugep was supposed to take off at the Cross River Institute Of Technology and Management in Ugep but could not secure the already existing facility from the state government.
However, the polytechnic Rector Prof. Edwards Ntui Okey, alleged that the host community had made things difficult and constituted a major hindrance to the take-off of the polytechnic. The rector explained that even the funds already accessed could not be utilized speedily to develop the land donated to the institution due to communal confrontation.
“We awarded a contract for the construction of the Department of Surveys and Geo-informatics, the contractor called me to say that he went to the site, and the community people stopped him from entering the land,” he said. “That’s the confrontation we have been having since. The point I am making is that we have had access to the money, but we haven’t gained access to the land for over 8 months.
“The land was given to us by the Paramount Ruler of Yakurr Local Government,” he added. “It was donated, and by his assessment without survey, it was 250 hectares. When we went and surveyed, it was 147 heaters of land. We had initially requested 300 hectares, but we were given less than half the land we needed.”
Prof. Okey continued: “The people of the Ijomi community who claim they are paternal landowners have risen against us, beating contractors, and creating a very serious hindrance to our progress. I am very bitter about everything we have gone through,” he said.
The Rector Prof. Okey insisted that due process had been followed in trying to establish the institution and engaging with the community.
“Before we commenced work on the land we had paid compensation to those who had Cassava, and those who had other crops in the affected area. We paid over 50 affected persons to the tune of over a million Naira, yet the people are still disturbing. This has hindered us from utilizing the N2 billion naira approved take-off fund,” he said.
Prof.Okey also said that the challenges his team experienced in getting support from the state government contributed to the slow take-off. He noted that former Governor Ben Ayade refused to grant them an audience until his tenure ended.
Community Seeks Due Process, Compensation For Occupants Of The Land
In a chat with CrossRiverWatch, Ugep Youth Leader, Sunday Ottoh Arikpo who spoke on behalf of the Paramount Ruler HRM Obol Ofem Eteng Ubana 16th of Ugep, complained that occupants of the land that is now donated to the institution did not get any stake or benefits in the institution neither were they compensated. He said the community is fully aware of the importance of the polytechnic and its developmental prospects to the Ugep Community.
The Youth Leader said though land belongs to the government, those who occupied the land before now should be compensated with employment opportunities in the polytechnic or other means, rather than just leaving them with nothing, a situation he said is the cause of dispute.
He also said he wasn’t aware of any previous compensation made as claimed by the management of the polytechnic. He acknowledged that accommodating the host community, especially those whose land has been taken, would resolve all lingering issues between the communities and the institution.
“There is no way you can site an institution that you can not at least accommodate the people around the area to be part of the system in that establishment either in the low, or higher cadre,” Arikpo said.
“There was a time they promised to give us employment, but since the first recruitment they had, we have not had any other one. Whereas the first employment was hijacked by politicians,” he added.
This investigation is produced with support from Civic Media Lab.