The need to amend the Federal Polytechnics Decree No. 33 of 1979, now the Federal Polytechnics Act CAP F17, LFN of 2004 (herein referred to as the Principal Act) dates back to the mid-1990s. The idea resurfaced sometimes between 2007 and 2010 which culminated into a struggle. The struggle, with the involvement of the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Polytechnics, intensified during periods that coincided with the 6th and 7th Assemblies.
The well-articulated efforts, which received some public hearings and readings on the floors of the National Assembly, yielded no positive results.
President Muhammadu Buhari finally signed the Federal Polytechnics (Amendment) Bill into law on Tuesday, June 18, 2019. Huge thanks to the 8th Assembly and the President. The need to amend the Principal Act has been one of the core struggles of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics. This need arose as a result of the perceived maladministration in the Polytechnics. The gaps, inconsistencies, ambiguities, and overlaps in the Principal Act were seen to enable the rectors become “Lords of the Polytechnics”. Owing to the weaknesses in the extant legal framework, the Polytechnics were at the mercies of the rectors who assumed the positions of “fill-in the gaps”, especially in areas where the Principal Act remains silent and/or unclear. This gap-filing posture precipitated numerous conflicts and administrative differences within the Polytechnic sector. Where the rector has a human face, staff welfare will be sound and enviable. But where the rector believes that certain people, possibly the non-hero worshippers or perceived enemies have to be punished, internal crises and strives become the order of the day. As a result of the weaknesses inherent in the Principal Act, in some polytechnics, Chief Lecturers are on the Academic Board, in some, it is a no-go area. In some polytechnics, the office of the Dean or Director holds for the occupier for the tenure of that rector. Many a rector hides behind the Principal Act to launch their action and inaction, resulting into many uncertainties and drawbacks for the polytechnic sector. On the side of ASUP, the belief had been that there was a need for a modern-day polytechnic that would serve as the brains behind the technological emancipation of Nigeria, free of internal crises, and undue external interference. The singular thought that changed the music, and ultimately influence the dancing step, did the wonder! This thought, one could say, was the principal motivation behind the unrelenting struggle to amend the Principal Act.
Yes! It is now done! What are the implications? This treatise will only focus on two key or vital areas which have overbearing influence.
One, the Principal Act has been silent on the category of manpower being produced by the polytechnics. It only states in Section 2 (1)(a) “to provide full-time or part-time courses of instruction and training.” The issue of either middle or high level manpower came to the front burner when some of the polytechnics wanted to defend themselves against being merged as pronounced by the Federal Government in 2006. In November 2006, the Federal Government made a pronouncement to the effect that Yaba College of Technology and Kaduna Polytechnic would be upgraded to City Universities, while the other polytechnics were to become campuses or colleges of technology of proximate or contiguous universities. To effect this pronouncement, the Presidential Technical Committee for the Consolidation of Tertiary Institutions in Nigeria was set up. Instead of allowing itself to be merged, some of the arguments centred on the need to upgrade these polytechnics to degree-awarding status. The thinking that the polytechnics were to produce middle-level manpower was seriously interrogated. Unfortunately, the recommendations of the Gray Longe Commission Report, which were accepted by the Federal Government, have referred to products of the polytechnics as “support staff”, and went on to add that the polytechnics should concentrate on the training of middle-level manpower.
The thinking that the polytechnics were to train middle-level manpower might be path dependent. As history may have it, the need to bridge the shortage of trained technical manpower during the colonial era informed the establishment of many training schools. Along the line, the Elliot’s Commission Report proposed the establishment of technical institutes which was incorporated into the 1946 10-year development and welfare plan. From the early 60s and up to the early 80s, the need to respond to, and meet, the growing request for intermediate technical manpower led to the establishment of more colleges of technology. It was not until 1987 that the National Council on Education, and for the purpose of harmonisation, adopted the term “Polytechnic” for all post-secondary technical education institutions in Nigeria (Adamu Yabani Report, 1999). This might have possibly informed the Gray Longe Commission and others that the polytechnics were to train middle-level manpower.
Unfortunately, the industrial or the production markets collapsed, while the quality of academic activities rapidly increased in the polytechnics to the extent that it became, and still is, un-academic to refer to HND graduates as middle-level manpower. Recall that along the line, government thinking shifted to the need for tertiary institutions in Nigeria to produce graduates with the capacity to create jobs rather than look for jobs. The issue of publish or perish also intensified in the polytechnics. The increased level of academic activities in the polytechnics might have spoken to the Adamu Yabani Report who noted that the Polytechnics were training middle and high-level manpower and persuasively argued for degree-awarding status for the polytechnics.
As an outcome, the increased level of academic activities informed the agitation to bridge the BSc-HND dichotomy as well as the removal of discrimination and ceiling against HND graduates in both public and private sectors of the Nigerian economy. Somehow, there were no contentions against ND holders being referred to as middle-level manpower.
Now, the Federal Polytechnics (Amendment) Act (herein referred to as the Amendment Act) has clearly defined the functions of polytechnics in Section 2-(2)(a) of the Amendment Act, “to provide full-time or part-time courses of instruction and training to produce middle and high level manpower ….” Similar to Section 1(3)(6) of the Federal Universities of Technology Act 2004 CAP F23, and by implication, the polytechnics should start thinking of mounting MTech and PhD programmes. This is neither new nor strange. Polytechnics in the UK, where the concept originated, up to when they were renamed as universities in 1992 by the Further and Higher Education Law, had offered diplomas and degrees up to PhD level. Nearer home, polytechnics in South Africa were empowered to award degrees in 1993, while still running the diploma programmes (Adamu Yabani Report, 1999). There are polytechnics in Italy and in the US offering PhD certificates.
In the case of Nigeria, the MTech and the PhD programmes will still have to be technical oriented. Graduates of technical secondary schools can now boldly become a PhD holder. Affiliation with universities, which essentially downgraded the polytechnics to a subordinate position, is no longer needed or relevant. By implication, Section 2-(2)(a) of the Amendment Act has offered the polytechnics an autonomous status for awarding degrees, while continuing to run their ND and HND programmes. This is consistent with the Adamu Yabani Report and the growing, well-intentioned argument that the Nigerian economy needs to be technological driven.
With this, President Buhari has indirectly widened the tertiary education net and the possibility of Nigeria becoming a technologically developed nation. Some pundits may argue of a conflict, rather than be in conflict, the structure and approaches to the acquisition of technical expertise in the polytechnics should be market-based as well as market-driven, thereby enabling the polytechnics to serve the needs of industry, commerce, and wealth creation. The Amendment Act has now put to rest the restrictions against polytechnics awarding degrees. It has now made in Section 4(2)-(1) the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces the Visitor to the Polytechnics. The use of the titles, “Professor” and “Reader”, is not exclusively or legally restricted to the university education system.
Adeoti, who wrote in from Ado Ekiti, made this contribution from the Federal Polytechnics (Amendment) Bill following its signing into law.