By David Onmeje
When the reelection campaign train of President Muhammadu Buhari berthed in Lokoja, capital of Kogi, the confluence state, the President made a silent, but striking promise. He told the very jubilant Kogites that if the ambition of a second mandate to lead Nigeria scales through the electoral hurdle, the abandoned and lifeless Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill in the state will bounce back to full animation. God Himself sealed President Buhari’s reelection in 2019 unquestionably
Of course, development experts have always hinged Nigeria’s stunted status on the absolute neglect of the steel industry, which is the bedrock of development. Nigeria’s dependence on the importation of steel has caused the country many setbacks for years, whereas, Nigeria has the capacity to operate its own steel plants, serviced by a properly trained indigenous workforce.
The squandered opportunities have always been a pain in the heart for President Buhari. And to rejig the narrative for a better Nigeria, in January 2020, President Buhari pleasantly shocked the people of Kogi state and Nigerians when he led the FGN to sign a bilateral agreement with the Russian Government for the resuscitation, completion and commissioning of the Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Plant to be operated on a government-to-government relationship.
Perhaps, many Nigerians failed to discern why President Buhari summoned the boldness to make such weighty declaration on Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill during his reelection campaigns, hence robust and functional steel plants in Nigeria requires indigenous skilled manpower to keep it afloat.
Unknown to some Nigerians, the President had laid the proverbial golden eggs for a revival and blossoming steel industry and other similar sectors a long time ago. His appointment in 2015 of Mr. Olabode Fakuade, as the Director/Chief Executive (Dir/CEO) of the three-decade old, Metallurgical Training Institute (MTI) Onitsha, the industrial hub of Southeast Nigeria was to set the stage for Nigeria’s grooming of quality manpower in steel, oil and gas as well as allied industries.
MTI was conceptualized on a promising template. But years of consistent ineptitude, leprous and degenerative leadership crumbled the otherwise priced institution. Therefore, MTI could no longer churn out students or execute its mandate of vacating Nigeria’s thirst for technological/ skilled manpower in Industrial Electrical Engineering, Steel Fabrication and Welding Engineering; Mechanical Maintenance Engineering, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineering, Heavy Mobile Equipment Maintenance Engineering and Industrial Metallurgy and Foundry Engineering among others.
For a federal institution like MTI which had guzzled billions of naira over the years, without corresponding results to justify sinking of tax payers money, it was a difficult on multiple fronts for Mr. Fakuade to turn around the fortunes of the despised school. The portrait of MTI when Mr. Fakuade took over the institution was that of a desolate enclave which lacked everything, but consumed millions of annual national budgets and like Oliver Twist in Charles Dickens’ novel; “ kept asking for more.”
But before 2015 and the present management, MTI failed pathetically to discharge its mandate of erecting an indigenous and certified pool of technical workforce to sustain the Nigeria’s steel and allied industries workforce. Greed, corruption and avarice permeated MTI like a bug, compelling Nigeria’s relapse back to dependence on the expensive foreign technical training of low- and middle-class workforce for the industry.
MTI reduced its mandate, which ought to smolder with regional impact to a siphoning pipe for its administrators’. It was under such frustrating circumstances, Fakuade stepped in on a rescue mission in a challenging environment.
Widely acclaimed as a consummate academic, an astute administrator and knowledgeable engineer, Mr. Fakaude’s first target was to resolve the problem of unaccredited courses in MTI. His administration immediately secured approvals from the National Board for technical Education (NBTE) and course in MTI were accredited.
Famed for transparency and accountability, a due process crusader, both staff and students of MTI soon also realized his passion as stickler for standards and excellence. His innovations and purposefulness, earned him celebration as a leader who torments problems rather than have the problems unsettle and rankle him.
And encounter with Mr. Fakuade leaves the impression of a leader, who is very unassuming and humble, but a confounding workaholic with uncommon zeal for excellence. Its easy to steal his heart on excellence, but impossible to fascinate him to your personality, once he establishes your penchant official fraudulent acts.
Therefore, Mr. Fakuade directed focus to the dilapidated infrastructure on the campus and changed the narrative of an uninhabitable institution to the rhythms of a conducive atmosphere for learning. The Dir/CEO dealt a heavy blow on the years of menacing floods and erosion which were at the verge of sinking the campus of MTI by constructing a 600 meters drainage.
It is not surprising that under his leadership, MTI channeled every budgetary vote into productive and visible use. He looked inwards and judiciously utilized meagre funds to upgrade other facilities such as training equipment/ facilities, constructed intra-campus road network, and renovated decrepit students’ hostels.
With eyes fixated on prudence, MTI’s present management installed solar power system as an alternative source of energy supply. Through it, MTI is servicing its workshops centers, ICT laboratories, and the administrative building. The administration of Mr. Fakuade has also illuminated MTI campus with solar-powered street lights.
Therefore, when a band of self-seeking detractors, numbering three, under the auspices of alumni of the National Metallurgical Training Institute (NMTI), Onitsha, recently penciled down criticisms and frivolous allegations against Mr. Fakuade’s leadership of MTI, it attracted the ire of an old student of the institution. The student who pleaded anonymity recently graduated from MTI under Fakaude’s administration.
He countered; “This is absolutely rubbish from the pit of hell. Pastor Olabode Fakuade is a Director you can hardly find his match since the inception of MTI. An administrative guru, an honest and humble leader, a man of integrity and eloquence. A great achiever who can build a mansion with nothing. An ever focused and innovative leader who always sees great opportunity out of any problem. A prudent leader who manages the scarce resources he receives from federal government to build infrastructure and buy equipment for teaching of the students. “
He voiced it all on Fakuade. Sadly, the campaign of calumny on Mr. Fakuade symbolizes the leadership dilemma in Nigeria. Most people prefer to see a public system strangulated to death and its eventual extinction than see its resuscitation. The few who have taken the gauntlet to render genuine, patriotic and incorruptible leadership which bows to the tenets of honesty are often vilified. Fakuade is not the lone victim in this era.
For the over two decades when MTI lost its glory; nobody or a so-called alumni association remembered to attract public and national attention to its neglected status. It is now that the fact of its repositioning by the administration of Mr. Fakaude, under the Buhari Presidency which has renewed interest in it, that sponsored protests and fabricated lies have been crafted and marketed to susceptible minds.
The distracting merchants who have undignified themselves with such poor outing failed to reminisce that before Fakuade came on board, MTI was an institution, where reptiles and rats became tenants of its facilities, much as floods and erosions threatened its surviving buildings. No one dared to recollect that MTI shadowed as an institution; where staff draw salaries and allowances for merely being classified as federal civil servants.
Or that MTI was a learning center, where parents loathed with passion, the idea of their children trained in such an institution. This was attested by the massive withdrawal of students and dropped enrolment figures which characterized its unenviable memories and sealed its retrogressive fate.
Today, Mr. Fakuade faces malicious, but overtly faint campaigns from the same clan of people he is rendering truthful and honest leadership, because of his insistence on public good and blocking of loopholes in exploiting MTI. It has strangely courted for him a handful of enemies for inexplicable reasons. But his traducers lack the nerve to influence him negatively.
Mr. Fakaude remains a celebrated uncompromising and transparent leader among students, staff and parents. It explains why enrolment at MTI has appreciated in the last four years with public eulogies of his administration echoing everywhere in Anambra state and beyond.
Apparently, a few are incensed by Fakuade’s strict and uncompromising nature. It is because he does not connive with dubious fellows to consent to the frivolous waste of any penny of government budgeted for MTI’s development. Those crafting mischief and poor subterranean plots to undermine a performing administrator have a long road ahead to trek. Mr. Fakuade’s track records of purposeful service delivery at MTI in the last four years have been unsurpassed in the history of the institution.
Onmeje wrote this piece from the United Kingdom.