Getting the top job was a surprise to Dr (Mrs) Blessing Ijioma, despite a revelation she had earlier.
“It never crossed my wildest imagination that I’d ever be the provost. I am not from Imo State, and Alvan was still an Imo-State institution. I thought it was one of those revelations. But as years went bye, things started unfolding, with the Federal government taking over Alvan,” said the Abia-born, mother of five, beautifully attired in a traditional outfit and pouring over files.
It was a surprise to the Methodist preacher, a doctor of food science and technology because she was chasing purpose rather than position. But when the opportunity came for her to seek the exalted office of Provost, she boldly stepped forward.
Three years ago, the Assistant Provost became Provost and last November, she led the college to its 50 years anniversary, a milestone she’s proud of.
“I t makes me feel very happy. I think it’s also divine that by the time the first female provost is on seat Alvan also reaches 50 years. I feel fulfilled. I am really happy,” the soft-spoken woman said, barely looking up.
Dr Ijioma had just returned from a meeting and preparing for another. She had visitors waiting and an important courtesy call to attend.
The Provost didn’t look at all flustered and her office was nice and cool. But the same can’t be said about the seat she’s occupying as the first female boss.
“It is hot but not so hot by the grace of God. If you’re anchored on God and you are self confident and know what you’re supposed to do, and do it, there’s no reason to want to prove yourself. In fact Jesus said, ‘if you don’t believe in me, believe the work that I do. It’s the work that testify of me’,” wife of Sir Chukwuemeka Ijioma, added.
A former HOD and Dean, Dr (Mrs) Ijioma is mindful that she is setting a precedent at the college, as the first woman to hold the big job. She knows that her performance could open the door wider or shut it for future female aspirants. She’s therefore careful not to give detractors a chance to say – a ‘woman can’t do it!’
“As Dean, I didn’t encounter any opposition because there had been other female deans in other schools of the college, so there was nothing significant. Also, being a deputy provost didn’t quite raise an eye brow, people didn’t bother too much. But when I became the provost- it was unexpected that a female will emerge,” she explained, calmly.
“The first reaction was ‘could she perform? Can she do it? Can she meet with the challenges?’ But then, I settled down with my management team and we have been able to prove that a woman can do it by the Grace of God and the support of those around. So those who said, ‘a woman can’t do it’ are gradually changing their mind and attitude’.
Additionally, she adopted an all-inclusive management style, where she tries to draw everyone who has a contribution to make towards the growth development of ALVAN.
“I consult with my management team. My deputy is male, my registrar is female – incidentally the first female. We consult and deliberate. I am not afraid of my team because I have nothing to hide. I try to operate an open door. I go beyond the management team to bring in all those who have something to offer, who have ideas and are willing to join,” she also said.
Those who insist that women can’t work together and don’t support each other may have a chat with the ALVAN boss.
“I have never had my women not supporting me. In fact, they are excited because it’s when the first female succeeds that others will have the desire and confidence that they can do it,” she added.
Support may not be 100 per cent, and never is, but Dr Ijioma has enough goodwill and experience to enable her to do her job well. On the flip side, ALVAN is happy unlike Aso Rock, where President Jonathan has been told recently to ‘watch his back’. Mrs Ijioma has received no such warning and has nothing to watch except the upheaval in the country’s education system. The Nsukka alumnus, a strong scripture union member in her day, admitted that all is not well in the nation’s classrooms, including her own. Many students have thrown in the towel, preferring to buy certificates instead of study for it, while some lecturers choose to sell books to students rather than teach them.
“It makes us feel very bad when we think of how we burnt the midnight oil, and then to see what is happening now. Students are not even ready to work hard again and society has not done them well. Merit, honesty, hard work have been thrown overboard because people can get certificates without going to school. Those who sell in the market can go to miracle centres and get their certificates,“ she said, sadly.
“Before the war, facilities were not wonderful but the teachers were dedicated and students were ready to work … I can only do my best by insisting that the lecturers do their work – that they no longer come into the classrooms, introduce their book, give one or two lectures and disappear to wait for examination. We also make sure the students attend lectures and do their exams and if there’s exam malpractice, they are punished,” she added, promising expulsion to any student caught cheating.
Dr Ijioma is gradually changing the landscape of the college with the construction of new classroom and administration blocks. The provost is also trying to strengthen the college academically, clean up teaching and learning as well as motivate students to earn their certificates. Imo’s number one teacher training college still trains the trainer, runs its traditional NCE programmes and offers degrees from the University of Nigeria.
“You can see what is happening – we are trying to increase the number of classrooms, labs and equipment that both students and lecturers can use. This will make learning easier and many students are trying to learn. The Nigerian youth is not totally bad. The problem is society. There’s a proverb which says, brighten the corner where you are, that’s what we’re trying to do,” she concluded – a true blessing in disguise.