By ChinwEoke Akoma
The Registrar of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN), Oron, Mr. Ante Mkpandiok, has laid to rest months of speculations surrounding the ailment and eventual death of the institution’s rector, Engr. Anthony Ishiodu.
Contrary to the claim of Ishiodu’s poisoning, said to have led to his failing health and subsequent incapacity to discharge his official duties, members of staff in-fighting and a factionalized academy community, Mkpandiok said the rector died a natural death arising from sickness.
He also dispelled the speculation that the late rector received fund for medical treatment abroad prior to his appointment as rector but chose to keep the money and remained careless about his health condition. He noted that Ishiodu fought to stay alive. He dismissed the claim that the Federal Ministry of Transportation funded Ishiodu’s overseas medical trip, stating: “The academy is autonomous and so, if the leader is sick and has to be treated, the Minister of Transport cannot foot the bill. The academy has its own allocation from government “
He debunked the notion that problem of funding might have led to the rector’s worsening health, noting that timing and official bureaucracy were more likely the causes of any perceived delay in his plan to travel overseas.
Mkpandiok, who assumed the role of the rector in acting capacity at the point Ishiodu became apparently incapacitated to function, said the academy received the news of the rector’s death with shock. He said Ishiodu was a friendly leader and worked amicably with his lieutenants whilst his tenure lasted. He dismissed the insinuation of internal wrangling amongst staff of the academy as media misrepresentations and exaggeration.
Responding to question on how the academy received the news of the death of the rector, Mpandiok said it shocked the community.
“I was shocked. He was not just our rector; he was a friend. We worked very closely. Forget the rumour the media spreads about the academy. Since his coming in 2000 we have had a cordial work relationship and enjoyed robust personal friendship. Not just with me but also with many other people around. Of course occasionally during management meetings, there could be divergence of opinion, we didn’t do that as enemies, we did that to get the best results for the academy. So the entire academy was shocked”.
On the speculation about Ishiodu’s health status, the acting rector, who expressed reservation about being so addressed, confirmed that the academy was aware that his late boss had some health challenges even before he was appointed rector.
“Yes, he had been sick. I think after he lost his senior brother last year was when he took ill. The late rector before him (Ambassador Joshua Okpo) and all of us did what we could do to support him for the burial of his brother even though we were unable to attend. Immediately after the death of the brother, we saw that he was losing weight. Many of us thought it was diabetes but the situation continued until he was appointed acting rector”, he narrated.
Mkpandiok explained that Isiodu’s ill health got worse when members of the House of Reps Committee on Maritime Education visited and he was unable to attend to them. He said the lawmakers, who visited the late rector in hospital advised him to seek urgent medical help abroad, just as the academy management did earlier.
“On February 25, 20l6, we were expecting members of the House of Reps Committee on Maritime Education. On arrival at the office, I was told he (Ishiodu) was seriously ill. I rushed to his house to see him. I met our doctor attending to him. I said I didn’t like home treatment. I suggested he be taken to hospital for proper diagnosis. I met Engr. Umor Ijeoma there, Engr. Wale Kuforiji was also there, there was also Udoka, a junior staff with him, and Kayode Oluwole.
“They showed me some of the things he vomited which looked like charcoal. I was to hear people later saying they suspected it was concoction, a lot of things were said. I remember I responded to one person that the vomit should be subjected to clinical analysis. It was at that point he was rushed to Uyo Teaching Hospital. It was on that particular day he said I should stand in for him to brief the House Committee members.
“He recuperated a little, came back but wasn’t really doing fine. We were the ones that even suggested to him to seek permission and go for treatment abroad. So he began to seek permission and it was granted in May I think, and he left around middle of June.”
He dismissed the claim that the late rector’s delay in seeking medical help overseas may have been associated with lack of fund. “It wasn’t the issue of fund. It was maybe bureaucracy of approval. The Presidency to the Ministry of Transportation, back and forth, that if a particular case cannot be handled in Nigeria…so I think that may have caused the delay, which wasn’t deliberate.”
On the story making the rounds that Isiodu’s medical trip abroad was sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Transport, he said: “The academy is autonomous and so, if the leader of the academy is sick and has to be treated, the Ministry of Transport cannot foot the bill. The academy has its own allocation from government, in this case funding from NIMASA. I am speaking as the registrar because to some extent, I do not have the details and information on his medical trip to London, so don’t ask me how much was spent or the hospital he was taken. I don’t know”.
Mkpandiok explained that even though there were grounds for people to have engaged in wild speculation about the possibility of the late rector having being poisoned, Ishiodu neither mentioned it nor were there medical reports to suggest such. According to him, it is careless and uncharitable for people to engage in rumour mongering under verifiable circumstances, since the ailing rector was available to clarify issues of his health.
He assured that he has what it takes to hold forth as stand-in-rector pending the appointment of a new rector as he declined to be addressed as acting rector.
He said, “Number one, let me quickly correct the impression that I am acting rector. I am not. I was standing in for the rector before he died, and as the registrar, I have to be available to provide leadership pending when government appoints another rector. So, I am not a substantive acting rector. I was already doing that at the point he was unable to cope with the stress of office owing to his deteriorating health.
“Number two, we are mourning and all I wanted to do was to correct the story that the media have helped to spread about the academy. The academy is not at war. To your question about how I am coping, holding forth is not a challenge. I have passed through the career ladder and can confidently say I have what it takes to run the academy in a stop-gap capacity, and also in acting and substantive capacity.
“Upon my assumption of duty in 1993 in the Planning Department then, I was able to take it through to the Directorate Department. I was in charge of admission and records, and I was involved in placement of cadets for SIWES. After sometime, I was transferred to Research and Statistics, and then again, redeployed to Personnel Department where I was in the past four years before becoming the registrar. So, if you talk about the running of the academy, I know what to emphasize. Without educational planning experience, you cannot successfully run an academy.
“I have the experience and I can mobilize and deploy resources, human and material. Please don’t go and misquote me, I am standing in for the rectorate, it is government business to appoint whoever they wish to run the academy”.