Michael Okpara University of Agriculture Umudike, Abia State, is still enmeshed in controversy over the termination of the appointments of 496 workers last week.
While the workers, made up of academic and non-academic staff, have cried that they were sacked by the new vice-chancellor, Francis Otunta, to enable him “recruit his own people”, the university administration has said the workers were engaged on temporary basis and had failed the regularization of appointments.
“The staff were engaged on temporary basis in 2016 and their appointment automatically terminated after one year but we continued paying their salaries while waiting for the Governing Council to make their decision,” spokesperson of the university, Adanma Odefa, told PREMIUM TIMES on Monday.
She said the immediate past Vice-Chancellor of the institution, Hilary Edeoga, had erred over their appointments as he hired without informing the governing council.
“The Vice-Chancellor can hire on temporary basis if the need arises but he (Mr. Edeoga) went on a hiring spree and hired over 400 people knowing it is not his problem to pay them. The university is saturated with staff we don’t even need,” Ms. Odefa said.
She said Mr. Edeoga did not even brief his successor, Mr. Otunta, on the appointment of the workers.
“The past vice-chancellor acted wrongfully and criminally, why did he hire for the new vice-chancellor and didn’t allow him to hire for himself, ” the university spokesperson said.
But Mr. Edeoga faulted that position, insisting that university administration was a continuous process.
He told PREMIUM TIMES that the workers were properly recruited and their appointments regularised during his tenure.
“The spokesperson was not around during the regularisation because she was just employed a few months ago and the present vice-chancellor has employed over 100 people in the past few months,” he said.
“We got approval from the Federal Character Commission and I employed these people and paid them throughout my tenure without owing like the present tenure is owing them 25 percent (of entitlements).’’
Ms. Odefa said the university management had set up a committee to look at the recruitment of the disengaged workers.
She said the committee had told them to reapply for employment through their various heads of departments.
“The regularisation exercise conducted in the last tenure by the immediate past vice chancellor was inconclusive,” she said.
Some of the affected workers who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES on Friday said they were shocked to receive letters terminating their appointments because they had attended regularisation interview in 2016 under the former vice-chancellor.
They said they had not collected letters confirming their appointments before Mr. Edeoga was sacked by the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
One of the affected workers told PREMIUM TIMES that they all reapplied when the management told them to do so even though they were apprehensive that the vice-chancellor wanted to sack them and “replace us with his kinsmen based on previous experience.’’
“He laid off 300 workers when he was the Rector of Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Unwana In Ebonyi State and now 496 workers have been suspended.
“We were not surprised when news broke out that the Governing Council of the university decided to sack all of us. We had been complaining about it right from the day he declared (our) regularisation interview inconclusive.
“The present vice-chancellor has employed over 100 people including the university spokesperson and he said there is no money and is telling us to reapply when the 2017 budget has been approved for the institution.
“We am pleading for justice. Why is he laying us off and recruiting at the same time? I just received my June salary alert while talking to you now,” he concluded.
One of the affected persons who pleaded anonymity told PREMIUM TIMES that he was head-hunted from a state university by Mr. Edeoga to establish a new department at the institution.
He explained that those head-hunted did not need regularisation because they did not apply for jobs.
“I was a senior lecturer before coming to Mike Okpara University of Agriculture and I have gone through regularisation, confirmation and promotion but I have lost my job while trying to serve my fatherland.”
According to him, the present vice-chancellor deliberately allowed their appointments to expire.
“But he has employed over 100 workers from Afikpo,” he adds.
The university spokesperson confirmed that there had been fresh recruitments but said Mr. Otunta had only employed 10 workers, with three others coming in on secondment.
“Because of the struggle to pay these staff wrongfully and criminally hired in the first place, the rest of staff are receiving 75 percent of their salaries,” she said.
She said the balance would be paid as soon as the financial situation of the institution improves.
PREMIUM TIMES sought comments from the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC on the development. But the congress said it had not been briefed.
“The way we work is that the incident occurred where there are unions, which include ASUU, NASU and SSANU. So they have to report to us formally before we intervene,” Ayuba Wabba, President of NLC told PREMIUM TIMES Friday night.
“I am not aware of what is happening, I don’t listen to hearsay, internet or ‘media issue’,” he said.
The Chairman of the local chapter of ASUU, Chinyere Echendu, however toed the line of the university management. She told PREMIUM TIMES that no staff was sacked.