Staff of Abia State University (ABSU) have held a peaceful protest against the failure of the school management to pay their salaries and other entitlements for six months.
The protesters vowed to continue protesting until their entitlements are paid and called on the state government to intervene.
But the state government, in a reaction, explained that the impact of Covid-19 was responsible for the inability of the institution to meet its financial obligations.
It, however, said that it had released N400 million to help the school management offset the salaries.
Staff lament untold hardship
The chairperson of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), ABSU branch, Victor Nkemdirim, during the protest on Monday, said they had been going through hardship because of their unpaid entitlements.
According to him, the children of the workers were sent away from school over unpaid fees.
“We have run out of patience, waiting for the administration to do something about it; the future of our children should not be gambled with. We barely feed since the emergence of the COVID-19 lockdown,” he said.
Mr Nkemdirim demanded the payment of their salary arrears from July 2009 – December 2010, totaling N902, 161,550.82.
The ASUU chief also asked the school to pay their cooperative welfare money totalling N201,000,000, as well as their Earned Academic Allowances.
He also decried the non-payment of gratuities, implementation of the N30,000 new minimum wage effective from April 2019 and interests on seven and a half per cent contributory pension scheme
The protesters also demanded six months of unremitted union dues checkoffs.
“Despite the enormity of the sacrifices made by academic staff, it is unfortunate that none of them received salaries during this period, whereas virtually all state universities have paid their lecturers from April to July. Ours that never deemed it necessary to distribute palliatives to workers also starved more than 60 per cent of the workforce of their April salary,” he said.
Mr Nkemdirim said he could not guarantee the state government and students that lecturers would return to classrooms when the government decides to reopen universities.
Reacting to the issue, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s spokesperson, Onyebuchi Ememanka, absolved the state government of blame for the inability of the school to meet its wage obligations.
He noted that for the past five years the school has remained stable and met its obligation to the staff.
“ABSU has never been known for owing. What happened this time? Why are the workers there owed for six months?”, he wrote.
He explained that the school is bound to default in payment of salaries since its major source of funds, school fees, has been temporarily halted following the outbreak of the deadly Coronavirus in the country
“One needs to understand the funding pattern of the University. Their funds come from two major courses. First is the statutory subvention given to them by the State Government”
“And then, their internally generated revenue from school fees and other services rendered by the University including consultancy services and funds generated internally through various sources. This second source of income accounts for about 70% of their total funding’.
“For about six months, the University has been shut down on account of the COVID-19 pandemic and this meant that the major source of revenue for the institution has been closed for about half a year now. Students have been at home since sometime in April and naturally, no fees can be collected”.
“When an institution like ABSU is shut down for such a long time, the consequences are clear. Funds will stop coming and debts will pile up. This is simple logic”.
“If a doctor who runs a private clinic has his clinic shut down for six months, that clinic will have issues with paying salaries of its workers. Indeed, there is a great likelihood that the clinic will shut down, especially where the owner is a busy body doctor who spends most of this time on Facebook, discussing politics, instead of engaging in more profitable and more professional endeavors”, he said.
He,however, expressed confidence that the problem will be resolved soon as the pandemic is slowly easing off and life will soon return to the Universities.
“I am very confident that the management of the University, which has shown great acumen in managing their resources will come up with a pattern to solve this problem and this will surely happen.”
“When markets were shut down on account of Covid-19, our people groaned and cried. Government had to do something about the markets, so that people can survive. If you shut down markets for six months, the consequences will be better imagined”.
“No University in the world can survive, pay salaries and maintain their services when it is shut down. It’s impossible”, he said.
Ikpeazu approves N400m bailout
Meanwhile, Governor Ikpeazu has approved a bailout of over N400m to the university to enable it meet some of its financial obligations.
Mr Ememanka, in a statement on Tuesday, said the release of the funds followed a meeting by the governor with the management and staff of the institution.
“Following strong representations from the Management and Staff of the Abia State University to the State Government for some form of financial assistance in the wake of the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Governor of Abia State State and Visitor to the University, Okezie Ikpeazu, PhD has approved the structuring of bail out funds in the sum of Four Hundred Million Naira (=400,000,000. 00) for the University”.
He said the bail out fund is expected to be applied by the university management to meet basic financial obligations including but not limited to the payments of salaries of workers in the University.
“In granting this approval, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu is mindful of the fact that the Abia State University has remained a strong model in resources management and maintenance of academic stability”.
“The Governor notes, with pride, that the University has, since the inception of his administration remained a signpost for excellence and service which has manifested in the consistent improvements in the rating of the University by independent assessment agencies in the country’.
“The Governor notes further that the pandemic which took the entire globe by surprise has fundamentally altered the smooth academic environment in the University leading to obvious and unavoidable disequilibrum in their financial inflows”, Emekanka said
Mr Ememanka said that Mr Ikpeazu is of the firm belief that under the circumstances, the university is well deserving of this assistance from the state government.
He said that details of the structure of the bail out will be worked out between the officials of the government and the management team of the university.
“The Governor believes that this line of support, which is unprecedented in the history of the Institution will provide the needed impetus for the University to jump-start academic activities and continue to sustain her position in the nation’s academic environment,” he added.