Obinna Odogwu, Awka
There was confusion at Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University (COOU), Igbariam, Anambra State, recently when some gun-wielding security men of the institution stormed the hall of the institution where some lecturers had gathered to hold a meeting and dispersed all of them.
The lecturers were members of COOU’s chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). They had barely settled down when the security men from the anti-cult unit of the university stormed the hall and chased them away. The obviously surprised and traumatised lecturers scampered to safety, clutching their files, academic materials and other important belongings.
It was alleged that the management of the university ordered the security personnel to disperse the ASUU members and ensure the meeting did not hold in the school’s premises. The university’s chapter of ASUU had joined the nationwide strike declared by the National Executive Council (NEC) following the inability of the Federal Government to meet its demands.
But the industrial action did not go down well with the university. Its management could not see tangible reasons COOU must remain closed even after the state government approved the reopening of schools earlier shutdown because of COVID-19 pandemic.
Irked by the ASUU members’ disassociation from the planned reopening, the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Greg Nwakoby, allegedly detailed the security men to chase away the lecturers. The immediate past coordinator of ASUU, Owerri zone, Prof Ike Odumegwu, said: “The security men said they were instructed by the VC not to let the union hold its meeting within the institution.
“We have never been treated this way before. How can the VC send security men to stop us from meeting? They shut the door against us and asked everyone out of the hall as if we were common criminals.”
Not deterred, the unionists relocated to another venue to continue with their meeting. This time, they converged under a tree at the Faculty of Social Sciences. They had hardly settled for the meeting before the security men stormed the new venue again, making frantic efforts to disperse them. But this time, the lecturers stood their ground.
Chairman of COOU ASUU branch, Prof Okey Aniebo, said: “I have been queried because of this strike and this is geared towards terminating my appointment in this university. It is very unfortunate.
“TETFund and NEEDS Assessment are products of ASUU struggles, but the VC is bent on killing the university because he has just three years to leave. The university wants us to break a national strike, but we have said we will not. We will keep following the national body of ASUU because every achievement he has here has been as a result of ASUU struggle.”
Chairman of ASUU in Owerri Zone, Dr Uzo Onyebinamma, refuted claims that the lecturers had no reason to go on strike because they were not captured in the controversial Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS). Few days later, after the imbroglio, a splinter group of ASUU allegedly sponsored by the VC emerged.
The group is led by Prof. Osita Chiaghanam and Dr Innocent Ngangah as chairman and secretary respectively. It praised the VC for “transforming the university and making it a model for research and learning. Academic re-engineering in the university has led to many departments/degree programmes securing full accreditation status from the National Universities Commission (NUC). “Under Prof Nwakoby, the university has cultivated high impact relationships with industry/corporate organizations for mutually beneficial research engagements under the university-academia programmes. This has made it possible for many students and lecturers to secure placements, internships and sabbatical positions in many companies previously considered elusive.”
It said the state university has its own peculiarities, which the Aniebo-led ASUU has continued to downplay for certain reasons. It said despite the peculiarities and challenges weighing down many sister universities, COOU has continued to excel. It said the VC prioritised staff welfare to a scale that was unprecedented and should not be distracted by those pursuing personal interests.
But ASUU chairman, Aniebo, told The Education Report that the new ASUU group was merely playing a script, insisting that ASUU has no factions in COOU: He also said that the issues that led to the strike apart from the ones highlighted by the national body were many.
“They did a radio programme in ABS and they couldn’t even express what they represent. In that programme, they still supported ASUU on the issue of IPPIS. They still admitted that what the ASUU is struggling for in COOU is right.
“The only difference or the grouse is that we should stop being part of the national strike because our university has peculiarities. And they asked them, ‘what are the peculiarities about your university?’ They couldn’t even explain that. Only that your VC is paying salary. Salary is not the only yardstick for measuring the standard of a university.
“The salary is not even up to five per cent of the yardstick for measuring the performance of a university. So, all other indices are dead. If they have any grudge, they should come to the meeting instead of pursuing shadows. They are simply praise singers. A lot of them have interest in the positions they want the VC to give them.
“Yes, our salary is important but you must have a good working environment. That is what we are saying is lacking. And our salary is also incomplete. Saying that they are getting everything from the university management is an insult on the psyche of our members. This is because we have so many allowances that we don’t get including the Earned Academic Allowance (EAA) that is at the centre of the negotiation with government.
“Nobody in COOU has any pension package. Let those people give you just one name of any staff that retired in COOU that has been paid pension. It is very embarrassing. Let somebody give you a name of any staff in COOU that has a record in the tax office; whether state or national tax office that pays tax through the bursary of our university; not even a single person.”
However, the Public Relations Officer of COOU, Dr Chris Chukwuemeka, debunked allegations against the VC and university’s management: “I don’t think that these bundled up issues are as exact as they had narrated them. What they said is not as true as they had said them because I do not think that there are those who have had issues with taxes or whatever.
“Coming to lecture halls, we have several ETF halls that are vacant and we have Nwazojie Hall donated by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. Both here (Igbariam) and Uli, there are up to nine different ETF halls. How could someone now say that there are not enough lecture halls? That is why I say that I do not think that what they said is as correct as they said them. It may be because they do not know the reality.”
On the issue of not having pension package for its staff, the PRO queried: “Do you not think that someone who should think about whether pension is zero or not should be someone who is retired? Are these people who are saying it retired? This is because one wouldn’t begin to tell stories about what he is not too sure of.
“Even if for any reason there are problems before now, it is not as ugly as they’re painting it. Perhaps, some of these things came up because they felt that schools reopened contrary to what should have been; otherwise these issues should have come out earlier. Why now? That would tell you the reasons. The entire ideas of theirs are not as they have actually painted them.”
On the allegation that the VC sent gun-wielding security men to chase away ASUU members: “That is not true. How could the VC who is for all persons go on to do a thing like that? It is not true. The VC, Prof Nwakoby, cannot do that.”