Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
The five weeks old face-off between the management of Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Unwana in Afikpo North Local Government Area of Ebonyi State and the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) has taken a new dimension.
The management of the institution on Friday, March 9, announced the immediate closure of the polytechnic till further notice. The decision, The Education Report gathered, was as a result of the protest staged by its students who demanded immediate resolution of the face-off between the feuding parties.
A memo signed by the Deputy Registrar, U. E. Chikezie, titled: The Closure of Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Unwana, and addressed to the polytechnic community, said the management directed all students to vacate their halls of residence immediately.
Less than 24 hours after the circular, the students armed with placards of various inscriptions, had marched round the campuschanting solidarity songs. They were addressed by the Deputy Rector (Admin), Elder Inya Ibiam Arua.
Before the closure of the institution, ASUP had three weeks earlier declared an indefinite strike owing to the failure of the management of the institution to pay them their Peculiar Academic Allowance (PAA) including 15 months arrears.
Chairman of ASUP, Mr. Carl Nduka Nworu, had about three weeks ago led over 200 members on a protest within the campus.
The lecturers who were armed with placards with various inscriptions such as: ‘Rector our Peculiar Academic Allowance’, ‘Bursar pay us our PAA’, ‘Say no to PAA withdrawal’, ‘Give us our PAA’, ‘We are suffering’ among others, besieged the rector’s and bursar’s offices to register their grievances.
The Federal Government approved some allowances for ASUP members which the management of various polytechnics nationwide were to implement.
The three items are: teaching practice/SEWES, 3 per cent, project supervision, 3 per cent and field trip, 1 per cent.
But the management, ASUP alleged, abruptly stopped payment in January 2016 without a circular from the Federal Government and it lingered on.
The lecturers at a recent emergency meeting voted for a total shutdown of academic activities in the polytechnic until their demands were all met.
Their action came barely one week to the commencement of the second semester examination. The lecturers vowed to deal with any of their colleagues who defied the resolution.
ASUP ADHERENTS AND MANAGEMENT SUPPORTERS CLASH
Before the closure of the institution, there was commotion in front of Zenith Block EED department when a female lecturer was caught by the ASUP tasforce tutoring some students on Entrepreneurship Education while the strike was on.
Angered by the development, the team halted the lecture and ordered the students to go home.
The action sparked uproar as the students pleaded with them to allow her to finish. But while the commotion went on, about two lecturers loyal to the management stormed the area and threatened to fight their colleagues if they continued disrupting the institution’s academic activities.
Our correspondent who was at the scene reports that the visibly angry ASUP taskforce team dared them to do their worse as they were equally ready to lock horns with them.
The students who were obviously excited about the ensuing imbroglio jeered and clapped in excitement and urged the lecturers to put up a fight. The opposing camps shoved each other on the chests threatening fire and brimstone. The commotion lasted for about 40 minutes.
But while the dust gradually settled, a detachment of mobile police officers invited by the management of the polytechnic stormed the scene, perhaps to forestall breakdown of law and order.
ASUP TASKFORCE BLOCK ENTRANCE GATES
Determined to ensure total lockdown of the polytechnic until their demands were met, the ASUP taskforce blocked the entrance gate of the polytechnic. The angry lecturers only allowed non-academic staff to gain entrance into the campus.
General Secretary of ASUP, Dr. John Ibiam, said that the strike which commenced on March 1st would not be called off until every dime owed them were paid.
“From the inception of this administration, workers have been finding it very difficult in terms of welfare. Our money has been going down every month. If it is not Peculiar Academic Allowance, it will be double pension deduction.
“If it is not double pension deduction, it will be Wifi internet service. If it is not Wifi, it will be capitalisation rate. They told us that they want to connect internet service to the institution; therefore, they were deducting N1, 000 from all the workers in this institution every month.
“It took the intervention of the ASUP national to stop it. But since then, the management has not refunded the money they collected for 12 months.
“The same management informed the staff that what they got as subvention in January was N255 million but the warrant from the information, we discovered that the same management lied. What they got was N267 million,” Ibiam alleged.
Also speaking, the former ASUP chairman, a lecturer in the General Studies Department, Mr. Paulinus Okoro said management was not being truthful in their dealings.
“I feel very sad about this situation; that we are dealing with a management that has decided to act out of impunity and very much on what we call mendacity. This is a purposeful decision to tell lies and distort situations.
“Look at the amount they take from students in the name of alumni association. A student who has not become an alumnus you charge him N4, 500. Alumni status is supposed to be voluntary. So, this is extortion. We have a population of not less than 15,000 students. Now multiply the figure?”
Reacting to the allegations, the rector, Venerable Ogbonnia Ibe-Enwo, dismissed the allegations as false and baseless.
“Peculiar Academic Allowance is one of the allowances that in 2010, the Federal Ministry of Education reached an agreement with ASUP, NASU and SSANU on which is 7.5 per cent of their basic salary whereas for other two unions, it’s 5.2 per cent.
“That allowance, as it were, was supposed to be paid from IGR and in 2010 when the decision was taken, most institutions tried to pay from IGR but it became increasingly difficult in the face of paying for our sub-services; that is, the cleaning contractors, security and others which were also from IGR.
“When we complained, the National Board for Technical Education directed that this allowance be made part of our salaries. As we were going forward from 2011, we now continued to put in our personnel cost and it was forwarded from consolidated revenue purse.”
On allegation of double pension deduction, Ibe-Enwo said: “The management wrote to the pension office concerning the matter on November 10, 2017, and they replied on November 13 that there was no double deduction from their salaries for pension. So, it is the figment of their imagination.”
On the vexatious issue of Peculiar Academic Allowance, he said the national was still negotiating the 2010 agreement with the union.
“I am part of that committee. Council has set up a committee and so on. But something happened. We had continued to pay them when we had the money. In January, when we got our allowances because in 2015 we got N261 million; in 2016 we got N244 million.
“There was a shortfall of about N17 million because they have removed Peculiar Allowances arguing that it should be paid from IGR. And so, we had a shortfall and we were unable to pay. But in 2017, they started paying N261 million again. And we went back to start paying them the areas of the one we didn’t pay in 2016.
“The new budget has not been approved. They just give you whatever they think they’d give you to make sure that staff salaries are paid. Instead of the N261 million, they gave us N255 million. So, there was a shortfall and we don’t have enough to pay PAA and we reported to budget office.
“I made moves thinking that by February we will get N261 we used to get plus the shortfall in January so we can have enough funds to pay them that of January but it didn’t happen. In February, we got exactly the same thing, N255 million. And so, I can only pay out what I have.”
The rector dismissed the alleged extortion of students as baseless, noting that he had no business to do with alumni.
On the allegation that he promoted his wife to the rank she was not qualified for, Ibe-Enwo said: “We have criteria for promotion. You don’t just decide who to promote and who not to promote and it starts from the departments.
“Forms are given to staffs in their various departments. The HoD will appraise them. After that, the appraisal committee will meet and ratify that. It would be sent to the school board.
“The school board will articulate and it will be ratified. It will be sent to the management appraisal committee which I chair by the virtue of being rector. After that, it would be taken to the management appraisal and promotions committee. After that committee, the general council will now approve and the persons stand promoted or not promoted.
“So, it is not something you cut corners with. What we do is that if somebody has been denied promotion at lower level and we look at the date of the last promotion, most often than not, we try to find out the problem. What we do is that we overrule the lower body that said that he should not be promoted and say promote. We don’t say demote.
“On the issue of my wife, she joined here as an Assistant Lecturer having been principal whatever at the secondary education board. She joined here as an assistant registrar of grade level 10 and continued to rise to the point of Principal Assistant Registrar.
“Also, she engaged in academics, got a master and wanted to be an academic staff and applied. And the conversion followed a due process,” he explained.
Refuting the allegation of deducting N1,000 from the salaries of the staff, the rector said that it has “stopped about two years ago.”