Kehinde Adewole, Ado-Ekiti
The once lively and friendly academic environment at the Ekiti State University (EKSU), Ado-Ekiti, the state capital, has now become a place of mourning and apprehension.
The development was caused by the recent disengagement, in one fell swoop, of almost 1,000 staff members of the institution by the authorities.
Vice chancellor of EKSU, Professor Edward Olanipekun of the Department of Industrial Chemistry, had issued a statement on Thursday, December 5, after the meeting of the university’s Governing Council, where he dropped the bombshell. He announced the sudden sack of some categories of staff who he said were irregularly employed. He said further that the affected members of staff allegedly falsified their age, and, therefore, lacked the requisite qualifications to have been employed.
But some of the affected staff have denied the claims, saying they were employed through due process.
Right now, tension still grips the university and its workers. A recent visit to the university’s campus along Iworoko Road in Ado-Ekiti revealed that an uneasy calm now pervades the place. During the visit, people suspected to be aggrieved members of staff gathered in groups, discussing the development in measured tones. Many wore faces that betrayed sadness and apprehension.
Many others turned down the request to speak with the reporter, while a few others who had the courage to speak pleaded anonymity for apparent fear of a witch-hunt.
A middle-aged male staffer who spoke with the reporter, said it was not true that all the workers sacked were employed through irregular or illegal means. He alleged that there was a clear indication of a deliberate attempt to sack people who have been employed through due process in order to give such job slots to some friends or relatives of the new management team.
He said: “We have a situation where the university council already confirmed the appointments of many of those that were sacked, and some of them had even been promoted accordingly. So, would you say that the university council had not investigated properly before confirming such appointments and even promoting them? To me, this is just a vendetta war by the new management team to favour their own people by removing illegally those employed by the immediate past management team of the university. And I suspect a political witch-hunt which has now made some of us victims of such ugly development,” he said.
Another academic staff from the Faculty of Science, who also pleaded to speak on condition of anonymity, said he had documents to prove that his appointment followed every due process, as he was interviewed and screened and was found qualified for the employment.
His words: “My appointment as an academic staff in this university was done appropriately. I was interviewed and found to be qualified for the employment and I was duly recommended for employment. So, such claims that I was irregularly appointed do not arise in my case. The management was wrong in sacking me as I have not committed any offence to warrant such,” he said.
A laboratory technologist from the Engineering Faculty corroborated the claims by the academic staff member. He said: “Before I and my colleagues, some of whom have also now been sacked, were employed, we sat for written examinations and were interviewed. And to the best of our knowledge, we haven’t breached any law of the university. So, we wonder why this sudden sack.”
Other members of staff who also spoke on condition if anonymity claimed that the disengagement was a sort of punishment that they never merited. They said: “Staff members recruited in 2017, whose appointments were only confirmed in October 2019 after the recent staff auditing process, were not disengaged. This is because these staff members were candidates of members of the university’s Governing Council at the point of recruitment.”
There were indications that the incident might affect other things in the 37-year-old institution in the days to come, as the sudden mass sack also affected many professors. A number of non-academic directors were also axed on claims that they lacked the requisite documents in their files.
Some of the senior members of staff have, however, denied such claims. They argued that, if the required documents were missing from their files, the blame should be heaped on the administrative staff of the registry for poor documentation.
Many of the staff members called on the governor, Dr. John Kayode Fayemi, to come to their rescue. They urged the governor to order a proper probe into the recent sack with a view to preventing further tragedy from befalling those allegedly sacked for no valid reason.
One of the sacked workers debunked the claim by the management that the university had become overstaffed and needed to be overhauled. He said: “Such claim is wrong because we know that, very soon, this same management will advertise and fill many vacancies they have fired staff members unjustly. So, it is not true that the university is overstaffed and didn’t need the number of staff it had before the mass sack,” the staff said.
Some of the workers who introduced themselves as technologists have also expressed the fear that the university might soon lose accreditation of over 50 courses. They claimed that more than 90 per cent of technologists who were duly employed for the last accreditation exercise for courses in the faculties of science, technology and education were affected.
One of them said: “These technologists were approved by the council in 2016, recruited via written and oral interview and less than 10 per cent of those interviewed were selected. They were used for the National Universities Commission (NUC) and Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) accreditation for over 43 department across the faculties of Science, Educational, Agriculture, Engineering and others in 2016, 2018 and, recently, in 2019. The former council confirmed their appointment after two years of service. But now, 90 per cent of them have been sacked. Should this decision stand, what happens to the accreditation the university is currently enjoying? What happens to the departments and units in the Science, Agriculture and Engineering faculties that will be without any technologist?”
The institution had announced last month that the workers were dismissed by the management for various offences that contravene the university’s conditions of service.
Olanipekun, the VG, said the decision was taken by the Governing Council in its meeting on December 5, 2019.
Olanipekun noted that the decision was in compliance with the reports of an external private audit firm contracted to undertake a holistic audit of the institutions’ staff and finances.
This, he said, was sequel to the recommendation of the visitation panel set up by Governor Fayemi, which identified, among other things, over-staffing, redundancy and personnel misalignment in virtually all the sections of the university as the problem hindering the institution from paying its workers.
Olanipekun said, of the affected staff, 619 were employed irregularly between 2016 and 2018 by the immediate past VC, Prof. Samuel Oye Bandele, during his tenure, while 228 staff allegedly have some discrepancies in their educational qualifications.
Others included ghost workers and some staff who were said to be aged over 65 and 70 for non-academic and academic workers, respectively.
Olanipekun revealed that the university would be able to save over N200 million monthly by the time the affected workers were expunged from the payroll.
According to him, 619 were “illegally recruited between 2016 and 2018. Some were overaged, having clocked 68 or 69 but still working when the statute prescribed 65 for non-academic and 70 for academic staff.
“The workers were employed irregularly against university regulations within the period 2016 and 2018, thereby causing major personnel misalignment and skyrocketing of the university wage bill by about 100 per cent within two years.
“The situation was so bad in the university that it was the monthly contributions of members of staff who belong to some cooperative, thrift and credit societies in the university that were partly and on a monthly basis used by the then university administration to pay the salaries of those that were irregularly employed and who, interestingly, refused to join any of the cooperative, thrift and credit societies.
“There were 228 members of staff that could not produce/show evidence of primary school leaving certificate. And there were some ghost workers whose names were found on the university payroll without being on the university nominal role.
“Some members of staff presented falsified birth and educational certificates. Some of the members of staff lacked the required basic educational qualifications.
“Some members of staff were illegally retained in the university’s service after having been due to retire. There are other cases of overaged staff.
“Consequently, after due consideration of the issues involved, and the overall best interest of the university in being properly positioned for local relevance and global competitiveness, the Governing Council of Ekiti State University has directed that those who were found to have fallen into the categories above be disengaged from their appointments forthwith in accordance with the university’s regulations,” he said.