Priscilla Ediare, Ado-Ekiti
The ripples that greeted the mass sack of staffers of Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti, are far from over. The situation at the university is still precarious. There are threats by the sacked workers to take legal action against the state government and the school authorities. And many students of the institution are also protesting the mass sack, lamenting that they no longer have enough lecturers to teach them after the sudden disengagement.
The crisis was triggered by the sudden disengagement of hundreds of university workers on December 5, 2019. That day, more than 600 workers were disengaged by the authorities of the institution, owing to what they termed prior illegal recruitment exercise carried out by the immediate past administration of the university.
The vice chancellor (VC), Professor Edward Olanipekun, had said the harsh decision was reached following considerations by the university council. He said the university would be able to save about N200 million monthly after expunging the staff from the payroll.
Olanipekun said the decision was taken by the institution’s governing council in its meeting on December 5, 2019. He 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 Kayode 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 being able to pay its workers.
Said Olanipekun, “About 619 were illegally recruited between 2016 and 2017. Some were overage, having clocked 68 or 69, but were still working when the statute prescribed 65 for non-academic and 70 for academic staff.”
He claimed that the workers were employed irregularly, against university regulations within the period, 2016 to 2018, thereby causing a major personnel misalignment and skyrocketing university wage bill, up by about 100 per cent within two years.
In January this year, those who were considered by the university council to have “genuine cases” were re-engaged after a thorough consideration of their requests but reliable sources said the re-engaged workers are yet to be paid their salaries.
However, those who were employed in 2016 and were affected have not been re-engaged, as the institution had insisted that their appointments were irregular.
Now, the aggrieved workers are threatening legal action. In two separate pre-action legal letters, written through their legal counsels to the institution, two groups of aggrieved workers, those who identified themselves as technologists, and others in some other departments, are calling on the state government and the school authorities to reinstate them or face legal action.
The complainants claimed their disengagement was unlawful, cruel and inhuman. They insisted that the definition of ‘irregular appointments’ as grounds for which they were sacked, according to the management, was definitely ambiguous. They stated that the management had found them employable and recommended them as such after the workers had done both oral and written interviews in March 2016.
The first counsel, Olabanjo Ayenakin of Banjo Ayenakin & Co, had through his letter alleged wrongful disengagement of his clients from the institution. He requested payment of his clients’ salaries and promotions due to them, threatening that failure to comply with the requests would bring about legal action.
The letter, titled “Letter on notice and pre-action notice,” dated January 22, 2020, copies of which were made available to journalists in Ado-Ekiti, alleged that the lecturers’ services were illegally withdrawn from the institution. His demands included “the immediate reinstatement of our clients and payment of all the salaries owed our clients before they were wrongfully disengaged and promotions of our clients to the deserved position without prejudice to the disengagement.”
Ayenakin further alleged that his clients had not committed any offence: “Our clients were disengaged on the ground that their services were no longer required when our clients had not committed any offence, infraction or any act of misconduct and when our clients were not queried, disciplined or made to face any disciplinary panel.
“The letter further alleged that the committee of the governing council had refused to budge even when the sacked workers individually appealed to the council that they committed no offence and that their disengagements were wrongful, null and void, and apparently malicious and devoid of fair hearing.”
The second counsel to the affected workers, Perebo Monde of Perebo Pesta Monde & Co., in his letter stated that his clients were employed, confirmed and promoted, only for the university to allege that their appointments were irregular, in a bid to score political points.
The letter further alleged that the VC, Prof. Olanipekun, was a member of the recruitment exercise held in 2016. The letter read: “We are not in a Banana Republic where anything goes. You can’t employ people, confirm them appropriately after two years of service and promote them only to allege that their appointments were irregular, in a bid to score political cheap points.
“Worrisome is the fact that the VC, under whose watch all this brigandage is happening, was a member of the governing council when these recruitments held in 2016. Only God knows why a process he was actively involved in is now termed ‘irregular.’
Monde, has, therefore, called for a reversal of his clients’ disengagement. He said: “It is expected that the university reverses the disengagement or face legal action at the Akure Division of the Federal Industrial Court after the expiration of the 30 days ultimatum.”
The students seem to be bearing the brunt of the mass sack. Some students of the faculties of engineering, sciences and agricultural sciences held a peaceful protest around the university on Monday, January 27, over inadequate manpower to take them in academic and practical classes.
One of the students said: “The entire Faculty of Agriculture with six departments has a single technologist left. Eighty per cent of technologists in the departments of the Faculty of Engineering were sacked. This is having negative effects on us and we are being mandated to pay all prescribed fees to date for practicals and others, yet we only loiter about the campus, doing nothing.
“Administrative works on campus have almost collapsed as offices are locked for lack of manpower. Reliable sources have it that six academic workers were sacked in Physics Department, while 13 academic staff as well as 11 technologists were sacked in Science Laboratory Technology (SLT) Department. Meanwhile, Ekiti State prides herself as the Fountain of Knowledge. It is worrisome.”
On Thursday, December 5, Olanipekun, recently appointed from the Department of Industrial Chemistry, issued a statement after the meeting of University Governing Council, where he announced the sudden sack of some categories of staff whom he said were irregularly employed. He said further that the affected members of staff allegedly falsified their age, and lacked the requisite qualifications to have been employed.
Since the development, all has not been well on the EKSU campus. Many of the disengaged staffers have called on Governor Fayemi to come to their rescue. They urged the governor to order a proper probe into the sack with a view to preventing further tragedy from befalling those allegedly sacked for no valid reason.