“When I addressed the senate, I told them that this administration will not tolerate any extortion of money or sexual harassment of female students.”
Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
Sometime back, sex-for-marks scandals rocked the Ebonyi State University (EBSU), Abakaliki. Some lecturers were alleged to have demanded for sexual pleasures from their female students in exchange for high grade in their respective courses. There were also allegations of money-for-marks in the institution.
Although the immediate past Vice Chancellor of the university set up a committee to investigate the allegation and mete out appropriate sanctions to those found guilty, the investigation appears to be taking more time than expected.
The incumbent Vice Chancellor, Prof. Chigozie Ogbu, in an interview provided answers to series of allegations including the recent sack of some staff of the university.
There are insinuations that over 300 staff of the university were relieved of their appointment recently and the issue is still generating ripples in the state. What is the true situation?
Over the years, people have been complaining about the staffing in the university. If you look at the records, we have the highest number of staff in all the universities in this area. And so, it has been a problem all along. When I came on board, I inherited some months of arrears of salaries not because the money we have will not be able to pay the salaries but because the wage bill was so high. The monthly wage bill of this university is N345 million. So you can imagine what the school fees are and the N200 million that the state government gives the university as subvention will take us to if we continue to have this kind of thing. And it’s one of those things that if we want a university to grow, if we are burdened by just paying salary, then the university won’t develop to the extent that we want to as a higher institution.
So, it’s been a burden on the university. When I came in, I briefed the Governing Council about the financial situation of the university. The visitor of the university has always said that if our staffs are over bloated, we must downsize before the university can do anything different. And so, it is the concern of everybody. The governing council, some months ago, had a meeting and decided to audit all the staff in the university. So, after the council meeting, they directed the management to set up an audit committee to audit the staff of the university. Management set up an audit staff committee and it is made up of all the deans of faculties, all the directors, principal officers of the university and some other senior officers in the institution.
The committee went round and interviewed both academic and non-academic staff and examined their files and records of service.
They looked at the records of everybody. When they find some discrepancies, they will ask for explanations and if the staff are not able to give better explanation, particularly with their certificate and age, the committee frowned at it. It took them about one and half month for them to interview every staff. When they finished, they met several times to harmonise all the reports and findings they gathered and after that they wrote their report on their findings and recommendations. That report was presented to the council and it deliberated on it and changed some of the recommendations even harsher than the ones the committee recommended. But at the end, the council approved the committee’s report and asked the committee to implement it. Now, what the committee did was that each person that they interviewed they gave reasons for their recommendations. In the end, they acknowledged that 2,282 staff have no problem whatsoever and are not to be disengaged or transferred. Then they had another category on fractions of certificate; some for age at the time of interview. And one thing they did was they went back to staff First School Leaving Certificate (FSLC). When did the staff get it? And if the staff got it at a particular age, how old should he/she be by now? Rather than just the sworn declaration of age some of which were doctored and numbers changed. So, after that exercise, they came up with 29 staff who got their First School Leaving Certificates at the age of eight years from the records and that’s not possible in Nigeria. That would tell you that these people, their age is much more than what they stated. They also have some staff that tampered or falsified their certificates and some who went on leave without approval.
One other category in that group constituted 63 persons not 375 that you read in the social media. Only 63 were in that group and those were the staff that got their letters of disengagement recently. So, that’s how they arrived at the decision on these people. The other category of staff that was also affected were contract academic staffs or adjunct. Contract means the person have retired and not working anywhere else but with EBSU. Others are adjunct which means you have a primary job somewhere else but you are moonlighting here. These are the categories. If you look at the age of retirement in the university, it is 75 years for academic and 65 years for non-academic. If you look at the academic cadre which is what we are talking about, almost those in the contract cadre are between 75 to 80 or more. The actual staff, some of them have duties in three or four universities. So the committee recommended that this category of people 46 and 90 will also be disengaged. But their disengagement is different because they are on contract and are signed. The contract staffs own is when their tenure is due, we will not renew it because it’s renewable every year and some of them have been with EBSU for over 10 years on contract and adjunct. The benefit of that is that a lot of people who are younger and dynamic including qualified Ebonyians who have PhD that are looking for jobs, we can bring in these younger ones to replace the older ones so that they can take a rest.
Earlier, you explained the categories of staff that were affected. In one of the categories you said 29, and while answering the question you said 46 and 90. Is proper to say that 165 were disengaged?
What have been disengaged right now are 63. What I presented to you is that in the first category of academic staff: contract and adjunct; there are 46 contract staff and 90 adjunct staff. In the non-academic area, there are 63 who have these discrepancies. Somebody made a comment, that the university is kind not to prosecute these people or to recover money from those who have overstayed without retiring when they were supposed to have retired which is the rule in public service. The total number so far disengaged is 63. The other category will be each time their contract expires; they will not renew it unless the departments absolutely need them.
Before you came on board, a number of sex-for-marks scandals rocked ESBU. Your predecessor set up a committee to investigate the allegations but it appears it’s taking longer than necessary. Why is it so?
When a lecturer is accused of extorting money or harassing female students, it is an accusation that has been made. It is brought to the attention of the department where the lecturer is. The department or the faculty will set up a committee to look at the allegation and once they finish their own investigation, they forward the report to the management with their own recommendations. Management will look at it and if the recommendations are not quite in consonance with the problem, that report would be sent to senior or junior staff disciplinary committee depending on the rank of the staff. One of the regulations which is also causing problem now is that the university regulation requires that once a staff matter is sent to any of the standing committees, such staff is automatically placed on suspension.
So, that’s regarding the delay in concluding the matter. We are doing our best to shorten the time. You are right in that direction. On the issue of harassment in the university or the kid gloves treatment, when I came on board,
I was Pro-Chancellor of EBSU before and I know the stories and what is happening. One thing you should be clear is that in the university, the system ensures that accusation is not a conflict. That is why standing committees are set up. So unless what you are accused of is properly proven, you are not punished. Accusations do not mean conviction. There are three layers of examining a case: the faculty or the department, the management and then, the standing committee. With that, you cannot say that somebody will be victimized because each body is comprised of people of integrity within the university. So that is the process that sometimes delays. I agree that it should not take time because the person is already suffering on the suspension by getting half pay.
On the issue of how this matter is treated today. My first address to the Senate and also the students is that I am aware that one of the reasons why it persists is because staffs get away with it. And staffs get away with it because it’s more like a master–servant relationship. The lecturer has control of the students and so when the lecturer maltreats the students; he also doesn’t want them to talk. He threatens them or even fails them in class. So, the reason why the students are reluctant to report is not because it is treated with kid glove but it is because if they do, they face consequences from the lecturer. We have some cases pending now that are like that; where the lecturer threatened those who reported and some of them withdrew because of the threats that were issued to them. When I addressed the senate, I told them that this administration will not tolerate any extortion of money or sexual harassment of female students. And I told them that if a student makes a report on a lecturer and if there is a report of harassment of that student, that after the scenario, we will make sure the lecturer is punished on that alone before the case is decided. That they should allow students to express what is done to them. I was doing that to give people encouragement.
I also spoke to the students. I told them that if they report and somebody harasses them, they should let management know. And we are determined to deal with them. At the management meeting, we show no tolerance at all for any misconduct in this university including ordinary absenting oneself from work without permission. We will not treat any case of harassment with kid glove in this university. There are cases that are pending. The cases started from my predecessor. When I came on board, the cases were with the committee. The committee finally will present it report to management. And there are some of them that required further investigation by the senior staff disciplinary committee and that is where we are. But we will let them know that the time should not be delayed so much because of the staff involved. So, we are doing our best and I assure you that our actions are having some effect in terms of the doctrines of these activities.