Ever since news broke that the 400 plus people whose temporary appointments as staff of this university had elapsed in February, a lot of stories have been making waves around it and they are mostly false. Without fact-checking, the traditional media outlets as well as social media platforms have given credence to these wildly inaccurate information, commonly ascribed to “unconfirmed sources,” by publishing them.
Instead of the obfuscated facts and distorted reality, solely aimed at whipping up raw emotions and assassinating innocent people's characters, here are the unadulterated facts.
The total number of people who where suspended is over 400, not 500 as some media have reported. Here is why they were suspended.
Everybody employed in a Federal University is hired on temporary basis and has to undergo what's called regularization within a year (before becoming full time) failure of which leads to the elapsing of the contract.
Vice-Chancellor Francis Otunta's predecessor, Prof. Hilary Edeoga, between November 2015 and February 2016, hired over 400 people even though there was already a Vice-Chancellor designate for the university and also knowing full well there was no fund to pay them. Prof. Edeoga didn’t care because these workers were never going to be his problem.
If the university had a need for that number of staff (constituting over 12% of the entire staff strength), it should have advertised and there should have been Council’s approval. What the university ended up with, as a result, was a bloated staff. For example, the ICT Lab, which can be manned by four people, ended up with a staff of over 25. So, the university became saddled with a lot of unqualified and redundant staff.
Rumours have it that most of these people paid huge sums of money and sex for jobs. It is not in our nature to endorse or peddle rumours. We are only interested in facts. These facts must be glaring and verifiable. So, we choose to ignore these rumours.
Worse still, the university is also burdened by several threatened lawsuits as a result of multiple awards of the same contracts to different contractors who are still being owed by the previous administration. We have our hands full putting out fires. And this particular fire was single-handedly started and created by the previous vice-chancellor.
The vice-chancellor, Prof. Otunta, has done nothing but negotiate and advocate, bending over backwards to avoid the unfortunate outcome we have today. It was at his discretion to honor the terms of the temporary appointments that had lapsed but, on a humanitarian basis, he decided to bear the burden pending when Council comes and takes a decision.
His decision cost the rest of the university staff 25 per cent of their salary for the past few months. Ordinarily, the 400 plus people had no entitlement to salaries from the university from the date their one year temporary appointment contracts lapsed. And the university had no commitment to offer them a chance of renewal. It should have been a termination but not a suspension. But Prof. Otunta, after Council had instructed him to terminate them, went pleading with Council to temper justice with mercy and created an opportunity for the qualified ones who had worked hard and well to come back. He also delayed implementing the Council’s decision until the end of June so that the 400 plus people would get a June salary.
In the hierarchy of the university administration, Council supervises Management, including the Vice-Chancellor. Management is duty bound to implement Council’s decision. There is no possibility of the Vice-Chancellor or anybody else to disregard Council decision, especially in a delicate matter like this.
In this case, Council is not to be blamed because they are following the rules and doing the right thing. Management cannot be blamed because they are also following the rules and obeying Council instructions. The Vice-Chancellor can certainly not be blamed because he had no say in 400 plus people being hired for him to pay at a time when the country is in recession and when there is no apparent need for that size of staff increase.
The rumour that Prof. Otunta has brought in and hired about 100 people in the University is totally unfounded and aimed at whipping up negative emotions against the vice chancellor. In about one year and a quarter that Otunta has been vice chancellor, he has only hired 7 persons to fill in arising vacancies. He brought 3 persons who are in the university on secondment, meaning that they are not even staff of the University and would return back to their original place of employment once they complete their assignments.
Be assured that there is no conniving between Vice-Chancellor Francis Otunta and Council Chairman, Rt. Hon. Muhammadu Lawal Zayyana, to sack people or make people suffer on the basis of states of origin, sex or whatever basis. Therefore, the story that Vice-Chancellor Otunta and Council Chairman Zayyana are working in tandem to displace the University’s Abia and Igbo staff with Hausas is a fabrication purely aimed at maligning these accomplished gentlemen.
Prof. Otunta is a renowned scientist, administrator cum educationist extraordinaire and a gentleman par excellence. He made first class in mathematics at UNIBEN and served for eight years as the Rector of the Federal Polytechnic, Uwana in Afikpo, where he excelled and left his mark, before getting his new job. He plays by the books and detests injustice of any form. He's a far cry from the monstrous picture some of the media are painting of him.
Rt. Hon. Muhammadu Lawal Zayyana was an acting Governor of Sokoto State, former speaker of Sokoto House of Assembly, commissioner for many years, a traditional ruler who's also the crown prince of the Sokoto Caliphate. He's the next in line to the present Sultan. He's a generous, simple, humane human and doesn't in any way, shape or form fit the profile he has been created of in some outlets in the wake of this story.
Head, Public Relations/Protocol Unit & Spokesperson,
Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike.