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Michael Okpara University of Agriculture

Senate overrules Okpara Varsity VC, orders recall of 400 sacked staff

Michael Okpara University of Agriculture
The Nigeria Senate has ordered the Vice Chancellor of Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia State, Prof. Francis Otunta, to reinstate the 400 sacked staff of the institution who were employed by his predecessor, Prof. Hilary Edeoga.

The decision, according to the chairman, Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, would be communicated to the plenary on December 19 when the Senate resumes.

Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia-South Senatorial District), also confirmed the decision saying, “the report of the Committee is yet to be approved by the Senate sitting in plenary taking place as from December 18.”

The decision to sack the workers was said to have been taken during a meeting of the governing council of the university.

The affected workers were said to have been owed six months’ salary, and the remaining 25 per cent of their entitlements, a development which threw the institution into confusion.

But Anyanwu said the committee took the decision to reinstate the staff after its investigation of the petitions filed by 104 affected staff on behalf of others.

He said, “Yes, it (the reinstatement) was a directive but we have not communicated our decision to the plenary, that is the situation for now. About 104 staff brought a petition before us. But we will table it on December 19 when we resume plenary.”

A member of the governing council of MOUAU, Prof. Ike Nwachukwu, and the chairman of Academic Staff Union of Universities in the institution, Prof. Chinyere Echendu, had in separate interviews with our correspondent, explained that the sacking of the 400 staff was final.

“It is a management decision and so it’s the VC or Public Relations Officer of the university that can respond to your inquiries. I don’t have any authority to do that. I am not denying the fact that I was at the meeting. But, after the meeting, there are statutory people who respond to such issues,” Nwachukwu had said.

Echendu said, “They should be up to 400 of them that are affected. But no worker was sacked. Anybody who told you that is not telling the truth. The group you are talking about are people who were given letters on temporary basis. And that automatically terminated after one year.”

Also, a former ASUU chairman in MOUAU, Prof. Ugochukwu Onyebinama, said there was no provision for renewal in their condition of service.

He had said, “It is not easy to sack a worker. The problem we have is that there were people who were on temporary appointment, which, just on its own, automatically elapsed. So, it is not about the university sacking anybody.”

Some of those affected by the purge said they were shocked to receive the letters terminating their appointment because they attended the regularisation interview conducted in 2016 by the former VC.

According to them, they did not collect their letters of regularisation before Edeoga was sacked by the Muhammadu Buhari administration.

The spokesperson for the workers, Chidi Nwankwo, had said that immediately Prof. Francis Otunta assumed office as VC, he allegedly declared the regularisation interview inconclusive and mandated all affected staff to reapply with good reasons why their appointments should be renewed.

He said, “We all reapplied, although we were apprehensive that the new VC wanted to sack most of us and replace us with his kinsmen and friends based on previous experiences.

“We were not surprised when news broke out that the Governing Council of the university decided to sack all of us. We had been complaining about it right from the day he declared the regularisation interview inconclusive.

“Some of us were offered temporary appointments, while others were head-hunted to join the university from other universities. Majority of us were interviewed after sometime, which is a standard civil service rule, in a bid to regularise our appointments.”

According to Nwankwo, the former VC did not have time to sign the letters of regularisation or authorise the registrar to do same before activities marking his pulling out commenced.

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