In spite of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) 21 days ultimatum to the management of the Delta State Polytechnic, Ogwashi-Uku (DPSG), on May 1, Workers Day, for the immediate reinstatement of the two dismissed union leaders in the institution, the Rector Dr. (Mrs.) Edna Mogekwu has remained adamant.
The labour leaders, Comrade Anthony Ezaga, a Principal Assistant Registrar and Chairman of the Non-Academic Staff Union of the Polytechnic (NASUP) and his counterpart, Barr. Tobechukwu Ogidi of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnic (ASUP) were summarily dismissed over unsubstantiated claims by the Polytechnic management.
The embattled union leaders maintained that they were being hounded over their insistence on compliance by the school management to lay down labour and Trade laws, rules and regulations.
Moreover, they said their sack was connected to their stance on certain alleged acts of maladministration, highhandedness and fraudulent activities of the Rector and management of the institution.
For NASUP, the bone of contention was whether the union is just for junior staff or for all levels and cadre of non-academic staff, while the matter of ASUP bothered on whether the emergence of a Dean should be by appointment or election.
The Rector wanted to handpick and appoint somebody, but ASUP insisted on the provisions of section 15 of institution’s law as those who dare to oppose the idea were being arrested by the Department of State Security (DSS), quizzed and given queries.
According to Barr. Ogidi, Chairman of ASUP, his ordeal with the Rector started onDecember 23, when he received several reports from members that the Rector was using the Department of Security Service to harass them over their views on matters they discussed at the school Board meeting.
Recounting how his ordeal began, he said it was in July 2015, when the National NASUP, through the State Chapter, took the school management to court over union membership which has dragged on for over eight years.
According to Comrade Ezaga, NASUP is not for junior staff, but a union for all non-academic staff regardless of your status, adding that the management for the past eight years refused to implement agreements reached and signed with the union.
He said the Federal Ministry of Labour had intervened, but the school refused to implement several agreements and insisted that NASUP is for junior staff, while refusing to deduct staff dues for over eight years now.
“At a point in 2010 we declared a strike action and during that action, management hired thugs who attacked me at the school gate and almost damaged my eyes, and up till now nothing was done about that matter. We went to the House of Assembly, the Rector was summoned on several occasion but he refused to appear”.
Ezaga had envisaged that with a new Rector from Kaduna Polytechnic, she should know better about the position of NASUP. Unfortunately, she continued with the same policy.
“Union went to court, not the branch but the State Chapter, acting on the directive of the National, went to court to determine if NASUP was for junior staff. I was made a witness because of my position as the branch chairman”.
“Immediately I came back, management said that I travelled without permission. They issued me a query and I answered the query because I had informed the Rector and the registrar through a text message about my mission. I don’t have issues with management. It is a union thing. I answered the query but they said no. They put me on interdiction and that disciplinary committee will handle the matter. I was on interdiction from July 2015, while Senior Staff Disciplinary Committee (SSDC) sat on the issue and came up with their report in October”, he narrated.
Ezaga said the report of the committee exonerated him of the allegations but the management sat on the report till November, when the Rector, who is an Anglican, led a delegation of the school management to his Anglican church.
“It was very surprising when one morning, my Reverend invited me that he wanted to see me. I saw the entire management staff in the church. They told the church that they came to inform them that since I was being stubborn, they will dismiss me so that when it happens, the church will not say they were not informed”, the NASUP chairman said.
He said out of 15 people who were on interdiction at the time, only his case was not resolved, in spite of interventions from the Commissioner of Higher Education, Engr. Jude Sinebe and the Special Adviser to the Governor on Labour Relations, Comrade Mike Okeme.
“We have seen the Commissioner for about four times, but the Rector and management appear to be having their way. The Commissioner could not even handle the matter. We went to the chairman of the council, Dr. Festus Okubor and he asked me to write I wrote through the Rector to him officially, pleading for his intervention”, Comrade Ezaga recounted.
The NASUP Chairman said he was directed by the school management through a letter to withdraw the union case from the court before he would be recalled from interdiction but it was a ploy to hoodwink him and the union.
“I went to my union and spoke to them and they agreed that if that will bring me back from interdiction. So our lawyer drafted terms of settlement which management refused to sign. The terms was that once the case is withdrawn, they will recall me and pay me all my money because I have been on half pay”, he said.
The union became sceptical that if management refused to sign the agreement, they would do worse if the case is withdrawn. It was at this point that the union wrote a letter of protest to the governor for an ultimatum. As soon as management saw the protest letter, they issued a fresh query that I was not coming to work.
“They set a joint council and academic board committee to try me. I went there, even though the committee saw no merit, they went ahead to ask me to go and beg management, otherwise they will deal with me”.
Barely a week later, Ezaga’s appointment was terminated, over alleged absence from work three days, prompting the State NLC to issue a 21-day ultimatum for the governor to direct the Polytechnic management to recall the union leaders or face industrial crisis.
The ASUP chairman said his HOD informed him on Friday 15, he had a query but when he received it on Monday 18, the query was backdated to January 11, obviously to counter the letter he had written through the Rector to council chairman complaining of harassment.
On the 19, the same day I submitted my reply, I got a reminder that I delayed in answering the query that was purportedly issued on the 11. While receiving the query, I acknowledged the date I received it which was 18.
“I got to know that the rector had already typed my interdiction letter beforehand, that these were mere formalities. So I included all these in my answer to the query which I submitted on 19. On the 21, I was sent on interdiction. I have been on interdiction since then”, Barr. Ogidi lamented.
Like his counterpart Ezaga, who was reported to Anglican Church, the Rector, an indigene Ogwashi-Uku with Barr. Ogidi, reported him to their town union, ahead of the premeditated sack.
“Another query came from council which accused me of sending inciting message to members thereby causing chaos, that was my first charge. The second was that I delayed in answering the query. But there was no chaos, no protest, no boycott of lectures. In fact on 6, I was in school for solemn assembly, a religious programme by management which is not compulsory but I was there, most of my members were there. On 7, we proceeded to begin lectures, there was no protest, no disturbances, no dissent”, the ASUP Chairman recounted.
“I answered the query and in less than a week they constituted a panel which was very unfair because when I got there before I even opened my mouth, they accused me of arrogance. I was advised to write apology letter to the rector within six days, otherwise I will be sacked. Few days later, I got a dismissal letter”, Barr. Ogidi narrated.
Beyond union issues, Barr. Ogidi corroborated Ezaga that their sack was not unconnected with the employment of over 300 persons who were said to have paid their way into the system.
The management claimed the Rector and registrar’s signatures were forged in the letters of appointment, without their knowledge, but Daily Trust gathered that the brother to the registrar, Henry Onyewenu was caught and he confessed to being involved in employment racketeering in 2014, yet he was neither put on interdiction or sacked.
“Everything about the employment racket is a fraud. It is not possible to talk to those who were affected because they are still trying to save their jobs. The issue is if you have about 200 people working illegally in an organisation and management is saying that they don’t know anything about them, who opened files for them? Who posted them to different departments?
“How did they get approval to compute their financial details and send to pre-audit and put on payroll? Those are not the things that clerks do; without the approval of the rector nobody is going to open file for you. Without the directive of the registrar, no staff in personnel will touch your issue and these people are still working till today.
“If they claim that they don’t know the people and government has through one way or the day exposed them as illegal employees, they should have left the place but as we speak, they are still working. How can they now say their signatures were forged or that they don’t know how those people got into the system?” an anonymous source queried.
Investigations revealed that some of the affected employees had their employment back dated illegally in order to claim arrears. The employment was from 2013. Apart from 22 people, all others do not have approvals.
Besides the over 300 academic staff, the rector and registrar were said to have employed over 200 non-academic staff illegally as permanent staff and ad-hoc staff on a wage of N20,000 for junior staff and N50,000 for senior staff.
It was reliably learnt that some of job seekers paid up to N1.2 million for job placement. We also know for a fact that the state government has set up a panel to investigate the school.
“Some of the persons affected had written to me, as chairman of ASUP, that the state government has removed their names from payroll, and that management is not giving them any explanation”, the ASUP chairman disclosed.
“But the government seems to be punishing one part because giving and taking bribe are two offences rolled into one. Government seems to be avoiding those people employed. The panel should also invite them and hear from those people employed. The figure of those employed is over 300 but the position of the state government is that they were not given approvals, and that is why those people have not been paid for the past nine months, even though most of them are still coming to work and performing their job”, the ASUP Chairman disclosed.
When our correspondent sought the reactions of the Rector over the allegations of employment racket in the institution, she retorted: “Mr. Man were you hired to embarrass me!? Listen to me, if you are prepared for court then go ahead!”, and hung up, refusing to pick further calls.
Barely an hour later, a caller who identified himself as Felix called this reporter on phone “on behalf of the Rector”, apparently to redress the Rector’s unruly response to the reporter. He said the Rector is restrained from commenting on the issue until the State Government’s Panel’s report is officially released.
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