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INVESTIGATION: Many crises tearing apart Federal University Oye-Ekiti ( Part I)

EIGHT years after it was established, the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti (FUOYE) in Ekiti State is still struggling with the teething problem, and more recently, the university is enmeshed in crises that are already holding down its progress, The ICIR investigations have revealed.  

The soul of the university is torn in the hands of two forces—the management that’s wielding unrestricted and absolute power—and the leadership of the academic union that is striving to check the excesses of the former.

By fiat and force, the university management has spent the past one year or so silencing those considered its critics.

FUOYE  was one of the nine Federal Universities established by the former President Goodluck Jonathan, in 2011 to address the national problem of lack of access to tertiary education. Since its creation, the University has grown to host five Faculties and 45 departments.

The frosty relationship between the management of the University headed by Kayode Shoremekun,  its Vice Chancellor, and leadership of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) under the chairmanship of Akinyemi Omonijo is already having consequences. There are accusations and counter-accusations between the two parties— more or less washing the university’s dirty linen in public.

How management suspends ASUU chairperson over letter to Minister

Omonijo is currently serving an indefinite suspension slammed on him by the Governing Council of the University. His suspension came after two other senior academic staff of the university had their appointment terminated by the university management.

While Omonijo was suspended for his role in a report the academic union sent to the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu titled : The State of Federal University Oye -Ekiti: Matters Arising, which detailed the state of infrastructure at the university as well as administrative issues and corruption in the system, the two senior lecturers—Oniyide Akingbe of the Department of English and Literary Studies and Oluwagbemiga Adeyemi of the Department of Demography and Social Statistics —were sacked over allegation of gross misuse of  Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETfund) research grants.

The university had in a letter titled: “Termination of Appointment, dated October 31, 2018 and signed by the then Acting Registrar, Oyeyimika Koyejo-Fasakin, said that the university management at its meeting held on Wednesday, October 31, 2018 considered the report of the Staff Disciplinary Committee on TETFund Intervention Grant and decided that your services are no longer required by the University.”

Both Akingbe and Adeyemi denied any wrongdoing when contacted by The ICIR, even as they kicked against the termination of their appointment. The matter is already before the National Industrial Court. Hearing on the matter has been fixed for March 26, 2019.

State of FUOYE Report— the real reason Omonijo was suspended

Omonijo received his letter of suspension sent to him by the university’s Acting Registrar, Olayinka Adeniran-Ajayi through a WhatsApp attachment.  He actually received two letter of suspension dated 14 and 15 February respectively.

The first letter dated, February 14, 2019 was sent to him barely 24 hours he appeared before an investigative panel. He was expecting to appear before the panel for another interaction as was told during the February 13 session when his suspension letter got to him.

The ICIR gathered that his suspension was a fall out of months of union activities that led to the preparation and submission of the now controversial “The State of FUOYE Report to the Minister of Education.”

In the said report, which was also submitted to the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Federal University Oye-Ekiti, the union painted a gory picture of the state of the university, under seven different headings comprising: Physical Facilities and University’s Edifice, Restructuring of the University, Recruitment, Appointment and Promotion, Admission Process, Students’ Welfare, Staff Welfare, Official Communication.

The content of “The State of Federal University Oye -Ekiti: Matters Arising”, was so damning that the Minister reportedly issued a query to the Vice Chancellor of the university, a top official of the Federal Ministry of Education confided in our reporter.

The query, an official of the university explained, unsettled the management, particularly when the Minister reportedly rejected the VC’s response to the query and gave a matching order to the FUOYE’s Governing Council, to investigate and submit a report on all the allegations contained in the ASUU’s report.

The 16-page document obtained by The ICIR, which was prepared by a five-member ASUU Committee on Staff and Students’ Welfare, was submitted to the Minister of Education by the National President of ASUU, Biodun Ogunyemi. It was signed by Omonijo and Akinsorotan Ademola, acting Secretary of the union.

“Sequel to the adoption of the report by both the Committee and the leadership of ASUU-FUOYE, we hereby forward the report on the State of FUOYE: Matters Arising to the Pro-Chancellor and Chairperson of Governing Council of FUOYE as directed by the Congress of ASUU-FUOYE held on 11th May 2018 for necessary action,” they noted in the forward to the letter.

But the ASUU chief was axed for his action—suspended without pay—“no query was issued to me,” Omonijo said. This followed his invitation by the Investigation Panel constituted by the University’s Governing Council to investigate issues raised in the State of FUOYE, as directed by the Minister of Education.

The four-man panel was chaired by Sambo Inuwa, an engineer and external member of the university’s Governing Council—Fasina Sunday, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the university (whose matter is among those raised in the State of FUOYE Report) and Aganga A.A, a professor in the university are members of the party. L.A Ani, a lawyer was the secretary of the panel.

On 11th February 2019, Omonijo was summoned via a letter to appear before the panel for an interactive session with members of the panel to explain and defend his position as contained in the report. The panel was fixed to sit on Wednesday, February 13, 2019.

“They invited me for interaction session and within 24 hours of interaction I was suspended without pay,” he said. “The Council was told to investigate allegations in the petitions but they did another thing,” Omonijo added.

Meanwhile, investigations by The ICIR revealed that the suspended ASUU chairman and his members were initially invited to face the panel on January 23, 2019, but the ASUU group declined. According to Omonijo, FUOYE ASUU members “were invited in their personal capacities to appear before the panel,” and not as ASUU members and whereas the controversial report was done on behalf of ASUU, they argued.

“And we responded that we cannot be invited in our personal capacities because we worked for the Union and not for ourselves,” he added.

Some union members claimed the Council sent SMS that they must appear before the panel and they should know that the Council is their employer.

This, our Correspondent learned prompted the ASUU National Chairman to direct the branch body to seek the services of a lawyer to prepare a defence and submit to the panel.

The lawyer appeared before the Panel to submit the letter as required and to speak to the letter but the Panel did not allow him to talk, a union member who declined to be mentioned told The ICIR.

However, the Panel received the letter from him without acknowledgment; he also submitted the same at the VC’s office.

When Omonijo and his fellow unionists who produced the report with him eventually faced the panel on February 13, they were asked to provide the source(s) of attachments in the State of FUOYE report, a demand that was promptly turned down by them.

“I told them that we cannot disclose the source(s) of our information,” Omonijo said.

In what Omonijo described as an apparent move to stifle the union from exposing rots in the system, the panel also castigated him for addressing a press conference on October 4, 2018, where again the State of FUOYE was the subject matter.

While the press conference was addressed by Akure Zonal Coordinator of ASUU, and Chairperson of Ekiti State University (EKSU), Olu Olufayo, a professor, the panel insisted that it was Omonijo who pressurised him to address the press conference.

The panel also demanded evidence to show that ASUU National President gave approval to the zone to address a press conference on State of FUOYE.

While winding off the interaction, members of the panel told Omonijo that some members of the Executives of ASUU FUOYE disowned the report on the State of FUOYE and that some Committee members that prepared the report also denied it. The panel said there would be another round of investigation, but that never happened.

FUOYE Management’s claims laughable- ASUU Zonal Coordinator

Contrary to claim by the panel that FUOYE’s chapter of ASUU pressurised ASUU’s Zonal Coordinator to address the press conference on October 4, 2018, on the State of FUOYE, The ICIR confirmed that the branch actually got an approval. The leadership of the union also met with the Vice Chancellor of the university on two occasions before the compilation of the report to no avail, it was gathered.

The Zonal Coordinator of ASUU, Olu Olufayo maintained that Omonijo and his executive members were given the go-ahead to address the press on the state of FUOYE report. In a letter dated July 17, 2018, addressed to the National President of ASUU through the office of the Zonal Coordinator, Akure Zone, the FUOYE chapter of the union had requested for permission to address a press conference on the state of the university.

The letter was jointly signed by Omonijo and Akinsorotan Ademola, chairperson and acting secretary respectively. Ademola would later deny being part of the report, telling the panel that he was not in his right senses when he signed the document.

The Zonal Coordinator of ASUU described as laughable, claim by members of the Investigative Panel that he was pressurized to address the press. “In ASUU, the chairperson has no control over the Zonal Coordinator,” he said. “All the universities are under him and he gets instruction from the National President.”

Olufayo told The ICIR in an interview that “no chairperson can influence the decision of the Zonal Coordinator.” According to him, the management of the university has succeeded in cowing all its critics, including heads of departments and deans of faculties, all of whom, he insisted made inputs into the State of FUOYE report into silence.

“We have evidence to show that some of the HODs and Deans signed the documents and forms on the state of infrastructure in the university,” he said. “It sounds funny to me that those deans denied the report.”

And for his role in the raging crisis, Olufayo is also not in the good book of the university’s authorities. The Forum of Concerned Academics led by Sola Omotola, and spokesman, Wasiu Alli has passed a vote of no confidence in him. The Forum accused him of meddlesomeness in the affairs of FUOYE.

The union leader in his response urged the Federal Government and other relevant agencies to caution the FUOYE VC, Kayode Soremekun, over gross abuse of office.

Olufayo also alleged threats to the life of some members of the union by the VC and his cohorts. He lamented that Soremekun, who was accused of turning the institution to mafia community, resorted to violence, harassment, intimidation and other acts of impunity to repress the union.

An impending sack of Omonijo

Except a miracle happens, Omonijo may have been penciled down for a sack by the Governing Council of the university. His letter of suspension had stated that the action was pending the final determination by the appropriate organs of the university. But the tone of the message in his suspension letter that he has been suspended without pay forecloses any possibility of a fair hearing.

A top management staff of the University who would not want his name mentioned in this report confided in The ICIR that “the management had threatened to sack the embattled ASUU chairman when the panel report is presented at the next Governing Council meeting.” The only way for him to escape the dangling axe of the sack is to tender an apology to the University Vice-Chancellor.

“A member of the panel wants him to send an apology letter to the VC,” the staff said.

No Vice Chancellor can gag us— ASUU president, Biodun Ogunyemi

National President of ASUU, Biodun Ogunyemi.

There may be no end in sight yet to the crisis. President of ASUU, Biodun Ogunyemi, said his members and indeed the union cannot be gagged by any government or a Vice Chancellor as the management of FUOYE has attempted to do.  Ogunyemi’s ASUU’s is quite not nonchalant about happenings at the ivory tower.

“No VC can tell ASUU when to speak, no government can gag ASUU either at the local or national level,” Ogunyemi, who personally submitted the State of FUOYE report to the Governing Council of the University and the Minister of Education said.

“The VC and members of his team can see what they are trying to do at that university. They want to gag the ASUU, they want to suppress critical unionism but our members know that that will not be in their interest. Our members know that submitting to intimidation, oppression, and subjugation is not going to be in their overall interest.”

As would be expected, the academic union seems poised for a showdown with the university’s management. Ogunyemi warned that “A word is enough for the wise,”— that the union is monitoring closely what is happening at FUOYE.

“We are advising the administration, particularly the Vice Chancellor to reverse themselves and follow the part of righteousness and it is very simple, a university governed by law and an administration that thinks it can suppress us or subvert the law, in the long term, nemesis always catches up with them.”

For him, the argument by the management that the union in the university did not exhaust all the internal mechanisms to resolve the problem was a way to gag critics. “It is a way of gaging people and ASUU as a union, we don’t encourage that.  We don’t encourage any university administration to gag our members,” he said.

He insisted that the union has the right to raise the alarm whenever it observes that the university is not run well.  According to him, “If people say they have seen what is wrong and they have their evidence, we can’t stop them from saying it the way they see it. That’s the first principle.”

On Omonijo’s suspension without salary, Ogunyemi faulted the university’s management arguing that due process was not followed at arriving at such decision. He vowed that at the appropriate time “that matter will be fully addressed.”

He opined that such suspension without salary has sealed the fate of the person involved whereas the suspension created an impression that the matter would be further decided.

“In any university system, you don’t suspend somebody and you say no salary. You have conclusively determined the fate of that person because the essence of suspension, as they are saying, is to enable them to exhaust the processes involved in determining the case.

“The assumption again is that the matter is not foreclosed but if you say you suspend me and you stop my salary whereas the law says I’m entitled to the half of my salary. It is symptomatic of not just an act of dictatorship but it is an act of impunity; nothing will happen and that is what we are beginning to see at the Federal University Oye-Ekiti,” he said.

An insider within the university told our Correspondent that the Vice Chancellor has been advised to reach out to the National leadership of ASUU on the crises. But it is not clear if the VC will heed the advice before the matter gets worse.

FUOYE Management’s defence

When contacted for reaction, Godfrey Baji, the Public Relations Officer of the university defended the actions of the university’s management. He specifically presented a document issued by the Forum of Concerned Academics of FUOYE as the position of the university’s authorities on the crises. The Forum is led by Shola Omotola, a professor and Dean of Faculty of Science.

According to him, the document was a text of a press conference addressed recently by Omotola in response to what he described as ‘falsehood and blackmail being peddled by the union against the management of the university. The Forum alleged the branch and zonal leadership of ASUU of an evil plot to destabilise the university and to keep benefiting from the crisis.

The management of FUOYE, Omotola said, viewed the press conference of Wednesday, October 4, 2018, by the Zonal Executives of ASUU under the leadership of Olufayo as an agenda”utterly aimed at destroying, if not kill, our university.” “Everything about the press conference was wrong,” he said.

He argued that the union did not authorise the conference while the contents of the press conference ‘were entirely almost unfounded,’ except for the question of staff and infrastructural deficits, which Omotola said is not peculiar to FUOYE.

In the document, he explained that the crises rocking the university had their roots in what he described as “the convoluted manner in which the last branch election was hijacked by the zonal executive and a local cabal to ensure a predetermined outcome.”

Speaking on the suspended ASUU chairperson, Omotola said the Forum had earlier pointed out that Omonijo was running the union like a  ‘cult’ or his personal estate. “Yes Omonijo has been suspended without pay and deservedly so,” Omotola told the press conference. He said his failure to defend himself before the panel about his role in the press conference and inability to disclose sources of all the information released to the public earned him the suspension.

This investigation is supported with funding from the Ford Foundation.

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