The management of the Ekiti State University (EKSU) has refused to obey the ruling of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria in Akure, Ondo State, calling for the reinstatement of over a hundred academic and non-academic staff dismissed from work in December 2019.
Instead, the university filed a case for ‘leave of appeal” and “an order for stay of execution” at the Ado-Ekiti Division of the Appeal Court and at the Akure Division of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria.
The affected workers in EKSU cut across members of the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities and Associated Institutions (NASU), Senior Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) and Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
Out of the over 1000 disengaged workers at the same time, 32 workers of NAAT, 86 NASU/SSANU and others among ASUU approached the court with the conviction that their job termination was “politically-motivated”.
CONTROVERSIAL STAFF DOWNSIZING
After assuming office in 2019, Professor Edward Olanipekun, the Vice-Chancellor of EKSU, invited an external firm, Devtage Ltd, to audit the institution’s finances and its workforce.
The intention was to downsize the workforce and lay off staff with certificate forgery, irregular appointment, overage and other sundry allegations. The institution ended up terminating the appointment of staff who were employed under due process as well.
In early January 2020, a total of 363 staff were reinstated following their appeal before the Bamitale Omole-led Governing Council but the rest of the dismissed staff are yet to get justice.
When the case of these aggrieved members was heard before the Ekiti State House of Assembly in November 2020, there was a controversy among the major players: Akin Arogundade, the school registrar; Professor Samuel Oye Bandele, the former Vice Chancellor and the current Vice Chancellor.
The registrar said he was not aware of the request made by the former VC to the Governing Council to recruit more staff in the school but Omole said otherwise.
The current VC also defended his decision to dismiss some staff, giving financial incapability as the reason. He however agreed to recall some of them if the state government could increase EKSU’s subvention.
The Funminiyi Afuye-led House of Assembly promisd that the legislature would make the recommendation to Kayode Fayemi, the state Governor.
But, according to a source within the school, the dismissal was because of a clash of interests between the former VC and the Governing Council.
“The Governing Council felt sidelined about the recruitment because their list was not part of the people recruited in 2016,” the source said.
“When they brought their list to the VC in 2017, they said they were not aware of recruitment done last October.”
FIJ confirmed that only the staff who commenced work in 2016 were laid off. Newer staff from 2017 up till date were spared from the recommendations of the audit firm.
PANGS OF UNJUST DISMISSAL
The five-member family of Joshua Ogundipe, the leader of the dismissed NAAT members, suffered a major setback following the man’s dismissal.
The mechanical engineer now follows bricklayers to site as a labourer in order to make ends meet.
His wife, a private school teacher, also had no monthly income for well over six months last year because the schools were closed owing to the Coronavirus lockdown.
He briefly lamented his experience, saying: “It has just been tough.
“Do you know what it takes for a man to lose his livelihood and depend on the wife who works in a private school?”
The job loss didn’t meet Blessing Adejoro well too. He was handed the dismissal letter exactly 19 days after his first childbirth.
It was the greatest shock of his life because he had just been promoted two months earlier. More so, the reason attributed for his disengagement as ‘irregular appointment’ bothered him greatly.
“How will you dismiss people you recently promoted?” he queried.
“We went through all due processes, did standardized tests and passed our interview and were subsequently confirmed as staff of the university. There’s nothing irregular in our appointment.”
While these ones are still alive to share their experiences and challenge their dismissal in court, the 38-year-old Tope Olaiya who was the leader of the dismissed NASU/SSANU members back then, died of high blood pressure on August 18, 2020. And it was a few days before his wife was put to bed.
This reporter was discouraged from speaking with the deceased wife so as not to revisit the sad memories.
“He died of overthinking because he had a wife who was heavily pregnant at the time. He never imagined himself to be sacked anytime soon,” Adejoro, his deputy, told FIJ.
Adejoro, who lost his car due to economic hardship, said: “My car was stolen overnight because I didn’t pack inside my house.
“When I had my job, I could afford up to N3000 fuel and more in my car but shortly after the job loss, I couldn’t afford it.
“That fateful night, fuel finished in my car on the road. Before I could get back there the next day, my car had been stolen.”
On December 15, 2020, the National Industrial Court ruled that the university should immediately reinstate the dismissed NASU members who first challenged their dismissal. The court also awarded damages of N10 million in favor of the dismissed staff as well as the payment of their three months arrears.
The university management challenged this judgment and filed a case at the Akure Division of the Court of Appeal. On February 10, 2021, when the case was to be heard, their lawyer was absent.
The court issued ‘proof of service’ to compel the school’s lawyer to be present at the next hearing. The judge subsequently adjourned the case till March 18, 2021.
Perebo Pesta Monde, the claimants’ lawyer, expressed hope about his clients getting justice at the end.
“Although, we cannot determine the length of a case in court, I believe we stand a chance to get justice.
“There is a judgment on ground from the Industrial Court that my clients were unlawfully disengaged and they should be reinstated. Up till today, the judgement has not been set aside. So, I am convinced that victory is assured.”
When Bode Olofinmuagun, the Head of the Directorate of Information and Corporate Affairs of the university, was contacted, he said: “The school has filed an appeal against the ruling of the industrial court. The school will take appropriate action after the appeal court has presided over the case.”
Bode evaded questions on allegations of a bloated staff at the university.
Members of NASU/SSANU, such as NAAT, were also favoured at the industrial court but the school challenged it while ASUU members who independently approached the same court are awaiting still their judgment.
“The school knows they don’t have a case because the dismissal was illegal. So, victory is sure,” Oluwakemi Aluko, a dismissed lecturer from the Department of Geography, said.
Be the first to receive special investigative reports and features in your inbox.