It sounds thorny that Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State who prosecutes his governorship mandate on job creation premise could scrap entire College of Agriculture, redeployed 261 students of the college as much as sacking the school's 231 strong workforce in one fell-swoop, nearly four decades after the institution's establishment. But the devil in the kitchen remains thus: at what point did job creation, productivity and quality education meet?
The state government in a letter signed by the state commissioner for agriculture and natural resources, Monday Osaigbovo, and dated May 25, 2018 to all the staff announced the termination of their appointments. The letter entitled, “Restructuring of the College of Agriculture, Iguoriakhi,” the commissioner said, following the restructuring of the college and subsequent closure, government has decided to terminate their services with effect from January 31, 2018.
“I am directed to refer to the above mentioned subject and to inform you that following the restructuring of the college of Agriculture, Iguoriakhi and its subsequent closure, government has decided that your services are no longer required with effect from 31st January, 2018,’’ the letter read. “You are requested to handover all government properties in your possession to the permanent secretary, ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources immediately.
Furthermore, I am to add that in line with your terms of engagement, your cheque for January 2018, monthly Bursary with one month in lieu of notice is herewith attached”, it concluded. The staff, while in a protest march to the palace of the Oba of Benin, insisted that their sack did not follow due process. They said more than four hundred staff that are in the nominal pay roll of the institution including the provost were also affected. The staff also dropped a copy of their protest letter entitled, “Special Letter For Your Intervention Into The Massive Sack of All Staff of Edo State College of Agriculture, Iguoriakhi,” in the state House of Assembly for onward transmission to the speaker of the house, Kabiru Adjoto.
They reiterated that there was no consultation with staff of the institution on the restructuring process neither was there any option of redeployment of staff to other ministry or institution before the massive sack letters were issued to them. “There was no due process followed by the governor in relieving us of our duties as permanent or confirmed staff in public service and this contravenes the provisions of the public service rules.
By record of service, majority of the staff had put up to a minimum of 10 years in service while others have put in almost 20 years and since the governor visited the school on August 7, 2017 and its subsequent temporary closure till date, there is no evidence of any form of infrastructure or administrative restructuring by the governor as against the six months he promised during his visit.”
However, a visit to the institution has shown that the college has been ran aground with a traumatic history of not achieving/actualising the purpose for which it was established, 37-year down the road. For the record, the institution was established by the civilian administration of late Ambrose Ali in 1981.
But the school was later shot down by the successive military governors and was only reopened by the Lucky Igbinedion administration in 2001. From the foregoing, it's obvious the college has suffered criminal neglect or outright abandonment by a generation of self-imposed leadership that are bereaved of the value of education without arresting the college's banal fate of churning out half baked graduates, year in year out.
It's heartrending that a critical institution such as College Agriculture saddled with the responsibility of offering Ordinary Diploma and Higher National Diploma in Agricultural Technology, Animal Science, Crop Science, Agricultural Extension and Management failed to meet her obligatory role to ensure food sufficiency in every material respect. But for the temporary closure of the college on August, 2017 by Governor Obaseki with a promise to revamp it, nothing of note has been heard about the college.
But the legal counsel to the sacked staff members of the college, Hon. (Bar) West Idahosa debunked the claims that the institution in shambles and decrepit state. He avered that since inception in 1981, the school finally entered its golden era about 2014 under the leadership of Dr. Obasogie as the Provost. He stated that the school has never been de-accredited, rather the school has gained ascendancy and it's on the upsurge.
"The school’s courses have been further recognized by the National Board for Technical Education ( NBTE) which elevated the school to HND awarding institution in 2014. The college graduates became eligible to participate in NYSC scheme in 2015.
The college got the recognition of the FGN in 2015 by designating it as one of the centers for training ex-Niger Delta militants for the AMNESTY PROGRAM and many such students are currently enrolled there. The college gained the recognition of NDDC which sent tractors and mobile workshops to the college in 2014/15.
"The staff strength of the college is 300 plus. The breakdown; Academic staff constitute nearly 40%, Registry staff constitute nearly 10%, Farm Laborers constitute the rest. The students are over 300 plus. It must be further pointed out that the college is a Monotechnic and only Agric is taught there. Many students were not interested in Agric until lately when FGN prioritized it.
"Some final year students were sent on IT to NIFOR, Okomu etc for 20,000 per month. Not a single month has been paid. The students are final year students who should have completed their exams by now. IT is usually made for those who have just completed their first year.
"Note that the farm produce from the school’s well established farm were looted by officials of the Ministry of Agric following the illegal closure. They also carted away tractors, mobile workshop and vandalized the machinery in the Farms. The police is aware of this.
"It is not correct that the staff if the college were paid off the amount they owed them. After aggrieved stakeholders went to court, the Ministry of Agric invited invited the staff for discussions. Only about 39 went there and they were deceitfully paid for April 2018 and another one month’s salary in lieu of Notice. Those who accepted were given letters that their services were no longer required. This was done subjudice while the substantive suit was pending. The suit has been adjourned to 28th June, 2018 at the National Industrial Court Akure", Dr. West said.
Like a house devided against itself, twenty eight members of staff of the college who were illegally sacked two years ago by the institution's management wrote and commended Governor Obaseki for scrapping the institution to revamp it in the interest of quality education and productive output".
Speaking with me on the crisis plaguing to college, Comrade Osawemwemze Osaro a former registrar and a victim of the sacked management of the college said: "We applaud Government for paying the salary arrears of the 28 workers who were victims of Management's high-handedness. Also, we laud Government's current efforts at revamping the College. However, rather than the legal option, I humbly, but strongly, advise that all stakeholders appeal to His Excellency's good reason and sound judgement on the fate of the sacked workers. More importantly, the one who has repeatedly been indicted in crises rocking the College should be sanctioned. The College has been a mess for a long time.
"Every successive headship of the College has always expropriated the institution. It's been particularly worse in recent years, owing to greed, incompetence, inexperience, among others. Ours was a public institution that was ran like a private enterprise, an unorganised one for that matter. Some of the beneficiares of the rotteness are now crying foul. Efforts should be doubled to see to the successful conclusion of bequeathing to us a model institution", Osaro said.
The Secretary to the Edo State Government, Osarodion Ogie Esq. also perforates the claims made by Dr. Idahosa, saying the institution was shut down because it was not worthy of being a school of agriculture due to its poor standard.
“Edo State shut down the school to enable the governor to invest money in it and bring it up to standard. The state will revamp the school holistically so that the graduates will be employable anywhere in the world.” The SSG hinted that everything that is required to turn the institution around is being rapidly worked out by a selected seasoned professors of agriculture from across the country to chart the structures and curriculum for a modern College of Agriculture.
Mr. Ogie said the State Government is in talk with Okomu Oil Palm Company Plc., Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR) and PRESCO Plc., to join hands with the government to revamp the school, help train students and provide them with employment.
He further stated that starting from this month, "we will providing N20,000 allowance N20,000 to the 261 students whom the government has sent to the above farms for industrial training".
It's clear from my findings that the derailment of the once enviable college began to falter from the core mandate when the institution's management ethicized and appropriated the college for self motives at the detriment of the workers and students alike.
The kernel of the matter however remains that until government prioritizes quality education over and political patronage and unwarranted settlement for the "Boys", poor education and outright stagnation will continue to envelope that.
Governor Godwin need to be encouraged to clean the Augean stable and obvious rot and inanities in the public institutions across the state because no nation can be greater than the sum total of her own teachers.
Ikhide writes from Lagos
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