Education

College workers, govt at war over 11-month salary, status

CRISIS

 

The crisis rocking the conversion of College of Education, Ekiadolor in Edo State to Tayo Akpata University is yet to abate as the workers and pensioners are on a warpath with the state government over nonpayment of their 11-month salary, pension, gratuity, and lack of clear-cut status of staff

 

˜Edo govt: Staff redeployed to 3 campuses of college

 

˜Unions: Protests will continue until our demands are met

 

The conversion of the College of Education, Ekiadolor by Edo State Government in 2026 to a university of education, was expected to boost production of quality teachers, enhance teaching profession and learning standard, as well as foster the overall education development of the state.

 

But, five years after the conversion, rather than being a blessing, it has today turned out to bring a source of worry to the stakeholders. In the last few years, the workers and the state government had been at loggerheads for what the various workers’ unions described as lack of clear-cut clarifications of status of staff under the new arrangement, as well as the refusal of the government to pay their 11-month salary, pension and gratuity.

 

The development has since continued to generate protracted crisis and protests by the workers, who under their Joint Action Committee (JAC) of teaching and non-teaching staff unions accused the state governmentled by Governor Godwin Obaseki of insensitivity to their plight.

 

Established in 1979 by the Second Republic Governor of the state, the late Prof. Ambrose Alli, the college located at Ekiadolor in Ovia North-East Local Government Area, was in 2016 converted to Tayo Akpata University by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole’s administration.

 

The conversion and take-off of the University of Education in line with the policy framework set by the then government, was seen as a political gimmick and meandering, given the financial position of the state government to fund the state-owned institutions.

 

In view of this, the excitement that greeted the conversion by the man-  agement, staff and students as well as the college host communities was short-lived and the dream of realising the new university has since been incapacitated as the situation at the college and the university had remained that of uncertainty.

 

So far, the lull that pervaded the academic environment opened a floodgate of frosty relationship between the Oshiomhole- led government and workers of the college due to irreconcilable pending issues bothering on the welfare and fate of staff.

 

Oshiomhole’s administration was said to have promised to lift the deplorable condition of the college to a world class institution, but the expectations of rescuing it from the woods of a seemingly glorified secondary school, was however deemed as the host communities, students and workers bemoaned the neglect of the college and university.

 

While the conversion of the college was halted halfway, the Comrade Oshiomhole established the Edo University, which is located at Iyamho, his community, while the Tayo Akpata University has remained a dream yet to come true.

 

Worried by the development, members of the community, the various staff unions and students of the college had continued to stage series of protests to the Government House and the state House of Assembly over the poor state of the college, urging the state government to take urgent steps to return the college to its former status and restore back normal academic activities to the institution.

 

Apart from the dilapidated structures and facilities that adorned the campus, which has been overgrown by weeds, the  workers, who have continued to cry out over their fate and their unpaid 11 months salary arrears and pension of pensioners, whom many of them were said to have died due to lack of income, are also lamenting under excruciating pains of non-payment of their pensions and gratuities.

 

The non-payment of the almost one year arrears of salary, however, sparked off face-off and confusion among the staff, who blamed Obaseki’s administration for the failed negotiations of their fate and status about whether they are lecturers or workers of the old College of Education, or that of Tayo Akpata University College of Education or the yet to take off new Federal College of Education.

 

The lecturers, under their umbrella union, the College of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU), Ekiadolor chapter and other workers, who frowned over what they described lies against them by the state government that they refused to resume work at the Abudu campus of the college, for two days last week trooped to the streets.

 

They further argued and challenged the state government that if the government really redeployed them to other campuses of the college, as claimed there should be official letters to that effect.

 

The protesting workers, who described the government’s action as “gross insensitivity” to their plight, called on the state government, to as a matter of urgency and necessity, settle their outstanding 11 months arrears of salaries, pensions and gratuities, running to about N1 billion.

 

Piqued by the government’s action, the embattled workers and pensioners, led by the COEASU Chairman, Comrade Fred Omonuwa, dressed in black in their hundreds protested to the Government House, the House of Assembly and the Secretariat complex of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), demanding immediate payment of their accumulated salary arrears.

 

The workers, who carried placards of various inscriptions, threatened to continue the protests until their demands are met since no one addressed at the Government House, even as Omonuwa vowed that the workers would not be deterred or allowed to be blackmailed for demanding their rights.

 

“For some time now, after the Head of Service (HoS) advised us to sheathe our swords over the issue, we have tried to meet the governor to no avail.

 

 

Thus, the union during one of its congresses resolved to embark on peaceful protests to demand for their right. We spent a couple of hours at the Government House but nobody addressed us. We believe that a labourer is worthy of his pay and we are going to continue on this path until all our demands are met,” he noted. Omonuwa, however, condemned the state government for linking the protests to politics, adding that “this is mere blackmail.”

 

He added: “Nobody has addressed us; rather what we heard from the

 

Commissioner for Education on television was that we are not members of staff of the college and that the protests were politically motivated.

 

The government also alleged that we had since stopped working and that we were redeployed to Igueben campus, but that we refused.

 

“You can see the deceit. The protest will continue because the government has not been able to meet our demands. We have been on this issue for some time now, and until our demands are met we will not give up. “On our redeployment to Igueben campus, there should be letters to that effect. But, is it possible for the government to deploy its workers and they will say they are not going? This is all tissues of lies, but in any case if they said they redeployed us, they should pay the pensioners.

 

The government is merely lying and these lies will not be sustained because we are going to demand our rights and pursue the payment of our salaries.” Also, on the issue of subvention, the union leader recalled that since the state government stopped admissions into the college, there was no means in which the college could generate income/Internally Generated Revenue to augment workers’ salaries.

 

“The state government only released N65 million, out of about N99 million required by the management to pay salaries as subvention, but from where are they expecting the college to get the balance of over N30 million?

 

Omonuwa further explained that the state government at a time wrote a letter to the college that it owed the workers 15 months’ salary, of which the government promised to pay five months, but it only paid three months’ salary, and had since stopped the release of subvention to the college.

 

He stressed: “We never at any time said we do not want to work as government civil servants since we were duly employed. If the government is having any issue concerning the status of the college they should notify the staff; we have not been notified as we are left in the dark.

 

“The amount required monthly to pay the workers’ salary is about N91 million and for the 11 months’ arrears, the salary is about N1 billion including pension, aside gratuity of the workers.” The COEASU chair, therefore,

 

urged the state government to address the workers’ demands without further delay, threatening that in the next phase of their protest they would bring out all the sick workers and pensioners in their stretchers as well as those on hospital beds for the world to see the horrible experiences the workers of the college have been passing through.”

 

Meanwhile, the Federal Government, as part of moves to boost Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) in the country, early this year, approved the establishment of a new Federal College of Education in Edo State, which the state government has since located at the Tayo Akpata University of Education.

 

For the smooth take-off of the new federal institution, Governor Obaseki, during an inspection tour of the ongoing construction projects at the university, where the new federal college would be sited, said the institution would specialise in training of TVET teachers, to complement his administration’s vision for technical education.

 

The governor told the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, that the move to convert the College of Education, Ekiadolor to Tayo Akpata University on the same location had become impossible due to budget constraints, adding that Edo State is already blessed with two state-owned universities and seven private universities.

 

According to him, it would, therefore, be imprudent on the part of the state government to establish or consider the establishment of another state-owned university. But, the state government, in its reaction, described the protest as politically motivated by some political elements that were bent on derailing the developmental strides of the state government. The state Commissioner for Education, Mr. Jimoh Ijegbai, in a chat with journalists, however, denied the claim by the protesters, stating that not only had the arrears of salaries owed the workers by the previous administrations cleared by the present administration; the workers were being paid even while they were not working. He traced the genesis of the workers’ agitations to the policies of former Governor Adams Oshiomhole, whom he allegedly converted the college to Tayo Akpata University without a clear-cut direction on management and the welfare of the workers. Ijegbai said: “In 2015, the then Governor of the state, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole announced the phasing out of the College of Education in Ekiadolor and to be converted to Tayo Akpata University, Ekiadolor. Before then, Comrade Oshiomhole had put in place a policy which tasked state-owned tertiary institutions to generate 35 per cent of the staff salaries, while the state government would contribute the remaining 65 per cent. At the end of that administration, the government owed the college six months’ salary arrears.”

 

Also, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Legislative Matters and former Speaker of the state House Assembly, Hon. Kabiru Adjoto, who met the protesting workers last week, pleaded for more understanding and patience with the government, even as he assured them that the state government would look into their plight within three days (beginning from last Friday and Sunday), failure which he added that they can continue with their protests.

 

Similarly, the Chairman of the Senior Staff Union of Colleges of Education (SSUCOE), Edo State chapter, Mr. Ken Omoruyu, recalled that the union had written several letters to the government seeking clarifications on numerous issues that bothered on the status of the college and fate of the workers.

 

“We want to know if we are still College of Education or Tayo Akpata University of Education; and was the institution captured in the last Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME),” he queried.

 

COAESU, however, claimed that over 60 per cent of their members are already holders of PhDs, which qualified them to be absorbed into the university or the new Federal College of Education as lecturers.

 

To reposition the state’s education sector, the administration of Governor Godwin Obaseki has taken bold steps in injecting a new blood into the system through the introduction of the EDOBEST with the thrust of defining the sector to meet global standards and giving meaning to the future generations through competitive reading, writing and learning skills, as well as provision digital facilities as a total departure for the old order.

 

Part of the governor’s innovations in the education sector include the training and retraining of primary and secondary school teachers in the use of digital teaching aids in line with global practices in promoting teaching, learning and skills development in the system.

 

The administration, which embarked on massive construction of new schools and renovation of existing schools across the state, established a world-class Edo Technical and Science College, located in Benin, the state capital, to boost quality technical education towards improving technical education development, as well as standard of teaching and learning under the government’s reformation policy of schools.

 

Last year, Governor Obaseki unfolded plans to restructure the state’s tertiary education for the training of teachers with competencies in different knowledge and skill areas, especially basic and technical education to bridge skill gaps among graduates and youths in the state.

 

In the plan, the state, according to the governor, was to kick off the Tayo Akpata University of Education, Ekiadolor, as well as upgrade the College of Education as multi-campuses institution with campuses at Igueben, Abudu and Auchi respectively.

 

However, on the fate of staff of the college, Obaseki said: “Since the staffers are workers of the state government, they would be redeployed to the three campuses of the state College of Education once his administration finalised the bill establishing the institution, which is currently before the state House of Assembly.”

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