Fred Omonuwa, the Chairman of the College of Education, Ekiadolor, Edo State chapter of the College of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU), in this interview, speaks with CAJETAN MMUTA, about the plight of members of the union and other staff of the institution, insensitivity of Governor Godwin Obaseki-led government to their welfare, and other issues
What is the reaction of COEASU to the state government’s decision to site the newly approved Federal College of Education at the Tayo Akpata University College of Education, formerly Ekiadolor College of Education?
Well, first and foremost, let me thank the Federal Government for bringing the new Federal College of Education to Edo State and the state Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki for deeming it fit to locate it at Ekiadolor. When we heard the news, as lecturers we were very happy. Now, our hope is that the lecturers should be retained in the system to lecture in the college.
Let me say here also that since more than 60 per cent of the lecturers are PhD holders, and over 80 per cent are Masters’ Degree holders, they should be absorbed into the system. They are eminently qualified to lecture at the new Federal College of Education. Thus, our belief is that the management of the new college will consider and accept us as federal staff or workers so that we can cross over and be absorbed as pioneer staff. In fact, that is like killing several birds with one stone.
Like you are already aware that the Edo State Government presently owed us about 10 months’ salary arrears, and the payment of the outstanding salary is sacrosanct. And again, we believe strongly also that when the Federal Government finally takes over the college, we won’t be experiencing this issue of lack of payment any longer.
Do you support the relocation of workers of Ekiadolor College of Education to other campuses at Abudu and Igueben?
First of all, with that decision, the state government has now accepted the fact that the workers are state employees. However, we learnt that the government is paying other state workers, but our concern is why they have refused to pay us.
Of course, going by the governor’s recent pronouncement, he has finally accepted that we are state workers, but still we have not been paid for about 10 months.
Yes, on the issue of multi-campuses that the governor talked about that the workers are going to be deployed to other campuses the government is establishing at Abudu, Afuze and Igueben, that is the state government’s policy.
Well, let me say here also that we are willing to work anywhere, even in the new federal college of education, if they are ready to take us since we are all qualified. Again, if the government says they want to take us to other campuses, we are also ready to work there. We cannot quarrel with the state government on that, but what is sacrosanct like I have continued to mention, is the payment of all our outstanding salaries.
The staff members are becoming restive and they are no longer comfortable, particularly with the non-payment of the workers for 10 months. You know what that means?
Though the issue of the multi-campuses has been there for some time, we still do not want to talk much about that now because we have some reservations about that plan.
What is your take on the state government’s policy on the multi-campus system in running the College of Education?
Well, like I said earlier we do not want to talk about that now because I can’t understand the rationale. The governor said the state could not foot the bills and you are coming up with a multi-campus system. Yes, it is still one institution, but why do they want to develop three different campuses. We won’t dispute what the government wants to do, but we think that the government might be making another serious mistake. They have not been able to properly fund the existing institutions. The College of Education, Igueben is there, and Ambrose Alli University, among other state-owned institutions, and now the same government is contemplating bringing in extra three campuses. Like you and I know, they have to develop these campuses; they have to build the new structures and provide more facilities as well as learning resources, because they are higher institutions in their own right.
Is the union considering negotiating with the state government for absorption into the new federal college of education, which is about to take off?
Yes, we didn’t expect that they would just come and treat us the way they wanted, we expect them to call us to a round-table for meaningful discussion so that there won’t be ground for rancour, otherwise there will be confusion in the system. The decision of the government shouldn’t just be in fiat. They must sit down and look critically at the issues bothering on the welfare of the lecturers and other categories of workers. The Federal Government needs to look at the various issues dispassionately; and how they can fit in with a view to resolving all outstanding issues with the Edo State Government on the college.
How ready are the lecturers and other workers’ unions to effectively key into the set standards of a federal institution such as this?
As an academic staff and union leader, like other staff we have attended a series of conferences, seminars and human capital development training within and outside the country. Like I mentioned earlier, we have more than 60 per cent PhD holders and over 80 per cent Masters’ Degree holders now in the college. We are much more qualified compared to what obtains in some universities in the country in particular.
Again, the majority of the PhD holders were sponsored by Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), a federal government’s agency. So, these lecturers are eminently qualified to lecture at the Federal College of Education and any university in the country.
On the welfare of the lecturers and other staff members, what has been the relationship between the state government and the workers of the college?
Let me say without any fear of contradiction that the governor and the entire Edo State Government have abandoned us. If they did not abandon us why has the Governor/the Moderator and Proprietor of the college not paid us for over 10 months? That is the issue; there is a problem and we have interfaced with the governor several times through writings and meetings. It is not as if he is not aware of our plight. As workers, we are not happy with the situation. The reason the state government is not paying us is what we do not understand in the whole essence.
The last time we met the state government, the governor told us that there was an arrangement by the management of the college for the state government to bring 65 per cent as subvention, while the college will provide and add 35 percent through the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). But, the college makes its major IGR through school fees and for some time now there has not been any admission of new students and the governor is aware of this.
The governor then promised to pay some months of salary, but which he never did and the salary arrears have accumulated to 10 months of unpaid salary. Some of the workers have resorted to cab driving to eke out a living, while others have gone back to their villages to farm.
Again, you should not forget one thing; these are PhD holders and they have families and children, and now they cannot afford to pay their children’s school fees. That is how bad they have been living and they could no longer cope.