By Ihuoma Chiedozie
Michael James (not real name) went for thanksgiving in church when he got a job as an Assistant Lecturer with the Enugu State University of Technology, in May, 2015.
The offer letter stated that it was a temporary appointment, but then, as James explained in an encounter with SATURDAY PUNCH in Enugu, employment as a lecturer in the university usually commences as a one-year temporary engagement, after which it would become permanent following a verification and regularisation exercise.
Parts of the appointment letter, which came in May 2015, but back-dated to February 27, 2015, reads, “OFFER OF TEMPORARY APPOINTMENT: This is to inform you that the Vice Chancellor has approved that you be appointed and you are hereby offered temporary appointment as Assistant Lecturer on CONUASS 02 Step 1 in the department of… Enugu State University of Science and Technology. It will be for a period of one year, calculated from the day you assume duty. During this period, you will be formally assessed for regular appointment and proper placing by the appropriate committee of the university.”
The letter, which was signed by the then Registrar, Barrister Chris C. Igbokwe, advised the recipient to complete and sign an enclosed acceptance form, and return same with a medical report of fitness from a recognised government doctor, if the appointment was accepted.
James was just one of the 153 lecturers that received, and accepted such appointment letter.
According to him, lecturing had been his dream job and his joy knew no bounds when he received the offer. He promptly resigned his comfortable job with a private firm in Lagos and relocated to Enugu to resume as a lecturer in ESUT. But not before going for the thanksgiving in his church.
“I went for thanksgiving – I gave testimony in church that God gave me my dream job. My mother also went for thanksgiving,” James said.
But James’s joy did not last. Six months into the job, James and his colleagues were sacked!
The sack letter, which came in November 2015, but back-dated to October 23, 2015, read in part, “RE: OFFER OF TEMPORARY APPOINTMENT: With reference to our letter Ref. Number ESUT/R/G/17 & 18 on the above subject matter, I am directed to inform you and you are hereby informed that the University is presently not positioned to employ you.
“You should, therefore, hand over any University property in your possession to the Head of Department. “If, however, your services are required in the future by the University, you will be informed accordingly.”
The letter was signed by Leonard O. Khama, the new Registrar. According to James, the development came to the 153 lecturers as a shock.
It was even more shocking as the new lecturers were still waiting for the outcome of a verification and regularisation exercise, which they were made to undertake in September and October 2015, barely a month before they were disengaged.
“We were asked to come for verification in September 2015 – we came with all our certificates and credentials.
“We were waiting for the outcome and in October 2015, they invited us for regularisation interview. We spent four days on that exercise – we had written exams, practical exams and oral interviews. “The Vice-Chancellor interviewed everybody.
“At the end of the day, we did not get any result,” James explained.
He was equally miffed at the manner in which the university authorities dispensed the sack letters.
James noted that none of the affected lecturers had an inkling of what was in the offing.
“It was on November 11, 2015 that the letters started circulating.
“I got mine after rounding off a lecture – I was greeting the HOD’s secretary on my way out when she told me that I had a letter with her.
“I collected it innocently, only to open it and behold, it was a disengagement letter,” he added.
He explained that the concerned lecturers were not paid for the six months that they worked before they were relieved of their jobs.
However, shortly before the meeting with our correspondent, it was announced that the Enugu State Government would pay the lecturers for the duration they worked. But, to James and his colleagues, that is not enough.
James, who was unwilling to disclose his true identity over fears of possible victimisation, said the sacked lecturers had suffered a lot of inconveniences that cannot be adequately redressed by the payment of outstanding salaries.
He said, “Is paying off our salary arrears enough to settle everything? Many of us resigned jobs, relocated families, paid house rent for new accommodation in Enugu, put our children in new schools, and so on and so forth, only for the job to be terminated just after six months.
“Some of the students we taught have gone for the National Youth Service Scheme – we taught, conducted and marked scripts. So they can’t say our job was not relevant, or that our services are not needed.
“If they say they want to pay us now, are they paying for damages? I applied to ESUT four times previously before I was offered appointment as a lecturer. For me, it was a dream job and I resigned my old job. Now six months into the dream job, they are asking me to go – will they give me back my old job?” a bitter James added.
Interestingly, James and his fellow disengaged ESUT lecturers believe they were simply used and dumped.
According to him, they were employed in order to enable the university secure accreditation for some courses from the National Universities Commission.
It was learnt that the 153 lecturers were disengaged just after the university succeeded in getting the accreditation.
One of the sacked lecturers, who also spoke with our correspondent in company with James, said their employment and sack was nothing other than “use and dump”.
“We were just used and dumped. We were used to obtain accreditation from the NUC and when they succeeded in getting accreditation, we were asked to go. “The entire affair is fraudulent. “We were just used to address the shortage of staff in ESUT, which was a challenge in getting the needed accreditation from the NUC.
“We came in and filled the vacuum in classes, we discharged our duties – lecturing, invigilating during examinations, marking of quiz and examinations scripts, preparation of results, among others.
“Most importantly, we played vital roles in the June 2015 accreditation exercise.
“At the end of the day, we are being rewarded with sack – this is most unfair,” the sacked lecturer, who pleaded not to be named, said.
It was equally learnt that shortage of staff was among the reasons the university was denied accreditation for some courses by the NUC on a number of occasions in the past.
Explaining further, James said, “They only employed us because they were looking for accreditation for some departments – from what we gathered, during the administration of the former Vice Chancellor, Prof. Cyprian Onyeji, it was found that the university needed about 300 more academic staff in order to get full accreditation.
“Then, out of 55 departments, 39 did not have accreditation.
“The former administration in the state, led by then Governor Sullivan Chime, promised to increase the subvention of the school to enable it employ more lecturers.
“Before the accreditation, the concerned departments were asked to submit what they needed for accreditation and they forwarded our names for employment and it was approved.
“From information available to us, we know that the internally generated revenue of the school, if properly managed, would be able to pay all the lecturers.” The 153 sacked lecturers were employed during the tenure of the former vice chancellor, Prof. Onyeji, who was replaced by Prof. Luke Anike.
Now left in the cold and abandoned, the sacked lecturers have regrouped under an umbrella – Disengaged Members of Staff of ESUT – to fight their cause. They are demanding that they should be recalled to continue with their former jobs.
But James said they have no intention of taking the matter to court.
“We are appealing to a lot of people – appealing to their conscience – to call us back.
“Going to court will take a long process, it might linger, and it might affect the university in a negative way,” he explained.
So far, the disengaged lecturers have sent letters, complaining about their plight, and seeking for help, to various personalities and institutions, including Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, the NUC, and the National Human Rights Commission, as well as some respected clerics in Enugu State.
James said they are yet to get any response, despite their efforts.
“We want to be called back to our jobs; that is our prayer to the governor and all concerned,” James said. He expressed disappointment at the ‘silence’ of the NUC, and the ESUT chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities.
“We wrote letters to them – the ASUU officials in the school claimed we are not members, because they have not deducted from our salaries, so they cannot fight for us whereas in their laws, new members’ salaries are not deducted until after one year.
“Is NUC keeping silence because it has taken sides?
“We appeal to the governor to intervene, we believe he was wrongly informed about the essence of our employment because now that we have been sacked, who would be taken in our place?
“The governor should consider our families, and the fact that most of us resigned and are now jobless because we came to ESUT with hopes of a brighter future, which is now dashed if nothing is done to correct this injustice,” James said.
When contacted, ESUT Director for Public Affairs, Mr. Ossy Ugwuoti, referred our correspondent to the reports, which emanated from the Government House, that the sacked lecturers are to be paid for the period they worked.
Asked to state the university’s position on the allegation that the lecturers were hired to secure NUC accreditation, Ugwuoti said, “There is no other clarification – the governor has spoken.”