No fewer than 24 Professors of the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike have been served with demotion letters, NewTelegraph reports.
Management conveyed the University Governing Council’s decision to the affected Professors through a letter that described the action as ‘proper placement’.
The university’s spokesperson, Adamma Nwachukwu, confirmed the development, stating that following petitions to the Minister of Education by some aggrieved persons, the university embarked on staff audit.
“Following the outcome of the process, Council directed that affected persons should revert to their proper placement,” he said.
She, however, declined to offer other details of the action, saying “the university is not exactly interested in blowing this matter out of proportion. It is an internal procedure and was not targeted at demoting or promoting anybody, but rather at ensuring proper placement of all affected staff and not just Professors.”
She advised our correspondent to wait till month-end when the university will publish its bulletin to get the said details.
Investigations by our correspondent, however, suggest that the shock demotion may be the consequence of some flawed decisions and chain of events that started around 2015 under the former Vice Chancellor, Prof. Hilary Edeoga.
Multiple university sources who craved anonymity told New Telegraph that the university, under Prof. Edeoga, may have promoted a select number of lecturers to professorial level against the recommendations of their assessors.
Not a few persons at the time kicked against the alleged violation of due process and lowering of standards in the university, which consequently provoked several petitions by staff and stakeholders, to the immediate past Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu.
And following the staff audit occasioned by the recommendation of the Committee on Petitions received by the Honourable Minister of Education in respect of Michael Okpara University of Agriculture and in response to appeals made by some staff on proper placement, the Governing Council of the University, at its 21st Emergency Meeting held on Monday, the 13th to Thursday, 16th of May, 2019, considered the cases of the affected Professors and approved their demotion.
While 18 of the Professors were demoted to Associate Professors, six others were demoted to Senior Lecturers.
According to documents available to New Telegraph, Alphonsus Odo Ovute of the Department of Science Education; Melody Ndidi Modebelu of the Department of Educational Management; Gideon Ahamefula Emerole of the Department of Business Administration; Ogwo Patrick Agwu of the Department of Environmental Management and Technology; Aso Vincent Ele of the Department of Mathematics and Joy Chinwe Obunadike of the Department of Adult and Continuing Education are among the Professors demoted to Senior Lecturers.
The demotion of the Professors were to take effect at varying dates ranging from 2015 through 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 as the case may be.
Based on the findings of the investigating panel, further demands were also made by the university authorities on some of the affected lecturers so as to clear out all grey areas.
For Prof. Odo Ovute, he was further required to provide his First School Leaving and NYSC certificates, as well as explain fully, his career activities between the year 2010 and 2012 with evidence.
Georgina Obinna Ugwuanyi of the Department of Business Administration, who was demoted to Associate Professor, was mandated to provide her 1982 and 1983 West African School Certificate; 1996 PGD certificate and 2001 BSc Certificate for sighting.
And Kayode Feyisetan Adekunle of the Department of Chemical Engineering, also demoted to Associate Professor, was directed to show evidence of his research position in Sweden and provide his birth certificate, West African School certificate and regularization letter for sighting.
The National Vice Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Victor Osodeke, also a lecturer at the university, said he didn’t have all the details of the audit, but noted that ASUU had earlier in 2015, condemned incidents of wrong placement of staff in the university.
He said: “In 2015, ASUU raised the issue of people who were not qualified being promoted and given appointments as professors. That is the origin of all these. We protested it because it will be wrong for somebody who is not qualified for a position to be appointed to it.
“In the academic space, there are criteria for being appointed or promoted. When you put a neophyte; somebody who retired from a company and within a space of about two years is appointed a professor; that is wrong. We commend the action as long as the process is fair and transparent. Apparently, it is a cleansing process that is intended to sanitize the system. And the union will address the press at the appropriate time, when we get full details of the action.”
Another official of the university who is also the Provost of Abia State College of Education (Technical), Dr. Philip Nto, commended the Governing Council and the Vice Chancellor of the University, Prof. Francis Otunta for their resolve to set the records right.
Nto said: “It all started in 2014/2015 when the standards were lowered. Before the then Vice Chancellor took over, MOUAU was among the first 20 universities in Nigeria. But within the period, the university was ranked 104 out of 107. Some of us were not happy about that and we protested it. There is no way somebody will be employed in a university and within the space of two or three years will be promoted and appointed a professor. It is an aberration.
“Several interested parties wrote petitions to the Minister of Education and based on that, a fact-finding committee was set up and on their recommendations, the minister issued a whitepaper directing that all the appointments and promotions should be reviewed, so the Chairman of Council and the Vice Chancellor only implemented the recommendation of the whitepaper.
“The exercise affected everyone appointed or promoted within the period under review. Some lecturers, who were due for professorship that did not get it, were also properly placed. So I believe it is not a case of witch-hunt; the system had to be sanitized.”