ENUGU— The last time the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu quaked was in 2011. That was when the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) withdrew accreditation for all programmes offered by the institution. The NBTE’s hammer fell on the school following alleged violation of the board’s regulation by overshooting its carrying capacity.
Reports then had it that the IMT was sending for service, a number of students that outnumbered what was allotted to it. The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), which had lived with the situation for sometime had refused to continue with it and reported the institution to the NBTE.
The board had, after investigations, placed sanctions on the school, by withdrawing accreditation of its programmes. The sanctions were such that IMT could neither admit new students nor mobilise its graduates for the NYSC scheme.
Protests had rented the air. As an intervention to the development, the administration of Sullivan Chime removed the rector and other principal officers and appointed new ones, while efforts were geared towards redressing the situation.
A few years after the ugly incident, the school appeared to be heading back to the ‘dark’ days. At the centre of the present crisis is the sack of five lecturers, who are officials of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), for allegedly embarking on national strike declared by the union for all polytechnics in the country in December last year.
But the school has denied that the affected lecturers and two others were sacked based on unionism. The management insisted that they have “bad academic records” that contributed to their present predicament.
Those affected were the chapter chairman of ASUP and lecturer in the department of banking and finance, Mr Ifesinachi Onuaguluchi; secretary, Pascal Amu; publicity secretary, Uche Amujielo and assistant secretary, Chekwube Chibuzor. Others including Victor Aniugo, electrical/electronic engineering department; Dr Philomon Agu, business administration and management and Chinwenite Ugwu, electrical/electronics department were however, suspended for six months, demoted to lecturer 111 and placed on half salary.
The letters of dismissal were signed by the chairman of council, Mrs Ifeoma Nwobodo, and dated April 8, 2019
Nwobodo, a chief of staff during the Sullivan Chime administration, had dismissed them “with immediate effect” and directed that they “hand over all properties of the institute in their possession to the head of department immediately and banned from setting foot within the premises of the institute forthwith”.
Nwobodo said the decision to sack them was reached at the 291st regular meeting of the council following their alleged “gross misconduct against the leadership of the institute” and a memo from the rector on the “suspected cases of insubordination and dereliction of duties by the ASUP executives. She stated that the council after considering the report, and guided by sections 29 and 30 of the IMT laws, viewed their conducts as acts of “indiscipline, dereliction of duty, gross misconduct and insubordination aimed at crippling the institute.”
Mrs Nwobodo alleged that Onuaguluchi “used one student, Sunday Onwudiwe, to mark scripts and record scores” upon which a committee was set up on July 15, 2011. She did not however, disclose the findings of the committee.
She further alleged that Amu and Amujielo “are currently on TETFund sponsorship for a full time academic programme and have remained active in union activities and full time work.”
One of those suspended was accused of allegedly engaging in “wholesale plagiarism” of nine chapters of his book titled; Practice of Management – a global perspective, while another was sanctioned for allegedly leading in the “picketing of committed and dedicated IMT academic staff members who were keen to perform their normal duties.”
Giving further details about the activities of the dismissed officials, rector of the school, Prof Austin Nweze, said the embattled officials used their position to pursue “personal issues that were inimical to the progress and peace of the institution.”
Nweze accused them of dragging the management to anti-graft agencies, state security service, industrial court and National Board for Technical Education (NBTE).
“The last straw that broke the camel’s back was a petition to NBTE alleging that we have been over admitting students and accused the rector of diverting TETFund money. It became obvious that it was no longer ASUP they were pursuing but a personal agenda, so, I raised the alarm, council met and reviewed all they had been doing and in doing that, we had to bring all the staff files and spent three nights reviewing them.
“Unfortunately for those of them in ASUP, we found cases against them, not connected with strike or union activities. Then council took a decision; since you don’t have a good record and you are now masquerading as ASUP leaders, then let us capitalise on these your bad records and ask you to go. That was exactly what council did.
“One of them was a case of plagiarism. He wrote a 10-chapter book and out of this, nine were copied verbatim from another person’s work, which you know is academic theft. Ordinarily, that should have led to a summary dismissal but in the wisdom and human face nature, council gave him six months suspension and downgraded him by two grades.
“Without telling the national ASUP the truth, the affected union leaders alleged that they were being victimised, but the true position is that they were sacked for what they have done in the past and present for trying to pull down IMT and we had to pull them down first,” Nweze said.
He added that the affected labour leaders also failed to follow stipulated channels of communication established in the school for one to express his grievances.
Onuaguluchi however, insisted that they were being victimised for their role as union leaders during the national strike. He said the union used the opportunity of the strike to take the challenges being faced by the school and students to the governor who is the visitor to the school.
Onuaguluchi, who spoke on behalf of the dismissed officials, said they decided to write the governor following the non-chalant attitude of the council and management to the problems as well as the welfare of staff. It was however, learnt it was the letter, dated January 8, 2019, that irked the management and governing council following details of some infractions going on in the system.
The embattled union leaders allegedly listed the infractions to include non-implementation of CONPCASS in computing the retirement benefits of IMT retirees; non-payment of arrears of CONTISS/CONPCASS to staff; lack of adequate office accommodation for staff; electricity and water supply.
The list also included inadequate maintenance, renovation and furnishing of existing classrooms, laboratories, workshops, non-rehabilitation of IMT internal road network and non-issuance of pay slips to staff.
Ugwuanyi was said to have invited the labour leaders to a meeting. “It was after that meeting that the governor in his wisdom made approvals for the reconstruction of some internal roads and rebuilding of the dilapidated facilities including classroom blocks,” he said.
He explained that it was the height of deceit for the management to claim their action amounted to insubordination and challenged the authority of the school to make public their files for “Nigerian populace to confirm the validity or otherwise of the claim by the rector that there are grave academic offences in our files.”
Onuaguluchi accused the management of admitting students beyond its carrying capacity, saying it was part of the problems that led to the withdrawal of the school’s accreditation programmes by the NBTE some years back.
Role of ASUP National Body
The national union of ASUP in a statement by its publicity secretary, Chris Nkoro, accused the Nweze-led management of “working to destabilise the union in IMT, by withholding its check off dues and refusing to deduct and remit such contrary to extant provisions.
“ASUP is saddened by the fact that rather than applaud the union for attracting infrastructural development to the institution as a direct consequence of the strike, the council and management would take the path of hurting the union and its officials,” they wrote.
The union members called on Governor Ugwuanyi to set up a judicial panel of inquiry into the affairs of the institution, saying the display of impunity has the capacity to bring the government of the state into disrepute.
They also called on the ministry of education, labour and employment as well as the NBTE to note the infraction, particularly, the “victimisation of union officials as a result of the strike embarked upon by members and do the needful to avoid a return to same action by the union.”
Investigations by our correspondent showed that the present crisis might not be unconnected with the decision of the rector to review the directorate of the school. It was gathered that Nweze, who is the second Enugu North official to occupy the position since the school was established in 1973 had removed the heads of the directorates and appointed new ones.
Of the 24 directorates, Udi alone was said to be occupying 18, leaving the other two zones of Enugu East and North with 4. Nweze allegedly felt there was need for the directorates to be shared equally among the three zones. This is said to have received the disapproval of some of those affected, hence the air of discontent.
The school has moved from 29th in 2015 to 7th in ranking in 2019, after six of its programmes were affiliated to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN).
As it is, the union is currently divided. While one faction is in favour of the management, the other group is against the decision to summarily dismiss leaders fighting their cause. The atmosphere appears unsettled and only time, will tell how the matter would be resolved.