Infighting responsible for sacking of agric college 400 staff –Edo – Punchng

The Edo State Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Monday Osaigbovo, tells ALEXANDER OKERE the reasons for the closure of the College of Agriculture, Iguoriakhi, and the sacking of the staff

What prompted the state government to sack the over 400 staff of the state college of agriculture and shut down the school?

It was the infighting among the staff and the petitions received by the governor from different factions that led to their dismissal. They even wrote to the agency regulating the institution, claiming that the school was not worth being accredited. The government paid their salaries regularly and the students are currently attached to different agro-allied companies in the state for industrial training. So, we wondered what caused the conflict.

What about the closure of the school?

The conflict among the staff also contributed to it. If you want to restructure an institution and you find out that the crisis among the workers will affect it, what do you do? If a man has a house rented out to tenants and they are not responsible, the owner will ask them to leave in order to have the time to renovate the house and think about whom to bring in. We want to have an Edo State College of Agriculture and Natural Resources with three campuses. The main campus will be at Iguoriakhi; one will be at Uromi, where forestry and environmental management will be taught; and there will be one at Agenebode, with focus on aquaculture, fisheries and marine. We have just finished (an engagement) with 12 professors in agriculture drawn from different institutions in Nigeria for a new curriculum and they have submitted their report to the governor.

Today, I met with a team of lawyers to look at the legal aspects of the school, so that when we begin in April next year, anybody can visit the school and see what we have done. We want to be sure that the school is in partnership with research institutes, so that the knowledge from such institutes will go to the school. We want to make sure that the products of the school have the basics in the use of agricultural tools, like driving and repairing a harrow. If that is done, I do not see any reason why government cannot give a student or graduate of the school a loan to by a harrow, which they can commercialise and make their money.

The affected personnel and students have described their dismissal and the closure as unlawful as due process was allegedly not followed. How do you react to that?

We promised to create 200,000 jobs. Do you believe that we started removing those whom we met? When they (affected staff) were not working when the school was closed in December 2017, we paid them up to December. We paid for January. Let them look at their appointment letters; it said when they are laid off, we must give them one month’s pay, in lieu of notice. So, when we were laying them off, we gave them a month’s pay in lieu of notice. But I do not want to talk more on that. I learnt they are in court.

Were the staff and students consulted by the government before the decision was taken?

The dissolution (of the college) was even done in their presence. The governor did not just go on the air and say the school had been closed. He met with the students and staff and told them. It was done in their presence.

How do you react to the argument that the personnel should have been redeployed to other ministries like it was done with Edo Line, instead of an outright dismissal?

There was no infighting at Edo Line. At a point, the governor wanted to redeploy the staff of the college to other ministries. But a question came up about whether they would not resume the conflict there.

Can you explain what the infighting was all about?

At a point, the governor sent the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources to meet with them to settle their differences, but they did not specify what the cause of their disagreements was.

How do you respond to allegations that the personnel were being victimised by the government?

There was nothing like victimisation. The action taken by the government was done in good faith and the staff and students are aware of that.

What is the fate of the students whose academic programmes have been paralysed by the development?

They are already in various institutions for training. Some of them are at the Nigeria Institute for Oil Palm Research, Okomu Oil Palm, Leventis Farm and Presco. We pay them N20,000 a month and when they are through, they will take their final exams. There is no academic loss. When the school is reopened, they will definitely take their final exams.

The Peoples Democratic Party accused the government of allegedly grounding academic institutions in the southern part of the state with reference to the College of Health Sciences and the Tayo Akpata University of Education. Can you address this? 

What did the party do when it was in power? I was in that party; what did it do? Do we even have an opposition in Edo? The opposition I believe in is the one that criticises and gives an answer. You do not just wake up in the morning after drinking beer and champagne and start talking and you want the government to react. We do not react to issues like that. The PDP does not have any moral justification to accuse us.

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