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Messy details emerge on Mgt crisis rocking Okorocha’s Eastern Palm University

Messy details emerge of mgt crisis at EPU

Following the publication of an investigative report by Ripples Nigeria on the management crisis rocking Imo State government’s second university, Eastern Palm University, at Ogboko in Ideato-South Local Government Area, more facts have emerged to show that pioneer Vice Chancellor, Prof. Linus Osuagwu, may have been forced out over his insistence on institutionalizing standards and ensuring that the university was professionally managed. That insistence pitched him against the university’s pro-chancellor, Ambassador Nonye Rajis-Okpara, who is alleged to have hijacked the functions of the Vice Chancellor and sits as principal of the university.

Investigations by Ripples Nigeria revealed three key issues that led to his exit. They include his probe of questionable academic credentials by a principal officer, the insistence on procedure in the appointment of Professor Dafe Otobo as Deputy Vice Chancellor, and the award of what he considered a heavily-padded contract for wi-fi facilities in the university.

The principal officer in question, who holds a very sensitive brief, could not present his National Youth Service Corps certificate or Exemption certificate which aroused suspicions. He had also earlier foot-dragged for months when Professor Osuagwu demanded for his credentials in preparation for a resource verification visit by the National Universities Commission. On close scrutiny, his first degree certificate, issued by a university in Aruba, had the first and middle names in initials which looked decidedly irregular.

Investigations on the university he allegedly attended revealed that it was non-existent when he got the degree. He also failed to present a First School Leaving Certificate and Ordinary Level Certificates. Somehow, he had used the certificate in question to acquire a Master’s degree and is working on a doctorate degree. Meanwhile, the officer is still in the employ of the university which authorities decided to take out six months to investigate the fake certificate allegations.

On the engagement of Professor Otobo, Osuagwu raised objections that he was single-handedly vetted and employed by the Pro-Chancellor without Otobo presenting a single credential other than a Curriculum Vitae. He insisted on Otobo presenting his academic credentials, a letter naming him a professor from the University of Lagos, as well as his letter of disengagement from University of Lagos. None of these were ever showed coupled with the fact that a deputy vice chancellor can only be picked by the Senate in session according to the laws of the university.

The award of a contract for wi-fi facilities in the school was another bone of contention as a hurriedly set up company brought a bid of over N200 million for wiring the campus and all attempts to consider other offers or use the tenders board led to bitter altercations even when services provided by the company were poor and investigations showed they left mails of university officials open for spying and abuse.

Ripples Nigeria gathered that the Visitor to the university, Governor Rochas Okorocha, had authorized the sack of Professor Otobo and the Principal Officer with questionable academic credentials before certain forces coalesced and got members of the Council to commence proceedings for Osuagwu’s ouster. The beleaguered professor of marketing quickly got out of town and back to the American University of Nigeria, Yola. Investigations also showed that the open confrontation with him happened after almost a year of electronic surveillance of his residence did not turn up any materials for a possible blackmail operation.

The former Vice Chancellor contended with these issues against other top officers as well as the fact that all but five members of staff in the non-academic section were recruited by the Pro-Chancellor who also fought off all attempts to properly interview the said staff members as well as vet their credentials for suitability for tasks.

A document exclusively obtained by Ripples Nigeria indicated that Prof. Osuagwu had objected to the employment of Prof. Dafe Otobo as Deputy Vice Chancellor on the grounds that he was still on the staff list of the University of Lagos as at the time he resumed at Eastern Palm as Deputy Vice Chancellor, and also, had refused to submit academic credentials pleaded in his curriculum vitae submitted to the Pro-Chancellor.

The Visitor, Ripples Nigeria gathered, was also communicated, in writing, details of the irregularities in the employment of Prof. Otobo, who, it was alleged, as at the time of his employment at the Eastern Palm as Deputy Vice Chancellor, was still on the employ of the University of Lagos. The pioneer Vice Chancellor, Ripples Nigeria found out, also objected to the designation of Prof. Otobo as professor of Economics and Politics because while at UNILAG, he was listed as a professor of industrial relations.

To this effect, the vice chancellor, Prof. Osuagwu, in a letter to the pro-chancellor, warned against the circumvention of civil service rules and other university guidelines in the employment of a staff at Otobo’s level.

Ripples Nigeria learnt that the Vice Chancellor decided to take up the matter with the Pro-Chancellor because she “sourced and single-handedly employed him as DVC”, a staff who should know said. He also notified relevant officials of the university of the employment status of Prof. Otobo in a January 20, 2018 email to the university’s principal officers.

Writing in the said email, the Vice chancellor wrote, “I write to inform you that the appointment of Prof. Dafe Otobo as staff of Eastern Palm University has been withdrawn. This is because of the failure of Professor Dafe Otobo to present copies of his relevant credentials needed for the processing of his engagement as staff of eastern Palm University.

Read also: Management crisis rocks Okorocha’s Eastern Palm University as VC quits

“Please be guided by this piece of information in your dealings with Professor Dafe Otobo, especially in relation to Eastern Palm University”.

Prior to this, the Vice chancellor had warned the university’s visitor, Gov. Okorocha, in a letter, highlighting the short ends of engaging Prof. Otobo.

In the said letter, a copy of which was obtained from Government House Owerri, the Vice Chancellor wrote: “Please find attached, a correspondence from me (Vice Chancellor of eastern Palm University) withdrawing the appointment of Prof. Dafe Otobo as staff of Eastern Palm University”.

Stating reasons for the action, the Vice Chancellor wrote, “Prof. Dafe Otobo is not qualified to be appointed a Professor of Economics and Political Science at Eastern Palm University. He has been professor of Industrial Relations and Management Studies, not Economics and Political Science, at the University of Lagos. This is against the regulations of NUC (National Universities Commission).

“Professor Dafe Otobo is still a staff of the University of Lagos. Appointing him simultaneously to be a staff of Eastern Palm University is against civil service regulations.

“The appointment of Prof. Dafe Otobo, who is nearly 70 years old, as the deputy Vice Chancellor of the Eastern Palm University is against the law setting up Eastern Palm University (EPU). This is because the position of DVC, as contained in the EPU law, is elected by members of the Senate, which is not in place yet.

“Prof. Dafe Otobo has refused to present copies of his credentials needed to validate and process his engagement as staff of Eastern Palm University.”

The Vice Chancellor also forwarded to the governor, photocopies of supporting documents including the offer of employment and acceptance letter by Prof. Otobo.

However, there was no evidence that the governor acted on the letter and the information contained therein before the relations worsened and the Pro-Chancellor commenced proceedings for ousting Osuagwu.

“The Visitor of Eastern Palm University, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, has directed, since 25/1/2018, that I should hold on for a while pending his investigation of relevant issues associated with your correspondence under reference”, the vice chancellor told the pro-chancellor in a letter in his response to a letter telling him that his services to the university were no longer required.

“This means that he, as the Visitor of Eastern Palm University with statutory powers to disengage the Vice Chancellor, has not made final decision on the matter”, Prof. Osuagwu further told the pro-chancellor.

He also reminded her that “my correspondence, as Vice Chancellor of Eastern Palm University, withdrawing the appointment of Professor Dafe Otobo as staff of Eastern Palm University had the approval of the Visitor of Eastern Palm University, Owelle Rochas Okorocha. You may recall my concerns with your silence regarding refusal of Professor Dafe Otobo to present his relevant credentials needed to process and validate his engagement as staff of Eastern Palm University. It was because of your silence and inability to act on Prof Otobo’s refusal that made me to approach the Visitor for his intervention on the matter”.

Rather than calm an enraged Pro-Chancellor, Rajis-Okpara, the information that Gov. Okorocha had said he would investigate the developments seemed to have irked her more, making her to fire a letter to the Vice Chancellor through which she terminated his appointment.

Ripples Nigeria was not shown any evidence of a query over any wrongdoing to the Vice Chancellor neither is there a memo to the Senate of the University alleging any wrongdoing against the Vice chancellor.

In the letter dated January 24, 2018 and addressed to the Vic Chancellor, the pro-chancellor wrote: “In line with the relevant provisions of the Eastern Palm University Law 2016 No. 13 and the approval of the Visitor to the university of the recommendations of Council, on the affairs of Eastern Palm University, we write to you that your services to Eastern Palm University as Vice Chancellor are no longer required. This is with effect from the date of this letter.

“Kindly, hand over the office and the affairs of the university to the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Dafe Otobo. Please the handing over/taking over exercise should be completed by close of work on Friday 26th January, 2018.

“Further, Sir, you are to hand over all university property in your possession to the Deputy Vice chancellor”.

The letter was signed by Mrs. Rajis-Okpara as pro-chancellor and Chairman of Council.

Ripples Nigeria learnt that the EPU has no properly constituted Governing Council as all those on the said council are said to be members of a technical committee single handedly constituted by Gov. Okorocha to midwife the university into being. The transformation of the technical committee into a governing council is said to be the first miracle at the university.

Acknowledging receipt of the letter however, Prof. Osuagwu wrote, “Original copy received by Professor Linus Osuagwu. This letter has not been discussed with the visitor of Eastern Palm University, Owelle Rochas Okorocha”.

That was not all. Osuagwu had something more to tell Mrs. Rajis-Okpara.

He voiced out on January 25th, 2018 in a letter titled ‘Re: Notice of Disengagement From Office as Vice Chancellor’ and addressed to Mrs. Rajis-Okpara.

He said, “Your correspondence to me of 24th January 2018 on the above subject, which was delivered to me on 25th January 2018 at Eastern Palm University Ogboko refers.

“Let me react to the correspondence under reference. The correspondence is not in accord with relevant provisions of the Eastern Palm University Law 2016 (as amended). My legal adviser (Mike Ozekhome SAN) is studying your correspondence in relation to the relevant provisions of the Eastern Palm University Law 2016 (as amended) and may respond on my behalf at the appropriate time.

“You may recall that I have, via discussions and correspondence, pointed out that your appointment of Professor Dafe Otobo (who is Professor of Industrial Relations and Personnel Management at the University of Lagos) as Professor of Economics and Political science at Eastern Palm University is illegal, against professional regulations, and not accepted and recognized by me. Therefore, it is not proper for me to hand-over anything to Professor Dafe Otobo of the University of Lagos whose appointment as Professor of Economics and Political Science at Eastern Palm University is seen by me as illegal and against professional regulations in the Nigerian university system.

“You may also recall my concerns and correspondences regarding how you have usurped nearly all aspects of the university management at Eastern Palm University, including some statutory functions of the Vice chancellor, professional appointments, engagement of staff, sourcing of vendors and award of contracts, among others. In fact you have been involved in the running/management of nearly all aspects of Eastern Palm University from February 2017 till date. Therefore, there is no university property in my possession to be handed-over, except one dark-coloured official Kia car which carries me to and from work and is usually parked at Government House Owerri/Spibat for safety and supervision. The two cheque books for the university’s two accounts (salary and operations accounts), are kept in my Spibat residence for safety on your directive, and are available for your collection.”

Spibat is the private estate of Governor Okorocha in Owerri.

The Vice chancellor also poured out his mind on his observations at the University. He said “I have observed, since 2017, your obsession regarding creating frustrations for me as vice chancellor of Eastern Palm University. Cases abound in this vein, and these include, among others unsuccessful attempt to downgrade my position from substantive Vice chancellor to Acting\Vice chancellor. He referred the pro-chancellor to see minutes of the EPU Management/Governing Council of May 2017.

He also reminded the pro-chancellor of “your desperation to replace me as Vice chancellor only two months to assumption of office as Vice chancellor”. These, Ripples Nigeria understands, included what was termed “hurried and illegal” employment of Prof. Otobo despite still being in employ of the University of Lagos.

Though he promised to raise issues pertaining to the management of the university with the relevant authorities including the Academic Staff Union of Universities, NUC and Association of Vice Chancellors of Universities when the need arises, the vice chancellor reminded the pro chancellor of his entitlements, which are still outstanding, and the need to offset them.

It was learnt that Mrs. Ragis-Okpara is an acquaintance of Gov. Okorocha and was chosen by him to oversee the university whih he claims to belong to Rochas Foundation with Imo state government owning just 10 percent.

Meanwhile, some members of staff of the university are secretly asking questions about the appointment of Gov. Okorocha’s second daughter, Uju, at the University, as Director of Logistics and Procurement.

Some of the staff who spoke to Ripples Nigeria on condition of anonymity, questioned her qualification to hold such a sensitive position at the university.

“If not for the kind of system we have in Imo state, is she even qualified to work in a secondary talk less of university. She is his second daughter and he believes the university is his own so he brought his daughter here to be in charge of procurement”, an aggrieved staff told Ripples Nigeria.

Okorocha’s second daughter is married to Uzoma, the medical doctor son of Prof. Anthony Anwuka, a junior minister in the Federal Ministry of Education.

Ownership of the university is also raising questions as communities which lands were confiscated for the project, it was gathered, are lining in wait for the governor to leave office before taking Imo state government to task over their forceful eviction from their land and conversion of same to a university.

Though Okorocha had said his personal foundation owns 90 percent of investments in the university, there is yet to be published, any documents detailing out the financial involvement of Rochas Foundation and the Imo state government. There is also no transparency in the funding of the building of the university though it was alleged that Okorocha used his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, as Commissioner for Lands, backed with state power, to annex lands belonging to four communities for the project.

Nwosu’s successful execution of his job in the annexation of the lands, some say led to his elevation as Chief of Staff where he has helped his father-in-law to ensure that details of funding for the building of the university remained the most guarded secret in the Okorocha administration. Many Imo indigenes now allege that Okorocha’s push to install his son-in-law as governor was to enable him make sure that the 10 percent holding, which he said belonged to Imo state at the university, was signed off to him (Okorocha) as disengagement compensation.

But law establishing the university lists it as Imo State-owned.

Also, communities affected by the construction of the university, are gearing for a fight with the Imo state government for blocking the major access road to their homes and converting same into university property while diverting traffic to the communities.

“We are waiting for him to step down. Then, Imo state government will tell us the right it has to convert community road into university property and fence it off. We don’t want to fight now because he is still in office and will use state power against us. We know what we are waiting for”, Richard Duru of Umuma-Ishiaku told Ripples Nigeria.

 

By Femi Qudus….

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