By Ugonna Anejionu:

He is tagged a tyrant and an emperor and one that believes so much in intimidating and suppressing subordinates. He is accused of massive financial recklessness and gross immorality and is also accused of driving around officially in a bullet proof Mercedes G -wagon

University Gate

He is described as a man laced with impunity and also as one that has a total disregard for procedures and constituted authorities no matter how strategic, as he believes that every Nigerian as he was quoted ‘has a price’.

These fully describe the man, Francis Ogbonna Otunta, a professor of mathematics and vice chancellor of Michael Okpara university of Agriculture Umudike, in Umuahia, Abia state.

Otunta who assumed  office as the 5th vice chancellor on the 1st of March, 2016 during his inaugural speech confirmed that he inherited a total of three thousand and eighty two(3,082) staff.

In July, 2017, Otunta without any warning suspended the first batch of legitimately appointed staff of the university. About 465 staff of the university were affected by the suspension. In August of the same year, he again struck, suspending another set of staff totaling 348.  This was after working with these staff for over a year.

He however cited over bloated staff and non compliance to due process as his main reason for sacking the staff which was disproved by agitations by those affected and also relevant documents some of which were made available to this magazine.

In one of the documents, this magazine discovered that the affected staff were issued with  certificates of compliance by the Federal Character commission in a letter it issued to the university Registrar dated 19th, November, 2015. This letter naturally authenticates their appointments.

Further investigation revealed that Otunta himself was issued with his own certificate of compliance by the federal character commission on the 30th of December,2015, a month after the affected staff were authenticated by the federal character commission. Again, Verbatim discovered that the university advertised for the positions on The Guardian Newspaper of Tuesday, January 20,2015 which further validates the claim by those affected that due process was indeed followed in the appointments. As a further proof, the affected staff still wonder why it took the vice chancellor over a year to realize their appointments were wrongly done adding that if they were wrongly appointed, then he himself was also employed wrongly as they received their letters of compliance almost at the same time. The told verbatim that they were surprised that the vice chancellor had to wait for the then university governing council headed by Prof Anya O Anya to expire before striking. Both the vice chancellor and the sacked staff were appointed or employed by the Anya council.

Beyond that, a letter from the office of the registrar dated 11th February which this magazine obtained  had earlier invited those sacked to an interview for the regularization of their appointments. It was fixed for Tuesday, the 16th of February, 2016 at the vice chancellors conference room. The following individuals were present during the interview. They include Prof Anya O Anya, Pro chancellor, Prof O. Edeoga, then vice chancellor, Dr Azubuike Nwokoacha, registrar, Prof Mrs Oke, CGSS, Prof Maxwell Ezeja, Dean, CVM, Prof Nneka Umezulike, COED, Dr Ewa Joseph, farm management center, Dr Arua, former librarian, Engr Ibeawuchi, former director, works and maintenance, Engr Okite, Mrs Egbe, Bursary unit, Mr Livinus Ugwu, internal audit, Samuel Adiele, former acting principal, DSS, Prof J.C Ihemeje, former dean, COLMAS.

Another disturbing fact that was revealed to this magazine is that the names of those sacked workers still reflected in the university’s annual budget of 2017 and 2018, a development that has made stakeholders to wonder where the monies go to. Some of the sacked staff also told this magazine that they receive their pension alerts but that the monies never reflected in their accounts. This they said  has been going on for about a year now.

Prof. Otunta

However, it is widely believed that the vice chancellor has employed over 500 individuals with which we were told he is substituting the sacked staff with. Verbatim was told to confirm the above at the Academic staff matters (ASM) of the university,  the senior personnel and technical staff(SPAT) and the junior staff matters(JSM) office of the university.

However, the sacked staff took their case to the Nigerian senate who after hearing from  both parties,(Otunta and the aggrieved workers)  ordered the university management  after adopting the report submitted to it by its committee on ethics, privileges and public petitions chaired by Senator Samuel Anyanwu, Imo east  to unconditionally reabsorb them. The petition to the senate was written by Samuel Kalu and 348 others and was sent to the senate on the 7th September, 2017 through Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, from Abia state. This magazine was informed that the petition was read at the floor of the senate on the 27th of September, 2017 and both parties, Otunta and the petitioners were heard by the senate on the 5th of December, 2017.  After the hearing, the senate directed the Senator Barau Jibrin led committee on tertiary institutions and TETFUND to ensure a strict compliance. Till date, the senate directive has not been carried out by the vice chancellor. The vanguard newspaper edition of Friday may 4, 2018 carried the story with a caption “SENATE ORDER MICHAEL OKPARA VARSITY TO REABSORB SUSPENDED SAMUEL, 348 OTHERS”.

Sen. Samnyanwu

This magazine was further informed that the sacked workers also petitioned the secretary to the federal government, Boss Mustapha who also asked the vice chancellor to immediately reabsorb the workers. This step was taken by the petitioners when it was obvious that Otunta will not honour the senate directive. Presently, these staff are still not recalled as the vice chancellor was rumored to have bragged that the secretary to the government has no right to give him directives.

It was also rumoured that he bragged that he has set aside 2billion Naira to have his way as every Nigerian he was alleged to have boasted HAS A PRICE.

Presently, the affected staff are so broke to the extent that they can barely feed their families and even pay their bills including school fees for their wards.

Obviously, sacking staff appears to be Otunta’s hobby and trademark as he was alleged to have also disengaged over 400 staff of the Akanu Ibiam federal polythecnic, Uwana in Afikpo when he was the rector. The Voice newspaper in its October 17th, 2011 edition exclusively reported that Otunta in his usual manner shunned the attorney general of the federation and also the Bureau for public service reforms, BPRS all of who copiously wrote him severally and directed he reabsorb the disengaged staff of the institution. This prompted a federal high court in Abakaliki to summon him then to appear before it in person between the 14th and 20th of October, 2011.

The presiding Judge, Justice Salihu Saidu ordered this on Wednesday, the 5th of October 2011 when it appeared that Otunta may snub the court as usual.

Apparently irked by the plights of the large crowd of disengaged staff of the institution who besieged the court premise, Justice Saidu was quoted to have rhetorically  asked ‘how many persons do we now have as staff in the institution when over 400 staff were disengaged’. He was so bitter over the action of Otunta and also by  his absence from the court that he mandated Otunta’s attorney, Lesley Njemanze, SAN to ensure that his client, Otunta appeared in court between the 10th and 20th.

The disengaged staff after the court sitting peacefully demonstrated in front of the court premises urging the court and stake holders to help them and save them from the injustice of Otunta.

Ndukwe Agwu, a deputy rector of the institution was among the disengaged. Agwu then said they were in court to seek redress adding that at the time of their disengagement by Otunta, there was no governing council in the institution which he said enabled Otunta to single handedly write down the names of those he didn’t like and those that were not even due for retirement and pushed them all out of service.

Ndukwe also alleged that while disengaged staff from other institutions who were also on their same grade level were paid 8 million Naira as severance allowance, they received less than a million Naira as there was no arrangement for their payments adding that none of them has received any pension or gratuity.

On the other hand, stakeholders in the university are not happy with Otunta as they claim he has been so wreck less with the university resources. In a  document sent to verbatim recently, The Auditor General queried the school authority for questionably spending over 3 billion Naira university funds.

In the audit query no-OAUGF/ERIAD/PC/18007, The university administration was alleged to have misapplied ‘personnel funds’ totaling about N571,463,038.56, Irregularly transferred N995,705,752.60 from the internally generated revenue IGR of the university to other banks against TSA policy as well as made cash advances of N313,822,899.37 against laid down rules.

The administration was also alleged to have failed to remit N824,623,956.16, spent N6,180,000 irregularly, engaged in doubtful trips(clashes of dates) amounting to N50,468.140 among others totaling the said amount.

Apart from this, the authorities were further said to have spent N2.250million as easter gifts to about six principal officers of the institution in 2017 even as N285, 033,619.74 was illegally withdrawn from the IGR in favour of NEEDS assessment projects.

Otunta’salleged financial recklessness was further highlighted in a letter addressed to the minister of Education by Bashir Ogungbangbe, dated 5th April, 2018

In the letter captioned WHY I WAS SUSPENDED BY MICHAEL OKPARA UNIVERSITY UMUDIKE GOVERNING COUNCIL, Mr Ogunbgangbe, who was the managing director of the university micro finance bank said that his suspension was master minded by the vice chancellor who he said has a heavy grip on the university’s governing council and as such uses them to hunt perceived enemies.

He said that since Otunta resumed as the 5th vice chancellor of the university on the 1st of march, the university has witnessed series of internal unrest, fear, tension and lack of progress. He confirmed that as the pioneer managing director of the bank from inception under the immediate past vice Chancellor of the institution, Prof Hilary Odo Edeoga, the bank made exponential growth within its first two years of operation which classified it as one of the fastest growing micro finance banks in the country and regretted that the fortunes of the bank took a nose dive when Otunta took over as the vice chancellor.

Ogungbangbe in the letter said Otunta attempted to transfer some money from TSA in October, 2016 to the micro finance bank which he said was not proper without the approval of the accountant General of the federation. He said Otunta on his refusal to oblige him then opened an account with first bank in Umuahia in the name of MOUA NIG. LTD With account number 3108588715 and transferred the sum of N211,026,016.43(two hundred and eleven million , twenty six thousand, sixteen Naira, forty three kobo from TSA TETFUND account of the university to the first bank account against the government policy on TSA. He alleged in the letter that the said account from reliable sources is still in operation and that the sum of 951,000.000.00(nine hundred and fifty one million Naira has passed through the account since then adding that his refusal to oblige the vice chancellor is the root cause of his predicament and travails as he added that the vice chancellor told him he can not work with him.

He also alleged that the vice chancellor in another occasion transferred the sum of N16,000,000,00(sixteen million) Naira from TSA to the account of his office assistant, Miss Precious Nwogu, account number:0011001789 in the university micro finance bank. The assistant he alleged on the same day transferred   the entire amount to the vice chancellors first bank account with the number:8005072377.

He also alleged that Otunta mandated every student of the institution both regular and part time to pay the sum of N5,000.00 as portal maintenance charge. This monies are directly swept into the first bank  account of a contractor MESSER CITI NET TECHNOLOGY INNOVATION LTD, account number 2025983186 continuously till date against TSA policy alleging that over half a billion Naira has passed through the account.

Unconfirmed reports have it that Otunta has been diverting some of the salaries of the suspended  staff into the accounts of his wife , Bertha and relatives since July/August, 2017.

It is also alleged that the staff that were recruited under Otunta paid the sum of one million Naira each into the accounts of Bertha Otunta and her cronies while it was also alleged that monies meant for the university management are also diverted into the accounts of Bertha Otunta and cronies.

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