The failure of the management of Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Owo, Ondo State to pay the salaries, pensions and gratuities of the institution’s staff as and when due in the last five years has pitted it against the workers, GBENGA ADERANTI reports.
The just concluded yuletide was a bleak one for the workers at Ondo State owned Rufus Giwa Polytechnic (RUGIPO), Owo. The failure of the institution’s management to pay the 13-month salaries owed the workers besides unpaid pensions and gratuities of its retirees made the yuletide holiday very dry and uneventful.
It was only in the afternoon of January 4 that the accounts of the staff of the institution were credited with the balance of January 2021 salaries as well as those of February and March.
Even at that, the payment of the three-month arrears of salaries was not done until a threat was issued by the institution’s chapter of the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Polytechnics (SSANIP) to embark on what it described a massive protest to express its displeasure at the “obnoxious and authoritarian action of the school’s management.”
Although a source said the money had been with the management on Friday, it only waited till Monday, January 4 before it was disbursed.
SSANIP had in a letter dated January 4, 2022 communicated its communiqué, signed by union’s Chairman and Secretary, Comrade Olowolade Chris and Comrade Ojo Akinyemi, to the school’s authorities, respectively, asking the state government and the RUGIPO management to consider the grouse of the union and do the needful.
But the crisis in the institution took another dimension when the management of the institution, while responding to the threat, suspended the activities of the union.
At the time of filing this report, the workers in the state owned institution were still being owed 11-month salaries, excluding deductions.
Reflecting on the poor state of the school’s financial institution, a source close to the institution explained that things are so bad that the institution has shut down its staff school because of its inability to pay staff salaries.
The Nation gathered that the staff school was closed down because the management of Rufus Giwa Polytechnic felt the staff school was not productive. Unfortunately, when the staff of the school were about to be sacked, the RUGIPO management did conversion and absorbed some of the staff that were close to the management into the institution and closed down the staff school.
The sacked 53 members of the staff school lost their case in court because they were not able to present enough papers to back them up.
Justifying the sack of the 53 teachers of the staff school, the source said, the school could only generate about N5 million and was using N25 million to fund the school.
Faulting the claim of the management, a staff of the institution said “is there any place the government has been able to break even in the educational system?”
To worsen matters, the source said, the institution’s intake has reduced drastically as it has increased school fees twice in the last seven years due to what it called “the financial recklessness of the management of the institution”.
As at the time they made the increment the school had over 12,000 students, right after the increment the student population dropped to less than 2000.
Though the fee was reviewed as a result of drop in the enrollment, this did not assuage the applicants.
Aside from increasing the school fees, the management jerked up some of the fees being paid by the students. A student that did OND at RUGIPO, and wants to do HND there is charged N11,500 for transcripts. “You don’t expect them to come back to that institution. Apart from that, the act is fraudulent. You don’t do or pay for transcript to continue your education in the same school.”
Our correspondents gathered at the time of writing this report, members of the school’s staff were owed about six-month cooperative deductions.
Some members of the staff who retired about 17 years ago, at the time of writing this report, were yet to be paid their entitlements.
Not minding the precarious financial state of the institution, the present management employed over 500 staff without any advert or interview even when they are unable to pay the salaries of the existing staff, said another source.
In the heat of the crisis, the management suspended both the chairman Comrade Ijawoye Dare and the secretary Comrade Arikawe Ade of the academic union ASUP, even when the court asked that the parties in dispute should return to status quo, only the secretary was reinstated.
It was gathered that the Chairman and the Secretary of the union were initially sent out of the school because of their insistence in making sure that the cooperative deductions were paid. “The governor gave the institution N524 million, the money was enough to pay two months salaries, the union had meetings with the Rector where he promised pay one month and the balance of N250 million, N100 million for the retirees and the rest 150 million for the cooperative, as we are speaking, they have not paid it,” a member of the institution disclosed to The Nation.
Another issue the staff are not happy about is the promotion policy of RUGIPO source who is close to the institution wondered why the council and management policies of non-promotion of staff since 2017 as well as the 2012 notional promotion of workers, contrary to the state policy of workers motivation in the area of staff welfare in the state and local government respectively.
The management came out with a policy, hinging promotion of academic staff to the ability to bring investors to the institution. “It is only when you bring investors that can enhance your promotion and there must be a vacancy academic staff before promotion. Academic staff members don’t require the existence of a vacancy anywhere before they are promoted; they only need to publish required number of papers whenever they are due for promotion.
“We are suffering, that place has sunk,” an academic staff of the institution said.
If the non-payment of salaries is bad for workers, withholding pensioners’ entitlements is worse. For retirees of the Ondo state government owned tertiary institution, life has been brutish.
Many of the retirees are said to have been sent into early graves as a result of paucity of funds to take care of their basic needs, especially health. Some of the retirees are praying to die quietly rather than continue to live in shame and suffering.
As at 2020, the institution was alleged to owe more than 1billion naira in pensions and gratuities. While many of the retirees were ready to speak about their plight, they declined revealing their identities for fear of not getting their pension and gratuities.
One of the retirees, who exited the institution some years back, complained that ever since he retired from the Ondo State owned institution he had not collected his gratuities and pension.
“Fortunately for me, I have nobody that I’m training now. My children are independent. Unfortunately, many of my colleagues are not that lucky as most of their children still depend on them one way or the other.
“I understand that sometime in 2019, one of my colleagues died because he didn’t have money to buy drugs to manage his ailment. It is as bad as that,” he said.
A source also said that as at July 24, 2020, 29 retirees had died without being paid any fraction of their retirement benefits. Another retiree who is based in Akure also said that each time he thinks about his colleagues who have nothing to fall back on, he feels bad.
“The state government has to be proactive in handling this matter. For the retirees, pay them half of their gratuities. Pay the salaries up to date,” he counseled.
The retiree also advised Governor Rotimi Akeredolu to pay a visit to the state owned institution because some people are not telling him the truth about the situation in the school.
“The governor should go there and find out the truth,” the retiree said.
A group, Owo Generation Next, in one of its statements about the situation in the polytechnic, had expressed deep concern about what they described as the ‘impunity’ the management of the institution had been perpetrating.
It also alleged that the management of the institution is enmeshed in contract award scam as contract awards are usually advertised in newspapers that are only found in the Northern part of Nigeria.
The group called on the governor of the state to intervene urgently in the affairs of the polytechnic by clearing the salary arrears of the workers and by dismantling “the nest of fraudsters” in the Polytechnic.
Why present management team should not be blamed
While many would not blame the current Council Chairman of the polytechnic, Barrister Banji Alabi, for the situation of things, others are of the opinion that things were already very bad at the time Alabi assumed office.
Findings made by our correspondent revealed that the 42-year-old institution is heavily indebted.
Staff members averse management’s financial secrecy
While the precarious financial predicament of the institution did not start with the present management, a source said it became pronounced with the present management because of what a source termed ‘financial secrecy’.
Unlike the former management of the institution, the present management is not trusted with the finances of the school.
According to the source, if the welfare of the staff had been taken care of, nobody would look or talk about how they manage the finances of the but because the welfare of the staff are not well taken care of, there are bound to be issues. “We had past rectors; we never knew how they ran the school because the staff members were satisfied as regard the welfare. In this case we have never had it so bad in that institution,” the source said.
Why RUGIPO is crawling
The Nation gathered that the main challenge facing the institution is the over bloating of employment and employment racketeering.
At present, two traditional rulers are currently under the payroll of the institution. Though one had been in the system before he was selected to be king, the other one was employed on the throne. “The honorary thing for one that was in employment was to resign after he became the king. He didn’t, he is still in the institution, taking two salaries at the same time. The other king is from the town of one of the principal officers of the school.
“This same principal officer has two wives, the two wives work in the institution. His children are working in the institution. Six of the family members of the principal officer are working in the institution.”
Unfortunately for the institution, the subvention is not enough to pay the workers’ salaries, yet the institution has continued in its employment drive without recourse to due process.
A source disclosed that the problem started from the day of the former rector because he employed more than necessary in the institution, he employed close to 400. “Though he employed to recourse to due process, he was able to manage it because the school had enough Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). The former Rector would pay salaries before getting subvention from the government.”
Another source also told The Nation that with the present management in the saddle, things may not work.
According to the source, the current rector was already 63 years when he came on board contrary to the NBTE regulations that say he must not be more than 59 years because he has a single term of five years.
In the advert placed in the newspaper before the present rector was engaged, the part concerning the age limit as prescribed by the NBTE regulation was removed from that column that he should not be more than 59 years of age.
The source disclosed that the governor is not aware of most of the infractions in the institution as most of the people that are supposed to tell him the truth are being blocked.
He disclosed that the past rector spent a 5- year- single term, but the present Rector made his own and other principal officers 4-year renewable contrary to what is obtainable in all other institutions and that has been the NBTE regulation.
The source argued that the Rector being 65, ought to have retired way back.
Earlier in January, there was a protest whereby the staff of the institution asked the council and the rector to go.
According to the source, the protest was part of the reason the money paid in January to staff was paid. “The money that came was for eight months, as recourse to our subvention which was N199 million, but we use N250 million to pay salaries because of the mass employment they made. The money would have been enough to pay for the eight months’ salary but we cannot. Even if the government pays us 100 percent of our money, allocation, by the time this gets to school the management will be forced to pay 35 per cent.”
Getting out of woods
A source disclosed that it is not as if the problem of the institution is not unsurmountable and for the institution to survive, the state government should look at the staff and the manner at which they were engaged.
The source disclosed that the institution will continue to struggle financially as long as some people are still in the system.
“The best thing that should have been done is something in management called, Last In First Out (LIFO), if they can do that things will be better. The over 600 newly employed should be disengaged first, restructure the system and look whether there is the need to engage people or not.”
The Nation gathered that the only solution to the predicament of the institution right now is for the government to jerk up its subvention to N300 million. “That is when they can now accommodate everybody. Unfortunately the government is not ready to jerk it up because it did not ask them to employ more staff into the institution.
Management keeps mum
Calls and WhatsApp messages our correspondent sent to the Rector of the institution were yet to be responded to at press time.
The Rector of Rufus Giwa Polytechnic neither returned the call made by the writer nor react to the questionnaire sent to his WhatsApp wall on January 6. Neither did he respond to the reminders sent to him January 7 and 13.
Efforts also made to get some management staff of the institution to react to some of the allegations yielded no result.
The Public Relations Officer of the institution, Mr Ojo S.O., asked the reporter to call him back after missing a call made to him initially, saying he was about to run out of call card.
The reporter later called back but the PRO said he was driving and promised to call back.
He had not done so at press time.