Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State gave perhaps the worst democracy day gift for members of staff of the Edo state-owned College of Agriculture, Iguoriakhi, in Ovia North-East local government area, when he announced the closure of the school and the sacking of the entire workforce.
The 37-year-old college of Agriculture, established by the civilian administration of late Prof. Ambrose Ali in 1981, was later closed by the military administrators, but again reopened by the Lucky Igbinedion administration in 2001.
The school, which offers Ordinary National Diploma and Higher National Diploma in agricultural technology, animal science, crop science, agricultural extension and management, was temporarily closed down in August, 2017 by the Godwin Obaseki-led government with a promise to revamp the institution.
The Governor said the institution was closed down because it was not worthy of being a school of agriculture due to its poor standard.
“I shut down the school to enable me invest money and bring it up to standard. I will revamp the school so that the graduates will be employable,” he said.
Obaseki said he was in talks with Okomu Oil Palm Company Plc, Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR) and PRESCO Plc., to join hands with his administration to revamp the school, help train students and provide them with employment.
“I will provide allowance to the 261 students in the school and send them to farms for industrial training,” he had promised.
A letter signed by the state Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Monday Osaigbovo, dated May 25, 2018, and addressed to all the staff announced the termination of their appointments.
In the letter titled, “Restructuring of the College of Agriculture, Iguoriakhi,” the Commissioner said following the restructuring of the college and subsequent closure, government has decided to terminate their services with effect from January 31, 2018.
“Restructuring of the College of Agriculture, Iguoriakhi. I am directed to refer to the above mentioned subject and to inform you that following the restructuring of the college of Agriculture, Iguoriakhi and its subsequent closure, government has decided that your services are no longer required with effect from 31st January, 2018.
“You are requested to handover all government properties in your possession to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources immediately.
“Furthermore, I am to add that in line with your terms of engagement, your cheque for January 2018, monthly salary with one month in lieu of notice is herewith attached,” he said.
However, during a peaceful protest to the palace of the Oba of Benin, the staff said the termination of their appointments did not follow due process.
They said more than four hundred staff that are in the nominal pay roll of the institution, including the Provost, were affected by the sack.
They also dropped a copy of their protest letter titled, “Special letter for your intervention into the massive sack of all staff of Edo State College of Agriculture, Iguoriakhi,” at the State House of Assembly, for onward transmission to the Speaker of the House, Kabiru Adjoto.
They said that there was no consultation with staff of the institution on the restructuring process neither was there any option of redeployment of staff to other ministry or institution before the massive sack letters were issued to them.
“There was no due process followed by the governor in relieving us of our duties as permanent or confirmed staff in public service, as this contravenes the provisions of the public service rules.
“By record of service, majority of the staff had put up to a minimum of ten years in service while others had put in almost twenty years and that since the governor visited the school on August 7, 2017 and its subsequent temporary closure till date, there is no evidence of any form of infrastructure or administrative restructuring by the governor as against the six months he promised during his visit,” they said.