Academic activities have been paralysed for over two months in four tertiary institutions owned by the Edo State Government.
They are the College of Education, Ekiadolor, College of Education, Igueben, Institute of Science and Technology, Usen, and College of Agriculture, Iguoriakhi.
Lecturers and non-academic members of staff of the institutions have been on strike since August over alleged failure of the state government to pay the differentials of 16 months of salary arrears arising from the implementation of Consolidated Polytechnics and Colleges Academic Salary Structure (CONPCASS) and the Consolidated Tertiary Educational Institution Salary Structure (CONTESISS).
Workers of the College of Agriculture, Iguoriakhi are, however, on solidarity strike with the schools.
Managements of the striking institutions have enforced the no-work-no-pay rule the workers’ salaries have been stopped.
The strike, led by lecturers of the institutions, began in June when the students were about to write their examinations. The lecturers earlier went on a three-day warning strike followed by a two-week work-to-rule. In August, the students of the College of Education, Ekiadolor were sent home on a mid-semester break because they destroyed vehicles and property while protesting their teachers’ refusal to return to work at a time they were about to write examinations.
They blocked the Benin-Lagos highway and reportedly attacked the convoy of Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, the Esama of Benin kingdom, who was on his way to Ibadan to attend a function to mark his birthday. However, his security attachés fired tear gas to drive them away, an action that upset the students and led to the rampage.
However, a student, Enabulele Ugbesia, said the protest was peaceful.
“Our lecturers went on a three-day strike. After that, they went for one week and now they began a work to rule strike. We are about to write our examinations and they are delaying us,” he said.
Following the expiration of the work-to-rule strike, the workers embarked on a full strike after several meetings with the government ended in a deadlock.
Last Wednesday, they took their protest to the streets of Benin and marched to the Government House bearing placards with various inscriptions. They wore black attires to mourn the dwindling fortunes of their institutions.
In a position paper addressed to Governor Adams Oshiomhole, the workers under the aegis of Coalition of Unions of State Owned Tertiary Institutions, listed other issues in dispute to include the non-payment of salaries for periods spanning between one and four months, and the use of pension and cooperative funds to pay salaries.
It reads in parts: “The dilapidation of infrastructure in all the concerned institutions has culminated in the non-accreditation of courses and programmes in these institutions. Hence, government should as a matter of urgency provide adequate funding for the purpose of meeting accreditation needs and standards.
“Government should not only condemn but sanction the unilateral management practice of using cooperative, Trust Savings and Check-Off dues of our unions to pay staff salaries.”
“Government should adequately fund these institutions to enable them meet their statutory obligations of paying pensions and gratuities to deserving retirees. We demand our members not captured in Horne Edo State Pension Scheme as a result of non-gazetting of their institutions to be listed.”
President of the Coalition Mr. Fred Omonuwa said they could no longer bear the pains after a series of engagement with the state government through the Commissioner of Education.
He condemned the resort to blackmail and harassment of their members by managements of the institutions.
He criticised the decision of the state to pay their counterparts in Ambrose Alli University (AAU), Ekpoma, regular monthly pension and gratuities as well as increased subvention while they were left unattended to.
Omonuwa, who called for a resumption of negotiations with the state government and all agreements duly signed, urged the government to restore peace and harmony to the institutions.
However, contrary to the workers claims, the Commissioner for Establishment, Labour and Special Duties, Comrade Didi Adodo, said the government was not owing them as an agreement signed in 2010 indicated that the government would not pay arrears if it implemented the new salary structure.
Edo State Head of Service Mr Igbaeremen Obazele said a team headed by Rev Peter Obadan, a former Deputy Governor, has been constituted to look at the issues raised by the unions
Obazele attributed the delay to failure by the managements of three out of the four institutions to make the required statistics available.
He said: “You don’t hold meetings without computation. You cannot negotiate without adequate records. The summary of this issue is money. The summary of your demand is increase in subvention and the government cannot make increase subvention without knowing what is on the ground”.
However, Provost of the College of Education, Ekiadolor, Prof Amen Uhunmwangho, said his institution has submitted all the required documents to the state government.
He said he was particularly worried over the strike action and said the state government intention was to check the records to enable it act fast.
When our correspondent visited the college, the students lamented the poor state of their hostels. More than eight students stay in a room, while the surrounding was filthy.
Meanwhile, the management of the Edo State College of Agriculture, Iguoriakhi, has told its striking workers not to expect their October salaries if they continued to stay away from work.
It said its workers have been paid up to date and that they have no excuse to be absent from work.
A circular signed by the Acting Registrar, O. Osawemwenze, said the management was committed to full implementation of the no-work- no-pay rule.
It was gathered that other institutions have stopped the salaries of the striking workers. The students have been asked to go on mid-semester break.
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