By Emeka Okafor
The Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike (MOUAU), Abia State branch of the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) has threatened to embark on industrial action within seven days if the management of the institution refuse to pay the 54 months Occupational Hazard Allowance (OHA) arrears owed its members.
According to the union, the federal government and national body of the union had in 2009 reached an agreement on the payment Occupational Hazard Allowance to its members owing to the hazardous jobs done by members of NAAT in the laboratories.
The union particularly accused the Vice Chancellor of the institution, Prof.Francis Ogbonnaya Otunta, of allegedly refusing to pay the hazard allowance since his assumption of office despite his predecessors complying with the agreement and paying up-to-date before the end of their respective tenures.
In a text of press briefing signed by NAAT’s MOUAU chairman, Mr. Ime Michael Okon and Secretary, Mr. Obasi Richard hinted that the union had written several letters to the school management including the Vice Chancellor and the Governing Council for the payment but they all declined.
According to the statement, “NAAT at the National level in 2009 entered into agreement with Federal Government of Nigeria [FGN], and the Government graciously approved the payment of ₦360,000.00 per annum (that is ₦30,000.00 monthly) as Occupational Hazard Allowance [OHA] due to the hazardous jobs done by members of NAAT in the Laboratories.
“As a union, the only thing that will make us accept this letter and rescind in our proposed action is that the management should tell us ‘when and how this money will paid between today the 7th of February, to the next 7days 14th February 2020,’ failure to toll such path of commitment.
The union will direct her members to commence chains of actions of civil disobedience lined up against the management of the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike Abia State no minding it’s consequences if actually there is any for our members has run out of patience, we hardly believes them again, yes in September 2019 we sent delegates to see the Vice Chancellor and he after a long deliberation agreed to do something and till now nothing.
“He had directed the police to tear gas us before now within this same administration for protesting peacefully on a matriculation day, we are ready for more, we in NAAT don’t die, we’re like seed we germinate.”
The aggrieved union recalled that “In February 2011, the 3rd Vice Chancellor of Michael Okpara University of Agriculture Umudike Abia State, Prof Ikenna Onyido implemented this agreement between NAAT and the FGN and paid arrears to 2009 and same continued running as part of the salary of members till five months before the end of the administration of the 4th Vice Chancellor Prof. Hilary Odo Edeoga precisely in November 2015.
“When the allowance was quarantined from our salaries without reasons or any memorandum for explanation wheresoever till this day. Let me remind you that other universities borrowed a leaf from Umudike by coming here to take our pay-slips samples and theirs was implemented with arrears and they are still enjoying it till this day while Michael Okpara University of Agriculture Umudike Abia State that set the pace suddenly reneged.”
It further posited that NAAT as a peaceful union had exhausted all peaceful means to resolve the lingering issue but the university management had remained adamant and unconcerned about the welfare of its members who are exposed to all manner of hazard in line of duty.
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The union added that the school management not yielding to its demanded, it approached the Industrial Arbitration Panel whom had directed the school authorities to immediately restore the allowances within three weeks.
“This University is now known for everything inhuman, everything negativity, everything abnormality. As I speak with you our grievances are many: from delayed promotion appraisal of which its arrears is not paid to staff victimization, our members’ promotions are hanging with moral justification.
“As a law abiding and peace loving union on campus, we written memo upon memo over one case among many, restoration of the Occupational Hazard Allowance, we’ve taken this case to Alternative Dispute Resolution Center [ARDC] chaired by the wife of the Vice Chancellor on campus Barr. Mrs Bertha Nnenna Otunta, we have lobbied and also sought for the intervention the Governing Council led by H.E Alhaji Mohammed Zayyana.
“it might surprise you that all these failed as the University management led by the Vice Chancellor Prof.Francis Ogbonnaya Otunta sat on this Allowance, and we have no other option than our resolve to approach the Industrial Arbitration Panel of which it’s notice has been communicated to the management on the 22nd of January,2020 with a three weeks grace period for the management to restore this allowance and commence payment of its arrears.
“I must not conclude without telling the world and all that cares to hear and know the truth that before the emergency of the 5th Vice Chancellor Prof. Francis Ogbonnaya Otunta on 1st March, 2011 the National Association of Academic Technologists NAAT MOUAU BRANCH was on strike over this issue, as a mark of honour the strike action was suspended and our members resolved to allow him settle and had high hope he will do the right thing.
“Whoever that is in doubt of our claim should approach any university state or Federal, the likes of FUTO, UNIUYO, UNICAL, AWKA, ALEX EKWUEME etc, why must Umudike be different, why must our case be different? This time like Timaya, as a union we can’t kill ourselves but to let the world hear us and tell the Prof Francis Ogbonnaya Otunta and his team to release our fifty four  months of Allowances, he will not use this money God hear us”, the statement further posited.
Meanwhile, efforts by this medium to speak with the institution’s Registrar and Public Relations Officer, Mrs Ogwo Jacinta and Adanma Odefa respectively proved abortive as calls to their telephone lines were not connecting.