Bursar’s suspension sparks row in UNICAL

CAN a Vice-Chancellor (VC) suspend  a Bursar without the Governing Council’s approval? This is the basis of a crisis at the University of Calabar (UNICAL), following the suspension of the Bursar, Mr Peter Agi, by the VC, Prof Zana Akpagu,for alleged gross misconduct, highhandedness, impersonation and absenteeism.

The fallout of the crisis almost led to a fracas between students and an anti-Bursar group,   comprising workers and contractors, who shut the school gate during a protest.

The confrontation was, however, averted. Thanks to the maturity displayed by the protesters led by the Protocol Officer, Mr Godwin Iyam.

It was gathered that some students, led by the Students’ Union Government (SUG) President, Daniel Joseph, held a solidarity protest for the embattled bursar, warning the anti-Bursar demonstrators not to destabilise the school. The students disrupted the protest at the Administrative Block.

The aggrieved members of staff told the students to stay off the matter, saying their protest had nothing to do with academics. But, the students were adamant, screaming: “Peter Agi is our man”, “Mr P, na you be our own”, “UNICAL Bursar is our own”. It took the intervention of riot policemen to disperse the students, who vowed to oppose any move by the institution to suspend the Bursar.

Some students criticised the SUG president’s action, urging the management to investigate the union’s protest.

A 400-Level Microbiology student, who gave his name as Ini, said the protest was led by concerned students from Yala Local Government Area of Cross River State. The Bursar, Ini said, hails from the council. He criticised Daniel for using the union to settle ethnic issue, saying: “The SUG is for all students and not an ethnic megaphone for anyone.”

Frank Okon, a 300-Level Economics student, said many students refused to join the protest, since it had nothing to do with students.

The aggrieved staffers accused the Bursar of taking “unilateral decisions” without carrying the VC along. They also accused Agi of being selective in paying staff salaries and allowances, adding that he usually delayed payment to contractors.

The management suspended activities of the union after the protest. CAMPUSLIFE gathered that Daniel allegedly collected N200,000 from an unnamed person to disrupt the anti-Bursar protest.

The letter of suspension of the union activities reads: “Following advice by Deputy Chief Security Officer of the university and other concerned staff that the students union should stay away from crisis involving some aggrieved staff and the Bursar, the students union refused to adhere to the advice and went ahead to mobilise students and miscreants to disrupt the peaceful protest organised by the staff.

“The action resulted in a scuffle between your group and security personnel, some of whom sustained injuries and loss of their personal possessions, like wristwatches, wedding bands and cell phones.

“In the light of the above, the students union leaders are hereby suspended from office with immediate effect, pending further actions by the university management. You are by this letter advised to handover all university property in your possession to the Deputy Chief Security Officer.”

Daniel denied collecting money to stage the pro-Bursar protest. He said the union was concerned about attempts to destabilise the school.

He said: “When I saw the aggrieved crowd at the administrative block, I gathered some students and rushed down with the union vehicle to intervene. On getting there, we were told the protest was not students’ matter or had anything to do with academic activities. But I insisted the protest should stop.

“Then, some miscreants came from nowhere to disrupt the protest. The people who stage the pro-Bursa protest were not students.”

Daniel said he had not received the letter suspending him.

The Dean of Students Affairs (DSA), Prof Felix Akpan, told CAMPUSLIFE that he received the copy of the letter, saying Daniel was being mischievous to claim he did not see it.

The DSA brought out the letter and showed our correspondent where the suspended union president appended his signature.

The management has set up a panel to probe the students’ involvement in the protest.

However, the crisis of confidence raging in the school Administrative Block took another turn last Friday when the Registrar, Mr Moses Abang, released a letter suspending the Bursar for allegedly “impersonating the VC on the e-payment platform of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)”, among others.

The letter was dated August 22 and reads: “In an emergency meeting held today, August 22, 2016, the management considered recent developments on campus, especially your arrest by the Nigeria Police vide letter no. AB: 3621/ CRS/DFA/VOL.T/123 of August 17, 2016, on allegations of fraud, forgery and threat to life. It has become imperative that you step aside as Bursar and clear yourself of these allegations.

“And that you have been impersonating the Vice-Chancellor on the CBN e-payment platform by making final approvals and payments, a duty that is the responsibility of the Vice-Chancellor, who is the Chief Accounting Officer of the university.

“Again, you made yourself absent from office without requesting any of your deputies to act in your capacity, thus creating a vacuum in the administration. You deliberately refused to purchase an official car for the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Administration, eight months after he was appointed into office. You have ignored several Governing Council and management directives on this.

“You bluntly refused to pay TETFund contractors who have successfully executed jobs and rendered services to the university, even when such contractors have been cleared for payments. The consequence of this is that, while other universities are already making progress and accessing the 2015 allocation, the University of Calabar cannot exhaust the 2013 allocation to qualify for the next tranche.”

The institution directed Agi to handover immediately to Mrs Atim Mensah, the most senior Deputy Bursar, while Mr Joseph Odum was asked to step into the position left by Mensah.

When the news filtered in that the Agi had been suspended, staff members went wild with jubilation. They described Agi as a “cog in the wheel of the university’s progress”. They listed several accusations against the embattled Bursar, including withholding staff’s legitimate entitlements and refusal to remit salary deductions to Staff Multipurpose Cooperative Society.

Agi denied all allegations against him, saying he was not aware of his suspension. He said: “I’m not aware of any suspension. I have not been issued a query. I’m aware of the guideline and rules on procedures in the appointment, suspension or otherwise of any principal officer of the university. I am currently on sick break and I wrote a letter to that effect, copying all principal officers. So, for anybody to say that I am suspended without following the civil service rules amounts to nothing. I am still the Bursar.”

The Registrar denied the institution was aware of Agi’s sick leave. CAMPUSLFE gathered that effort to serve Agi his letter failed, as he had instructed his domestic staff not to receive any letter on his behalf.

CAMPUSLIFE gathered that the Governing Council Chairman, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, had called for a meeting this week.

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