By Samuel Oyadongha
Yenagoaâ€”The alleged plan by the Bayelsa State government to sack 470 staff of the Bayelsa State College of Arts and Science (BYCAS), Agudama-Epie, in the wake of ongoing biometric capture exercise to determine the state workforce, is now causing anxiety among staff of the institution.
It was learnt that the salaries of over 470 members of staff of the state government-owned institution, including 280 employed by the immediate past administration, have been put on hold, pending the completion of the ongoing biometrics exercise.
The biometrics exercise, according to a letter signed by Chief M. I. Efere, captured 75 Ministries, Departments and Agencies, (MDAs) comprised of employees from the main civil service, other self accounting boards and agencies as well as Niger Delta University and Bayelsa College of Arts and Science.
In a letter forwarded to the management of the institution, a copy of which was made available to Vanguard, salaries of 470 members of staff of the school were suspended. Out of this figure, 280 workers were employed by the immediate past administration.
While the remaining figure classified under the following sub heads; retirees, deceased, duplication of appointment letter and absentees from the exercise.
The troubled institution was shut down over a year ago by the state government, which in its place proposed a College of Education to be sited at Okpoama in the Brass local government area of the state.
But addressing newsmen in Yenagoa, the chairman of the Academic Staff Union ofÂ BYCAS, Sapele Wilfred faulted the nullification ofÂ the 270 staff appointments approved by the Governing Council and previous administration inÂ theÂ state.
He said though the union was not against identifying ghost workers in the payroll of BYCAS, but against the proposed sacking of the 270 staff employed two years ago by the council, insisting that government has no power to lay-off the staff.
But management of the Due Process andÂ e-Governance Bureau conducting the biometric capture exercise said the 270 staff in question were employed illegally when there was an embargo on employment by the previous administration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
A director in the Bureau had declared that there was no going back on the sacking of the 270 staff whose appointments would be terminated later this month.
Wilfred submitted that if the Bureau had no hidden agenda, it would have responded to a letter of complaint from the unions in June after their members complained severally that officials of the Bureau would not allow them to undergo the verification exercise.
He argued that the Bureau also arrogated powers to itself when it stated that employment of staff in 2007 by authorities of the College was illegal because Governor Timipre Sylva did not sign their letters of employment, adding that it contradicted the laws setting up the institution which empowers its Governing Council to act and decide accordingly.
Wilfred said: â€œWe donâ€™t know what the Bureau is doing. Describing the employment of staff in 2007 as illegal is an insult. The Governing Council of the College acted on the need to upgrade BYCAS to a full fledged polytechnic and the accreditation of the courses following a directive by the former Governor and now Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
â€œThese people were employed before Governor Sylva came into office. So, request by the Bureau for Sylvaâ€™s approval letter for employment in the College is against best practices. The College Law is there.
â€œThe government wants to scrap the College. Just two years ago, Governor Sylva stopped the Governing Council from admitting students. Now they want to sack 470 staff over false claims by the Due Process.
â€œWe wrote the Bureau in June after we received several complaints from our members who presented themselves for verification but officials of the Bureau would not allow them to undergo the exercise. Since June till now, they have not replied. We copied the Governor and the Speaker of the state House of Assembly.
â€œAnd each time we go there (the Bureauâ€™s office), the officials would harass us, including management officials of the Collegeâ€.
The groups warned the state government to desist from any attempt to scrap BYCAS or stop payment of staff salaries, saying they would resist such attempts.
They also called on well-meaning individuals of the state to appeal to Governor Sylva to cancel the idea of scraping BYCAS and sacking of its staff because the institution had been producing middle-level manpower for the state.
Reacting to the allege move to sack the workers , Patterson Ogon, a director at the bureauÂ dismissed the allegations of the groups explaining that the bureau merely wanted every staff of the college to avail themselves for the verification exercise as it was winding up.
Ogon, who spoke on the phone, said the biometric exercise was not for groups, adding that everybody was required to present themselves for screening and verification.
â€œIt is not true that we want to scrap BYCAS or sack the staff. They have various problems with the biometric. Some did not even show up. Now, we are about to wind up the exercise. We did not direct that their salaries and allowances be stopped. We said it should kept in a special account until the affected staff have cleared themselvesâ€, Ogon added.
By Samuel Oyadongha, Yenagoa
A group, Bayelsa Innovation Forum, yesterday hailed President Musa Yarâ€™Adua and the South-South governors for the successful completion of the disarmament programme for militants in the Niger Delta.
According to the group, the burden to prove the administrationâ€™s sincerity in resolving contentious issues in the region lies with the President.
The group, made up of members of different political parties in the state, said though there were hiccups in the disarmament process, the decision of Chief Government Ekpompolo, alias Tompolo, and General Ateke Tom, to accept amnesty has raised the profile of the president and hope for the Niger Delta.
In a statement issued in Yenagoa by its Director of Media and Publicity, Mr. Jonny Ben, the group said the indigenes of the region appreciate the efforts of the federal government at proffering a lasting solution to the problem of the region and the understanding of the freedom fighters.
â€œWe commend the president on the success of the amnesty programme offered the freedom fighters that were unfortunately labelled militants. This commendation is made based on the huge success so far recorded in the programme.
â€œWe appreciate the efforts of the federal government in proffering lasting solutions the problems of the troubled region and understanding of the freedom fighters in the Niger Delta.
â€œNow that the disarmament programme has achieved the desired results, it has become imperative for the federal government to fulfill its part of the bargain, which, of course, is the basic developmental programme considered as the post-amnesty agreements.
â€œBefore then, government should hasten up the empowerment programmes of these great men to ensure that they are meaningfully engaged to avoid fresh rifts which could be more grievous, as the idle mind is the devils workshop,â€ the group said.
It also called on the federal government to set up a monitoring committee to watch over the ex-militants to avoid being infiltrated by politicians who may want to engage them for future elections in 2011.
The group said:Â â€œWe want the act by these politicians to be punishable by death.Â Security agents should focus their search lights and closely monitor the activities of these particular politicians and prevent them from further procurement of arms for the purposes of elections in Nigeria, with particular reference to the region.â€