By Emmanuel Edukugho
After 27 years of an illustrious academic career, Professor Sheriffdeen Tella, immediate past Vice Chacellor of Crescent University, Abeokuta, has been sent packing by the management of Olabisi Onabanjo University, OOU, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State.
He alleged that he was being victimized for opposing the hundred million naira bond which the Ogun State Government wanted to raise. Prof Tella was a staff of OOU who was on leave of absence to serve as Vice Chancellor of Crescent University.
According to him, his travails began in May 2010 when he wrote a letter to the State House of Assembly asking them to oppose the bond. Since that time, some powerful forces close to the State Government have been putting pressure on the management of Crescent University to make him withdraw the letter or apologise to the State Government or get pushed out of the University. The same forces were at work to remove him from OOU.
Prof Tella said he wrote the letter in his personal capacity as a citizen of the state, expressing his personal opinion on the bond issue, using his personal letter headed paper, believing that as an economist, he can offer his personal opinion. He did not expect that it should lead to a situation where he will be pushed out of the two universities at the same time.
He stated that at different times, the proprietor of Crescent University, Prince Bola Ajibola asked him to apologise to Ogun State Governor, Gbenga Daniel publicly or withdraw the letter written to the State House of Assembly. Prince Ajibola had told him that he was not aware such letter was written by him, saying he (Prince Ajibola) should have been informed before sending the letter to the state House of Assembly in May, 2010..
By June 2010, when probably the pressure on Prince Ajibola continued, he told Tella to consider two options. Either to withdraw the letter or apologise publicly and dissociate himself and the University from the letter.
But, Tella was not willing to shift ground— no apology since he is entitled to his personal opinion, did not write the letter on the University’s letter headed paper and did not send any copy of the letter to the press.
His position did not go down well with Prince Ajibola who suggestted that both of them should go and see the governor so that he could apologize. Prof Tella refused to follow him to see the governor.
It was believed that the governor called the Vice Chairman of Ogun Elders Forum and complained about the letter to the House of Assembly. At that point, Prince Ajibola had to apologise officially on behalf of the University.
But this did not pacify the situation.Strange calls started coming to the Professor, advising him to be very careful as he could be made to pay dearly for his “unsolicited letter to the state assembly.”
Then after, words started flying that the authorities of OOU are unlikely to renew the leave of absence which Professor Tella had enjoyed since joining Crescent University, he tendered his letter of resignation on December 3, 2010 as he had made up his mind to leave Crescent University, thinking by doing that, he would have some respite. It was not so.
As he returned to OOU on December 6, 2010, trying to settle down to his work, he got a letter from the management. Dated 20th December, 2010, the letter requested him to go back home because his services were no longer needed due to reorganisation by the University Council.
Titled “Reorganisation of the University by the Council,” the letter says, “Due to ongoing reorgnisation within the university, as directed by the Council, your services are no longer required with effect from 27 December, 2010.
By a copy of this letter, the Bursar is being informed to pay you three months salaries in lieu of notice less your indebtedness (if any) payable over the next three months from January 2011.
Kindly complete and submit the attached clearance form to the establishment division where you will be finally cleared. Please endeavour to hand over all the properties in your possesion to your head of Department. The University is very appreciative of your services and wishes you well in your entire future endeavour.”
That was how Professor Tela lost his job with the university he has been serving since 1983 when he began his career as a Graduate Assistant. When the Vice Chancellor, Prof Wale Olaitan was reached, he responded that OOU was not victimising anybody. “He (Professor Tella) is not the only one we have given such a letter in the past. We have a right to reorganise the manpower structure to achieve maximum results. Nobody is being victimized.”