The level of activities in general in and around Abia State University, Uturu (ABSU) will be at variance with the expectation of any visitor who arrived there with a mindset on the otherwise last Friday morning.
Fortnight ago, there was unprecedented panic in the institution following the death of the three lecturers, Prof. A. I. Nwabughuogu of History/International Relations Department, Dr D. S. Okoroigwe of Geography/Planning Department, and Dr Osince Okike of Political Science, who reportedly died due to economic hardship .
When LEADERSHIP weekend visited the institution for clarification ,, both academic and non-academic staff members , as well as the students, who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed that the demised lecturers were owed salaries. They said, “ Being family men and women as well as breadwinners to their various families (receiving no salary) they had nothing to put on their table.
LEADERSHIP weekend further observed that rather than declare some days of mourning in their honour, learning activities, as well as programmes by different service providers were as usual busy, as they were pursuing their different agendas. Even as the school plans to commence it’s first semester examinations next week.
While many have condemned the failure of the school authority to mourn the deceased and possibly fly its flag at half-mast, others who also described the school’s leadership as heartless went further to blame the arrears of salaries owed the trio on their death, insisting that the three lecturers died of hunger as a result of non-payment of salaries.
While efforts to ascertain the cause of their deaths from the school authority failed, as the issue is still shrouded in secrecy, devastated friends and colleagues of the deceased lecturers firmly believe that , “the weight of their responsibility as breadwinners as well as the agony of not getting paid even while working and the daily reminder of unpaid loans they had acquired were constant reminder up until their death.
Several sources in the institution who spoke to LEADERSHIP weekend but pleaded not to be named revealed that many lecturers in the school were going through hardship as they could barely feed..
A lecturer, names withheld, told our correspondent that, “we are being owed more than seven months’ salaries; (the last time we were paid) was in January 2021.”
He also supported allegations by some degree students that non-remittance of their school fees was stalling their graduation from the University,
The chairperson of the university’s branch of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) Dr. Victor Nkemdirim, was quoted as saying ,”I can confirm the incident. It is very unfortunate.”
And since then, both the authorities of the University and the state government have been on edge trying to explain the circumstances of the unfortunate incidents and to provide answers to the many questions they have continued to attract.
They have also said that they are deeply pained by the incidents no , and have indicated so. They have equally expressed shock and are as much infuriated by the report, which they insist was very embarrassing to them.
A reliable source at the office of the state commissioner for information in the capital, Chief John Okiyi Kalu, told LEADERSHIP Sunday that his boss expressed surprise at the report and condemned it in all ramifications.
“He was most touched by the aspect of the report which claimed that their deaths might have been due to economic hardship caused by accumulated salary arrears. He was also disturbed that the report said they died mysteriously,” it added.
Like he had always maintained, Kalu had insisted that the administration is not averse to constructive criticism from any quarters especially the media, but would always demand to be given the opportunity to state its side of every story before making such public
According to the source, the strong advocate of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s administration had noted with a fury that if the purpose of the report was to tarnish the administration’s image it had failed to fly.
Similarly, when LEADERSHIP Sunday contacted a highly placed staff of the university following the report, he expressed worry that the incident which he said was being taken beyond the realm of the realities on the ground towards sensationalism.
Speaking further with disgust over the report, he explained that for sure the lecturers did not die either mysteriously or on the same day as was reported even as the causes of their death were yet to be determined by a competent medical source.
The source, who disclosed that it was only one of the lecturers, that was still in service to the best of his knowledge, equally argued that it was unacceptable for anyone to say the deaths were mysterious until their causes were determined.
Pleading against celebrating or sensationalizing “unfortunate incidents” the source, who added that the university understands the pain of the bereaved families, concluded by saying “We have to wait for the doctor’s report if required before arriving at any conclusions.”
It would not be out of place to suggest that it was two messages that were posted on the University’s WhatsApp platform that gave birth to the story. The messages, posted on September 5,2021 announced the deaths of two of the lecturers without mentioning the dates, circumstances, or places.
The first read thus: “We received with great shock the death of our own Professor A.I Nwabuoghuogu. May his soul rest in peace. May the Almighty God fill the vacuum in the family and grant them the fortitude to bear this irreparable and irreplaceable loss. It is well.”
While the second followed with “May the gentle soul of Dr. D. S. Okoroigwe (KSM), my brother in the Lord, and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace, Amen. Eternal rest grant unto him oh Lord and let Your perpetual light shine upon him, Amen.
However, in a swift response, the management of the Abia State University Uturu, ABSU, had since cleared the air over the reported death of the three lecturers, saying they did not die in one day contrary to media reports
The image maker of the institution, Mr Chijioke Nwogu, in a press statement, also denied that they died as a result of hardship occasioned by salary arrears.
ABSU said the deceased died of natural cause on different days, adding that it will be improper to impute motives on the cause of their death
Describing the media report as embarrassing the statement threatened legal action against the affected platform.The university condoled with the bereaved families while praying for the eternal repose of the souls of the departed. They regretted that enemies of the were on a satanic mission to tarnish their image for reasons best known to them
The statement began by saying the attention of the governing authorities of the University had been drawn to the report which it described as malicious “in one of the dailies and online alleging that three of the senior academics of the University died on the same day from an undisclosed ailment.”
“The death of these academics did not occur the same day as maliciously reported in the media. Available Information from the families of the deceased revealed they died on different days in September 2021.”
The statement further disclosed that the departed lecturers were reported to have been battling with prolonged individual health challenges for a while, which the University argued could happen to any mortal anytime.
“It is uncharitable for anyone to allude or insinuate any other reason for the cause of the death of these academics some of who had served the University and retired to anything other than death. The death that came when it pleased the Lord.”
It explained that in separate messages to the families of the deceased, the vice-chancellor (VC) of the University, Prof Onyemaechi Ogbulu had expressed deep shock and sadness over the incidents and prayed God to grant both the families and the University the fortitude to bear the losses
According to the statement, Ogbulu is less than one year on the seat, had added that as we all do not know the day of our death and can not, therefore, question God on how and when He decides to call us home.
It said: “The vice-chancellor described the report insinuating mischievous reasons to the cause or coincidence of the deaths of those senior academics as unfortunate and a disservice to the spirit of the death and the University.”
Furthermore, the statement noted that the vice-chancellor had prioritised staff welfare, promotion, and protection of lives and property of all and would continue to do so despite obvious challenges. “Journalists are cautioned to always verify their stories before publication as the University may be compelled to take legal action against the fake publication.”the statement concluded.