THE GRAND DESIGN TO TAKE OVER EASTERN PALM UNIVERSITY
By Anthony Opara
The Eastern Palm University (EPU) is one of the best universities in the east of the Niger structurally. It is in the class of the University of Ife in its glorious days. It was registered as the 42nd state university and the 143rd University in Nigeria by the National Universities Commission (NUC) on April 13th 2016. The Imo State House of Assembly approved the acquisition of this university by Law no 13 of 2016 passed by the assembly. The Governor, Rochas Anayo Okorocha built this university in his village, Ogboko in Orlu. Investigations by the Difference Newspaper revealed that the Governor did not spare any expense in the building of this university which was to be one of its kind in university education in the land. Those in opposition as to why a poor state like Imo would acquire another university given the fact of the inability of the state to pay salaries of workers and run the affairs of state but when you behold the university they would be forced by sheer beauty of the university to support him. Imo has the Imo State University in the state University, University of Agriculture Umuagwo, and the Federal University of Technology (FUTO), The Federal Polytechnic as well as The Alvan College of Education, Owerri which is affiliated with the University of Nigeria, UNN, and which awards degrees in Education from UNN; amidst several other schools but Rochas went ahead to build the Eastern Palm University, Ogboko.
Indeed, the university is a sight to behold in terms of structural development but universities go beyond buildings. Academic programmes are the onions great universities are made of and the Rochas administration did not spare any effort in approaching the National Universities Commission (NUC) to approve some of the courses the university wanted to start with. NUC granted tentative approval for the University to start. To head this institution, the APC administration poached Professor Linus Osuagwu of the Yola-based American University of Nigeria (AUN) to run the institution. Wanting to render service to his state, the Professor dutifully came over, but as soon as he arrived Rochas and his handpicked Pro-Chancellor, Mrs Nonye Rajis Okpara, a former envoy of Nigeria to Singapore unfolded plans to convert the school to a private estate of the Governor. First, they applied to JAMB to order that the school be named a private University. At this time, the Governor had started making comments to the effect that the school was a partnership between the Imo State Government and the Rochas Foundation and that while the Rochas Foundation owned 90% of the school the Imo State Government on it part only had a 10% stake. Professor Osuagwu resisted this brazen attempt by writing to JAMB to restore the status of the institution as a state university. With this, the battle line was drawn and the Rochas clan led by the Pro-Chancellor commenced a programme to undermine the Vice Chancellor. The Pro-Chancellor became a kind of head of a local government of the school and single handedly embarked on the employment of all kinds of people who were not qualified in any way to work in an academic environment and even some with questionable academic credentials. Professor Osuagwu felt his dream for the university would be truncated and tried to resist the cabal led by the Pro Chancellor. He even wrote to some institutions to verify the qualifications of some of the principal staff of the school. For instance, the Bursar, Mr. Olympe J.E Anyanwu appointed by the Pro Chancellor allegedly could not present an NYSC certificate or even an exemption alternative. It was confirmed that the university he said he had attended was not in existence as at when he got the certificate that he presented and to worsen matters the same official is said to be pursuing a PhD at the moment! He is just one of the many people with questionable academic credentials that have made their way into sensitive offices within the system. At a point agents of the Pro Chancellor started to play dirty by going as far as placing cameras in sensitive areas to trap Professor in a compromising situation in order to blackmail him but they didn’t succeed as the man was as clean as a whistle. At some point in all of this, the gentlemanly academic simply took a decision to leave and indeed returned to Yola before informing the powers-that-be that he had resigned. At this time also, the spokesperson of the University also walked away and only also resigned from a safe distance. The spokesperson, a well-qualified and well-bred journalist who had been in the employ of a national newspaper and was equally a graduate of the University of Nigeria, UNN was at the institution’s inception, a major catch for the new citadel of learning and had within the period of her short stay there massively helped in placing the university on a very high pedestal.
The grand pity in all of these is that the school which would have taken off in November 2017 is no where ready to do so and students and their parents are becoming agitated that in spite of their huge investments that thy ave nde tis far, the school is yet to resume for full an proper academic activities. The schools website www.epu.edu,ng has been shut down as the developer who was being owed on account of his work on the site, had elected to walk away with the codes when he noticed that rather than pay him the Pro-Chancellor had gone on to contract another developer to build another website.
To give people a false sense of hope, the Pro Chancellor employed Professor Odafe Otobo as a nominal stand-in VC while he, the Pro Chancellor, continues to run the affairs of the University on behalf of Governor Okorocha. Professor Otobo no doubt is an erudite Professor of Industrial Relations who was on the verge of retiring from the University of Lagos. He is at the moment however happy to collect the money he is being given and allow the ambitious Pro Chancellor run the affairs of the school on behalf of Governor Rochas. It’s also painful that in spite of the state funds poured into the university, formal education is yet to begin as what needs to be done in terms of accreditation for almost all the courses have not been done. The Pro Chancellor is perhaps the only one in the history of university management who is in the university every day and has input in all aspects of the university even when some of the issues are complex and highly technical. Investigations have revealed a grand design by Rochas Okorocha to dubiously appropriate’ this citadel of education and convert to his private use as one of his pension for running the state for eight years though he is also thinking of going to the Pension house of most Governors, the Senate even as he props his son in law to succeed him in office so that his daughter will succeed her mother as first lady.
Efforts by the Difference Newspaper to reach Ernest Onuoha, Registrar of the University met a brick wall as he insisted that we must visit him at Ogboko before he can confirm some issues which are even in the public domain. Evidence gathered indicates that he runs the university with the Pro Chancellor whilst Professor Otobo who will be retiring from Unilag this year looks on. Sources said that unless Imo Prominent Citizens keep quiet Rochas and his cohorts who are mainly family members will brazenly ‘appropriate’ the University, saying that the talk about the university being partly owned by the Imo State Government and the Rochas Foundation was an after-thought and a plan to convert what is not his to his in the same way he has been converting several government properties into his own. But for the vigilance of youths of Owerri, Rochas would have converted the entire stretch of Area K to private use, and perhaps only for his family members but the youths said that can only happen over their dead bodies and for several months, they camped in the Area for months until a flustered Governor had no other option but to throw in the towel. His plan to equally sell of the Eke Ukwu Owerri main market is another scheme of his that has collapsed like a pack of cards as the Owerri indigenes have told him in no uncertain terms that he cannot take over the market for his private use. They have used the instrumentality of the courts tie him up such that the court ordered maintenance of status quo may be in place until the end of his tenure and as electioneering campaigns kick off he won’t want to be seen as the enemy of the people as he is being painted also, given his plan to force his son in law to replace him as Governor. The race to Douglas House, Owerri will be an epic one as several fights are on, including one on the retrieval of the Eastern Palm University from the Okorocha clan.