Wednesday, February 22, 2017 12:52 pm
As LAUTECH reopens, both the owner states and the school authorities should learn from how the crisis started and prevent a recurrence
By Gbenro Adesina/Ibadan
Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso is to reopen as its lecturers have suspended their eight- month strike. In a statement on 22 February in Ogbomoso, Dr Biodun Olaniran, Chairman, LAUTECH chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), announced the suspension of the strike. This followed the union’s congress held on Tuesday 21 February at the university.
According to Olaniran: “After comparing the demands of the union and what the management has met out of the demands, and after extensive deliberations on the struggle so far, the union has resolved to suspend the strike immediately.”
LAUTECH Vice Chancellor, Prof. Seleiman Gbadegesin, according to a NAN report, recently revealed that the two owner state governments (Oyo and Ogun) had paid N584 million out of the N7.6 billion they owed the institution.
How The Problem Started
The recent crisis rocking Osun and Oyo States’ jointly owned university, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, LAUTECH, situated in Ogbomosho area of Oyo State specifically dated to Thursday June 9, 2016, when the workers embarked on strike in protest against non-payment of accumulated salaries.
The hope of the workers to get what they are owed got bleak when Governor Ajimobi in a letter to all the state tertiary institutions including LAUTECH, dated September 20, 2016 stated that the state institutions should no longer expect subventions whether for any arrears, current or future expenses in running the schools from the state government. He stated that each institution will still be getting 25 percent of its subvention to augment the running cost, assuring that the government would continue to support the institutions with the amount as a sign of its commitment to their well-being but are largely expected to internally generate fund for the staff income.
The workers, under the aegis of Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Non-Academic Staff Union, NASU, and Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities SSANU mentioned that the strike which is about eight months now is as a result of the perennial crisis arising from lack of funds to pay workers and to run the university. They vowed that they would not call off the strike until their demands are met.
Though the poor funding that has bedevilled the institution was as a result of the two states failing to fulfil their shared funding responsibility, it was revealed that the State of Osun is guiltier; resulting in series of attempts by Oyo State to severe the State of Osun from the ownership. The latest move as regards this was the motion moved in the plenary session of the Oyo State House of Assembly last September by the Labour Party legislator, Mrs Olawunmi Oladeji representing Ogbomoso North and co-sponsored by nine other lawmakers. The motion, entitled: “Reviewing the Joint Ownership of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology: A Step toward Sole Ownership by Oyo State Government”, was tilted towards sole ownership of the institution by the Oyo State Government.
Olawunmi claimed, “Osun State Government has defaulted, particularly in the payment of salaries of the institution’s members of staff for about 15 months. This has made it difficult for the smooth-running of LAUTECH. The action has threatened the joint ownership of the institution. The Internally Generated Revenue, IGR, of the institution, which is meant for the payment of gratuity, pension of retirees, and other developmental projects has been depleted. This is due to the fact that the money is being used for the payment of workers’ salaries. This called for the total hand-off of Osun Government from the running of the university, and allowing the Oyo State Government to take charge of sole and full ownership”. The motion was supported by the majority of the members of the house.
In a swift reaction in October, the two states affirmed the joint ownership of the institution. Governor Ajimobi said after a meeting with his State of Osun counterpart that the two states had agreed to an irrevocable commitment to the joint ownership of the university in accordance with the laws setting up the institution. Regretting the current challenges of funding and management confronting the institution, Ajimobi noted that the two states have reached a common ground on the necessity for a comprehensive restructuring of the institution to ensure fair and effective development and distribution of academic resources, physical structures and assets of the university across the two states in order to achieve national, regional and global reckoning.
Working towards normalisation in the school, the two states agreed to mobilise an initial N500m lifeline to defray the salary arrears of the striking academic and non-academic members of the college and ensuring that the school resumes next February 1.
However, while warming up for resumption, information filtered to the students that a visitation panel headed by Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, has recommended an upward review of tuition and other fees so as to boost IGR and curb the persistent funding issues in the school. This information brewed another crisis as the students peacefully took to the streets of Ibadan to protest against any plan to increase the students’ school’s fees which can go as far as about N350, 000. The protest was taken to the Oyo State police headquarters, Eleyele, media houses, Correspondents Chapel of NUJ at Mokola, but violently terminated at the governor’s office.
The protest turned violent when the protesting students felt annoyed by the way the governor addressed them as its video clip was obtained on Sahara Reporters website, saying that the governor has sufficiently demonstrated insensitivity to education and the plight of the students.
The governor, who was holding a state council meeting when the students stormed his Agodi Secretariat office, halted the meeting to attend to the students. His words when addressing the students, “You are complaining that your school has been shut for eight months. Am I the person who shut your school? If this is the way you want to talk to me, then do your worst for us to see. If you want to be troublesome, let’s see what happens then. You should have little respect for the constituted authority, no matter what. And if somebody of my calibre meets with you… eight months of shutting your school and so what…This is not the first time schools are getting shut. That the school is shut and so what? You don’t need to come and sing, “It will be rough and tough this time”. It will be tough and rough for who… is it for me? You mean it will be rough and tough for me? Is it for me? (A student responded yes in the affirmative and the governor ordered for his arrest). Bring that boy to me. Bring that boy here for me”.
At this point, the students resisted the police from carrying out the order of the governor as they formed a circle around the student the governor intended to arrest thereby preventing the police. When the governor realised that the situation was getting out of hands, he ordered that the spotted student be left alone and continued with his address, “Leave him. Let me tell you this. We must face the reality. The reality on ground is that firstly, your management, the Oyo State and many governments, they lack fund. If they lack fund, they must find a way to help the students. But if you come here, shouting at me, I am not going to talk to you. And if you want to start trouble, go ahead! This government will not tolerate nonsense from anybody. Let me tell you, what I expect from you is to come here with all humility to plead with me and seek for what can be done for your school to be reopened”.
The students also shouted the governor down at this point leading the governor to feel so bad as he said, “Are these our students”. Pointing to one of them, “You, what course are you ‘doing’? Oh! I am sorry. Is this one a student? You there! It is a pity. You know something, with your behaviour; I am not going to talk to you again. So, if you want to do anything go and do it. As a reasonable person, I am talking to you and you as unreasonable people you are behaving this way. Then I will not talk to you again. We were holding executive meeting, I came out…this is all of you, you are just very few… this is the constituted authority for Oyo State. Even if I don’t pay salary… the fact is that I am the constituted authority. It doesn’t remove that authority. If this is the way you want to talk to me, then go and do your worst”.
At a point, according to a video obtained on YouTube:https://www.facebook.com/Splashfm105.5/videos/1463671726977329/?autoplay_reason=user_settings&video_container_type=0&video_creator_product_type=2&app_id=350685531728&live_video_guests=0, the police unleashed their terror on the students to abort their protest.
Reacting to the uncharitable video of the governor that has gone viral, the governor’s spokesperson, Yomi Layinka brought out another video version uploaded on YouTube: https://youtu.be/4AQmWkdlNbE, which the public claimed to be a distortion of what happened because it was alleged to have been doctored.
While public reactions on the governor’s speech and posture to the students were negative, the governor’s daughter, Ajibola, the governor’s second daughter was alleged to have lambasted the students over the protest through her Instagram page labelling them as ‘generation of mannerless children’. The purported message was quoted to read, “Generation of Mannerless children, they don’t respect their parents, how will they respect the Constitution”.
However, Ajibola has debunked the emanation of the message from her. According to a statement titled, “Press Release by Mrs. Ajibola Ajayi”, which reads in parts:
“My attention has been drawn to a series of publications on social media and the Internet at large, which claim that I, Mrs. Ajibola Ajayi (formerly known as Miss Ajibola Abiola-Ajimobi) “lambasted” and “lashed out” at LAUTECH students calling them “a manner less generation … on my Instagram page.
“I wish to state that this story is completely false. It is a malicious publication wilfully targeted at maligning and marring my character. This is an example of irresponsible journalism that has now incited hatred and violence against my husband, my children and myself. Over the last 48 hours, my reputation has been tarnished and my family and I have been subjected to cyber bullying and harassment. I have also received threats of violence as well as limitless insults as a result of this false publication.
“This has now spiralled out of control hence I feel the need to publicly address it since I have received numerous calls from various people, including friends, family members, colleagues and clients.
“I wish to further state that the Instagram page referred to as “conceited_csj” through which it was alleged that I made the purported statement does not belong to me. Having once been a student myself, I am sympathetic to the plight of the LAUTECH students and empathise with them.
“It is unfair that people would publish stories without establishing the authenticity or verifying the truthfulness of the stories they are publishing. Lastly, I would like to reiterate that this false story and the resulting negative comments on various social media platforms have brought my husband and I enormous distress”.
Meanwhile, despite the promise that the institution will be re-opened by February 1, the LAUTECH students are gearing up for what they tagged ‘Mega Rally’ to protest the proposed hike in school fees. Some of the students lamented that the Chancellor of the University, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who is a national leader of All Progressive Party, APC, and former Lagos State Governor, should help in finding a lasting solution to the crises rocking the institution. They promise to resist with their last blood any attempt to privatise the University as that will translate to the children of the poor not being able to afford University education.
Though, in line with the directive of the two owner states that the school should resume in February 1, the students earlier returned to the school and in few days were seen reading in the classrooms but their striking lecturers and non academic staff did not call off their strike. They vowed that the strike would not be called off unless the government pays the backlog of the remuneration owed the staff and also convince the staff that it would be sustained and they would not be owed again.
However, both Governors Ajimobi and Aregbesola, while lamenting the non-resumption of academic activities in the school as directed, have inaugurated a 10-member technical committee to review the report of the Chief Wole Olanipekun-led visitation panel to the institution. The committee has only two weeks to submit its report. With the recent commitment of the government, it could be possible that the school may resume any moment from now.