On the 3rd of June, 2017, the workers of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, (LAUTECH) Ogbomosho embarked on an indefinite strike action to drive home their demands, particularly on the non-payment of their outstanding salaries. The strike has then been called off on Tuesday, October 17. KAZEEM MOHAMMED traces the issues leading to the action.
Filtering is the good news that the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), jointly owned by the governments of Osun and Oyo state have resumed after a protracted strike action embarked on by the workers of the university.
Earlier in June 2017, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in LAUTECH announced the commencement of an indefinite strike, three months after the suspension of an 8-month industrial action earlier embarked upon by the union.
According to the statement by the ASUU Chairperson, Biodun Olaniran, and the Secretary Toyin Abegunrin, the strike became inevitable since the two governments of Oyo and Osun “have failed to honour the demands of paying the salaries arrears of its union members in due time, saying, “it had been over two years now that LAUTECH had been thrown into crippling financial crises due to government’s refusal to meet its funding obligations to the institution,” they said.
The strike action had left the students at home for months and truncated the academic activities in the institution. Several pleas went by, several threatening messages circulated, and frustrations pervaded the institution, but all these did not have any positive effect.
Kudos must be given to the two owner states of Osun and Oyo for the appointment of the new Governing Council, led by the former Head of Service of the Federation, Professor Oladapo Afolabi whose appointment seems to have played a significant role in the return of the workers of the university to duty. The university staff must also be commended for sheathing their sword after reaching a compromise with the management of the institution.
It would be recalled that the Pro-Chancellor and the Chairman of the council, Professor Afolabi had shortly after his appointment assured that the institution would soon reopen for normal academic activities, saying, the new council was closer to finding a lasting solution to the problems confronting the institution, just as he expressed the council’s readiness to restore the lost hope in the institution.
While admitting that the new council was inaugurated at the most trying time, Afolabi said they have accepted the challenges and are ready to ensure that all the issues in contention are resolved.
“We are optimistic of early resolution to the crises rocking LAUTECH; government is committed to bringing back a formidable university, council and management are also determined to ensure an enduring legacy. In about 15 or 20 days, we should be able to give you the resumption date.”
Afolabi also promised to ensure that the institution becomes self-sustaining and not be a burden to the owner state governors.
However, the strike has though been suspended, but the issue of self-sustainability has always been the issue in contention. While the governments of the two owner states have insisted that the university should be able to sustain itself without subventions from the governments, considering the huge number of students paying schools fees, some stakeholders, particularly the labour unions have insisted that the governments of the two states were not committed to ensuring the sustainability of the university.
Going by the available data, LAUTECH has student population of 27,457 undergraduates (regular), paying average of N70, 000; 1,514 undergraduate (Part time), paying average of N120, 000; 2,857 academic postgraduate (regular) and 3,054 (part time) paying minimum of N150, 000; professional postgraduate students of 2600 paying average of N250, 000; Open Distance Learning (ODL) 655; Pre-degree and other programmes are also not left out, all totaling 35,507 Students.
It was in the midst of the crisis that the two owner states set up a visitation panel, led by Chief Wole Olanipekun, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria to review the activities of the university, with a view to finding a permanent solution to the issues bordering on the development of the institution.
After its finding, the panel discovered that no fewer than 97 different bank accounts in almost all the commercial banks in the country were being operated by the institution as against the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy of the government. It was also revealed that TETFUND and Needs Assessment Funds running into billions of naira have been given to LAUTECH without commensurate research output to show for it.
It was the recommendation of the panel that a forensic auditing of the finances of the university should be carried out, as part of the way to bring an end to the crisis rocking the citadel of learning.
The two owner states have claimed that they had released a total sum of N13.626 billion to the university as subventions between 2011 and 2016. This is excluding additional Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) by the institution through its various business ventures and activities running into billions of naira.
In line with the recommendation of the panel of enquiry and the believe that the institution should be able to sustain itself without necessarily relying on subventions from states, the service of an Auditing Firm, KPMG was employed by the two states to carry out a forensic auditing of the finances of the institution.
The exercise initially met a brick wall, as the labour unions were alleged to be frustrating the exercise by forcing the auditing team out of the university and denying them access to the documents required for the exercise. This interference by the labour union also raised a lot of dust and throw suspicions that perhaps, the management and the labour unions were having something in common to hide, wondering why a transparent exercise of such would be truncated. After series of interventions and insistence by the two owner states, the auditing was eventually allowed. It has since been concluded, the report submitted and currently undergoing review.
At a point in July, Senate President Bukola Saraki stepped in, making ‘promises’ to release a massive sum of N4 billion funding through the federal government and ensuring a permanent solution by also asking the federal government to look into taking over the institution. These promises have been described by observers as empty one, as neither Saraki nor Presidency has made any statement on the issue, even when the two states were struggling to find lasting solution to the crisis.
While the two owner state have reiterated their commitment to the sustainability of the joint ownership of the university, some public commentators have canvassed that the joint ownership should be forfeited.
One of the commentators was the human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) who called on the Osun government to relinquish ownership of the troubled university as a long term measure, just as he urged Oyo government to be prepared to take over the ownership of LAUTECH and provide the needed funds for it.
Meanwhile, it was during the crisis that it was clear that the complexity of the crisis rocking the institution was beyond ownership, but also of management and administration. While some universities with lesser population of students were seen to be sustaining themselves, one would wonder why LAUTECH could not.
However, the unfolding event since the appointment of the new Governing Council and submission of the Forensic Audit Report, have clearly shown that the two states are indeed committed to the sustainability of the joint ownership status of the university.
This is as the two owners states have begun to contribute the agreed take-off grant to the university, with the Osun government releasing a sum of N1 billion, while Oyo released N56,000,000 with a promise to add up the rest soon. The government was also said to have paid three months of the outstanding salaries of the workers. This, to an extent is a demonstration of the governments’ commitment to return the university on the path of glory it had always been.
Feelers from the LAUTECH campus have indicated that booming activities have since resumed, the lectures are being expected to start by next week Monday 23rd of October.
Though, the crisis has been resolved, but the sustainability of this should not be overlooked. The university must be empowered to sustain itself through the Internally Generated Revenue accrued to it in terms of fees chargeable on students and other means without putting unnecessary burden on the students.