The Sun News

Says specialised univerisities have derailed

How Waku solved FUTA labour crises

From Fred Ezeh, Abuja

Senator Joseph Waku became the Pro-Chancellor and Governing Council Chairman of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, (FUTA) has lamented how bad and unproductive it is for specialized universities in Nigeria to turn omnibus and defeat the reason for setting them up. He also explained to The Education Report, how universities’ inability to accommodate students in campus hostels leads to poor quality education and low manpower.

What has been the experience in your new responsibility as FUTA governing council chairman?

The appointment came to me as a surprise because I never had a background in education sector. I was neither a teacher nor lecturer, not to talk of being education administrator. It was just a divine way of bringing me into the Nigeria education system, so I could contribute to the effort of the government to restore the lost glory, dignity and reputation of our education system.

When the appointment was made, the first thing I did was to enter my room, knelt down and cried to God profusely for His wisdom to run my new office. I remain eternally grateful to God for granting me that wisdom which has been speaking loudly in all my official and unofficial engagements. On our inaugural meeting, I assured my council members that we would run a democratized system, which means that it won’t be about Senate Waku alone but the entire FUTA governing council and management. I suggested peace and unity in the council as key successful and fruitful tenure. I told them also that whatever painful decision we would take as council members would be agreeable to all, including those that might have contrary views, opinion or suggestions.

What was your first task after your inaugural meeting? Shortly after inauguration, we were confronted with the task of appointing new Vice Chancellor to replace Prof. Adebiyi Daramola, who was on his last days in office. Contenders were busy campaigning and lobbying to occupy the post. These people are all professors and are qualified, academically and otherwise, but there was existing template which must guide the appointment of a Vice Chancellor for such a reputable federal government institution. We were left with the only option of following strictly the template. At the end, we arrived at the appointment of Professor Joseph Fawupe, who the 7th FUTA VC. Prior to his installation, I held a private meeting with all the candidates that contested the post. I encouraged them to bury their anger, animosity and differences, and support the chosen candidate for the good and development of the school. I pleaded with them to cooperate with the new VC so that another subordinate could also cooperate with them in future opportunities. I also called the VC and reminded him that he was first among equals and that he doesn’t have monopoly of knowledge, so he needs the suggestions and inputs of his fellow professors to enjoy his tenure. I strongly advised him not to victimize or see others that contested as rivals.

That was the approach that stopped bickering and animosity, and paved the way for peace, unity and brotherliness among the senior academics in the school. The recall of former VC, Prof. Adebiyi Daramola after suspension came as surprise to all, why that decision? The suspension was illegal in the first place and I will justify it. The letter of his suspension dated May 11. That was days after he had taken oath of office as a member of the new governing council. The criteria for the inauguration of new council stipulate that the VC and the Pro chancellor must take the oath of office together. Unfortunately, all through the period that led to the inauguration, nobody tapped him on the back to demand his exit from the hall on the ground that he had been suspended from office.

The council never received petition against him, neither did any FUTA official deny him opportunity to take oath of office at the NUC headquarter auditorium where the inauguration was conducted. He was not suspended before the council was inaugurated, and that made his suspension, which came after he was inaugurated illegal. If they couldn’t succeed before his inauguration, then it was only the present governing council led by my humble self that has the powers to suspend him. And to our best of knowledge, there was neither a petition nor any reason that could justify his suspension. Besides, his days as FUTA VC were numbered.

You met over seven months industrial crisis in the school, how were your able to resolve it?

In fact, it was never a magic but God’s wisdom and divine intervention that resolved the prolonged labour crisis. When the new management took over the school, they were immediately confronted with the prolonged labour crisis. Unfortunately, past records had indicated that FUTA labour unions are always unease each time a new Pro-chancellor was appointed. But my case was different. The unions, contrary to earlier practice, wrote a congratulatory message to me.

They went ahead to send delegation to my house in Abuja familiarise and cement the relationship. It was an indication that they were at peace with my appointment. That helped a lot in resolving the labour crisis. When the search for solution to the labour dispute gathered momentum, I appealed to them to disregard any shortcomings of the university, because the school belongs to, not only them but to the future. And there was no need to destroy the structure, knowingly or unknowingly, because that would block the opportunity for future generations to acquire knowledge and opportunity to work. I appealed to them to return to work, with a promise of two months salary. I gave them three days to ponder over it and give me feedback. Suprisingly, they returned the following day with positive feedback. I was happy with them and assured them of their two months salary, while the rest would be paid gradually alongside their monthly salary until we offset the arrears.

What about that of the University primary school staff?

When we resolved the labour issues in the university, workers in the university staff school exhumed theirs. They were unhappy with the federal government decision to hands off the running of the school. When my attention was drawn to it, I invited 46 teachers that were involved, and we had a fruitful discussion. I assured them that I will personally take the matter to federal government and speak on their behalf. Meanwhile, I encouraged them to return to work and open the school for public patronage. You will be able to raise reasonable amount of money to run the school. People are willing to enroll their children in the school. You might not realize all the required finances to initially run the school but you must have taken a good and bold step towards realizing that. I told them that available resources cannot offset their outstanding 19 months salary. However, we will dip hands into our internal revenue to pay them a month salary, while we spread the rest. That was how I convinced them to resume work and they did with joy and gratitude. Surprisingly, two weeks into their resumption, the federal government issued a circular that reversed its earlier decision. When I received the news, I congratulated them and advised them not to expect automatic payment of their 19 months outstanding salary. How then would you assess the resolution of the last ASUU strike by the government? I must commend the government for the wisdom they employed to handle the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) issues. Recall that the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, had publicly accepted the blame for inability of the government to implement the content of the 2009 agreements it had with ASUU. That made him a great leader.

Taking the blame calmed the nerves of ASUU leadership. It was a display of leadership, with no iota of arrogance. There might be shortcomings but the government had repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to welfare of academic and non-teaching universities’ staff.

What challenges have you observed in FUTA?

The major challenge we have in FUTA is accommodation for the students. The student capacity of FUTA is 20, 000. It is a shame that over 30 years old FUTA could not accommodate 80 percent of its students in its main campus. It gives council members and I serious concern. What it literally means is that students are admitted in FUTA to only acquire academic knowledge, with less attention on character moulding, which is key criteria for award of degree. A university is expected to examine students’ learning and good character before awarding them a degree in whatever discipline. But if a university could not provide accommodation for its students within the campus, then how would it monitor their characters? How do you intend to solve that? Both the council and the management have begun serious search for solution.

We have resolved to look inwards and also create opportunities for other local and international investors to come in. I have used my personal contact and goodwill to convince some competent Nigerian university administrators based in America to come to our aid. They yielded to my call and had even visited FUTA to avail themselves with enormous opportunities in the school. They are putting together some realistic measures that would birth the solution to the accommodation and other challenges in FUTA.

Are you concerned that special universities have derailed from their mandate?

Of course I am deeply concerned and my council members are concerned too. Remember that the government established specialized universities such as universities of technology and agriculture, with clear mandate, but politicians hijacked them for whatever reason. Past political leaders, with the help of the institution managers, apparently lost touch with the essence of the specialized universities for whatever reason and converted them to conventional universities. This is contrary to its core mandate of producing specialized manpower for Nigerian economy. The good news is that President Muhammadu Buhari realized the mistakes and directed that it be reverted to its original mandate. He directed conventional universities to continue to offer their regular services in line with their mandate.

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