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 A look at why the LAUTECH crisis is unlikely to end soon as the public awaits government White Paper on the matter, one year, this week, after students of LAUTECH started sitting idly at home

From Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan

June 9, 2017 will make exactly one year that the students of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso, have been sitting idly at home. Hundreds of them that are supposed to have graduated and gone for the mandatory one-year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) are very embittered because of the unpleasant situation in which they have found themselves.

Prior to the problem of inadequate funding which was said to have started in 2013, the institution had been battling with ownership crisis, from 2010. All efforts made to find a lasting solution to the development proved abortive. Two of such efforts were the constitution of a Visitation Panel, headed by a legal luminary, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) and a Technical Committee headed by the former Head of Department, Political Science, University of Ilorin, Dr. Gbade Ojo, today, the Chief of Staff to the Oyo State governor.

The visitation panel was set up by the owner states on October 19, 2016, to examine factors responsible for the perennial crisis at the institution and to proffer solutions. The panel submitted its report on Friday February 10, 2017.

On Sunday, February 12, 2017, Special Adviser to Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State on Communication and Strategy, Mr. Yomi Layinka, announced that the governments of Osun and Oyo States have set up a 10-person technical committee to produce a White Paper from the visitation panel’s reports on LAUTECH.

The committee, which comprised representatives of the two owner states, began its sitting on Monday February 13, 2017 and was given two weeks to submit a draft White Paper on the visitation panel’s report, based on four-point terms of reference which include taking a critical look at the recommendations of the visitation panel, and reviewing whatever inadequacies that might be in the recommendations. It was also to come up with pragmatic recommendations for the reopening of the LAUTECH and its sustainability without necessarily bringing financial burdens upon the owner states.

Layinka had stated further that Oyo State governor, Abiola Ajimobi and his Osun State counterpart, Rauf Aregbesola, would engage international management consulting firm to look at the management structure of the institution and finances with a view to offering long-term sustainable recommendations to the owner states. At the time of filing this report, the content of the White Paper has not been made public.

Disruption of UTME

Monday May 15, 2017 was a day that aggrieved students of LAUTECH prevented 250 candidates from writing the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME). The UTME was to last for four days in the institution. But the South West Zonal Coordinator of JAMB, Mrs. Bola Elushade, rescheduled their exams to another centre.

The aggrieved students staged the protest to register their anger against the two owner states – Oyo and Osun, for their purported inability to adequately fund the institution, which has paralysed academic activities on the campus since June 2016. The students contended that their fate has not been resolved in the past 12 months hence another set of students should not be admitted.

The protesting students locked the main gate of the institution and prevented staff of the university from entering the campus. They insisted that the gate would remain shut until a resolution is reached between the aggrieved lecturers and management of the institution. The police mounted security at the school gate to ensure that the situation did not turn violent. The students sang solidarity songs and carried placards with inscriptions, demanding for stable academic calendar.

They appealed to Oyo State governor, Senator Ajimobi, and his Osun State counterpart, Aregbesola, who are visitors to the institution, to safeguard their future, through prompt release of funds to the institution so that academic activities would resume, lamenting that they have wasted more than 11 months at home.

Some staff unions in the institution are currently on no-pay-no-work strike following the inability of the owner states to fulfill the promise made to them before the last industrial action was suspended.

The Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), LAUTECH, Dr. Abiodun Olaniran, and his counterpart from the Senior Staff Association of Universities (SSANU), Mr. Alesinloye Muraina, in separate telephone interviews said the students prevented their members, including top management staff of the institution, from entering the university.

The Vice Chancellor, Prof. Gbadegesin, reportedly addressed the protesting students with a view to allowing the UTME candidates to write the exam but his plea was not heeded. The Sun Education gathered that when the Soun of Ogbomoso, Oba Jimoh Oyewumi, Ajagungbade III, heard about the development, he sent three chiefs to LAUTECH to address the angry students. But the students reportedly ignored the plea by the chiefs.

The 20 peaceful years of LAUTECH

The edict that established with main campus in Ogbomoso and another in Osogbo, was signed on April 23, 1990 while the university began its first academic session on October 19, 1990. At the inception, the university was named Oyo State University of Technology but the name was changed to Ladoke Akintola University of Technology after Osun State was carved out of old Oyo State in 1991. So, the two states became owners of the university named after the former premier of the defunct Western Region, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, who hailed from Ogbomoso.

The university, which started with a total of 436 candidates, now enrolls nearly 20,000 students. For the first 20 years, the university enjoyed relative peace, and academic excellence. In fact, in 2003 and 2004, the National Universities Commission (NUC) voted LAUTECH as the best state university in Nigeria. Fields of study include pure and applied science, medicine, agriculture, engineering and technology, and environmental science.

Genesis of the crisis

Investigation revealed that the crisis began in the university in 2010 when Osun State established her own university – Osun State University. The Oyo State Government then wanted Osun to transfer full ownership of the University to it. But Osun vehemently resisted the move.

On May 16, 2011, the then governor of Oyo State, Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala, tried to ensure that the state became sole owner of the institution via a gazette signed by him. The gazette marked 09 and Vol. 36 Section 26 of the amended law stated that: “rules, convention or practice in existence in respect of the joint ownership of the university is hereby revoked and shall cease to have validity or force of law with effect from December 31, 2010.” Section 27 stated that, “the university is deemed to be solely owned by Oyo State as from December 31, 2010.”

But the Supreme Court judgment delivered on December 26, 2012, following a petition filed by Aregbesola upheld the joint ownership structure by ruling that Oyo State alone cannot unilaterally lay claim to sole ownership of the institution. By the time the judgment was delivered, Senator Abiola Ajimobi had become governor of Oyo State. So, the two states returned to the status quo.

Nothing was heard about the ownership tussle until 2016 when Oyo State House of Assembly set up a committee to facilitate take-over of the institution. But the Osun State House of Assembly insisted that it would not allow the joint ownership agreement to be tampered with.

The closure of the institution by the authorities in June last year and the flexing of muscles between the owner states brought untold hardship on many students who were supposed to have been mobilised for National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and those that ought to have graduated. They are all still being delayed due to the closure of the university.

In an interview while the process was ongoing in the legislative arm of Oyo State, Ajimobi averred thus: “Oyo State has paid substantially more than Osun has paid. What we are saying now is for us to sit down and see the need for us as co-owners to fulfill our obligations.”

Ajimobi’s words showed that the bone of contention is the irregular payment of subvention to the university. This has led in turn, to owing of workers salaries as a result of which various workers unions on the campus of the university had embarked on indefinite strikes since June 2016.

The crisis got worse as a group from Ogbomoso reportedly stormed the campus one day and chased out all natives of Oyo States working at LAUTECH and asked them to return to their state and never come back to the institution. Some principal staff of the university were said to have been molested during the protest.

Olanipekun Panel on LAUTECH

However, before things totally fell apart, the two owner state governors met in Ibadan, on October 19, 2016 with a view to ensuring that the centre will hold again. They set up visitation panel, headed by a legal luminary, Chief Wole Olanipekun(SAN), to examine factors responsible for the perennial crisis at the institution and to proffer solutions. The committee submitted its reports on Friday February 10, 2017, to the two governors at the Executive Chambers of Oyo State Governor’s Office, Ibadan.

The panel recommended, among other things, that the owner states should pay subvention and establish a trust fund for the institution. Olanipekun who considered the need to keep the unions between the owner states together described payment of subvention by the two owner states as part of the short-term recommendation for efficient running of the institution, adding that establishment of a trust fund for proper management of the institution would be a long term solution. 

The panel, had among other recommendations, implored the two states to inject fresh fund into the university to accelerate resumption of academic activities pending the implementation of its far-reaching recommendations.

His words: “Government alone is incapable of funding university education. Talk of great universities all over the world, you will talk of Harvard. The budget of Harvard University is more than that of Nigeria. How did they come about this? It is through trust fund and we are also recommending same as a solution to the funding crisis of LAUTECH. Maybe Nigerian universities would start to learn from LAUTECH if our recommendations are implemented.

“But we are recommending that for now the university needs money; the immediate thing is for the university to reopen. It has been out of session for eight months. Therefore, we are recommending that for now, the university must be given some subvention for it to reopen in the short term and after that the implementation of the other steps and recommendations could be also followed.”

Governor Ajimobi, in his remarks, commended the panel for the in-depth analysis and coverage of the report, adding that the report does not matter as much as its implementation. He advocated turning the institution to a South Western University, whereby other states in Yorubaland would have a stake in it.

“Reality on ground requires we look at different ways of doing things,” he said. “We need to set up a joint committee to study the report and to super-impose a template in line with current reality. We need to look at how public schools can be self-sustaining.

“We must allow prudence to be our watchword and should not be spending money anyhow. Osun State University is self-sustaining, so why can’t we allow LAUTECH to do the same? We need to reposition the university with regards to its technical formation.”

Aregbesola in his own remarks said that the owner states regretted the inconveniences the present challenges have brought on students, added that “we must be innovative and think out of the box for the university to work. I want to appeal to all the staff unions to join hands with government to reposition the institution by calling off their strike.”

Mega protest in Ibadan by LAUTECH students

Between October 19, 2016 when Olanipekun visitation panel was inaugurated and February 10, 2017 when the panel submitted its reports, many waters passed under the bridge. One of the notable events was the protest staged by the students of LAUTECH on Monday January 9, this year. It was a gruelling experience for residents of Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, during the more than five hours the students protested the closure of the institution.

The protest which began at Mokola Roundabout, Ibadan after representatives of the students had addressed journalists at the Correspondents’ Chapel of Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Oyo State Council, caused traffic congestions on major roads in Ibadan from about 11am till 4p.m. The affected roads include Total Garden-UCH-Secretariat-Bodija Road, Awolowo Avenue-Sango Road, Mokola-Sango Road, and Government House Road.

The logjam also extended to the Government Secretariat as many people who wanted to exit could not because the gates were shut against the protesters to prevent wanton destruction of government property. The people were stranded for close to three hours.

The students converged at the entrance of the state secretariat and barricaded the roundabout. They sang solidarity songs till the state governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, who is a visitor to LAUTECH cut short the weekly executive council meeting of the state to address the protesters. Heavy presence of security personnel was sighted at the state secretariat. They were there to prevent breakdown of law and order.

Ajimobi noted that the two owner states felt the plight of the students and had taken measures to ensure that the institution was reopened before the end of January 2017. He added that the two states have agreed to contribute N250 million each for the payment of workers’ salaries so that they would return to work.

The outgoing president of Students’ Union Government (SUG) of the institution, Mr. Bakare Olatunde, told the governor that, “all that we want is the re-opening of our institution while appealing to him not to increase their tuition fees. Ajimobi, in his response, said the owner states set up a panel to see to how to ensure academic excellence in LAUTECH and government would take decision on matters concerning the tuition fee when the panel submits its reports.

The secretary to Save Education and Re-Open LAUTECH Coalition (SERAL-C), Mr. Omoakin Murudeen, tabled five demands before the owner states. They are: (a) immediate and unconditional re-opening of LAUTECH, (b) immediate payment of all outstanding salaries and allowances of striking workers, (c) no to fee hike, (d) improved funding and democratic management of LAUTECH, and (e) immediate restoration of LAUTECH Student’ Union Government.

The failed reopening of LAUTECH

The Registrar of the institution, Mr. Jacob Agboola, later noted in a statement sent to students and staff of the institution that the University will reopen for normal activities on Friday, January 27, 2017.

He added: “All students who have yet to complete their registration are to ensure that they do so and pay their tuition fees during the revision week. On behalf of the Governing Council, Senate and Management, headed by the Vice Chancellor, Prof. A. S. Gbadegesin, we wish you all the best.’’

The Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism in Oyo State, Mr. Toye Arulogun, noted that the resumption of academic activities was part of the commitment of the two owner states towards restoring the academic standard of the university.

But the academic staff vowed not to attend classes in spite of the directives. The Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Ibadan Zone, Dr. Ade Adejumo, and chairman of the union in LAUTECH, Dr. Abiodun Olaniran, said the union did not have hands in the suspension of academic activities in the institution in the first place, so it has no hands in its re-opening.

The two union leaders stressed that the two owner states were yet to address the reason which made the academic staff to embark on an indefinite strike, vowing that they would not resume until their demands are met. They urged the owners of the institution to come out clean on the issue of funding of the institution in order to ensure peace in the university.

The Way Forward

Osun State governor, Aregbesola, said at a recent public function that the two owner states have engaged an international audit firm to do comprehensive auditing of LAUTECH, adding that the recommendations offered by the firm after the financial and staff audit would provide a lasting solution to the institution’s challenges.

His words: “We engaged an international audit firm to know why LAUTECH can’t run within its own resource base. The university should be able to fend for itself. We are pained that the school is challenged.

“My appeal to the management, academia, students is to exercise some patience. We will soon get out of the challenges we have with LAUTECH. We are quite conscious of the difficulties we are facing. When we are done with the auditing, we will come up with a lasting solution.”

In the same vein, Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology in Oyo State, Prof Adeniyi Olowofela, explained that the decision to audit the institution stemmed from one of the recommendations of the White Paper and urged the unions not to embark on any strike, pending the release of the audit report. “LAUTECH is going through developmental stage like virtually all institutions have gone through,” he said. “The two owner states governments set up technical committee to come up with a White Paper, which they are working on.

“For government to make informed decision on how to fund LAUTECH, if necessary, it is important to know its income, expenditure, internally generated revenue (IGR) and workforce. This is so that there will be minimal funding, yet LAUTECH will increase its IGR.

“The essence of the audit is to know how best to manage LAUTECH. Government may even give it more than the earlier N292 million being canvassed for but in the next three weeks, a lot will happen. I guarantee that once the audit report is out, whatever the auditor recommends will be abided by government. So, I appeal to the unions to give peace a chance. LAUTECH will not die. LAUTECH will come out of this present quagmire stronger and better.”

The chairman, Senior Staff Association of Universities (SSANU) in LAUTECH, Alesinloye Muraina, recommended that the Federal Government take over the institution because the two owner states have allegedly been playing politics with the future of the students.  He also called for adequate funding of the institution, adding that it cannot do without funding and government should not expect profit in terms of money from LAUTECH if it wants sound education for the students.

Olowofela countered his statement by noting that the two owner states have not said they cannot fund the institution any more, “hence the question of calls for Federal Government to take over LAUTECH does not arise.”

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