LASU Unending Crises: Is Lasting Solution A Possibility?
This write up is a special investigative report on the ongoing crisis and the search for a lasting solution in LASU.
When will the Lagos state university be free from internal squabbles? This is the most disturbing question that many have been asking, but answers are yet to be provided. Salubrious academic sessions are hardly experienced. The students, for whom the citadel of learning was established over 30 years ago have deserted either to other institutions, or retiring home as a result of incessant crises.
Since the creation of the institution in 1984, it is one administrative, staff, students’ crises or the other thereby giving room for forecasters to predicting with incredible accuracy on when, where and how crises will manifest in a given session. This is what the institution has become. Whether this is an historical curse, is an urgent issue which must be look into. However, historians are of the opinion that it might be due to centripetal and centrifugal forces among the founding fathers that ensued between them over which division to build the university, I do not know. Its present location (Ojo) is under Badagry division.
There is College of Medicine (LASUCOM) Ikeja; School of Engineering (Epe) and among others, all in a view to ensuring equal divisional representation. Despite the above, things are still falling apart. The question I dare ask: ‘is LASU the only institution owned by Lagos state government that is disturbing the peace of the state’?
The Current Crisis
On Monday March 16, 2015 students and staff of LASU woke to learn that the entrance gates were barricaded with vehicles belonging to the staff unions-ASUU, NASU and SSANU, thereby preventing vehicular movement while causing gridlock on the expressway. Motorists, including the V.C, Professor Obafunwa became stranded. Security operatives were in their tentacles but couldn’t help situation.
Consequently, the Professor of pathology, alongside his management team stepped inside the campus through the pedestrian ostensibly to get audience and calm the angry unions, instead, he was mobbed and harassed with melodious chant of ‘Obafunwa must go’, thanks to his aids.
Following from the above, the Lagos State University Students’ Union (LASUSU) president, Comrade Adeyemi Wasiu Onikoro (AWO) and his executive members waded into the matter as mediator between the staff unions and the management, a position it had maintained till present. The union has also engaged the government on the matter, urging it to resolve their differences and reopen the school for academic activities. At the early stage of the crisis, the Union executive had appealed to the staff unions to reconsider evacuating their barricades to allow free movement in the campus, but to no avail. The barricades were thereafter removed by the government on a weekend (Sunday) March 22 and in the process, damaged the vehicles.
The Grouse of the Staff Unions
Among other things, the staff unions are angry with the vice chancellor’s led management team whom they described as lacking of human feelings for the mekunus (poor) while living a ladolce vita life style. Most of them have vigorously lamented the non payment of months-arrears, non promotion of staff members including casual workers as well as victimization etc.
For the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) members, it say, the management team led by Obafunwa has undermined the due process of the university’s laws and that he lacks the requisite skills in running university administration. Reacting, its embattled chairman, Dr. Adekule Idris noted that the withdrawal of his certificate was intentional, adding that it was an attempt to rubbish his public image and prestige for not supporting his anti-workers policies. ‘My sins against the man is that we struggled for hike in tuition in 2014 and questioned his leadership style towards staff members’. He added that ‘any staff that advance opposing views against him (V.C) is seen as his enemy’. ‘Is the university run this way’? the chairman queried.
Idris further noted that it is saddening for a system that awarded a degree to come and criticize same not minding the wrong signal it might send to the larger society. He added that such singular act has misrepresented all holders of LASU certificates (first, second and third degrees) before the outside world.
Also speaking, the union secretary, Dr. Suenu, a lecturer from History Department accused the management of being selective in handling staff matters, adding that the system has promoted some un-promotable people. ‘Obafunwa has promoted certain number of staff to Professorial cadre with fewer numbers of papers presented, ‘whereas some that are more qualified with reputable academic standing have been denied of it simply because they share opposing views’. He mentioned Dr. Owodeide from faculty of science and himself who have been denied promotions despite meeting the criteria. He also spoke on the issue of another Professor of foreign languages (Prof. Fatunde) whom he said the vice chancellor placed on interdiction simply because ‘he wrote an open letter to Fashola in 2014, during LASU fee hike urging for caution’. The ASUU leadership also accused the V.C of withholding the union’s check up dues which they say is the money used in running the union.
On their part, the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), LASU chapter, has also expressed miss-feelings towards the VC. They are mainly staff from level six and above. Somewhat similar to their sister unions, they complained on promotion issues, unpaid arrears, removal of chief security officer (CSO), Obafunwa must go campaign, poor welfare packages, administrative highhandedness, non remittance of staff salaries (as running cost of the union), violation of due process in appointment and victimization of its members. This explains while they are very vocal in the current crisis against man. Its chairman, Comrade Saheed, while reacting to the current face-off noted that members of staff unions do not have personal grievances against the management but however faulted the administrative style of the vice chancellor ranging from giving undue advantages to those he described as his cronies and anti-workers policies etc. ‘A situation whereby level six staff is made to head level-13 is barbaric’. ‘If you have a brother working in an organization (LASU) for seven years without promotion, how would you feel’, Saheed frowned. Using the January 22nd and 23rd incidence as an example, the SSANU chairman blamed the management for always allowing issues to deteriorate before taking action. In his words, ‘when the VC met us protesting on that day (March 16) for our demands, rather than address us, he choose to go ahead with his coconut breaking ceremony which aggravated us. This is why we changed the protest to Obafunwa must go’.
On the issue of damaged vehicles, Saheed condemned the state government’s action for damaging four of the staff unions’ vehicles, adding that the state must do something about it to replace them. ‘Government must replace them (vehicles) for us’, he said
On the infrastructural development in LASU and other issues, the SSANU chief praised the current administration of Governor Babatunde Fashola over the elegant construction of completed and ongoing projects in the institution. ‘This current administration has tried for LASU. New faculty of science complex is completed, LASU radio is completed, law building is completed, students’ arcade is almost completed…’ He however cautioned the government on leadership problem in the school. ‘LASU’s problem has always been leadership. We lack considerate, focused and visionary leadership’. A lecturer from the department of English, Dr. Adedoyin also corroborated comrade Saheed’s view. He said, ‘LASU’s problem can be solved in one day with just three things- goodwill, sincerity and the mind to lead’.
Furthermore, the Non Academic Staff Union (NASU) seems to be the most affected as several of its members (casual workers) whom the union says have spent decades serving the university but never got promotion. They are mainly considered junior staff. They constitute security marshals, technicians, clerical officers, drivers, health workers etc. Observers say they championed ‘Hussein must go campaign’ in the year 2009. The union chief, comrade Abosun, who spoke with me on telephone, expressed utter dismay on the part of the government and the management, noting the fact that the current crisis was absolutely avoidable. ‘If the V.C had responded to our demands before hand, we wouldn’t have been facing all these. We need to ask some fundamental questions from the management’. ‘Sometimes, I’m ashamed as a LASU staff’, he added. Accusing the government of deceit in the ongoing face-off, Abosun remarked: ‘you and I has discourse, we ran to third party (government) as mediator and he said I will get back to you, and up till now, no response, what would you do?’. The three staff unions and management had dragged itself to Alausa to register their grievances to the Governor following the March 16th debacle, but the governor directed them to a special committee headed by special adviser on education, Otunba Olukoga, who mediated between them and consequently drew up a resolution, while promising to communicate to them on a later date ostensibly for another meeting. Each party was served copy of the communiqué which the staff unions say did not address their core demands-payment of 45% arrears, formalization of casual workers, promotion of staff workers in their respective levels, appointment of acting chief security officer (C.S.O), and commencement of terminal leave by the V.C.
Asked which of the demands he thinks is most pressing, he replied thus: “all of them, even the easiest of it which is appointment of acting new C.S.O has not been implemented up till now’.
The LASU management, through the registrar, Mr. Lewis reacted and cleared air on most of the contentious issues raised by the staff unions. In my interview with him, the registrar started with the issue of arrears which he said it initially stood at N2.2 billion naira but had reduced to N1.1billion naira through assistance from the Lagos state government to pay staff, representing 50%. He further stated that LASU, through its internally generated revenue (IGR) has paid N505 million, living a balance of N495 million, representing 45% of what the management is now owing staff unions. Asked while the balance has been delaying, Lewis replied: ‘it has not been paid due to school fees reversal on August, last year (2014)’. He said however that the management has approached the government for another N395 million naira in form of loan to complete payment of the arrears for all campuses and also added that it would be approved any moment from now.
He recalled how the management met with the staff unions a week before the March 16th protest in a view to forestall peace. He further noted that NASU demanded for overtime payment for its staff-50 hours/month, and later increased to 95 hours for marshals, 85 hours for regular security and all were granted.
On the issue of promotion, the management said that the 2013 promotion exercise for ASUU was concluded on March 13 and that no one that qualified was left un-promoted. When I took the registrar on Dr. Owodeide and Dr. Suenu whom ASUU said have been due for promotion for years but denied of it, Lewis remarked thus: ‘well, this is purely an academic matter. There are academic publications and there are academic publications. You can publish 22 papers and another with lesser ones might be found to be more academically solid. Papers are sent to abroad, U.K, U.S. Europe’.
On the other staff unions, Lewis noted that ‘only 57 members of NASU are left in the 2012/2013 promotion exercise while for the SSANU, only 63 of its members are left of the 2011/2012 respectively’. He explained that the staff promotion examination earlier scheduled for April 22rd was stalled due to March 16th infamy but noted that May 5th & 6th is the new date for pre examination training while May 28th is the examination date approved by Public Service Staff Development Exercise (PSSDC).
Concerning the appointment of new chief security officer, the management assured that acting (C.S.O) will soon be appointed. ‘Security matter is within the purview of the vice chancellor. The issue will be resolved before the end of this week’ (i.e. this outgoing week). Appointment of acting C.S.O is one of the cardinal demands of the staff unions.
On PhD. withdrawal, the chairman of the special committee investigating the lapses surrounding the award of the degrees, Professor Omotayo, Dean of Social Sciences confirmed to me on telephone that seventeen (17) out of the nineteen (19) PhDs withdrawn have been rectified except that of Dr. Idris and one Mr. M. A. Yusuf who are yet to submit theirs to the management. Asked why Idris, a union leader was affected by the management’s axe, Omotayo said: ‘Idris is not the only one. You people might think is political, but it’s absolutely not’. On his part, Dr. Idris maintained that he has refused to submit his certificate because there’s no sincerity and rust on the management. ‘The certificate is with my lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana and he has told the LASU authority that as soon as they rectify and issue another one, he (Falana) would submit it by himself and collect the new one’. ‘Can a student award a degree to himself?’ he quarried.
The V.C observed that the call for his removal is as a result of different factors ‘The call for my removal by the staff unions is the PhD factor, PDP/APC factor, the egun/awori factor.’ ‘Some are angry that the VC has blocked ways of embezzlement’, Obafunwa added.
The Management also responded to the clamour that ‘Obafunwa should proceed on terminal leave’. ‘An employee doesn’t have the legal power to demand for the termination of employment of his co-employee except the employer (Lagos state government)’.
On the continued closure of the school, the vice chancellor said that only the government can make pronouncement on re-opening of LASU, as the staff unions are still discharging some of their official responsibilities in the campus.
Conclusions and Recommendations
In view of the above, it is crystal clear that the reasons for the unending crises among staff unions, students and the LASU authority can be seen in the following headings.
- The Lagos state government should always maintain central position and see itself as a father in matters relating to management and staff unions. This will give all concerned the confidence that their interests are protected.
- Increase funding of education in LASU. The UNESCO’s 26% budgetary allocation to education by government should be implemented which is in consonance with the recommendation of the 2011 visitation panel. With over N20 billion naira monthly Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) accruing into the state’s account, the Government needs to increase the subvention fund to LASU as it is the only university and intellectual power house that can effectively continue to aid its mega city project through it product. In any educational policy that will be binding on the students’ populace, they should always be abreast of it in order to avoid reactionary display towards it. For example, the 2011 educational policy which priced LASU over and above indigents students was responsible for the almost four years-long protest including the January 23rd & 24th protest. Furthermore, increase in funding will resolve most of the challenges currently faced by the university.
- The first set of people who started the payment of N250, 000-350,000 in 2011 but could not continue as a result of hardship should be recalled irrespective of their ethnic origins.
- The damaged vehicles belonging to the staff unions should be repaired for peace to reign.
- Government to set up an independent body that will critically examine all issues raised by the staff unions. Such people to include members of staff of the university, representatives from the government or as the case may be, all of which must be persons of proven integrity that are known to be non-aligned with neither the management nor staff unions. Please note that some of these issues are fundamental and any attempt to circumvent them might forever makes peace elusive in LASU.
- The Management should eschew the policies of favoritism and divide and rule system as these create more enmity in a work environment. The fact that larger percentage of members of staff and students have always complained about victimization, selective and overdue promotion, highhandedness, etc. by the management give credence to the fact that it need to look inward and make amendments where necessary.
- The management should always consider the overall effects of any of its decisions or policies on the university community so as not to drag LASU’s image to public opprobrium. For instance, the withdrawal of 19 PhDs has further authenticated the saying in some quarters that LASU degrees are substandard. For a higher authority to say that some of the lecturers are half baked, it means that graduates produced will be half-dawn. I think we should be mindful of what we say about LASU to the public. This is a collateral damage to the image of the school and all certificates holders of same. As for Dr. Idris, the ASUU chairman, the management should re-issue another certificate to him. Although, I admit that there were lapses somewhere in the certificates so issued. Therefore, such an act was unnecessary, undeserved, self criticism and absolutely acerbic. Unions or their leaders must not be strangulated.
- The management should always see students as important stakeholders and not to neglect them on issues that concern them.
- The staff unions should at all times bear in mind that if the university must continued to excel, they need move closer to the management for effective running of the University and end the tradition of ‘vice chancellors must go on terminal leave’ before the statutory terminal period as any of them could aspire to such position in the future. However, they are free like every other union, to agitate for their demands but they should be mindful of their choice of words when agitating for demands. Statements credited to some union leaders that: ‘if the government appoints another V.C today, they would forgo all their demands’ sends wrong signal to the town and gown. While the staff unions might make such demands, it rest on the government for approval. In addition, the staff unions’ reaction towards the V.C on March 16 was unnecessary considering the bad image it cast on the university.
- Finally, all concerned should embrace peace and shift ground irrespective of demands presented and learn to tolerate one another at all times. Traditional rulers, spiritual leaders, the alumni etc. need to come together and re-consecrate peace into LASU. Only this we can have a lasting peace in the Lagos State University. Thank you.
Comrade Oseni MOMODU (Embassy) is a fresh graduate of History & Int’l Studies (LASU) and is the Media Spokesman to the LASUSU President. He is an award winning activist; political analyst/strategist and essayist. Phone numbers:08120567606, 07058964717. Email: [email protected]. Facebook: embassy momodu.