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LASU: Open Letter To Lagos State Governor-Elect Akinwunmi Ambode Through Governor Babatunde Fashola

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After much consideration, I prevailed upon myself to pen this letter to you and I am making it open under the false consideration that following your hard earned victory, the appreciation courtesy visit you have embarked upon almost immediately and the baggage of congratulatory messages coming your way, you might not have the time to read through my letter if I couriered it in a small brown envelope. Who knows, your retinue of aides and hangers-on might not even allow you to see it, categorizing my letter a nuisance to a government that has not even started.

Ditto to the out-going governor of Lagos State, Mr Babatunde Fashola (SAN), whose work schedule seems like he just resumed office as the governor of Lagos State, with the high volume of project commissioning he has been embarking on during this tail-end of his government. That, I think, is one of the dividends of the continuity your party preached during the electioneering; because, just like yourself, governor Fashola was able to hit the ground running on assumption into office due to a solid template of progressive governance his predecessor, Governor Bola Ahmed laid down. I have also passed the open letter through the sitting governor, in view of the fact that he might consider LASU’s seemingly intractable problems as part of his hand-over note to you.

I am writing first and foremost as an alumnus of Lagos State University, who has seen it all, particularly, as a featherweight union activist whilst on campus of the Aluta but reasonable institution of higher learning. It gives me great pleasure to note that I shared same learning environment with your adorable Deputy Governor, Dr Idiat Adebule and your amiable wife, Madam Bolanle Ambode. This shows you might not be too far from the "LASU Story" like your predecessors.

Again, I write as a concerned Lagosian, who gets embittered every time Lagos State University, the only state university Lagos State can lay claim to, goes under lock and key and seems perpetually created for crisis and to be in the news for the wrong reasons. Secondly, since the All Progressives Congress in Lagos perched its tent of political campaign in the just concluded election on the dual tenet of Change and Continuity, it would not be out of place to bring the cancerous and unending LASU crisis to the attention of our Governor-Elect in the spirit of continuity of change; changing the negative administration pattern in order to breathe the air of continuity.

Within the academic circle, made up of students and lecturers, the corporate system dotting Lagos metropolis and the sweat-soaked market women and men, there seems to be one thing that makes all writhe under the Lagos sun – the unending crisis in LASU. This singular act has made university education in Lagos State an attempt to shake the devil. To these people, effecting change rather than continuing the ugly trend of churning out traumatized graduates of perennial frustrated parents and all those directly and indirectly linked to the university would be a welcomed development.

Sir, without trying to bore you, permit me to say that the last 10 years of chained civil conflict in the institution has overshadowed any contribution made by the university to socio-economic develop in Lagos State. LASU, rather than get celebrated for innovative ideas accustomed to universities around the world, has only managed terrifying headlines not befitting a prestigious institution domicile in a mega city like ours. In your tenure, Lasuites would want to see a return to the pragmatic realization of the vision of the founding fathers of LASU; established in 1983 by the enabling Laws of Lagos State of Nigeria, for the advancement of learning and establishment of academic excellence. A LASU of " Per la verità e di servizio" - Truth and Service.

Sir, If you may know, the current crisis of the university founded by the visionary first civilian governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, in October, 1983 as a multi-campus, non-residential institution but began academic activities in 1984, started in 2004, when the administration of Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, your able benefactor, under the pretence of wanting to upgrade the facilities in the school increased the fee from N250 to N50,000. After fierce resistance from a visibly divided students union and over six months at home, government reduced the money to N25, 000. Students resumed and have to tail behind their counterparts after missing the 2005 academic session.

Sir, between 2006 and 2009, LASU Lecturers in the name of showing solidarity with the national Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), brought academic activities to halt more than 3 times. This was aggravated by an internal crisis between the University Vice Chancellor, Prof. Lateef Hussein and staffs that brought academic learning to total halt for a wasteful long while. This writer shared in the needless interregnum. I am sure you must have been privileged to the "Hussein Must Go", drama that ensured afterwards.

Following the devastating unrest within the ivory towel, caused by the warring parties, Lagos State Government in 2009, setup a Visitation Panel to look at the “Administration and Application of University Funds”, of the institution. As part of its report, the Panel recommended that there should be an increase in the Budgetary Allocation to the University using the UNESCO benchmark of a minimum of 26% of Annual Budget of the State to be expended on Education. But rather than put this developmental recommendation first in its to-do list, the Governor Babatunde Fashola led administration in 2011 gave priority to increasing the University's school fees by 985 percent! The fees were hiked from N25,000 to between N193,750 and N348,750 depending on your course of study.

After what can now be termed the silence of the grave yard, the school fees issue erupted in January 2014, leading to stoning of the University Vice Chancellor Prof. John Obafunwa, as he tried to evade the riotous students who had blocked the main gate and made bonfires on the Lagos-Badagry expressway. At the height of the crisis in January 2014, the Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Adeyemi Ikuforiji, vowed to end the violent crisis and assured the incident would never repeat itself. To quote him, he said, “We are close to seeing the end of crisis in LASU. The last few years have been better than the previous decades. There have been tremendous improvements in LASU. If the right thing is done, we will leave scandalous events behind in LASU.” Right now, that seems to be mere words lacking action as the school is presently embroiled in another crisis.

Sir, to cut a long story short, as people often say, Governor Fashola fearing eminent electoral implications of the school saga as championed by the #SaveLASU Group and the Students Union, reversed the school fees and we all thought that was uhuru until the current conflagration erupted. The current lockdown on academic activities is predicated on the argument of ASUU-LASU that Prof. Obafunwa withheld ASUU-LASU dues, witch-hunting of members by the LASU administration, crass incompetence borne out of poor vision and warped mind-set, withdrawing of PhD certificates of members, abuse of the laws and regulations of the institution, intimidation and victimization of the broad spectrum of the students and staff, and lastly, colluding with some suspended members of the union to foment crises.

Sir, the current imbroglio, shameful as it is; led to the indefinite postponement of LASU's convocation and an open-ended election vacation that has refused to end. As we all know, universities around the world are institutes of higher learning and research which grant academic degrees in a variety of subjects and provides both undergraduate and postgraduate education within stipulated time. On this simple, unambiguous and direct mandate, LASU has failed greatly; because the institution is simply synonymous with crisis systematically orchestrated by either the students and management, students and government, staffs and management, staffs and government or Students/Staffs/Management/Government, all bringing embarrassment and ignominy at the same time. I do not want to believe we are dyslexic to the extent of not being able to read the handwriting on the wall. The more we make the institution a rampaging ground for conflict, the more it affects everybody.

By allowing issues to degenerate to physical confrontation before taking action to address same, it lowers the institution’s reputation and prestige, while the students never get the desired attention in the saturated labour market, which trickles down to the university not getting the required funding from the established private sector that dominates the centre of excellence; no international recognition, no standardized categorization and no honour. In all, the whole LASU system just remains a facade that churn out graduates that never got respected. We cannot continue like this. This whole superiority contest has to stop for proper education and development devoid of intermittent stoppage to come our way.

In 2009, the combined team of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) and the National Association of Academic Technicians (NAAT), condemned the leadership style of Prof. Lateef Hussein and called for his removal while describing the Vice Chancellor as "an emperor with an ‘iron fist’." Insisting that the next leadership to be appointed by the state must be ‘home grown’, someone within the LASU academic ladder. Claiming that Prof. Hussain, being a ‘foreign academician’ (not a LASU breed Professor), is alien to the problems and challenges of the institution. Six years down the lane, same Unions are calling for the removal of his successor on almost the same allegations of strictness. With due respect, I think it is extremely important to call our lecturers and ask them what they want.

Even though this letter is meant for you, spare me a space to call on LASU Alumni Association which your amiable wife and Deputy Governor both belong, to leave up to its responsibilities. In all the years I spent in the institution, the only thing I remember the Association did was putting cement chairs under the popular "Abe-Igi". Taking a cue from other notable Alumnis in Nigeria like UNILAG Alumni, Obafemi Awolowo Alumni etc, the association can do better. At least, we are not benchmarking the Alumni with foreign universities Alumni Associations, which would have be an over ambitious expectation. Its role in conflict management has been near zero and I do not see any structure it facilitated its construction within the university landscape. It sure can do better.

Sir, resolving the LASU imbroglio might be the litmus test for your administration. Even if the case is hurriedly decided before May 29, be sure it would raise its head again. There is need for a holistic solution to address the Vice Chancellorship issue. Government should be more proactive to workers demands and not reactive. Sir, you need to bring the dexterity of your learning and the eyes for details of an accountant to bear on the LASU case.

Sir, permit me to say that in view of the fact that the tertiary education falls within the purview of the Special Adviser to the Governor on Education. It would be most preferable, that an educationist who understands and can feel the pains and challenges of the ivory tower be appointed to such exalted position. The current and past holders of the post have done abysmally in managing the University's crisis. I advice a departure from the past in the next appointment.

Lastly sir, no matter how tempting it might be or how much the forces that be advice you, please do not increase LASU school fees either in your first tenure or second, if you are not going to consider the Mandela Option of one term enough to effect constructive change.

There are some big exceptions on tuition fees. Sometimes I get paranoid when policy makers try to say education cannot be free. In many European countries, it is possible to study without tuition fees. Public universities in Nordic countries were entirely without tuition fees until the latter part of the first decade of the 21st century. Only recently did Denmark, Sweden and Finland moved to put in place tuition fees for foreign students. But still, citizens of European Union and European Economic Area member states and citizens from Switzerland are exempted from tuition fees; and the amount of public grants granted to promising foreign students was even increased to offset some of the impact of tuition fee introduction.

To put a close to this letter, Dear Governor-Elect, as we do say in the University's local parlance: "There cannot be a megacity, without a mega-university to provide the necessary human resources to manage the megacity, except we are looking forward to a mega chaos." On behalf of many Lasuites who voted for you despite what the past administrations did to the image of the school, I pray almighty God will give you the knowledge and political will to redeem the lost glory of our Alma mata, LASU. Indeed, we shall overcome. #ReOpenLASUnow.

Sulaimon Mojeed-Sanni writes from Abuja via [email protected] Tweets from @SM_S0407

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Articles by Sulaimon Mojeed-Sanni