OOU: ONE WEEK ONE TROUBLE
This is not the best of times for the authorities of the Olabisi Onabanjo University , (OOU), Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State. Since the Professor Ibidapo Obe-led Visitation Panel submitted its report, it has been one crisis or the other.
First, both academic and non-teaching staff of the institution were shown the way out in a controversial circumstance which did not go down well with members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
In the evolving crisis, the Vice Chancellor of the university, Professor Odutola Osilesi was removed paving way for an Acting VC and a new Chairman of the Board of Governing Council, Otunba Alex Onabanjo. Already, there are litigations from the alleged impropriety in the disengagement of no fewer than 94 academic and about 700 non academic staff.
In what many people have linked to the raging crisis, the current Vice Chancellor of the University, Professor Wale Are Olaitan miraculously escaped death in his Ibadan, Oyo State home early last month when suspected assassins struck.
Though, he was lucky, his police orderly was not so lucky as he was killed while trying to protect his master.
In an interview with Daily Sun Olaitan who was reacting to the planned strike by the ASUU members asked for the understanding of members of the union stressing that the university could not afford to be under lock.
Reacting to the figure of the disengaged staff, he said: 'It is on record that in the past, Council had made it clear at all meetings with the Union that none of its members was relieved of his/her job without due process as none of them was dismissed but some staff had to be dis-engaged because of the reality of overstaffing and the desire of the university to restore its operations''
According to him, 'nobody would expect the university to continue to hold on to the number of staff it had when the number of students was more than 60,000 now that it has a student population of around 16,000 because of the National Universities Commission (NUC) quota.
'All those disengaged were paid their statutory three months salaries in lieu of notice as the situation was not punitive but was dictated by the circumstances in which the university found itself. The case is already in court and the position of the Council is that all parties to the dispute should wait for the pronouncement of the court.
'It is not the only tertiary institution in the state that has not received the subvention. What I was soliciting from the union is the understanding that all we needed to do was to make sure that university is running. We would not get the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) if the university is shut. It is after we have done this that we can use whatever we get from government to use the IGR to supplement it.
I have explained to them what government has done in terms of taking loans to pay this subvention. Like you know, what the state government is earning from the Federal Allocation is so small that it reduces almost on monthly basis. It has also been pretty difficult to get briefing loan since Sanusi Lamido became the CBN Governor, yet the administration of Governor Gbenga Daniel is doing its best.
We rely on the IGR to run the school, that's why I am appealing to them not to compound the numerous challenges currently confronting the institution by going on strike. It my passionate plea. Like I have been telling them, my administration would be a transparent one. I have nothing to hide under the table.
'I may not be able to tell you how much was paid to the disengaged staff, but I can reliably tell you that everybody was paid three months in lieu of notice. Because the university did not have money, what we did was to pay along the salaries. There was no way the university could have raised such amount of money at a go.
'What we did was even though the affected staff had been disengaged from the university, we left them on their salaries for three months. This we used in lieu of notice for them. In that regard, the university is not owing nobody.'
Olaitan who admitted that the institution was being confronted with some challenges noted that the planned strike would not be in the interest of anybody in the school, but rather would disrupt the on-going?restructuring and repositioning of the University.
His words: 'Management is thus convinced that this planned strike action is unnecessary and ill advised as it does not give room for even addressing some of the issues raised by the Union and only exacerbates tension in the University. It has the potential of increasing the suffering of everybody in the University. If we say a university is owing some people and there is no money, we would only be compounding it by staying away or shutting because if students did not pay, it will be difficult for the university to raise money. that would be released for payment'.
The VC said that some of the issues raised by the Union which include disengagement of staff, stoppage of deductions, issues of unpaid salaries and the constitution of the membership of the Governing Council had been treated at different meetings with the union.
'In my bid to operate an open administration I have suggested that we hold a monthly meeting to assess what we have in terms of Naira and Kobo and jointly determine what we are going to do. If we must move forward, we must not close down.
'As an academic environment, we must think of how we can use our IGR to improve the lot of our university even if we have problems getting all our entitlements from the government. To me, the way forward is not about further crisis, but about peace and tranquility'.
Professor Olaitan added that the stoppage of deductions by the University was done on behalf of all the Unions; (ASUU inclusive) and as part of restructuring of the Bursary department. He also explained that the Council was ready to negotiate with the Union on the issue of unpaid salaries on the 'no work, no pay rule' applied when the workers embarked on strike between August, September and part of October 2009.
'Definitely, strike can't be used to resolve not being paid during strike. The only way forward is that there should not be strike, because ultimately, the way of paying the owed money is reduced because there is no way the university could get money if it is not in session.
'I appeal to them to work with the new management to re-order priority in the university so that it can be self-sustained. Fortunately, the union is not accusing the administration of corruption or that there is money available and you are not using it to pay or utilize it appropriately. You can't ask for more when the statutory subvention has not been paid, so we are in a great fix and we appeal to the union to see reason with us.
'Government has explained to us why it is pretty difficult for her to pay and that it is doing everything humanly possible to pay. The only option we have now is to result to our internal system and I appeal that nothing should be done to disturb that internal system so that we don't complicate the problem of that university.
The VC said two accounting firms had just submitted reports of forensic auditing into all financial operations of the university as part of the restructuring exercise. He added that the Council would carefully consider these reports and take appropriate decisions to streamline the financial operations of the university before it could resume the deductions of dues on behalf of Unions.