ADEWOLE, NEW UI VC FACES ACID TEST OVER BACKOUT
P rof. Folorunso Isaac Adewole certainly did not bargain for any unrest, much less from students so early in his four-year tenure, given the popularity crest on which he rode into office as vice-chancellor of the premier university, the University of Ibadan, in November last year.
A populist democrat, scholar and veteran unionist himself, Adewole has endeared himself to the university community with the blueprint of solutions to the numerous problems, bedeviling the first Nigerian institution, considered the best of all the packages presented by him and other contestants.
He has given greater assurance that his term would be crisis-free with the meticulous and gradual implementation of the promises he made when jostling for the job. For instance, staff salaries, which hitherto were often late and spilled into the second week of another month, are now paid by the 25th day of every month.
He also gave effect to the governing council's lifting of the ban on students' unionism, which had been suspended since seven years ago by supervising the constitution of a new executive to the delight of the students' populace.
But on Wednesday, June 22, the university students went on rampage to protest epileptic power supply, which had frustrated learning and made life harrowing on the campus.
The irate students, led by their new union leaders, boycotted classes and took to the streets of Ibadan, chanting war songs and deploring the situation. Bearing placards, they marched to the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) head office at Dugbe while some had the main entrance of the university shut, barring workers and visitors from entering or exiting the campus.
The demonstration could have turned violent, but for a pre-emptive meeting called by the school management earlier that morning, based on intelligence report that the students intended to continue with a peaceful protest restricted to the campus the previous day on the vexed issue.
There was much to get the students infuriated. For the past five months, the university community had barely enjoyed four hours of electricity per day. The situation had worsened in the last six weeks, when supply from PHCN had virtually reduced to zero.
The students complained that this had disrupted academic activities on campus. Some of them in the Faculty of Sciences could not conduct practical experiments while majority could not study at night.
The blackout also affected operations at the administrative arm of the university. For instance, there was a long queue of prospective postgraduate students whose admission procedures had been stalled due to lack of light to process the formalities on the computer systems.
But the Director of Works, Mr. J.K Ajibola, an engineer, explained that this could not meet the essential needs of the community as the plants were bought for emergencies and could not be made to supply power for long periods, otherwise, they would break down within a short period, plunging the campus into a worse situation.
Prof. Adewole disclosed that the management had spent over N127 million on PHCN bills and purchase of diesel for the generators in the last five months.
He lamented that the university received only N16 million for overhead costs in May 2011 from the Federal Government out of which, he said, 10 per cent went to the library, while five per cent was allocated to research grants.
Prof. Adewole said apart from having spent N200 million to attend to some challenges in respect of burnt electricity cables and replacement of RMU, among others, management had approached an Independent Power Project (IPP) company for supply of electricity.
But with the firm reportedly requesting a monthly payment of N90 million to ensure power supply for 24 hours daily, he observed that the university was in no position to pay such amount, in a situation where government released below N20 million monthly for overhead costs.
His deputy (administration), Prof. E.A Bamgboye, had, at a stakeholders meeting held last week, explained that although the management was also considering the option of establishing a solar power station on campus, it was being 'very cautious in committing scarce resources to the project in case it does not eventually serve our purpose.'
However, pilot solar projects were to be tested in Queen Idia (female) and Tedder (male) halls of residence meanwhile, he said.
Trade groups in the university are with the students on the issue. Chairman of the Non- Academic Staff Union (NASU), Mr. O. C Fatoki, said the workers were not too happy with the power situation as the suffering therefrom was mutual, but said they just restrained themselves from joining in the protest.
But the chairman of the UI branch of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Dr. Demola Aremu, said the agitation was not against the university authorities per se as it was against the national leadership's failure to resolve the protracted energy crises, which, he said, had turned the entire country into a huge village.
Sources close to the students' body, in fact, hinted that University of Ibadan Students Union (UISU) might have started networking with the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) to join forces with the labour unions in the university system and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) at the national level to pressurise the Federal Government to find urgent solution to the energy crisis, as it is not peculiar to UI alone.