Facts and fictions of UI crisis
The current financial crisis rocking the University of Ibadan (UI) in which the Management team says it can no longer pay some allowances, after struggling to pay salaries, confirms what has always been suspected: insolvency, if not bankruptcy. Following the crash of prices of crude oil in the international market, observers had predicted that there would be tough time for the country.
Indeed, tough time is here. Many states across the country are not only impecunious; their workers are as indigent as their dependents that are in the poverty trap as a result of non-payment of salaries. The distress scenario is fast spreading to federal government’s agencies and institutions with major shortfall in financial allocation. In UI, workers are giving the new Vice Chancellor, Prof. Abel Idowu Olayinka sleepless nights over non-payment of what they called “earned allowance” for the month of February.
This “earned allowance” which is a fallout of the 2009 agreement between the Government and Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is being paid in instalments through the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), pending when the government will reimburse the university. But when bubble bursts with the shortfall in personnel grant released by the government, the VC cries out that the university will not be able to pay the allowance. The workers, under different unions, including Non Academic Staff Union (NASU), National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) and Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) scoffed at the dilemma, insisting that the allowance must be paid.
To douse tension, Prof. Olayinka in a release dated 22 February, explained the financial situation to the workers, citing paucity of funds as his headache. According to him, “In 2015, we received N932, 714,026.24 from January up to November, but in December 2015, our allocation on Personnel Cost was drastically reduced to N663, 972,634.60. This is a reduction of N268, 741,391.64. This shortfall accounted for why deductions for the month of December 2015 could not be paid to all deserving Cooperative Societies and Unions “.
Surprisingly, Olayinka disclosed, “we received the sum of N782, 346,495.95 as Personnel Cost for the month of January 2016. This sum is a far cry from our expected Personnel Cost. Our budget in 2016 for Personnel Cost is N12, 971,458,377 net of National Health Insurance Scheme and Contributory Pensions. We therefore expect monthly allocation of N1, 080,954,864.75; instead, we got N782, 346,495.95, a reduction of N298, 608,369.16. The import of this is that again in January 2016, we were not able to meet up with 100 percent of our commitment on Personnel Cost “.
A congress was called recently in which all members of the three unions, excluding Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) were enjoined to converge on the main entrance of the University. As early as 7am, staff members had taken over the place, itching to be updated. The gates had been locked as usual. Vehicular movement had been effectively paralyzed.
“Great Nigerian workers!”, the SSANU Chairman, Mr. Wale Akinremi who spoke on behalf of other leaders, psyching up the members in salutation. “Great”, replied the members tumultuously. He began to speak. “They said they would sack me if I address you! There is no peace on this campus if our allowance is not paid.” Akinremi who somewhat ignited negative passion by his grandstanding lashed out at the VC for refusing to yield to pressure, rather than addressing the issue and proffering solution to the financial problem raised by the VC. This is a sad commentary on civility, coming from a decent academic environment of Ibadan status. Respect for elders is one of the cardinal imperatives of our traditional customs. A union leader who is worth his salt must employ cultured language and definitiveness of logic to fight his battle. Insulting the VC is a desecration of culture of civilisation.
Perhaps it is relevant to ask for Prof. Olayinka’s offence in all of this. Is he the one who caused economic crisis? Did the VC get more allocation than he has disclosed? Mr. Akinremi alleged that Prof. Olayinka did not behave as his predecessor, Prof. Isaac Folorunso Adewole! But no two individuals are ever the same. Not even twins who passed through the same womb. In 2009, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua offered amnesty to the Niger Delta boys and achieved peace. The former President Olusegun Obasanjo had approached the same problem with force and failed. Does it mean Yar’Adua was the wisest president ever? Does it mean Obasanjo did not succeed in other areas? Every leader comes to the stage with his own peculiar style and flavour. Therefore, it is invidious comparing Prof. Olayinka with his predecessor.
Again, the VC was accused of reporting the union leaders to the security agents, the move, which they said, exacerbated the crisis. However, going by Mr. Akinremi’s temperament, only a VC who will like to see UI ‘burn’ will not report to the Directorate of State Security. Clearly, the threat deserves the attention of the Commander-in-Chief in Abuja!
Prof. Olayinka deserves apologies. Although that is part of the sacrifices he has to make as the 12th UI VC, he nonetheless deserves respect. His office commands regard of those who truly cherish intellectualism. Here is a man who has been demonstrating maturity and wisdom since he took over on December 1, 2015, the mindset you associate with humble and confident learner-leader. He is the symbol of our collective academic excellence and achievement. Why then should anybody take joy in disparaging him?
However, the earlier the workers in UI adjust their budgets to the current economic reality in the country the better. Manna does not fall in perpetuity. Heaven will not fall if the government directed the Management to reduce the workforce because there is no money to pay everyone. Many will lose their jobs. They won’t be able to protest and lock gates. Already, many state governments have started retrenching. Who says federal government cannot do the same? It is better we don’t push our luck too far. Incessant strikes over agitation for sundry allowance should be checked. It may sound unreasonable to those who have capacity to challenge their opponents to a roadside brawl, and dance naked in a market place, the fact is that the universities across the country should watch it.
• Saanu is with the Directorate of Public Communication, University of Ibadan. Email: email@example.com