LASU’s three-month crisis festers, awaits Ambode’s action
LAGOS State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode will soon take far-reaching decisions that could rescue the crisis-ridden Lagos State University (LASU) from the throes of self-inflicted instability.
The 32-year-old institution has been shut down since March 16, when members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU-LASU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU-LASU) and Non Academic Staff Union (NASU-LASU) chased the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Oladapo Obafunwa and other principal officers out of the university campus, as convocation ceremonies got underway.
They were registering their displeasure over the management’s inability to accede to their demands.
The action prevented the graduating students from receiving their certificates, leading to a suspension of what would have been a week-long convocation activities. The university authority had to quickly design a contingency plan that paved the way for the graduates to participate in the National Youth Service (NYSC) scheme.
Already, a ministerial report, chronicling the background of the latest crisis, including suggestions on how to deal with it, has been forwarded to the governor by the university management. The crisis is also believed to have led to the sudden resignation, three weeks ago, of the chairman of the university’s governing council, Mr. Bode Augusto.
Both the institution’s management and the unions have blamed each other for the latest crisis.
The unions are demanding, among others, the payment of the balance of their salary increase arrears; promotion; regularisation of casual staff and the removal of the university’s acting chief security officer. They are also insisting that the vice chancellor be relieved of his duties.
Despite the communiqué issued at the end of series of meetings between representatives of the Governing Council, University management and the four unions (ASUU-LASU, SSANU-ASUU, NAAT-LASU and NASU-ASUU) held on May 11, 16 and 20 at the Lagos State College of Medicine respectively, in which all contending parties agreed to allow peace to reign, the unions are yet to allow the university’s management team to enter the campus.
Governor Ambode steps in
In his bid to fully understand the issues, the governor recently met with the university management and the unions. A few days after the meeting, he approved the payment of the balance of the school fees paid by students of the institution, totaling N162.5 million, as a first step aimed at dousing the tension.
School fees as albatross
Former Governor Babatunde Fashola had introduced the fees to shore up the university’s dismal financial situation, to the chagrin of the students. He was, however, forced to reverse the decision in what analysts have described as a re-election strategy.
The recently concluded governorship and presidential elections were said to have hampered Fashola from taking far-reaching decisions on the institution following the March 16 shut down, a few weeks to the elections.
Vice Chancellors as victims
The latest action by the unions was not the first time a LASU vice chancellor would be chased out of campus.
The immediate past Vice Chancellor, Prof. Lateef Hussain was banished from the university campus by the same unions, which accused him of unsubstantiated misdeeds.
Also, a former Vice Chancellor of the institution, the late Jadesola Akande, an outstanding Professor of Law, who was the institution’s first female vice chancellor between 1989 and 1993, and was reputed to have transformed the institution’s Law Faculty, was also chased out of campus.
In the case of Enitan Bababunmi, a renowned Professor of Biochemistry who was appointed Vice Chancellor in 1993, he resigned his appointment abruptly in 1996 in exasperation, when he could no longer cope with the unions’ uncooperative attitude.
Shortly after Prof. Peter Okebukola was appointed Acting Vice Chancellor by the defunct Col. Buba Marwa’s administration in 1996, he began to receive death threats when it was clear that Marwa was favourably disposed to confirming his appointment. The major grouse against Okebukola by the unions was that he was not a Lagos indigene.
The re-appointment of Fatiu Ademola Akesode, a distinguished Professor of Paediatrics for a second term as Vice Chancellor of the institution in 2001 by the former Bola Tinubu administration, also triggered off a major crisis involving, this time, seven professors who were vehemently opposed to his reappointment.
And despite several appeals by the state government and stakeholders to the aggrieved professors to sheathe the sword, the crisis continued until Akesode died suddenly on March 30, 2001.
An angry Tinubu promptly sacked the seven combatants.
Sources disclosed that the state government was tired of what is generally perceived as the unions’ excesses, with the groundswell of opinions within government circles calling for action to tackle the problem once and for all.
Lagos State government’s inaction
A source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity said: “The Lagos State government has so far not taken a decisive decision on LASU due mainly to political considerations. This has given room to endless lawlessness. However, it is now clear that for the university to return to the path of uninterrupted academic activities, something has to be done about the so-called unions.
Lesson from UNILORIN
“There are suggestions that the state government should adopt the University of Ilorin approach in dealing with the unions. Another suggestion is that the state government should sack the entire staff of the university, shut it down and recruit fresh staff members under strict conditions.
“There is nowhere in the world where employees dictate the terms of employment to their employer. This is what LASU’s unions have turned themselves into. When they came to Alausa to demand that the Vice Chancellor should be sacked, they were told that it was not within their prerogative to tell the state government when a vice chancellor should be sacked or appointed. They not only want to dictate the salary they want to earn, they also want to dictate who should be appointed as the vice chancellor. This is unacceptable to the state government which owns the university.”
The ASUU factor
However, another source within the institution described the problem facing the university as multi-dimensional. According to him, a former vice chancellor of the institution is allegedly fuelling the crisis due to his own entrenched interest.
Another on the senior management staff of the university, who is believed to be nursing the position of vice chancellor, the source added, is also allegedly encouraging the unions to demand the removal of the current vice chancellor, whom they suspect is eyeing a second term.
His words: “Take the leadership of ASUU for instance. Its chairman is having issues with the management over his PhD degree, so it is not surprising that he wants Obafunwa out of the way. There’s another senior ASUU official who has been indicted over examination fraud to which he has confessed. His confession is on tape. He is also at the forefront of the Obafunwa-must-go campaign, which is also understandable. Then, some academic staff members have been found not to possess the ordinary level certificate. Besides, some of them, who collected funds from the university to study for their PhD courses abroad, neither produced the degree nor the funds they collected when the university asked questions.
“With regard to NASU and SSANU, some of their members are also afraid of losing their jobs over the management’s decision that all staff members should produce their West African Senior School Certificate (WASSCE) results. About 34 cases are currently before the governing council. So, the whole strategy is not really about the demands you see the unions display. It is about a desperate fight for survival.”
LASU has seven faculties – six at Ojo and one, the Faculty of Engineering, at Epe. There are also two Schools – Communications and Transport at Surulere and Ojo respectively. The College of Medicine is at Ikeja.
The university’s current student population is estimated at 10,000.