Priscilla Ediare, Ekiti
Prof. Olufayo Olu Olu, is the Zonal Coordinator, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Akure Zone. In this interview with The Education Report, he spoke on the ongoing national strike, the contentious Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), union demand for visitation panel to Federal University, Oye Ekiti and other sundry issues.
What is the latest on the ongoing ASUU strike?
We have been having meetings and the Federal Government seems not to be yielding as expected to our requests and that explains why we are still where we are in the struggle. At our last meeting, we met with the Minister of Education, where the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) was exhibited and displayed and from the responses of the minister, it was favourable. The minister even had to congratulate ASUU on the outcome of the experiment. Before the action started at the wake of COVID-19 lock down, ASUU and the government met and the two teams agreed on certain areas, but the area we had a little difficulty, was the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) which the union wanted to substitute with UTAS. We told them as at that time that UTAS needed sometime to perfect the program so that it won’t just look like IPPIS again which couldn’t take care of some of the peculiarities of the university. It was at that point the Federal Government said all the other agreement they had both on revitalization and the rest would not actually be done without taking care of UTAS. So when you place five things on a table and you agreed on four, remaining one, it means that the agreement cannot be implemented until the last one is incorporated and UTAS was what Federal Government was referring to and since they didn’t agree on UTAS. It means all others cannot be implemented, so government decided not to implement the other ones. So, during the lockdown, we worked round the clock to ensure we come out with UTAS.
Many wondered why ASUU chose the COVID-19 period to go on strike?
ASUU did not choose COVID-19 period to go on strike. Before ASUU will embark on any strike, we would have thought of so many other options. We have been on re-negotiations for three and a half years under the chairman of Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN), former Pro-Chancellor of University of Lagos (UNILAG) and the union has been tossed to and fro. ASUU, therefore, reached its limit and we had no other option than to go on strike. It was a very heavy debate whether we should go on strike or not, because we couldn’t continue same way. Nobody ever new that COVID-19 will come up when we started some three and a half years ago. It was when negotiations finally broke down in March 2020 that our members decided that the only option we were left with was to embark on the action and second week into the strike, COVID-19 started. We are not government and we didn’t ask government for lockdown as the strike actually started before the lockdown.
Is strike the only option for ASUU?
Strike shouldn’t have been the only option. Before ASUU will embark on strike, it would have tried other alternatives; meeting with government officials, writing letters, addressing press conferences, meeting with other stakeholders, influential people who can talk with government. All these will first be done and on discovering that government is recalcitrant, not listening to us, we resort to strike.
ASUU seems not to be comfortable with the payment of salaries via IPPIS, has the platform come to stay?
No! ASUU is not. If ASUU were comfortable, there would be no need for UTAS, no need to embark on the strike. When IPPIS came, the union appeared to be the only watch dog amongst other unions in the country. We said it is odd for government to package information of its entire workforce and hand it over to foreigners. Look at the amount of money we are paying the consultant, that is capital flight. We are not saying that government should give the contract to ASUU, but let the union help develop a new program free of charge and they said no, probably because those at the helm of affairs know how much they will be making from IPPIS and that was why ASUU said Ok when you put all those aside and now look at the IPPIS you imported, the consultant has given you and the consultant does not know much about our own personnel information and the workforce. On sabbatical, one of those things peculiar to the university administration was not captured. At a stage, government said even those on contract cannot be captured by IPPIS and the university needs to either sack all of them if they cannot be paid from their own IGR. We are now asking are contract staff no longer part of the university system? Are sabbatical staffs no longer part of the university system? What of adjunct? They don’t even know the difference between Adjunct, Sabbatical and part time lecturers.
Many parents say incessant ASUU strikes have eroded the quality of university education, do you share their views?
I disagree and honestly speaking, it is s pity that ASUU is executing plans for some people who are ignorant of what we are actually doing for them. To be sincere, the union has done a lot to bring about a better standard of education in Nigeria. If not for ASUU, universities in Nigeria would still be in the same sorry state we met them when some of us were in school. Government was forced to allocate money to some of these universities for survival. For the first time in the history of Nigeria, we had Federal Government spending money on state universities; don’t forget that education itself is on the concurrent list. Government at the state level have the right to establish universities and that probably explains the reason state governments are now establishing more universities than the Federal Government. The Federal Government also decided that they must have presence in every state of the country, so they establish federal universities in some of the states that don’t have universities.
What is the position of ASUU about the situation in FUOYE?
Our position is that the entire administration of FUOYE is acting against the rules and the norms establishing universities. We addressed a press conference that sent chills down the spines of some management staff; the VC, his deputy, the registrar and others. ASUU saw a lot of negativities going on in that university and we tried to correct the VC. We have been dealing with some VCs before Prof Kayode Soremekun. The man probably didn’t know the norms and values of university administration. His journey to FUOYE will even tell you that he didn’t know much; maybe he is misbehaving probably because he has godfathers. He retired at OAU, now somebody who was retired in a university still had the effrontery to go to another federal university as a fresh staff, so he took up a permanent appointment in UNILAG and when they discovered that they sent him parking immediately, he left that place for Covenant University, he left there again for National Open University and from there he started manoevouring his way down to his political godfathers and when they were to announce the VCs for some of the universities, probably it was one of the reasons Federal Government imposed those VCs on us because if they had to go through normal interviews and the rest, he wouldn’t have been qualified because these are some of the things that will come out in the interview for him. Now see the kind of person they imposed on FUOYE. Who is going to be the next and fourth VC? For now we don’t know but we know that is what he is working towards because we have been having problems. Before ASUU took actions against him, we sent delegates to him from the national, the zone and they met with him twice and he said don’t worry we will do something about it. We thought of it and reported him to the Ministry of Education, but as if he is one of the sacred cows that cannot be touched we decided to let the public know what has been happening in FUOYE.
Why ASUU is demanding for visitation panel to FUOYE?
If we have to revisit some of the appointments in FUOYE today, I know some heads will roll and that is why he is using divide and rule tactics among the staff, because some people know that if the visitation panel should come and we have to bring all these facts out they are in trouble, that is why you hear them say we are not part of ASUU, we are now in CONUA just because the secret is between them and the VC and that is the problem ASUU is facing with the VC. We told the government proof us wrong if actually you want to dig the facts, send visitation panel to FUOYE, we have been on this for years. Government ought to be sending visitation panel to every university in every five years. He sacked Dr Omonijo for no reason and said well, we know that all the information ASUU has about me was given to them by you because you are the chairman of the branch and for that reason he was suspended, when you suspend a staff, what the law says is that the staff must be placed on half salary and within six months you must determine his case, this man has been suspended since February, 2019 and up until now he has not been given even half of his salary, is that what the law says?
FUOYE VC will soon leave office, is ASUU comfortable with his performance?
How can we be comfortable with all we have been saying about him? ASUU at the local, zonal and the national are not comfortable with his actions when he himself was finding difficulty with the zone, he approached president of the union via a text message which was read to us and we told the national president to please send a delegate to us from them not from among the zones but from among the principal officers of the union to visit FUOYE to interact with the VC and so national decided to do that. The VC who was behaving like someone who needed favour when the delegates from the national were around embarrassed them, immediately they left. He went to the press and told them that ASUU came to beg him. While in his office, Soremekun who said one of the lecturers he suspended and refused to pay even half salary said the suspended lecturer should never step or be seen around the vicinity of the university. Then he asked the lecturer to bring the scripts of the students in his care to school for submission, the lecturer asked us and we said how was that possible? There was a letter given to him not to step into the campus and he should not even be seen around the vicinity, the same person who denied you half payment of your monthly salary, said you should not come to the university and now he is asking you to come and submit the scripts, is that possible?
Some stakeholders complained about the adverts for the appointment of new FUOYE VC and the registrar, what is wrong with it?
We observed two obnoxious clauses in the adverts, even the earlier one for the bursar, we complained severally about the many stringent conditions. Starting with the bursar, she (bursar) was appointed in acting capacity and the woman spent two years, if you are appointed in acting capacity within six months something ought to have been done, a new advert was supposed to have been put in place and whether the person acting (incumbent) was will contest or not was not our problem but you kept the woman there until ASUU reported to the minister and addressed press conferences. Then Soremekun was forced to advertise and when the adverts came out, it was online and with all the conditions that will permit only the woman acting as the solely candidate. That same position for the registrar had the same clause; he must be a fellow from a federal university and so on. We saw where they tailored it to. There is one Mr. Olatunbosun Odusanya, who came along with the VC to FUOYE, he came in not as a personal security aide of the VC, they gave him appointment as a Director of Administration and Special Duties on CONTISS 15, and if you go through the system of the Nigerian universities such nomenclature doesn’t exist and we kept asking questions about his position. As for the position of the VC which has also been advertised, why the union is crying loud on this matter again is, we got information of those they have been trying to manoeuvre and rig for that position. There is this professor he came to FUOYE for sabbatical in 2015 and in 2016 he renewed his appointment. He finally transferred his service from EKSU as a former Dean, Faculty of Agriculture to FUOYE after he was not found appointive by EKSU and the VC gave him appointment letter, jettisoned the report the faculty had written and within a very short period, he was manipulated and became the Deputy VC and he is still in that office.