The Lagos State University (LASU) is in the news again but this time for a major decision taken by the university management which if not tackled immediately could snowball to another crisis.
The 35-year-old university in the last eight years has moved from one crisis to another and the recent decision of the Vice Chancellor, Prof Olarenwaju Fagbohun is already generating ripples.
On Monday, January 14, the VC of LASU, Prof Fagbohun stopped the remittance of check-off dues to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) LASU branch and immediately, the union challenged the decision.
The VC decision to suspend the remittance of check-off dues to ASUU which was conveyed to the union via a letter signed by a Deputy Registrar (VC’s office), Mrs. A.A. Adesunkanmi and addressed to ASUU-LASU Secretary, Dr. Tony Dansu, said the account of the union is still being operated by the dismissed union chairman.
It reads: ‘’The continued management and operation of ASUU-LASU bank accounts by Dr. Isaac Oyewunmi who was dismissed by the Governing Council of the university on 7th September, 2017, borders on criminal conspiracy, fraud and corruption.
‘’The management cannot allow the mechanisms of the university to be used to aid and abet fraud and corruption. In the circumstances, the VC has directed the immediate suspension of remittance of check-off dues of members of ASUU-LASU to ASUU-LASU bank accounts pending when the management and operation of these accounts are properly regularized.’’
Prof Fagbohun is not the first VC to suspend the remittance of check-off dues to ASUU-LASU account, recalled that on February 18, 2015, the former VC, Prof John Obafunwa took a similiar decision which triggered a major crisis on campus.
The then Special Adviser on Education to Fashola, Otunba Fatai Olukoga in a letter to Obafunwa dated February 25, rebuked him and directed the restoration of ASUU-LASU check-off dues with immediate effect.
Olukoga’s words: ‘’Let me state unequivocally that the collection of check-off dues by employers is a statutory responsibility and therefore non-negotiable. It is guaranteed by a provision of the Trade Union Act of the Labour Law of the Federation. For the avoidance of doubt, please refer to Nigeria Labour Law Chapter 14 (Trade Union Act), Section 17 (a & b).
‘’In view of the above, and in the interest of industrial harmony and good governance, you are requested to comply immediately with the provisions of this Law and reinstate the deduction of ASUU-LASU check-off dues.’’
Less than 24 hours after the receipt of Prof Fagbohun’s letter suspending the remittance of its check-off dues, ASUU-LASU in another letter signed by the Secretary, Dr. Tony Dansu and Assistant Secretary, Dr. Adeolu Oyekan to the VC, said it is not the business of the university management to tell the union how to manage it funds.
The letter which was also copied the visitor and Governor of Lagos State, his deputy, chairman, House Committee on Education, Lagos State House of Assembly, Chancellor of LASU, Pro-Chancellor and chairman, Governing Council of LASU, the union said it is not “Abetting illegal operation of ASUU-LASU bank account” as falsely claimed by the management, stating ‘’for the avoidance of doubt no union can illegally operate its own account.’’
ASUU- LASU further disclosed that in line with the Constitution and extant practices of the union, only the National Executive Council (NEC) of the union can determine and recognize the leadership of, and signatories to a branch’s account. In this instance, Dr. Isaac Oyewumi is the recognized chairman of the ASUU-LASU branch.
The union reminded the VC that the purported dismissal of the chairman is still a subject of litigation in a court of law and that as a Senior Advocate and a law teacher for several years, the VC should know that the matter is sub-judice.
‘’That “Dr. Isaac Oyewumi and Dr. Adebowale-Suenu have been collecting a monthly allowance of N50, 000:00 each from the general monthly deductions of members of ASUU-LASU” is not only erroneous but clearly demonstrates a crass lack of understanding of the workings of our great union.
‘’For the avoidance of doubt, check-off deductions of all members including that of ASUU-LASU belong to the national body of our union and in line with its commitment to and in solidarity with victimized members; it often gives a monthly stipend until the determination of their illegal dismissal by a competent court of law. ASUU-LASU is only discharging this obligation on behalf of the national body.
‘’In view of the foregoing, our union wishes to counsel that the university administration under your leadership, retrace its steps from this ignoble path which has become unfashionable in the annals of this university’’, the union noted.
To reaffirm ASUU-LASU exco’s letter to the VC, the congress on Tuesday, January 15 took a major decision that the university management should remit members’ check-off dues to the union’s account and that pending the resolution of the case of the chairman in court, the Financial Secretary and Treasurer are signatories to the union’s account.
The ASUU-LASU congress also resolved that if any member is aggrieved on any union matters, he/she should channel their grievances to the National Executive Council (NEC) of ASUU.
Defending its action further, the university management said it received a petition signed by some ASUU-LASU members and they alleged that Dr. Isaac Oyewunmi is still part of those presently operating the bank account of the union.
The statement from the university further stated that both Dr. Oyewunmi and Dr. Adeyemi-Suenu have illegally been collecting monthly allowance of N50, 000 each from the general monthly deductions of members of ASUU-LASU. The petitioners further alleged that the management is acting in concert with the executive of ASUU-LASU to defraud members.
The summary of the response of the Secretary ASUU-LASU is that the above issues concern the internal workings of the union and relates to the interpretation of the union’s Constitution and Code of Practice.
‘’In the circumstance, the VC in the exercise of his supervisory and general responsibility to council to maintain good order in the university has directed the immediate suspension of remittance of check-off dues of members of ASUU-LASU to ASUU-LASU bank accounts pending when the management and operation of the account(s) are properly regularized.’’
Reacting to the check-off dues crisis at LASU, ASUU Lagos Zonal Coordinator, Prof Olusiji Sowande said the petitioners who claimed to have 70 per cent members that signed the petition could not produce the documents on demand at the congress on January 15 and he recalled that some contract academic staff disengaged some years ago were paid stipend by the branch.
Clarifying the issues further, Prof Sowande said in ASUU Constitution, there are three signatories to a branch account with the treasurer as principal signatory, others are the chairman and financial secretary, stating that in the case of ASUU-LASU, the treasurer and financial secretary are still in service, thus the two can operate the union’s account.
He recalled that for eight years that the sacked 49 lecturers of University of Ilorin were in court, ASUU gave them stipend until when the Supreme Court ruled in their favour.
The zonal coordinator also reminded LASU VC and the petitioners that up till now ASUU have been paying stipend to the 150 sacked lecturers of Kogi State University since August 2017.
Sowande further disclosed that because of situation like this, ASUU created a fund for victimised members who are given stipend until their casee are resolved.
Investigations by The Education Report showed that those who wrote the petition to the VC were suspended ASUU-LASU members including a former chairman of the branch, some professors promoted under this administration and immediate past dean of a faculty.