●Varsity unions, others welcome Babalakin’s committee
By Tope Adeboboye
Over the years, on the campuses of Nigeria’s public universities, crisis is one condition that has festered in copious quantities.
From time to time, Nigeria’s tertiary institutions have metamorphosed into academies of endless chaos. Disagreements between the government and the different unions – academic and otherwise – in the universities have always led to industrial actions, forcing students from the classrooms for months.
Academic calendars are routinely disrupted, and programmes that should be concluded in four sessions stretch to as many as seven years. Dreams of many youngsters have died, their futures fractured and the destinies of many destroyed.
But right now, some light flickers in the horizon. The committee set up by the Federal Government to seek and find a lasting peace between the university unions and the government will be inaugurated today in Abuja. And many are confident that the chairman of the committee, Dr. Wale Babalakin, former Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council of the University of Maiduguri, and his team are equal to the task.
Babalakin, a lawyer and businessman, was appointed by the Federal Government to lead the body of serving pro-chancellors to help in resolving the lingering issues between the Federal Government and the various unions in the universities. The unions, according to the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, include the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) and Non-Academic Staff Union of Associated & Allied Institutions (NASU).
The team is a 16-member committee of serving pro-chancellors of various universities. Part of their mandate is to renegotiate the 2009 agreement with all the unions in the federal universities, federal polytechnics and federal colleges of education. The aim is that peace and industrial harmony might thrive in the citadels of learning.
Not a few have applauded the Federal Government for appointing Babalakin as the leader of the troubleshooting team. Indeed, many will remember his days as Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Governing Council of the University of Maiduguri with nostalgia. Discarding the fear of Boko Haram, which had its operational bases across Borno State, Babalakin set to work. His leadership was responsible for the development witnessed by the University of Maiduguri while he served, the university management noted.
The university governing council informed that Babalakin actually shunned all perks of office for the four years he was with the institution, serving the institution free of charge. He bore all personal expenses, and expended millions of naira on the development of infrastructure in the university.
Babalakin helped the university construct a multi-million naira Independent Power Project, which has ensured an uninterrupted 20-hour supply of electricity to the institution. The project was inaugurated in December 2011. In 2010, he donated money for the upgrade of the university library, even as he invested in the procurement of stethoscopes for poor students of the College of Medicine in the school.
But many people are not surprised at Babalakin’s love for students and scholarship. He started school early. And at 26, he had bagged a doctoral degree in Law from the prestigious University of Cambridge.
A letter from the Internal Members of UNIMAID’s Governing Council showed how much the businessman was loved. The letter read: “We, the Internal Members of the Governing Council are overwhelmed, as we have observed since inauguration, our laudable achievements under your leadership. We also note in particular your commitment and generosity to the university in all facets. This is in addition to your resolve not to take a single kobo from the university in the name of allowance and, above all, not to be reimbursed of any expenses you incurred while attending university functions. The university community, the citizens of Borno State and indeed the nation in general hold you in high esteem, as a man of high integrity and vision. What you have done for the University of Maiduguri as Chairman of Council so far, can only be compared to what Chief Afe Babalola and Deacon Gamaliel Onosode did for the University of Lagos.”
Babalakin also got a commendable testimonial from the institution’s management and Governing Council after he completed his tenure. “We are astonished that in only four years of serving as Chairman of Council, you led the council and management of the university to initiate and complete over 50 major projects, including a new Faculty of Pharmacy, a new Faculty of Clinical Sciences, a new Faculty of Dentistry, two 500-seater auditoriums, a 1000-seater auditorium, the development of an e-library, a new Campus Radio station, the provision of 20 hours of uninterrupted electricity in the university, the dualisation of the university entry gate road, the provision of solar-powered street lights and a new Department of Fine Arts.
“Dr. Babalakin, you built more structures in the university during your four-year tenure than was achieved since the establishment of the university. You led from the front by denying yourself all the allowances due to you. You did not collect a single kobo from the university as you repeatedly stated that Nigerians needed to sacrifice to reposition the education sector. As you move on in your career, we wish you outstanding success and are confident that your performance will continue to be monumental.”
Babalakin has also been involved in huge philanthropic activities. At the moment, over 200 undergraduates and graduate students are enjoying scholarships awarded to them by Babalakin in various universities within and outside the country, including universities in Europe and the United States.
Many unions within the university have passed a vote of confidence on Babalakin and his team.
President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, assured that ASUU would participate in the renegotiation process. He said the renegotiation team was made up of men and women of integrity and proven track record.
Other unions in the university also gave the Federal Government a thumbs-up for appointing Dr. Babalakin, as leader of the committee. In a commendation letter dated January 12, 2017 written by the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU), National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) and Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), the bodies noted: “We write to commend and congratulate you on your appointment as the Chairman of the Federal Team for Renegotiation of the 2009 Agreements signed between the Federal Government and labour unions in tertiary institutions.
“Sir, the JAC Unions of NAAT, NASU and SSANU at the JAC meeting held on January 12, 2017, took cognizance of your commendable experience with the university system. We have also noted the good working relationship we had with you while you served as Chairman of the Implementation Monitoring Committee (IMC) of the 2009 FGN/University-based Unions Agreements, and agree that you are eminently qualified to head the new Government Team as appointed.”
Right now, millions of Nigerians are uncomfortable with the endless chaos on government-owned tertiary institutions. They hope the Wale Babalakin team will bring the desired peace to the crisis-riddled citadels of learning across the country.