The Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) Ogbomoso, Oyo State, is like the proverbial goat with many owners. It is suffering. For the better part of the last 13 months, the institution has been effectively under lock and key, without any plausible solutions to its many ailments and leaving its over 30,000 students angry and frustrated. The two owner-states, Oyo and Osun, have been unable to solve the problems of the decaying institution and bring it back on track.
The university’s academic staff union has now appealed to the two state governments to prioritise the resolution of its lingering problems with the new tranche of the Paris Club refund recently paid to states by the Federal Government, to help them settle the backlog of salaries and pensions owed their workers. The inability of these two states to meet their financial obligations to LAUTECH workers is largely responsible for the protracted strike which led to the closure of the school.
Though the ownership of the institution is not in dispute, there is no doubt that it continues to remain a subtle undercurrent fueling the current crisis. While both state governments are seemingly reluctant to fund the institution adequately, they are busy establishing and running other institutions of higher learning in their respective states. For example, the Oyo State government under the Governor Abiola Ajimobi’s administration just founded the University of Science and Technology at Ibadan. The Vice-chancellor has been appointed and there is no evidence of a lack of commitment to funding the new institution. Osun State, on the other hand, has its own wholly state-owned university at Oshogbo, together with other tertiary institutions which do not suffer the neglect which appear presently reserved for LAUTECH.
If funding this school is a problem, where are the two states getting the money to fund their other tertiary institutions? This is why a close look needs to be given to the LAUTECH problem. A lasting solution needs to be found to the clear lack of commitment to bringing the school back in operation by the owner-states.
In the present situation, it does appear that it would be wise for the ownership of the school to be vested in just one state, most likely Oyo State, since the school is located in the state, while it handsomely pays off Osun State government for its interests and financial commitments to the institution over the years. That way, the new sole owner can be confronted with its sole responsibility for the school and be less likely to abdicate or prevaricate on its duty to the institution. If this is difficult on account of the legal instrument with which the institution was founded, then an amendment of the instrument can be proposed and implemented with a view to finding a workable solution. The present situation is disheartening, especially for the students and staff of the institution, who have suffered untold hardship in the last 13 months.
The idea was also mooted in some quarters last week that the school should be handed over to the federal authorities. This suggestion could also be explored, if it will not lead to a wave of demands for the federal government to take over other ailing state universities.
The LAUTECH is too important an institution to be tossed around like a ship heading for wreckage. Even if the argument can be made that the Federal Government is already over-burdened and should, in fact, be divesting itself of such responsibilities, the present warped federal structure which reserves a sizeable chunk of federal resources at the centre, makes the proposal plausible.
The problem of LAUTECH underscores our inability to get our priorities right. It, indeed, shows how lowly we take matters of education which ordinarily should be the solid building block for our national development. We wonder when this unhelpful attitude would change for us to redeem ourselves as a nation.
Our expectation that the two-owner states now being under the same political umbrella of the All Progressives Congress (APC) would help smoothen the hitherto rough edges in their relationship with regard to the affairs of the institution has not been met. The bickering and buck-passing continues, to the detriment of a healthy academic environment for the students and staff of the university.
We sincerely regret this retrogression at LAUTECH and call on the owner-governments to heed the plea of the academic staff union and other stakeholders of the institution, and move decisively to remedy the depressing situation in the school. The future of the over 30,000 students currently trapped in this ding-dong affair is very important. The problems ailing the school must be quickly resolved in their interest and that of the country.