How ownership tussle, irregular subvention cripple varsity
Owner states wait for white paper on way forward
From Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
The edict that established Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) with the main campus in Ogbomoso, Oyo State, and another campus in Osogbo, Osun State, was signed on April 23, 1990. The university began its academic session on October 19, 1990.
At the inception, the university was named Oyo State University of Technology. The name was changed to LAUTECH after the Osun State was carved out from the old Oyo State in 1991. So, the two states became owners of the university, which was named after the former premier of the defunct Western Region, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, who hailed from Ogbomoso.
The university started with 436 students, now enrolls nearly 20,000. For the first 20 years, the university enjoyed relative peace, and academic excellence. During that period, there seemed to be no crisis between the two states.
In 2003 and 2004, the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) rated LAUTECH as the best state university in Nigeria. Fields of study include Pure and Applied Science, Medicine, Agriculture, Engineering and Technology, and Environmental Science.
Investigation revealed that crisis began in the university in 2010 when Osun State established her own university, Osun State University. Oyo State Government then wanted Osun to transfer full ownership of LAUTECH to it. But Osun State vehemently objected to the move.
The crisis seemed to have become an indelible stigma, which appeared to have defied all solutions in the past seven years. On May 16, 2011, former governor of Oyo State, Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala, ensured that the state became sole owner of the institution via a gazette he signed.
The gazette, marked 09 and Vol. 36. Sections 26 of the amended law stated that “rules, convention or practice in existence in respect of the joint ownership of the university are hereby revoked and shall cease to have validity or force of law with effect from December 31, 2010.” Section 27 stated that “the university is deemed to be solely owned by Oyo State as from December 31, 2010.”
But the Supreme Court judgment delivered on December 26, 2012, following a suit filed by Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State, upheld the joint ownership of the university. The apex court ruled that Oyo cannot unilaterally lay claim to sole ownership of the institution.
By the time the judgment was delivered, Senator Abiola Ajimobi had become governor of Oyo State and the two states returned to the status quo. Nothing was heard about the ownership tussle until 2016 when Oyo State House of Assembly set up a committee to facilitate the take-over of the institution. Its Osun counterpart vowed it would not allow the joint ownership agreement to be tampered with.
The closure of the institution by the authorities in June last year and the flexing of muscles between the owner states were said to have brought untold hardship on students, who were supposed to have been mobilised for National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and those that should have graduated. They are all still being delayed due to the closure of the school.
Ajimobi had said when the process of take-over was ongoing in state assembly: “Before we came in 2010, the former governor, Chief Adebayo Alao-Akala and his Osun State counterpart then, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, had an agreement to transfer LAUTECH to Oyo State. But Governor Rauf Aregbesola went to court, and the case got to the Supreme Court.
“In 2012, the court gave a judgement that co-ownership of LAUTECH by both states remained unbroken. The judgement held that unless both owners sit down and agree, no party can single-handedly decide to severe the relationship.
“Agreed that Osun State is not paying as it should be paying, Oyo State has paid substantially more than Osun has paid. What we are saying now is for us to sit down and see the need for co-owners to fulfill our obligations.”
This probably showed that the bone of contention for the latest uprising was based on irregular payment of subvention to the university. This led to owing of workers’ salaries and unions embarked on indefinite strike since June 2016.
The crisis got worse as a group in Ogbomoso reportedly stormed the campus and chased out all natives of Osun State working in LAUTECH to return to their state. Some principal staff of the university were said to have been molested during the protest.
However, before things totally fell apart, Ajimobi and Aregbesola, met in Ibadan, on October 19, 2016. They set up visitation panel, headed by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), to examine factors responsible for the perennial crisis at the institution and proffer solutions. The committee submitted its reports on Friday, February 10, 2017, at the Executive Chambers of Oyo State Governor’s Office, Ibadan.
The panel, among other things, recommended that the owner states – Oyo and Osun, should pay subvention and establish a trust fund for the institution.
Olanipekun, who considered the need to keep the union between the owner states together, described payment of subvention as part of the short-term recommendation for efficient running of the institution, adding that establishment of a trust fund for proper management of the institution would be a long term solution to the challenge of funding the institution. The panel implored the two states to inject fresh fund to the university to accelerate resumption of academic activities pending the implementation of its far-reaching recommendations:
“Government alone is incapable of funding university education. Talk of great universities all over the world, you will talk of Harvard. The budget of Harvard University is more than that of Nigeria.
“How did they come about this? It is through trust fund and we are also recommending same as a solution to the funding crisis of LAUTECH. Maybe Nigerian universities would start to learn from LAUTECH if our recommendations are implemented.
“But, we are recommending that for now the university need money; the immediate thing is for the university to reopen. It has been out of session for eight months.
“Therefore, we are recommending that for now, the university must be given some subvention for it to reopen in the short term and after that the implementation of the other steps and recommendations could be also followed.”
Ajimobi commended the panel for the depth analysis and coverage of the report, adding that the report does not matter as much as its implementation. He advocated turning the institution to a South Western university, whereby other states in Yorubaland would have stake in it:
“Reality on ground requires we look at different ways of doing things. We need to set up a joint committee to study the report and super impose a template in-line with current reality. We need to look at how can public schools be self-sustaining.
“We must allow prudence to be our watchword and should not be spending money anyhow. Osun State University is self-sustaining, so why can’t we allow LAUTECH to do same? We need to reposition the university with regards to its technical formation.”
Aregbesola said: “We must be innovative and think out of the box for the university to work. I want to appeal to all the staff unions to join hands with government to reposition the institution by calling off their strike.”
In lieu of the report, the two owner governors inaugurated a 10-member technical committee to review the report of the Olanipekun panel. The Special Adviser on Communication and Strategy to Oyo State Governor, Mr. Yomi Layinka, who announced the constitution of the technical committee said the committee, which began its sitting on February 13, was given two weeks for the assignment.
The committee is headed by the Chief of Staff to Oyo State Governor, Dr. Gbade Ojo. Director, Higher Education, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Oyo State, Mr. Kunle Adeosun, would serve as the secretary.
Other members representing Oyo are the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Seun Abimbola; Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance, Mr. David Olatunde; Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Mrs. Aderonke Makanjuola; and Chairman, House of Assembly Committee on Education, Afeez Adeleke.
Representing Osun State are a former Permanent Secretary, Cabinet Office, Mr. Obafemi Akinyele; Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance, Mr. Adebimpe Ogunlumade; Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Mr. Sunday Olajide; and Chairman, House of Assembly Committee on Education, Folorunso Bamisayemi.
Between October 19, 2016 when Olaniepkun’s visitation panel was inaugurated and February 10, 2017, when the panel submitted its reports, many waters have passed under the bridge. One of the notable events was the protest staged by the students of LAUTECH on Monday, January 9, 2017.
It was a gruelling experience for residents of Ibadan, for more than five hours on the fateful day as the students protested the closure of the institution since June 2016. The protest began at Mokola Roundabout, after representatives of the students addressed journalists at the Correspondents’ Chapel of Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Oyo State Council.
The protest caused congestion on major roads in from about 11am till 4p.m. The affected roads included Total Garden-UCH-Secretariat-Bodija, Awolowo Avenue-Sango, Mokola-Sango and Government House.
Before the protest began, the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Samuel Adegbuyi, held a peace meeting with the students, warning them against violent protest.
The students, however, converged on the entrance of the state secretariat and barricaded the roundabout. They sang solidarity songs forcing Ajimobi, a visitor to LAUTECH, to cut short the weekly executive council to address the protesters. Heavy presence of security personnel was sighted at the state secretariat.
The logjam also extended to the Government Secretariat as many people that wanted to exit could not because the gates were shut against the protesters, perhaps to prevent wanton destruction of government property. The people were stranded for close to three hours.
Ajimobi, who noted that the two owner states – Oyo and Osun, felt the plight of the students and had taken measures to ensure that the institution is reopened before the end of this month, adding that the two owner states agreed to contribute N250million each for the payment of works salaries so that they would return to work.
He stated further that he had invited the vice chancellor of the institution, as well as various unions in the school, including the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Non-Academic Staff Union(NASU), and Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) for a crucial meeting in order to resolve the lingering crises in the institution, which was closed by the Senate of the school on June 13,2016.
The outgoing president of Students’ Union Government (SUG) of the institution, Mr. Bakare Olatunde, told the governor: “All that we want is the re-opening of our institution. As you have said that our institution would be re-opened before the end of this month, please we want action and we want you to stand by your words.” The students also appealed to the governor not to increase their tuition fees.
Ajimobi said the owner states set up a panel headed by Olanipekun on how to ensure academic excellence in LAUTECH and government would take decision on matters concerning the tuition fee when the panel submitted its reports.
Addressing journalists before the commencement of the protest on behalf of the students, the secretary for Save Education and Re-Open LAUTECH Coalition (SERAL-C), Mr. Omoakin Murudeen, tabled five demands before the owner states, which are immediate and unconditional re-opening of LAUTECH, immediate payment of all outstanding salaries and allowances of striking workers, no to fee hike, improved funding and democratic management of LAUTECH, and immediate restoration of LAUTECH Student’ Union Government.
When the institution was eventually re-opened last month, the academic staff vowed not to attend classes. Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Ibadan Zone, Dr. Ade Adejumo and chairman of the union in LAUTECH, Dr. Abiodun Olaniran, said the union has no hand in the closing down of academic activities in the institution in the first place so it has no hand in its opening.
The union leaders stressed that the owner states were yet to address the reason which made the academic staff to embark on an indefinite strike, vowing tat they would not resume until their demands are met. The two union leaders, however, urged the owners to come out clean on the issue of funding of the institution to ensure peace.
Registrar of the institution, Mr. Jacob Agboola, had said in a statement sent to the students and members of staff of the institution on Monday, that. “All staff and students are hereby informed that the university will reopen for normal activities on Friday, January 27, 2017.
“All students who have yet to complete their registration are to ensure that they do so and pay their tuition fees during the revision week. On behalf of the Governing Council, Senate and Management, headed by the Vice Chancellor, Prof. A. S. Gbadegesin, we wish you all the best.’’
Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism in Oyo State, Mr. Toye Arulogun, said the resumption of academic activities in LAUTECH was part of the commitment of the owner states towards restoring the academic standard of the university.
It is believed that the white-paper being expected from the technical committee that is reviewing the visitation panel’s reports will go a long way in putting and end to the seven years of turbulence that rocked LAUTECH.