The Lagos State University (LASU) is in the news again but this time for the wrong reason. The 37-year-old institution is facing a major union crisis as two executives are laying claim to the leadership of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
Like the 2014 scenario, new ASUU executives emerged three weeks ago and sacked the one led by Dr Isaac Oyewunmi, which has the backing of the national body.
Genesis of crisis
The new battle for the soul of ASUU-LASU started on January 21, 2020, through an unsigned circular conveying a congress for Wednesday, January 22 at the old Sociology classroom. The main reasons for their action were that the tenure of the Oyewunmi-led executives including Dr Tony Dansu, Dr Adeola Oyekan, Dr Kemi Aboderin-Shonibare, and Dr Adebowale Adeyemi-Suenu expired in February 2018, claiming: “Unfortunately, all of them are no longer in the service of LASU.
“This means in effect that since 2018 we have had no functioning ASUU-LASU exco, as a result of which no progress at all has been made in regard to the corporate welfare of members. These welfare matters cannot be decided or discussed without appropriate leadership structure and spokespersons.’’
A member of the academic staff told The Education Report that it was based on the exigency of a leadership vacuum that prompted the call for congress. The decision to sack the executives was taken at a congress convoyed by some academic staff. After the congress, ‘’a caretaker committee was appointed and was mandated to produce a credible exco within weeks,” the member explained.
In a swift reaction, ASUU-LASU exco recoginised by the national body in a letter to the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Olanrewaju Fagbohun, said the call for the congress “by non-exco members is illegal and violates numerous rules of the union. There are strong reports that the idea has the backing of the university administration.
“The illegal congress in the name of ASUU-LASU is capable of generating avoidable crises if not nipped in the bud. It is our hope that the university administration will call these persons to order in the interest of peace and order within the university.”
The letter, which was copied the governor, his deputy, special adviser on education and the two deputy vice-chancellors fingered some suspended former chairmen and secretaries and those who have withdrawn from the union as the brain behind the illegal congress.
Despite the complaint by the Oyewunmi-led executives, the other group on January 24, 2020, went ahead to elect their executives. The officers included Dr Adeolu Bakare, Chairman; Dr Babatope Babafemi, Vice-chairman; Dr Sylvester Idowu, Dr S.A. Adebanjo, Assistant Secretary; Dr S.A. Oladosu, Investment Officer; Dr Segun Olabode, Treasurer; Dr Ayodele Awotundun, financial secretary and Dr Adeola Ajibade.
Position of ASUU constitution
On branch election, the constitution of ASUU national said election shall be conducted in accordance with the constitution and the supplementary rules. To be elected a member of a branch executive committee, a candidate must obtain a majority of the votes of members present.
To run as branch officer, a member must not be on sabbatical, not be a student in any university in Nigeria, must be a confirmed staff, must be an active member of the union, must not have been found guilty of any anti-union activities and have not been involved in any form of finance-related misconduct or indictment.
Specifically, on supplementary rules on branch elections, the law states that the national secretariat shall keep an up-to-date record of election dates for all the branches, the national shall through NEC announce at least three months in advance the expiration date of the tenure of a particular branch executive committee.
The constitution states: ‘’NEC reserves the right to postpone/suspend the announcement or intended announcement of any date as contained in (11) above where, in its judgment, the branch is considered to be in a crisis.
‘’Once NCE has given clearance for the conduct of an election in a branch, the branch congress shall set up an electoral committee whose responsibility shall be to conduct a free and fair election for the branch. Where the branch is in crisis, and it is NEC’s judgment that there shall be an election, NEC will conduct the election. Members of the electoral committee shall be nominated, seconded and be voted for on the floor of congress.’’
Justifying their emergence, the “new” executives said the commitment to and love for the ideals of ASUU-LASU, patriotic and visionary members of the union came up with the initiative that the union must not die thus to actualise this objective, ASUU-LASU congress was called on Wednesday, January, 22nd 2020.
The communique signed by Bakare and Idowu explained that some far-reaching decisions were taken: “Congress noted that the leadership vacuum created since the expiration of the tenure of the immediate past executives in February 2018 has to be filled. The congress, through proper nominations and secondments of motions brought on board, a four-man caretaker committee.”
The committee was headed by Prof Ishaq Akintola. Its terms of reference include the immediate dissolution of the immediate past executives, the conduct of another election to usher in the new ASUU-LASU executives within 48hours and lifting of the suspension order placed on some ASUU-LASU members.
In response to the directive of the congress, the committee pronounced the dissolution of the immediate past executives and lifted the suspension order on some ASUU-LASU members. The committee chairman also announced that interested members who desired to serve the branch of the union should obtain application forms from his office after the close of the congress meeting till four O’clock of Thursday, January 23, 2020.
The statement added that congress reconvened on Friday, January 24, 2020, for the elections. The vice-chairman of the committee, Dr A.O.Adekoya from the Department of Medicine, LASUCOM, Ikeja, conducted the affairs of congress on behalf of Akintola who was unavoidably absent.
After the election, the congress charged the newly elected executives to facilitate the payment of members’ Earned Academic Allowance (EAA); to discuss with the management the payment of the 20 per cent increment of basic salaries (new minimum wage); the restoration of the deduction of check-off dues by the university management; to work in partnership with management to ensure the welfare of ASUU-LASU members and foster industrial harmony in the university.
Others are to engage in dialogue and offer constructive criticisms to management as occasions demand; to consult widely with all stakeholders from time to time in order to strengthen university peace; do things in line with the Constitution and Code of Practice of the union; ensure that all campuses of LASU feel the impact of the union; the need to put machinery in motion to build a befitting ASUU-LASU secretariat and to ensure that all members of the union are appeased, reconciled and unified.
Bakare thanked the congress for the confidence reposed in them to steer the affairs of the union, acknowledged the advice given the executives and their willingness to support them. He promised that they would be transparent, accessible, steadfast, consult widely on welfare matters that concern its members and assured congress that the executives would perform to the best of their ability.
ASUU national reacts
Less than 48 hours after their election, the national body of ASUU disowned the newly elected officers of ASUU-LASU. It insisted that the Oyewunmi-led executive committee remains the recognised body on campus. The National President, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, in a letter to LASU Vice-Chancellor, described the new executives as illegal and unknown to the national body.
The letter, dated January 27, 2020, and titled: “Re-election of new ASUU-LASU branch executives” said: ‘’Our union states unequivocally that the executive committee known to the National Executive Council (NEC) of ASUU is the Dr Isaac Oyewunmi-led executives, whose election was supervised by a representative of the national body and approved by ASUU NEC.
‘’The vice-chancellor may wish to note that in line with the tradition of our union until the cases of the dismissal of the five members of executives of ASUU-LASU is determined by a court of competent jurisdiction, they remain the recognised executives of ASUU-LASU. This situation shall subsist until NEC approves that election should hold in the branch.’’
ASUU national president advised the VC and the university management against giving recognition to the “illegal executives, they do not represent ASUU national and therefore cannot act on its behalf.’’
Bakare said his executive committee “is not aware of any letter from the national body.” He refused to comment on the insinuations that the LASU management was behind their emergence: “The preoccupation of the new executives is to move ASUU-LASU forward and reconcile colleagues aggrieved with the union. We can work together to promote the union and the university.’’
VC reacts to ASUU letter
Reacting to ASUU national protest letter on the emergence of new ASUU-LASU executive, Prof Olanrewaju in his response dated February 4, described the four union leaders mentioned as former academic staff of LASU.
Prof Olanrewaju said the referred union leaders were dismissed from the service of LASU in accordance with the university regulations guiding the conduct of staff and in line with global best practices.
His words: ‘’In the circumstance, the dismissal of the four persons from the service of LASU subsists’’, but regarding the legality of the newly elected executive members, the VC referred ASUU national to comments from the newly elected executives defending their position in a letter to him.