It was in far-away Calabar, Cross River State. The mood of everyone present was not celebratory.
The gathering was not for a carnival as the beautiful city is known for.
That Tuesday – August 21 – this year, the nation’s academics in public universities came out to fire a salvo in unmistakable terms at those who should salvage the wanton deterioration taking place in Ladoke Akintola University of Technology.
Therefore, when the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Calabar zone’s coordinator, Dr. Aniekan Brown, – flanked by the chairpersons of the University of Calabar, Dr. Tony Eyang; University of Uyo, Dr. Daniel Udo; Akwa Ibom State University, Dr. Imeh Okop; Abia State University, Dr. Ochi Ejimofor; Federal University Ndufu Alike Ikwo, Dr. Ogugua Egwu; and Ebonyi State University, Dr. Ikechukwu Igwenyi – stepped forward to address journalists he bore a furrowed brow on his forehead.
To him, it is regrettable that the institution has become an “uncanny and typical metaphor” of the neglect of public education in Nigeria.
He did not waste time to say: “The brazen abdication of the responsibility of funding of LAUTECH by the co-owners, Oyo and Osun states, is a shocking new low even in an environment where the neglect of public institutions is fast becoming a norm.
In some time past, even within our clime, the situation of LAUTECH would have been considered an aberration and a shameful moral condition, if not a taboo.
“But to dramatise the serious moral crisis that we face, the governments of Oyo and Osun states carry on as if nothing has happened even in the face of a jointly owned university becoming comatose due to lack of funding.
Right now, the workers are owed arrears of salaries upward of one year and very little is being done to address the situation.
The workers are practically writhing in pains and penury, suffering all kinds of deprivations.”
Brown added that the workers’ morale is so low that it has adversely affected students at the university.
According to those in the know, things have fallen apart in the institution because it has become entirely dependent on internally generated revenue (IGR) for survival, with ASUU claiming that its impact on students and parents has been unbearable, as they have been compelled to pay outrageous fees despite the present economic situation.
To ASUU, this is unacceptable.
“It is unimaginable that a university could be allowed to suffer this fate, while its visitors are busy establishing new ones.
This painful irony is a challenge to our nation.
It is also sad that university teachers could be allowed to face this pestilence and humiliation at the instance of the governors of Oyo and Osun states.
There is no more terrible a way of darkening the future than killing education as is the case in LAUTECH.
“We, therefore, draw the attention of well-meaning Nigerians to the show of shame in LAUTECH and urge all to call the governments of Oyo and Osun states to order. The visitors to the university must live up to their responsibility of funding.
They must recognise that education is a public good; and they must go beyond the issues of ownership and discharge their responsibilities to Nigeria and Nigerians,” said Brown on behalf of ASUU.
It has not always been like this for LAUTECH.
The institution in its heydays attracted the likes of Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola (MKO) Abiola, Dr. E.O. Alayande and Prof. J.A. Akinpelu.
The conception of the university (formerly known as Oyo State University of Technology) began in 1987 when Governor Adetunji Olurin, the then military governor of Oyo State, responding to a letter from the Governing Council of the Polytechnic Ibadan set up a seven member inter-ministerial committee under the chairmanship of Mrs. Oyinkan Ayoola.
By October 1989, an inter-ministerial committee approved the idea and launched the Higher Education Development Appeal Fund of the university.
Nineteen million naira was raised in Ibadan and in the 42 local government areas of the state. Abiola alone donated N2.05 million.
By April 23, 1990, the Edict establishing the university was signed and on May 2, Prof. Olusegun Ladimeji, a distinguished chemist and fellow of the Academy of Science, was appointed as the pioneer vice chancellor of LAUTECH. In October of that year, academic activities began.
Shortly after, in 1991, Osun State was created out of the old Oyo State.
For decades, all seemed to be well with the university: at least twice and in a row – 2003 and 2004 – the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) adjudged the institution as the best state university in the country.
The university enjoyed relative peace and excellent scholarship amidst a tumultuous climate that characterised tertiary institutions back then.
Many observers felt it would reach an apogee for it to be compared to the University of Ibadan (UI) and Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU).
Today, staff of the university said they have not been paid salaries for about a year.
They also accused the owners and management of the institution of refusing to carry out any physical development in the institution.
This leading ASUU to say, “We have a duty as Nigerians to come to the rescue by not allowing Oyo and Osun states to kill LAUTECH.”
The desire not to allow the institution become moribund led its students to request the intervention of well meaning Nigerians to their plight.
LAUTECH’s students’ union government president, Abiodun Oluwaseun, said, “In recent times, the myriad of issues facing this noble institution threatens to bring the institution to its knees.
The funding of the tertiary institution remains the most pressing problem which has caused unstable academic calendar, infrequent payment of salaries and disconnection of electricity due to huge debts owed to providers.”
He added: “The problem of joint ownership is also a problem steadily eating away the survival of the university.
It becomes very embarrassing when the two state governments fail to live up to their financial obligations.
We call on the intervention of the Chancellor of the institution, Bola Tinubu, whose deafening silence in LAUTECH crisis is callous, and the federal government for immediate rescue to safeguard the dying educational standard of the institution.”
Similarly, the Owerri zone of ASUU has called on the two owner state governors to resolve the crisis that has continued to defy solutions since 2013.
The union accused the two state governments of underfunding the institution, saying it was compelled to rely on funds from tuition.
Besides, it noted that there is no evidence of infrastructural development at LAUTECH since the inception of the present governments in Oyo and Osun states.
LAUTECH branch of ASUU had conditionally suspended an eight-month strike in February this year after signing a Memorandum of Action with the governing council of the university.
The strike was suspended after series of interventions by well-meaning citizens of Oyo and Osun states as well as other concerned Nigerians.
However, that agreement did not prevent the crisis from escalating.
The breach of the MoA, according to analysts in the education sector is evidenced by continuous infrastructural decay, unpaid salary arrears of 10 months, irregular and dwindling payment of monthly salary since May 2018, non-payment of four years’ promotion arrears (2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017) and non-payment of Earned Academic Allowance.
Recently, the situation was aggravated by the institution’s governing council’s approval of increase in tuition to between N200, 000 and N300, 000.
Some observers have noted that the crisis is deeper than the issue of funding.
According to them, in 2010, Osun had established another university – Osun State University – and as events would later show, Oyo State government was not impressed by that.
The latter requested that full ownership of LAUTECH be transferred to it being the original owner but the Osun government would have none of that.
By executive fiat – through a gazette – in 2011, Oyo State declared itself sole owner of the university.
But Osun government did not take that lying down; legal fireworks ensued.
In the end, Oyo State government had to lick its wounds as it lost the battle for the sole ownership of the institution, as a Supreme Court judgment delivered in December 2012, upheld the joint ownership of the university.
But the cold war did not end there. In 2016, Oyo State House of Assembly set up a committee to facilitate the take-over of the institution. Again, Osun government did not waste time in rebuffing such a move.
By the middle of that year, the institution was shut down with students about to be mobilised for the mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme caught in the showdown between Osun and Oyo.
Following that, the alumni association of LAUTECH embarked upon an ambitious plan to raise N1bn within 90 days to help the institution out of its current financial crisis – apparently, the association failed in its bid.
As if ready to settle their differences, in October 2016, Aregbesola and Ajimobi decided to set up a visitation panel to look into the mess that LAUTECH has suddenly and unexpectedly become and make recommendations: Chief Wole Olanipekun was given that unenviable task to perform.
Without much ado, the panel submitted its report in February this year.
Both parties, as part of the report’s recommendations, were urged to pay its subvention regularly and on time and to establish a trust fund for the school. However, Ajimobi felt much more should be done.
He said, “The reality on the 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 realities.
We need to look at how public schools can 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?”
The two governments accepted Olanipekun’s report but did not implement the recommendations; rather it set up a committee to review the report. While all this was going on, there had been protests by both students and staff.
The way forward out of the current crisis, stakeholders have argued, is that the two governments should implement the outcome of the Olanipekun-led visitation panel and recommendations of the KPMG audit report to ensure normalcy.
In June 2017, students of the crisis-ridden institution stormed the National Assembly to protest the closure of LAUTECH for more than 10 months.
They wanted the National Assembly to take away the ownership of LAUTECH from the feuding state governments and hand it over to the Federal Government.
Responding to the agitation of the students at that time, Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, said, “Let me bring to your attention that Segun Odebunmi from Oyo State had brought a motion and a resolution was passed for the House Committee on Education to look into this matter and come up with recommendations that will guide the House because there are many unintended consequences that can come out of students’ absence from school.”
To date, nothing has been heard of that.