Lack of Internet services and alleged bushy environment are some of the issues provoking an impending strike at the Lagos State University, CHARLES ABAH writes
Olamide, a third year student of the Lagos State University, Ojo, looks up with a frown as this correspondent asks what he thinks of the impending strike by the institution’s chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities.
“All is once again not well. I have just heard that our teachers have rolled out a fresh ultimatum to the authorities to attend to their needs or risk an industrial action. We have yet to conclude the 2012/2013 academic session.
“As I speak, some of us are still writing our second semester examinations. We have not recovered from the last industrial action by university teachers across the country and now our teachers are threatening to begin a fresh one.
“The import is that I do not know when I shall graduate from this school. Besides the high tuition that we pay, there is no certainty in the way things happen here. I mean that there is no stable academic calendar in the school,” he replies, sounding quite apprehensive.”
Olamide’s fear, indeed, is justified. Apart from the strike that crippled academic activities in the nation’s public universities for 169 days last year, LASU has witnessed its own peculiar troubles. For instance, as the nationwide strike lasted, some labour unions in the university, including its local chapter of ASUU, were at daggers-drawn with the authorities, demanding one thing or another.
As if that was not enough, just three weeks after the long nationwide strike, there was a violent students’ protest, resulting in the closure of the school for 26 days. Students of the university on January 22 and 23 staged a violent demonstration, in which they damaged property worth millions of naira.
The institution’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof. John Obafunwa, escaped death by a whisker, while his official car and that of his personal aide were vandalised. The students were protesting against the exclusion of some of their colleagues from sitting for the semester examinations.
Now raising some issues, ASUU-LASU has given a fresh ultimatum to the authorities. Members of the union have threatened to down tool from April 30 if the authorities fail to meet their demands.
The union, in a statement by the Chairman, ASUU-LASU, Dr. Adekunle Idris, and Dr. A. Adeyemi-Suenu, wonders how a citadel of learning in this modern age can operate effectively without Internet services.
The union says, “There is the need for restoration of un-interrupted Internet services in the university. There has been no Internet service in the school for over two years. At a meeting between the university administration and the ASUU National on February 25, 2014, the vice-chancellor promised that Internet services would commence by the end of March. But it was only on April 9 that a memorandum of understanding was signed in this regard, according to the university’s bulletin. Why the deception?”
It also points to the need to have a conducive and befitting learning environment, declaring that the surroundings are “unbefitting, dirty and bushy.”
The recurring debate on the alleged high tuition in the institution also did not escape the concern of the union. It says the authorities have ignored its members’ call for the reversal of the fee regime.
Pointing to its consequence, the ASUU-LASU says, “Students’ enrolment continues to drop yearly due to the high fees ranging from N197, 000 to N350, 000 (tuition fees alone). Annual enrolment in 2001/2002 was 4,216; in 2011/2012, it was 3,052; in 2012/2013, it was 2,013 and now the 2013/2014 enrolment has dropped to 1,119.
“The union, as the conscience of the nation, cannot fold its arms in this matter; more so as the effect of this policy affects the conditions of service of our members,” it says.
Another key request in the 20-point demands by the union is the repeal of the “No Vacancy, No Promotion policy”, allegedly instituted by the university. According to the union, the policy is not only alien but is also unacceptable to its members.
It adds, “The policy of ‘No Vacancy, No Promotion’ is alien to the university community and is perceived to stagnate the progress of our members. It is also capable of making LASU uncompetitive in the comity of universities. To keep the best and the brightest, this policy needs to be repealed.”
Other demands by the union are the implementation of the University Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment) Act 2012; payment of salary arrears and accrued earned allowances; intensive development of teaching and research; regularisation of appointment of staff on temporary appointment; restructuring of courses as well as absorption of those disengaged without adverse reports from their departments.
But reacting to some of the claims, the Vice-Chancellor, says the authorities are not relenting in ensuring that peace reigns in the ivory tower. Urging the lecturers to thread with caution, the VC notes that the strike option is not the best for the image of the school and its students.
According to him, the authorities have done a lot in addressing the issues, a factor, he says, has resulted in the reduction of the demands to three.
He declares, “Of course, going on strike is like shooting ourselves in the leg. In the past, we had about 20 points according to ASUU-LASU, which they reduced to seven and later to three. We felt that if there were 20 issues and now we have three, it means that we are addressing them.
“However, some of their demands are in the university miscellaneous category. There are certain things that need legislation and we asked ASUU-LASU to lobby for them. For instance, they want the retirement age to increase from 65 to 70. That needs appropriate legislation and I have written to the government about that too.”
On the ‘no vacancy, no promotion’ policy, Obafunwa dismisses the argument, saying it does not exist in the university.
He notes, “I want to correct that impression. There is nothing like ‘no vacancy’. There are always vacancies. There is no need hammering on that. In 2011/2012 academic session, we had 117 vacancies for academic staff. In 2012/2013 academic session, we declared 256 vacancies; it is just a question of where the vacancies are. People should stop saying that there are no vacancies.”
On fees, the VC further notes that the increment three sessions ago was a reaction to the demands of ASUU and the students.
“Let’s put things in proper perspective. Contrary to what people tend to say, the issue of school fees has nothing to do with this administration. It was the same students and ASUU that complained that there was need to increase school fees. They were saying that the university was like a glorified secondary school, and as a result, the government set up a visitation panel that made that recommendation.”
Talking about the Internet, Obafunwa, who notes that it was wind that destroyed the facility last year, says the authorities are liaising with Internet Service Providers and others to rectify it.
He adds, “The move is costing the university N67m and work has started in on campuses in this regard.”
On the outstanding PAYE tax liabilities, Obafunwa explains that the university was hitherto underpaying its taxes.
“We owed about N41m or thereabout, because people were not paying the required taxes. Following this, the Board of Internal Revenue slammed us with the interest of unpaid taxes as well as a penalty. In fact, the management had to go and beg the board to remove the interest and penalty.
“Tax is supposed to be an individual thing. It is pay-as-you-earn but some people do not want to pay their taxes here. In other parts of the world, if you do not pay your tax, you go to jail.”
Also, the Public Relations Officer of the university, Kayode Sutton, dismissed the claim that the institution surroundings are bushy. According to him, the authorities periodically release funds for the maintaining and clearing the environment and that a member of ASUU oversees the team. (Punch)