In the aftermath of the dissolution of the Governing Council of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) by the visitor to the University, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) demands the immediate re-opening of the University so that academic activities can resume.
We also wish to state clearly that the appointment of an Acting Vice-Chancellor should be done immediately to ensure the smooth running of academic activities in the University. We demand that a democratic and transparent process that actively involves all categories of staff, students, parents and community members be instituted immediately to avoid such occurrence in the future. We also demand that the demands of members of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) for payment of backlog of arrears of allowances must be met immediately.
We wish to acknowledge that the dissolution of the Governing Council by the Federal Government is in response to the agitation of both workers and students who occupied the Senate Building of the University since June 6 to protest the corruption of the out-gone Vice-Chancellor, the illegality in the process of appointing a new Vice-Chancellor and the culpability of the dissolved Governing Council in this corruption. As a result, many workers and students simply went on wild jubilation as soon as the dissolution was announced. However the ERC must make the point that the dissolution even while it has brought a deserved end to the ignominious rule of the corrupt Governing council cannot resolve any of the fundamental issues.
The root cause of the crisis gripping OAU is government neo-liberal anti-poor education policy and the undemocratic administration that has been established to drive these policies. Therefore in dissolving the council, no one should be deceived that government’s aim is to resolve the crisis in favour of workers and students. Rather the aim is to remove a council that had become too discredited in order to replace it with another that would essentially carry out the same anti-poor and anti-worker education policies.
For instance, it is an incontrovertible truth that the undemocratic process of appointment of the Vice Chancellor which was manipulated only reflects similar undemocratic process through which the Senate and Governing Council - two main decision making organs of a University- are constituted. In every University you go too, the Governing Councils are constituted in such a way that government and business interests are given more priority over and above the members of the University community. To show how undemocratic the entire system is, students are not even considered important enough in a University environment to have their representatives in an organ of their University where decisions that could make or mar them are taken.
This example shows that the entire University system is rotten. Therefore, what students and the workers unions should be demanding at the moment is the full democratization of the decision making organs of the University including the Senate and the Governing Council to allow the full participation of adequate numbers of elected representatives of students and staff in these bodies. Only this can provide a democratic basis for the appointment of Vice Chancellors and other principal officers while ensuring that students and staff voices are heard at all times.
In the same vein, the ERC calls for the immediate investigation of the members of the dissolved council and the entire University administration by anti-corruption agencies and their prosecution if found guilty of the multiple allegation of corruption that workers and students have leveled against them. In essence, we are demanding a transparent comprehensive probe of the university’s internally generated revenue, the disbursed NEEDS assessment funds, the incomes and expenditures of the NUGA 2014 games (from which O.A.U have been presently banned on the basis of financial corruption), grants, funds and Federal Government’s allocations. This must be to ensure that whichever funds that have been siphoned are recovered and used for the developmental projects they were meant for.
We also wish to state that the University Autonomy Act should not be abused by either the management of the university or the Federal Government. We demand that a Federal investigative panel should be set up immediately to look into the corruption and incompetence of the Governing Council, the flaws in the Vice-Chancellor selection process, and the corruption of the outgone Vice-Chancellor. Such investigation should be transparent, while its report should be popular. This will ensure that this precedent is not misused in the future by autocratic governments to infringe on the deserved autonomy of the university. This will also ensure that the detestable go-and-sin-no-more philosophy of the President Buhari anti-corruption fight is not condoned in an academic environment where it tends to have a multiplier-effect on the future of the country through example-seeking open minds of young students.
We also wish to state that the effect of this corruption on workers and students has to be immediately assuaged. The corruption has translated to the non-payment of workers’ salaries and allowances and mindless favoritism and nepotism in the promotion of workers while victimizing some by depriving them of their deserved promotion. The Federal Government should immediately see to the payment of these wages and to the correction of all anomalies as regards promotion and its process. For example, the acting Dean of Students’ Affairs have been in acting position since about a decade ago in a university where the constitution does not even allow an acting VC to act for more than six months. The corruption has also translated to the poor living and learning welfare conditions for students, and students who have tried to speak up against that have been victimized individually and collectively. The Federal Government should see to the release of emergency funds to better the general welfare conditions of students as the present welfare condition is life-threatening. For example, just few weeks ago a fresh student died of avoidable malaria just a week after their resumption into the halls of residence.
The Federal Government should also see to the reinstatement of all politically victimized students. For example, Olawale Owolabi was suspended in 2011 following peaceful protests to resist the 1000% increment in acceptance fee and has since then been on indefinite suspension. Presently, some student activists on the same campus have had their e-portal access pages illegally, autocratically locked-up for some months by the Registrar without presenting any offences that they have committed.
The Federal Government should also ensure the proper funding of the education sector and meet the 26% UNESCO recommendation for budgetary allocation to the education sector side by side with democratization of decision making processes to avoid the occurrence of this kind of crises in the future. The NEEDS assessment funds for Universities which was the victory of the ASUU 2013 six months strike and only one tranche of the six tranches of the annual funds has been paid since then by the Jonathan-led Federal Government and we demand that the rest be paid by the Buhari-led Federal Government.
We ask that workers and students must take the tradition of struggle further by organizing to achieve all these necessary demands for the peace, stability and development of the university.
Olamide Adabale Omole Ibukun