Osun State University, My way of dealing with university/unions’ quarrels. The Vice Chancellor of Osun State University (UNIOSUN) Osogbo, Professor Labode Popoola, explains the genesis of the crisis facing the institution.
What is the cause of the crisis rocking the university?
I inherited an institution completely bereft of academic culture, where corruption, idleness and all unimaginable vices were the order of the day on November 5th, 2016. Based on my prior knowledge of the institution, I made it very clear in my vision and mission document that I would confront these vices and rebuild the institution.
The governing council gave approval for the payment of a proportion of the computed Earned Allowances (EA) for the 2013/2014 and 2014/2015 sessions and on 14 December, 2016 while in Banjul, Gambia, I received a one page scanned document from the then acting Bursar, Mr. Samson Adegbite via email to approve the payment of N209, 311,333.61 without any supporting documents. This represented the first tranche payment of the said EA. Naturally, being a major request for approval; I took the request with some circumspection.
At about the same time, I received a report of a fracas involving some members of staff, led by one Mr. Isaiah Fayemi, the chairman of NASU who assaulted Mr. M. Oyekanmi, the then acting Head of Audit (now acting Bursar), purportedly, on account of the former’s “deliberate removal of some names from the said EA list.” I reported this to the pro-chancellor via email, who authorised immediate investigation, which I complied with. The pro-chancellor also conveyed the instruction of the Visitor that the payment of the said EA should be suspended. Of course, I complied.
The report of the investigation panel recommended that the said staff members involved in the assault should face the Staff Disciplinary Committee (SDC). On 27 March, 2017, the four staff unions (ASUU, SSANU, NAAT and NASU) embarked on an action to “enforce” the payment of the said EA. The “protesters” succeeded in truncating two of the planned activities of the convocation ceremonies. The emphasis of their “protest” was that I stopped the payment of the said EA. At about the same time my personal email account was compromised and the communications between the pro-chancellor and I was accessed, printed and widely circulated via EMS Courier service as “evidence of the VC’s connivance not to pay the said EA”.
The staff accuse you of highhandedness and that you are harsh and difficult to work with. What do you attribute this to?
I think it will be absolutely wrong to equate the perception of a handful of staff members who have lost out because of the sanitization process of the cesspool called a university that we inherited to mean the feelings of the generality of our staff and students. Every member of staff has direct access to me, so the students. My telephone numbers are in the public domain and I pick all my calls personally, respond to messages instantly and personally. I mingle with all; I do not create a barrier between my person, office and all stakeholders in the university. Now, we also need to realize that universities are operated on rules, regulations and conventions. If because there is a sheriff in town who now wants to entrench academic culture, which UNIOSUN lost in the last five years due to the shenanigans of a few who are hiding under unionism, some now tag that as highhandedness or harshness, then I guess those words now have new meanings.
What is your justification for refusing to fund staff unions as they were before you became the VC?
What do unions use their check-off dues for? Is it morally and ethically right for a university administration to fund trips of unions to their meetings? May be if I was doing that, I would have been a nice guy to them! I believe in progressive unionism. If for example, unions organize or decide to host events to discuss topical development issues, I will be glad to fund such, even using my personal resources.
I don’t know what exactly they mean by rigid leadership style? My worry is that some of these union “leaders” are fighting personal battles under the guise of unionism. Are we saying that as VC, if the visitor directs the council not to pay some allowances, I as VC should be flexible enough to proceed with payment? If the governing council gives a directive, reiterating the need for staff of certain cadres to continue signing attendance register as has been done over the years, I should be flexible enough to support the unions’ counter directive? Should a VC be flexible by paying salaries to staff that stay out of work for four out of seven months, even when the council and visitor have directed that such be not paid? Remember that over 70% of staff salaries at UNIOSUN are funded by the fees paid by the ordinary people in our state and elsewhere.
How much have you saved in terms of blocking leakages?
I inherited a university where contract awards were fraught with conflict of interests, and where contract prices ranged between 100 and 300 percent higher than prevailing market prices, yet poor quality products and services were delivered. The recently released State Auditor General’s report confirms this. It is pertinent to give some specific examples of cost saving efforts since the inception of this administration: Internet broadband subscription before my assumption of duties cost an average of N9 million per quarter. We renegotiated it to about N6 million. That is a savings of about N12 million in a year. We refused the entreaties to fund some unions to their NEC and other meetings as against the practice before I became VC.
The pro-chancellor’s official vehicle was to be purchased at N82 million with the collusion of some staff before my assumption of duties. When the matter was brought up at the council meeting, I admonished the Chairman of Council to approach the chairman of Elizade Motors for some concession and we saved N11 million within an hour. We purchased the conference table in the Pro-Chancellor’s office at N240,000 as against the invoice of over N400,000 presented to me.
As against the usual expenditure of over N10 million per semester on examinations, we successfully conducted the Rain Semester examinations of 2016/2017 with less than N5 million. For the Harmattan Semester of 2017/2018 session, we spent even much less. There were scenarios where blank cheques were taken to the market to make procurement.
Proceeds from the 2017 Post-UTME process (N54 million) which was usually shared by few individuals in the past have been invested in landed property in Osogbo (N16 million), health needs of staff (N10 million in fixed deposit) and the balance shared to all departments on equality basis, and also on performance basis. Hitherto, official cars were used irresponsibly and to service unofficial purposes, leading to high cost of maintenance. This has been checked with our introduction of code of use for official vehicles, now approved by council.
To reduce the outrageous contract sums of minor supplies and projects, we have resorted to direct purchase/direct labour, which is supervised by the staff of our Works, Maintenance and Physical Planning Unit. We spent N1,006,800 to fix the roof of the auditorium as against N1, 516,000. The just concluded accreditation exercise for 19 of our programmes which the union “leaders” did everything to disrupt was to cost the university N158 million. I ensured that we spent N54 million only to achieve results that departments adjudged unprecedented. Gladly, all the programmes received accreditation by NUC.
All my foreign trips, I used funds from grants that I operate outside of UNIOSUN, and yet pursuing the interest of UNIOSUN on such trips. It is instructive to note that on all these trips, I travelled in the economy class as against the spirit and letter of my appointment, which specifically, expects me to travel in the business class. I travel in the same bus with colleagues on official assignment and without the retinue of aides/support staff as done by several VCs in Nigeria. When I use facilities such as space and vehicles for unofficial purposes, I pay and obtain receipts.
Similarly, I returned unspent funds on the very few times that I used university resources to travel on official assignments to Abuja.
Eighteen months since my assumption of duties, I still ride in the used Toyota Camry car inherited from the former Acting VC. This is against the insistence of council that a befitting car be purchased for the use of the VC. My DVCs are yet to be allocated official cars over one year into their tenures, because the university cannot readily afford them. Salaries are paid in full, the sum of N160 million by the 25th of every month.