Despite resolving the age-long ownership crisis at Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso, peace is yet to return to the 31-year old institution.
The fragile peace in the institution after Oyo State took over last November was again disrupted when the visitor to the university, Governor Seyi Makinde, sacked the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Micheal Olufisayo Ologunde.
Although unions in the institution condemned the decision as they demanded immediate reinstatement of the embattled administrator, a new helmsman has since been named for the university.
Since its establishment on April 23, 1990 many renowned academics had steered the affairs of the institution without any fuss. Prof. Olusegun Ladimeji Oke, the pioneer vice chancellor, completed his tenure in 1997; Prof. Muritala Salau, who took over, led the university from 1997 to 2005.
Prof. Teslim Raji was in charge between May 23 and September 30, 2005 in acting capacity, while Prof. Babatunde Adeleke also had his time from October 2005 to April 2010. Prof. Moshood Nazar led the university from May 2010 to July 2011. Between August 2, 2011 and February 13, 2019, Prof. Adeniyi Sulaimon Gbadegesin had the opportunity of leading the institution.
On February 14, 2019, Prof. Ologunde was appointed vice chancellor and expected to leave in 2024. But his tenure was abruptly cut short on April 26, 2021, when the state government removed him from office.
The action has drawn the ire of trade unions in the institution, which cautioned the government against plunging the university into another round of crisis.
The two unions – Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) – insisted that Governor Makinde’s action was a violation of extant provisions of LAUTECH Law 2020, and the university’s conventions. The unions maintained that the visitor only has powers to appoint and terminate appointments based on recommendations of the governing council.
With the governing council not fully constituted, the unions questioned the basis upon which the vice chancellor was sacked.
The SSANU branch chairman, Mr Fajoye Oyelere, said the decision should be reversed and due process followed in the removal of the vice chancellor. He reminded that the university laws empower the council, and not commissioner, to administer the institution.
He said: “The power to appoint and terminate staff appointments is resided in the council and not visitor or his proxies, including the commissioner for education. The purported letter by the commissioner has no basis in law and can only generate animosity within the university community, as the joint ownership status of the institution was severed in December 2020 and the embattled vice chancellor was part of the arrangement prior to Oyo’s takeover.”
While council can remove the vice chancellor, Oyelere said his offence must be properly investigated and the accused given opportunity to present his case.
In the same vein, ASUU said while the visitor had power to hire and fire, such should be premised on recommendations of a governing council.
Chairperson, Biodun Olaniran and secretary, Toyin Abegunrin, said the governor’s action contravened provisions of the University Miscellaneous Act as amended and Ladoke Akintola University of Technology Law 2020.
ASUU noted that if there is any misdemeanour on the part of any officer in the university, due process must be followed to address such.
LAUTECH Law 2020, section 7(2) 3(1) reads in part: “The vice chancellor shall be appointed or removed from office by the visitor based on the recommendation of the council.
But the Commissioner for Education, Olaleye, insisted that the governor acted within his powers by taking a very important decision to save the institution and ensure things run properly.
The commissioner said: “If the roof is on fire and you have the water tank, will you necessarily wait till fire service comes before you stop the fire? You are the owner of the property, you have access to tap but because it is the fire service that will quench the fire, will you wait?
“As visitor to the school, it will be irresponsible on our part to look the other way when it has become very important to take decisions that would save the institution. As the visitor, the governor has done what he should do. The visitor didn’t sack the vice chancellor. He only asked him to step aside for further investigation that will be done by the council.
“As long as we act within the provisions of the law, there won’t be instability. As the political head and visitor to the school, it will be irresponsible on our part to look the other way when it has become very important to take decisions that would help and save the institution,” the commissioner said.
Notwithstanding the position of the law establishing the institution, the management announced the appointment of Prof. Mojeed Liasu as acting Vice Chancellor. In a letter by the institution’s registrar, Dr K.A. Ogunleye, the school announced the appointment of an acting vice chancellor for the university with immediate effect.
There are, however, mixed feelings over the appointment as academics and opinion leaders are divided in their opinions.
A former Chairman of ASUU, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Osun State, Prof. Omotoye Olorode, said the governor erred in removing the vice chancellor even when there was no outstanding complaint against the embattled administrator.
“I’m not saying he committed crime or not; but there are existing protocols for dealing with head of institutions. The right thing is to put a visitation panel in place to look at the complaints. The community should have opposed the government’s decision. By university community, I meant a thriving student union movement and trade unions.”
Prof. Olorode lamented the crisis of tradition in universities over the years, saying it is imperative to reinvent them.
He said: “It involves all struggles. This is what ASUU has been doing since 1979. A lot of crises did not just drop on the university system; they crept on us over time.”
Co-founder of defunct Tell Magazine, Mr Bola Ilori, said due process must be met before the vice chancellor is removed.
Also, media guru, Lawrence Olisa, both parties should disclose what the issues are. Olisa said the governor only asked the embattled helmsman to step aside pending investigations, which should not generate any fuss.
However, public affairs analyst, Mr Victor Oluwadamilare, said if the office of vice chancellor is tenured, the governor erred by removing him. He would be acting against the spirit and content that ceded the university to Oyo State. If that is the case, the embattled administrator should go to court.
“The conduct of Governor Makinde is antithetical to the much-touted unity we are talking about in Yoruba land. If Oyo cannot accommodate Osun State, where is the unity?”
Oluwadamilare cautioned the governor against abusing the tenets of agreement between the two states.
There are claims by sources within the university community that the embattled vice chancellor’s ordeal is because he hails from Osun State. It was also alleged that the vice chancellor was instigating students and unions against the governor.
However, Osun State government cautioned against reading politics into the matter. A senior government official, who spoke under anonymity, said the administrator was never on the side of Osun State when negotiation was ongoing for ceding of the university to Oyo State.
The source said: “The issue of witch-hunt can only arise if, during the period of joint ownership, the embattled vice chancellor was for Osun State more than what he was for Oyo State. But I can tell you authoritatively that he was never for us, even though we appointed him. So, where is the witch-hunt? He hails from Osun State but he was never there for us. He never came up to defend us. It was a major challenge for us. So, nobody should whip up unnecessary sentiment.
’Before now, we were interested in how money generated internally was being spent, but he did not oblige us. Perhaps, the new visitor is insisting on seeing the books. Besides, he was alleged to be instigating crises and sponsoring the unions against the government.
Although the agreement between the owner states before Oyo took over was that Osun indigenes at the management level would complete their tenure without any intimidation, the source said Osun State government would not take side with any official found wanting.
“If there is no foul play or complaint against those in management positions, they would complete their tenure irrespective of state of origin, but nobody will save you from being removed if you have questions to answer.”
The embattled vice chancellor said he had taken the development in good faith irrespective of the outcome of the investigation.