College, academic staff bicker over union membership

FOR the past two months, members of the academic staff of the College of Agriculture, Moore Plantation, Ibadan, Oyo State, have continued to shun classes over what they term “illegal suspension” of four of their colleagues.

Four lecturers of the college: Mr Olufemi Jokanola, the chairman of the local branch of the Academic Staff of Polytechnics; Mr Eyitayo Oluade, the secretary; Mr Awogbade Aderemi, auditor; and Mrs Adenike Adekunle, the Public Relations Officer, were suspended indefinitely, without pay, on August 15, 2016 for alleged gross misconduct.

They were suspended, Tribune Education gathered, for acting as officials of and on behalf of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), a union the management of the college has refused to recognise.

The aggrieved lecturers and their other colleagues see this as repression on the part of the authorities, insisting that they have a right to choose which union they want to belong to.

Tribune Education recalls that the development sparked off a peaceful protest early August by students and lecturers in the college. That crisis has remained unresolved, as majority of lecturers in the college have refused to return to class, insisting that the school management must lift the suspension.

There have also been accusations and counter-accusations by the lecturers and the school management.

Mr Jokanola and Mr Femi Olaoye (treasurer) had told Tribune Education in separate interviews that they were being victimised for opting to join ASUP, against management’s wish for them to belong to the Academic Staff Union of Research Institutes (ASURI).

They also accused the provost, Dr. Babajide Adelekan, of frustrating their members through arbitrary issuance of queries, denial of promotion and other acts of repression.

A case is currently pending at the Industrial Court, Tribune Education gathered, where the lecturers are attempting to assert their right of association, and the next hearing comes up in December.

The four lecturers suspended, they said, were singled out for punishment because they were the ones who signed the court papers in their capacities as ASUP executives.

But the Provost of the college, who spoke with Tribune Education last week in company with the registrar, Mr Abimbade Abass, insisted that the lecturers indeed violated the rules governing the institution, and that the system had to move against them.

A letter dated August 13, 2016, addressed to provosts of colleges of agriculture and signed by one Mr Edeki John Enesi (an Assistant Director) on behalf of the executive secretary of the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN), clearly disapproves the colleges’ staff from associating with ASUP.

Part of the letter (which apparently was in response to an earlier correspondence from the college on the issue) reads: “The freedom to associate means associating with the right union; and in this case, Academic Staff Union of Research Institutes (ASURI).

“Consequently, associating with the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics is not approved and not allowed to operate in the Federal Colleges of Agriculture nationwide.”

Still, an earlier letter from ARCN dated May 15, 2015 to provosts of colleges of agriculture, signed by one S. I. Galadanci (a deputy director) made available to Tribune Education also stated clearly that members of staff in all colleges under the purview of the ARCN are bound by the conditions and scheme of service of Federal Research Institutes, Colleges of Agriculture and Allied Institutions.”

Dr Adelekan told Tribune Education that despite making these official positions known to the aggrieved lecturers (who he insisted constitute only about half of the academic staff) have constituted a law to themselves, holding meetings, disrupting lectures and disrespecting constituted authorities.

He said that these warring lecturers once insulted members of a disciplinary panel (including a former provost of the college) set up to hear their case; have continued to hold meetings on the platform of ASUP, in flagrant disobedience to ARCN’s orders not to belong to the union.