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Saving LAUTECH

THE Soun of Ogbomoso, Oba Oladunni Oyewumi Ajagungbade, recently made a public outcry over the fate of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso. In a detailed open letter addressed to the governors of Osun and Oyo states, owners of the university, but apparently to the general public, the Soun itemized the groans of the 26-year old university, submitting that its joint ownership by the two governments had become an albatross. As a panacea to this persistent and troubling slide in its affairs, the respected monarch suggested that a reversion of its ownership to its parent state of Oyo would be a permanent solution to the interminable crises faced by the school.

The Oyo State House of Assembly has also summoned two commissioners in the state, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Education, to tender necessary documents spelling the modus operandi of running the institution as a joint venture. Only on Tuesday, some members of staff of the institution who hailed from Osun were reportedly beaten by thugs. Going by the prolonged existential crises faced by the university in the last few years, especially since the Adebayo Alao-Akala/Olagunsoye Oyinlola governments where attempts were made by the former to usurp its ownership, the crises of the institution have become simply hydra-headed.

The crises of confidence have worsened, even in the life of the current owner state governors who are of the same political party. Currently, Osun is said to be in default of its counterpart funding to the school in arrears of 15 months, while Oyo has defaulted for eight months. This, among others, has led to the inability to meet the obligations of the school, chief among which is payment of salaries, which the university has failed to do in the last six months. The result is that some students are on the threshold of spending as many as ten years in the institution. The school is under lock and key, grounded by its inability to pay workers’ salaries.

Established on April 23, 1990 through an edict promulgated by the then military government of the old Oyo State, LAUTECH was primed to advance technological education. It showed early signs of this advancement when, for two consecutive years (2003-2004), it was adjudged the best state-owned university in Nigeria. Its fortunes have however since nose-dived, as it is riveted on all fronts by crises of funding and ownership by the two owner states. The framers of the agreement which retained the university as a joint property of the two states apparently had in mind the continuation of the brotherhood which existed between the two contiguous states which were hitherto very consequential areas of the then Western Region. The framers also apparently wanted to make it a test case of the age-old unity that existed among the areas now known as Oyo and Osun states.

How fatally mistaken they were. Oyo, during the government of Rashidi Ladoja, sought to create a medical school for the university at Yemetu, Ibadan, which it claimed was an outreach. Osun also followed suit by establishing the Osun State University in 2006, which many read as the first part of its disengagement from the dual ownership. The government of Alao-Akala however proceeded to build a humongous medical school in Ogbomoso, even though a medical school of the university was already in existence in Osogbo.  Again, Alao-Akala wrote the Oyinlola government, intimating it of the state Assembly’s resolution to sever Osun from the joint ownership. The Osun House of Assembly not only disagreed but faulted the move as a breach of the agreement between the two states.

The National University Commission  (NUC) had to whip Oyo State into line when it made moves to make its Ogbomoso medical school an adjunct of LAUTECH, in contravention of its (NUC’s) rules. This stoked the crisis that was brewing between the two state helmsmen. More fundamentally, there is a subsisting Supreme Court judgment on the tussle on a matter brought before it by the Osun State government. The court had accepted the out-of-court settlement agreed on by the two states and confirmed the continuance of the states’ joint ownership of LAUTECH. Thus, any unilateral attempt to appropriate the ownership of the institution without the concurrence of the other will be an exercise in futility. It is almost certain that except something fundamental is done to address the situation, LAUTECH would continue to be a victim of high-wired ego fight between the two owner states’ helmsmen, which is affecting the 25,000-strong students population of the school and its 3,000 staff.

We see the prolonged crises in LAUTECH as emblematic of the failure of partnerships among individuals and institutions in Nigeria. Enduring and workable partnerships are hallmarks of civilization and development. In mature democracies, partnerships abound among institutions and individuals that have existed for centuries. They are guided by trusteeship and contractual agreements which each of the parties, together with their heirs, is bound to adhere to. The failure overtime of the LAUTECH agreement on partnership is thus a manifestation of a deep-seated dysfunction in the system that can be implicated in the collapse of many institutions in Nigeria.

We counsel that there should be a convocation of stakeholders in the school where the tenets of the LAUTECH partnership agreement  would be restated. The states should play by the rules and bury the ghost of self and ego that is threatening the future of thousands who eke out a living from it and the thousands more whose future is dependent on its smooth running.