Kogi varsity strike: In whose interest?

Painfully, the students of the Kogi State University, Anyigba, were again sent home as academic activities were disrupted in the 17-year-old institution following the strike action declared by the local chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). The students of the university have not enjoyed a crisis-free semester in recent time due to the faceoff between the lecturers and the management of the school/state government.

The lecturers on Friday, February 3, commenced another round of industrial action, which they said would be indefinite and total.

Two major issues formed the bone of contention that led to the strike action, which the lecturers wanted government to quickly address so that life could again return to the university. The issues, according to the chairman of ASUU-KSU, Dr Daniel Aina, are “immediate re-constitution of the University Governing Council, the absence of which has tremendously affected the statutory functioning of the institution”. The second is the “immediate payment of all arrears of salaries to all categories of academic staff in KSU Anyigba, who have been owed for the past 8 months”.

Addressing newsmen on the development, the ASUU chairman, noted that the university system with a peculiar pattern of management could only be effectively run when there is a governing council that is constitutionally saddled with the responsibility. Aina noted that the university was unable to take many important decisions because it had no governing council in place. He also said the members of the union would not have been subjected to the kind of treatment they were given during the staff screening exercise if there was a governing council in place.

“We have loudly and clearly applauded the staff screening exercise embarked upon by the government as we believe it has the capacity to reposition the financial status of the state when leakages through which ‘ghost’ workers and other untoward methods are blocked. Worrisome, embarrassing and laughable however, is the final outcome of the exercise.

“As it affects the university, the kind of screening exercise we were subjected to is an aberration. Statutorily, the Visitor to the university has the prerogative to send a visitation panel to the university which should perform such task within the ivory tower. Alternatively, the Visitor may direct the governing council to perform the task.

“ASUU-KSU did not resist the screening exercise because there was no Governing Council in place and the Visitor was then first settling down. The conduct of the screening exercise is alien to the university system and ASUU KSU has resolved never to be subjected to such unethical practice within the system again.

“ASUU-KSU calls for the immediate reconstitution of the University Governing Council. Recent developments on our campus suggest that the lack of Governing Council appears to be a ploy to erode the university autonomy which stands it out from all other institutions. ASUU-KSU will resist this. The autonomy of the university is sacrosanct and cannot be compromised any further”.

Apart from this, the lecturers have also expressed displeasure with the outcome of the screening exercise, which they said had led to the non payment of salaries to many of their members for over eight months. The ASUU chairman noted that the development has negative effects on the system. He lamented that no fewer than 50 professors had left the university for other schools, saying the implication of this is a sharp fall in academic standard.

According to him, shortage or non availability of the needed staff members could deny the university accreditation of courses, saying when courses are not accredited, the university would become moribund. He regretted that many of the good brains that were allowed to leave the university were trained by the school, but are now useful for other institutions.

The ASUU boss said, “we demand for the immediate payment of all arrears of salaries owed our members. By the principle of our Union, ‘injury to one is injury to all.

“ASUU-KSU has repeatedly made appeals; we highlighted the detrimental effects of the delay in salary payments. During the ASUU nationwide warning strike, we equally pleaded with government to ensure the payment of all arrears of salaries to our members. All these appeals have unfortunately fallen on deaf ears.

“We had wanted the ‘No pay, No Work’ action to put paid to the issues of incessant strikes in KSU, Anyigba. We were cajoled. No more shall this happen again. Within the past five years, the amount of funds committed to the university by the state government for infrastructural development is not up to a quarter of what came through the TETFund intervention which in itself, is a product of ASUU struggle.

“We are tired of working without salary. We are tired of seeing our legacy progressively destroyed through the systematic erosion of the university’s autonomy. We are standing up to oppose oppression and impunity. We are not politicians. We are the vanguard of academic integrity”.

However, the state government has come out to plead for more time from the lecturers, saying many of the policies being implemented in the education sector are meant to bring back the glory of education in the state.

The state commissioner for education, Dr Sunday Tolorunleke, expressed regret over the closure of the university because of the strike embarked upon by the lecturers, particularly as some of the students were about to write their semester  examinations. He said ASUU should be patient with government as steps were being taken to address the issues raised by the lecturers.

According to him, “On the part of government, having seen the level which we are in and coming towards the end of the screening exercise with the issue of payment of salary, government is not very happy with ASUU going on strike at this crucial period when some students are sitting their exam. What this government is out to do is to forestall anything that can truncate the academic calendar of our schools, that is why government is making frantic efforts to see that strike actions are curtailed.

“For the current ASUU strike, government has taken proactive steps to make sure that bursars of individual higher institutions are brought together to prepare their own salary payment. I told the vice chancellor that he should meet the accountant general to give them the proforma they are going to use for preparing the salaries. All higher institutions have their money in their accounts.”

On the allegation that the ASUU members were not suppose to face the screening without a governing council in place, the commissioner said, “Visitation panels for higher institutions are already in progress, they just have to be patient, the SSG is working on the composition of visitation panels for the schools. The governing council will come in place immediately after the staff verification exercise. There are problems in some of our higher institutions, forged results and certificates. We cannot be keeping lecturers or workers with forged certificates, since the new administration has the political will to do this, we are going to do it to the last, we cannot stop halfway.

“Government is not out to paralyse the system; we are just trying to rejuvenate it. We are praying that it gets to a stage that the university has autonomy. It is not true that professors are leaving the university; only 12 of them said they wanted to go and only two eventually left. They cannot just leave because there are conditions of service that they signed. The only thing we are saying is that they should be patient with government. We have set a timetable that on or before 30th of March everything about verification will be completed and on or before 28th of February, everybody cleared will be paid their salary arrears”.

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