OBAFEMI Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife, Osun State, has been embroiled in an all-time crisis in the recent times. The crisis that threw the ivory tower into disarray since June 6, 2016, also paralysed academic activities.
It reached the climax on Wednesday, June 22, 2016, when the institution was shut down indefinitely. It was reliably gathered that it was the appointment of a new Vice Chancellor (VC), Professor Ayobami Salami, as well as non-payment of the arrears of the workers’ allowances that caused the crisis. He was the former Deputy VC (Academics).
Allegations and counter allegations had dogged the process leading to the appointment of the new VC.
For instance, the university’s Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the Non-Academic Staff of University (NASU) expressed grievances against the appointment, insisting that it did not follow due process, was illegal and must be reversed.
They accused the university’s governing council of imposing the new VC on them and threatened to stop him from assuming duty on Friday, June 24, 2016. They instituted a legal action against the university authority after the appointment was announced.
The governing council, however, claimed it followed due process and was free and transparent, insisting that the appointment remains valid: “The governing council at its special meeting held on June 6, 2016, considered the report of the Joint Council and Senate Selection Board for the appointment of a new Vice Chancellor for the university and decided to appoint Professor Ayobami Taofeek Salami as the 11th Vice Chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, for a term of five years with effect from June 24, 2015.”
The staff began a peaceful protest on June 6, 2016. The crisis deepened when the Concerned Members of OAU-ASUU by debunked claims made by Dr. Celeb Aborisade, chairman, ASUU, OAU chapter, that the process that led to the announcement of the new VC was free, fair and transparent.
Professor Adegbola Akinola of Mathematics Department who led the concerned members said Aborisade did not represent the views of the other members of the union.
The concerned members insisted that it was fraught with “two fundamental irregularities, which made it utterly unfair and decidedly skewed against all the contestants except one person.”
According to them, Aborisade was not authorized by the congress, lamenting that it was “false and self-seeking.”
They also accused the former VC of collaborating with some people to include conditions that were not originally in the advertised criteria for the appointment of the VC.
They complained that the appointment of the new VC was wrong, claiming that there had been a lingering court injunction against it at the Federal High Court, Osogbo:
“If the process for the selection of a new VC is free, fair and transparent, we will have no problem with whoever emerges.”
But Aborisade insisted that the process was free, fair and transparent: “The executive will like to clear the air and let the public know the true position of ASUU-OAU on the appointment of the new Vice Chancellor. By the 2009 FGN-ASUU Agreement, the Federal Government has granted autonomy to the university.
In the said autonomy, the governing councils of federal universities are the only bodies given the responsibility of appointing vice chancellors based on every university’s statutory requirements. ASUU will not at any time tolerate any attempt to subvert this hard-earned autonomy.”
On Tuesday, June 21, the protest intensified, with the workers donning red and black regalia, playing anti-oppression music. Miffed by the workers’ action, the university authorities on June 20, issued a no-work-no-pay threat to the workers, after accusing them of abandoning their duty posts for protest. But the workers insisted on continuing with the protests until July 6, 2016, when another court hearing would hold.
The nagging brouhaha took a new twist on Wednesday, June 23, 2016, as the university was closed down indefinitely. The Registrar, Dotun Awoyemi, announced the closure: “We have shut down the university indefinitely, pending the time we will resolve issues with our workers- Non Academic Staff of University (NASU) and Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (SSANU).”
Ahead of the handover ceremony by the outgoing VC, Professor Bamitale Omole, to Salami, scheduled for Friday, June 24, a mild drama played out as the protesting workers bade farewell to the former, when they constructed a casket and paraded it round the campus in mockery of Omole.
The crisis consumed the OAU chapter of NASU leadership as its national secretariat dissolved the executive, following the alleged persistent violation of some sections of the union’s constitution.
It was also learnt that the NASU national body was not happy with the protests. SSANU OAU chairman, Comrade Ademola Oketunde, however, vowed to continue the struggle by rejecting the choice of Salami as the new Vice Chancellor. He promised a showdown until all the workers’ demands were met.
He said his union was demanding, among other things, a fresh process for the appointment of a new Vice Chancellor, stressing that the process that brought Salami was faulty and manipulated.
Concerned OAU students under the platforms of Nigerian Students of Thought (NIST), Students Coalition for Conflicts Resolution (SCCR) and Law Students Society (LSS) rose to mediate in the crisis. National president of NIST, Ayo Shedrach, the Coordinator of SCCR, Ojo Bright, and president of LSS, Ekpa Stanley, jointly noted:
“Whatever angle we may choose to decipher the appointment of Salami, whether from elections/referendum from staff union or through the ratification/appointment by the governing council of the university which has the statutory power to act to that effect, it all boils down to the university autonomy that was fought for and won by ASUU in 2009, which gives the governing council the power to appoint Vice Chancellor for the university.
“This was part of the concession won in 2009 by ASUU from the visitor of the university as enshrined in the ASUU-FG agreement of 2009. It was the victory of ASUU that led to the Nigerian University Miscellaneous (Amendment) Act 2003; Section 4 of the Act served as modalities in the appointment of the outgoing Vice Chancellor, Omole, in 2011. The same criteria was also employed in the selection of Salami.
“That, among other reasons, informed the decision of the other aspirants not to challenge the appointment of the substantial vice chancellor in any panel or court of law. It is crystal-clear from the provision of Section 4(b) of the Act which states that the council shall select and appoint as the vice-chancellor one candidate from among the three candidates recommended to it under section (3) of this section and thereafter inform the Visitor.
“The appointment of a Vice-Chancellor is the statutory responsibility of the Governing Council of every university. Once the appointment has been made by the council, it is legally binding and effective without any input from the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who is the Visitor of all federal universities.
“The latter has no direct role to play in such appointment. The law only requires the governing council to inform him of the appointment. We contend with the fact that the staff unions and the university authority have more in common to prosecute if only they appreciate the essence of one each other and if only both can lift the mortal siege .
“The interest of the university and the students should surpass that of sectional sentiment and primitive loyalty. It should tower above that of hatching treacheries, fomenting intrigues, externalizing domestic malice, nursing insinuations and waging war against colleagues for mere motives.”
The group called on the agitated workers “to give him (Salami) the benefit of doubt to prove his worth as an astute administrator, team leader and a viable alternative to the status quo. We want to appeal that the striking workers to suspend their action and resume work for the overall interest of the students, staff and the general public.”
But penultimate week, the Federal Government in a surprise move nullified the appointment of Salami. It also dissolved the governing council of the university allegedly on grounds of incompetence and ordered it to handover all the institution’s property.