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No retreat, no surrender in LASU-ASUU face-off

By Iyabo Lawal
21 September 2017   |   4:15 am
On September 7, the management of Lagos State University( LASU) kicked out 15 academic personnel and two non-academic workers, while two others were demoted. The dismissal and demotion took immediate effect.

Prof. Olanrewaju Adigun Fagbohun

Following a sweeping dismissal of 15 academic staff members and two non-academic workers by Lagos State University, including the chairman and vice chairman of its Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) Head, Education Desk,Iyabo Lawal, writes that trouble may be brewing in the institution amid an allegation of witch-hunt.

On September 7, the management of Lagos State University( LASU) kicked out 15 academic personnel and two non-academic workers, while two others were demoted. The dismissal and demotion took immediate effect.
What caught the eye in that action is the dismissal of the Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities, LASU chapter, Dr. Isaac Oyewunmi (on the ground that he demanded for N50,000 from students on sandwich programme to process their results), and his deputy, Dr. Adebowale Adeyemi-Suenu (for unilaterally altering the results of 12 students already advised to withdraw by the senate of the institution.)

A couple of months ago, Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, received a letter. It was neither a congratulatory nor was it a love letter. It was an ominous correspondence from LASU chapter of ASUU to the governor. In no unmistakable terms, the union warned of a troubling development in the institution and of a looming debacle.

“Your Excellency sir, it is our responsibility as a union to sound a note of caution whenever we see these achievements(brought about by the governor) come under any form of threat. While a distant observer may be right to say that LASU is today crisis-free, it is equally correct to say, from history and experience, that there are pointers to potential crisis in the not too distant future, owing to developments in LASU over the last few months,” the letter began prophetically.

The union went to say that the letter was meant to nip any negative development in the bud, asserting that it wants the institution to be run based on fairness and justice. According to the letter, there were plans to dismiss the leadership of ASUU from the institution.

“We are aware of the malicious propaganda being peddled around that our union has perfected plans to embarrass your good self during your visit. This propaganda has been deliberately planted by the University Administration of Prof.Lanre Fagbohun using the instrumentality of its kitchen cabinet’s ‘radio BBC’ – the trio of Professors Adeleke Fakoya, Wole Omikorede, and Abiodun Akinpelu.. 

“As the letter intoned, not a few people, including Oyewunmi and Adeyemi-Suenu, felt short-changed by the system.But the spokesman for the institution,  Ademola Adekoya, asserted that their dismissal was based on facts and evidence.

“The decision was made by the Governing Council, which is the highest body in the school, and ASUU also has representation in that council. The issues were against individuals, and as you would have seen, some non-academic personnel were also affected.

hat is exactly what Oyewunmi has vowed to do – take LASU to court – because he felt hard done by the institution’s decision, claiming that he was dismissed based on spurious petition driven by revenge.

Following an interview with the embattled ASUU chairman where he debunked claims for his dismissal and alleged political victimization, Prof. Fagbohun addressed journalists to make counterclaims and reiterate the reasons why the institution kicked Oyewunmi and his deputy out of LASU.

“It is instructive to note that the fact-finding panel called the petitioner and four other witnesses. Oyewunmi also appeared before the panel. In their oral testimonies, the petitioner, Abiodun Alabi and others all of the 2003 modular year set of Political Education programme asserted that there was indeed a demand for the sum of N50,000 by Oyewunmi.

“This was corroborated by Oyewunmi in his statement on the audio clip of his recorded conversation with Dr. Abanikanda…This was the basis for the dismissal of Dr. Oyewunmi for misconduct as it relates to demanding money from students to process their results.

“The cases of the two individuals had nothing to do with union-related activities. Thus, the university sees the frantic efforts being made by some individuals to make these cases a union issue as a deliberate ploy to distract and hoodwink members of the public,” Fagbohun argued.

The embattled Oyewunmi felt otherwise as he said categorically, “The problem stems from some people who were in the leadership in the past but want those of us who are there (ASUU) now to do things the way they did. And so, we have refused to do that and they’ve taken up arms against us.The LASU management is supporting them. 

“I was alleged to have demanded for money. If you have the bulletin announcing a dismissal, you have two other non-teaching members of staff who were classified in the misconduct bordering on bribery. One was said to have collected N120,000; another one, N20,000. In my case, the institution said it feels I’m capable of an attempt to collect or demand for money and so, the punishment was dismissal. It is shameful. However, how long it takes lies to take flight, in a moment truth will catch up with it.”

According to the institution, those punished were not dismissed because of their affiliation to ASUU.They included Dr. Olufemi Soyeju of the Department of Jurisprudence and International Law, who was dismissed for allegedly defaulting on conditions of his training leave bond and abandoning his duty post. Also dismissed for defaulting on conditions of their training leave bond and abandoning their duty posts were Dr. Olawale Raimi of the Department of Biochemistry; Dr. Christiana Obagbuwa of the Department of Computer Science; Dr. Shamisudeen Badmus of the Department of Accounting; andDr. Fatimat Bakare of the Department of Chemical and Polymer Engineering.

Similarly dismissed for the same offence were Dr. Emmanuel Asapo of the Department of Chemical and Polymer Engineering; Olubukola Oyeniya, an Assistant Research Fellow at the Centre for Environmental Sciences and Sustainable Development; Ademola Adesina of the Department of Computer Science; and Mr. Lateef Salami of the Department of Microbiology.

Others were Dr. Adebowale Ademeso of the Department of Theatre Arts and Music, allegedly dismissed for altering grades in 16 courses; Dr. Olugbenro Odofin of the Department of Education Foundation and Counselling Psychology, reportedly sacked for altering 118 students’ results and awarding scores to students who did not sit for the examination in a certain course; Dr. Scholastica Udegbe of the Department of Marketing for breaching of laid down procedure; Mr. Olatoye Raji of the Department of Religions (Islamic Studies Unit), dismissed for alleged falsification his O’Level certificate; Mr. Ernest Odili, an Assistant Security Officer, dismissed on accusation that he illegally collectedN1.2m with the intention of upgrading the result of a student in 2012; and Mr. Ramon Alli, a former Head Machine Operator.

There is a seeming disquietude in the institution as those accused and punished because of one wrongdoing or the other have about 30 days to appeal against the institution’s decisions.Oyewunmi is definitely heading for the court. Others have not been as vocal as the embattled ASUU chairman.
In the letter mentioned at the outset, the union had claimed that its resistance to some of the actions of the institution’s administration that it considers dangerous to the system has made the ASUU chairman and his deputy targets of witch-hunt.

It said, “Within the spate of one week, the chairman and vice chairman of our union have appeared before different panels investigating allegations – that we consider spurious – against them. Information at our disposal does not leave us in doubt that the administration has decided to deal once and for all with our union. Efforts are ongoing to frame some of those perceived as being too committed to the union on trumped-up charges, while some have also been pencilled down for summary dismissal as soon as it appears convenient.”

LASU VC does not see any invitation to Armageddon in the school. To Fagbohun, his administration did what was in the best interest of the institution. “The truth is that facilitating successful organisational excellence is always difficult. But not changing is fatal. For us at LASU, we will continue to create, nurture and motivate a culture of positive change. The university acted strictly in conformity with its rules and regulations,” he asserted.The die is already cast. 

Already, the university management have directed the affected officers to stay away from the institution to avert further sanctions while the embattled staffs have dared the university.The union also appeared polarised as members are divided on whether or not the affected leaders should continue.At its recent congress which allegedly ended in chaos, some members insisted that Oyewunmi and Suenu must step aside while others maintained that the embattled officers must remain.

The institution has enjoyed relative peace since the appointment of Prof Fagbohun in 2016.Prior to Fagbohun’s appointment, the three unions in the university were embroiled in crisis with the then vice chancellor, Prof John Obafunwa and held several mass protests to drive him out of the institution..
ASUU who led the revolt against Obafunwa had accused the former vice chancellor of  victimization of its members, withdrawal of certificates of lecturers and abuse of due process by the university management.

Several protests were held against the continuous administration of Prof Obafunwa who was eventually chased out of the university during the institution’s convocation ceremony as he was pelted alongside his entourage with sachets of cellophane-packaged water by the aggrieved members of the various unions.The then ASUU chairman, Adekunle Idris insisted that the university community was tired of the administration of Prof Obafunwa and he must leave.

As a precondition for peace, the unions at a meeting with the institution’s governing council and the visitor to the university agreed on a single term of five years for the vice chancellor.With recent developments however, fears are that the 33-year old institution may be back in the trenches. 

Will there be chaos in the institution that is no stranger to crisis? Will there be a political solution to the lingering crisis? Stakeholders in LASU are also wondering if Governor  Ambode will wade into the crisis now or wait till the feud between the institution and ASUU worsen while allowing the law to take its course.