Wednesday, 27th September 2023

LAUTECH: A university struggling with its past and future

By Iyabo Lawal
10 August 2017   |   3:58 am
The alumni association of LAUTECH could not continue to watch the melodrama that borders on the sublime to the ridiculous as it embarked on an ambitious plan to raise N1bn within 90 days to help the institution out of its current financial crisis.

The school management, the two owner-state governments (Osun and Oyo) and everybody involved in this mess are irresponsible. Is it because we are not their children?

The crisis rocking Ladoke Akintola University of Technology appears intractable as the institution remains shut for more than 10 months while the two owner-state governments –Oyo and Osun – battle for its soul, leaving students and staff in a helpless situation, writes Head, Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal.

The July chilly wind blew the open, broken window aimlessly as its rusty hinge creaked. The lecture room was littered with dirt, upturned desks and benches. The scribbled words on the chalkboard had metamorphosed into blurry white matter. Giant spiders had spun formidable cobwebs at various corners of the class and on the ceiling where the decrepit ceiling fan rotated reluctantly to the wind.

Samson Akinloye, a student of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), turned his gaze away from the room and shook his head in angst. He kicked the air with his left foot.

“The school management, the two owner-state governments (Osun and Oyo) and everybody involved in this mess are irresponsible. Is it because we are not their children? They are toying with the lives of more than 20,000 youths?

“When will this mess be over? Why are they trying to ruin my future? Every time it is LAUTECH and it’s always about crisis. Why have the governors turned the students into pawns? Why are they playing politics with our lives? Why? When will this mess be over?” the student asked in bellicose tone.

With a wave of the hand, he dismissed any hope that the current crisis rocking the state university – one of its kind in Nigeria, owned by two states – would end soon.

Akinloye is not alone; not a few of his colleagues have expressed uncertainty in the school reopening soon as the year winds down. But LAUTECH has not always been rid
dled with crisis.

Glorious past
LAUTECH in its heydays attracted the likes of Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola (MKO) Abiola, Dr. E.O. Alayande and Prof. J.A. Akinpelu.

The conception of the university (formerly known as Oyo State University of Technology) began in 1987 when Governor Adetunji Olurin, the then military governor of Oyo State, responding to a letter from the Governing Council of the Polytechnic Ibadan set up a seven member inter-ministerial committee under the chairmanship of Mrs. Oyinkan Ayoola.

The committee submitted its report in 1988 and recommended the establishment of a state university. In response a 15-member committee of distinguished academics led by Akinpelu was inaugurated to deliberate further on the proposed institution. The committee again retained the earlier verdict of the necessity for a new university in the then Oyo State.

By October 1989, an inter-ministerial committee approved the idea and launched the Higher Education Development Appeal Fund of the university. Nineteen million naira was raised in Ibadan and in the 42 local government areas of the state. Abiola alone donated N2.05 million.

By April 23, 1990, the Edict establishing the university was signed and on May 2, Prof. Olusegun Ladimeji, a distinguished chemist and fellow of the Academy of Science, was appointed as the pioneer vice chancellor of LAUTECH. In October of that year, academic activities began. Shortly after, in 1991, Osun State was created out of the old Oyo State.

For decades, all seemed to be well with the university: at least twice and in a row – 2003 and 2004 – the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) adjudged the institution as the best state university in the country.

The university enjoyed relative peace and excellent scholarship amidst a tumultuous climate that characterised tertiary institutions back then. Many observers felt it would reach an apogee for it to be compared to the University of Ibadan (UI) and Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU).

Genesis of present crisis
By 2010, Osun had established another university – Osun State University – and as events would later show, Oyo government was not impressed by that. The latter requested that full ownership of LAUTECH be transferred to it being the original owner but Osun government would have none of that.

By executive fiat – through a gazette – in 2011, Oyo State declared itself sole owner of the university.

It categorically stated, “Rules, convention or practice in existence in respect of the joint ownership of the university (LAUTECH) are hereby revoked and shall cease to have validity or force of law with effect from December 31, 2010…the university is deemed to be solely owned by Oyo State as from December 31, 2010.”

Osun government did not take that lying down; legal fireworks ensued. In the end, Oyo State government had to lick its wounds as it lost the battle for the sole ownership of the institution, as a Supreme Court judgment delivered in December 2012, upheld the joint ownership of the university.

But the cold war did not end there. Last year, Oyo State House of Assembly set up a committee to facilitate the take-over of the institution. Again, Osun government did not waste time in rebuffing such a move.

By the middle of that year, the institution was shut down with students about to be mobilised for the mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme caught in the showdown between Osun and Oyo.

Clash of two elephants and the suffering grass
The alumni association of LAUTECH could not continue to watch the melodrama that borders on the sublime to the ridiculous as it embarked on an ambitious plan to raise N1bn within 90 days to help the institution out of its current financial crisis.

The initiator of the effort, Adebayo Adeyinka, explained why that route was chosen. “The day a lecturer begged me for N1, 000 was the day I knew that we could no longer fold our hands. Together, with the #fundlautech team, we decided to do something. The easiest thing in the world is to criticise.

“After weeks of consultation and brainstorming, the initiators of the project decided to adopt the crowd-funding model where alumni members and friends of the school can send in their donations. The donation will be used to pay the salaries and obligations of the staff of LAUTECH.

“Our aim is to raise first N1bn within 90 days. The current wage bill of LAUTECH is N350m monthly. If we succeed in raising the sum from the public, we will have a foot in the door, which will enable the university to reopen, while negotiations and auditing as recommended by the visitation panel can continue,” Adeyinka said with infectious optimism.

The billion-naira shot has yet to hit the bull’s eye as staff and students continue to suffer as a result of the states’ face-off over ownership. But to Oyo government, the grudge is more than fight over the soul of LAUTECH.

In October 2016, Aregbesola and Ajimobi decided to set up a visitation panel to look into the mess that LAUTECH has suddenly and unexpectedly become and make recommendations – Chief Wole Olanipekun was given that unenviable task to perform.

Without much ado, the panel submitted its report in February this year. Both parties, as part of the report’s recommendations, were urged to pay its subvention regularly and on time and to establish a trust fund for the school. However, Ajimobi felt much more should be done.

He said, “The reality on the ground requires we look at different ways of doing things. We need to set up a joint committee to study the report and super-impose a template in line with current realities. We need to look at how public schools can be self-sustaining. We must allow prudence to be our watchword and should not be spending money anyhow. Osun State University is self-sustaining, so why can’t we allow LAUTECH to do same?”

The two governments accepted Olanipekun’s report but did not implement the recommendations; rather it set up a committee to review the report. While all this was going on, there had been protests by both students and staff.

The institution’s Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Ibadan chapter, is insisting on the full implementation of the Olanipekun recommendations before the school can settle down for business.

In search of a neutral owner
In June this year, students of the crisis-ridden institution stormed the National Assembly to protest the closure of LAUTECH for more than 10 months. They wanted the National Assembly to take away the ownership of LAUTECH from the feuding state governments and hand it over to the Federal Government.

Responding to the agitation of the students, Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, said, “When we received your petition to the House, we hurriedly left the chambers to listen to you because we understand your plight. Education is a priority for us in the National Assembly and we will look into this matter.

“Let me bring to your attention that Segun Odebunmi from Oyo State, had brought a motion and a resolution was passed for the House Committee on Education to look into this matter and come up with recommendations that will guide the House because there are many unintended consequences that can come out of students’ absence from school.

“But, there are complications here because we run a constitutional democracy; your institution was established by two state governments and from your request, it is not that easy for the Federal Government to take over a state-owned institution. But there are ways we can come in because the welfare of citizens is our primary responsibility and the issue of education is shared among the three tiers of government.”

Whatever forms such intervention takes, the students and the staff said they want their normal life restored – students are hungering to be taught while the staff are hungering to be paid.

The future of the institution lies in uncertainty unless the two feuding states take a leap of faith without politicking and implement the recommendations of the visitation panel, which by now may have begun to gather dust.

Caught between a hard place and the rock, LAUTECH students’ future is at risk. The students are being denied opportunity to learn, their progression into the larger society is being stalled and they are stuck to engage in an uncertain race of doing catch-up with their peers in other institutions.

For the workers, it may be double jeopardy as they have not been paid salaries, making almost impossible to provide for their families and send their children to school.