CONUA: House, governor’s action timely, in order
House: We’ll not allow politicians to ruin varsity
The power conferred on Edo State Governor and Visitor to Ambrose Alli, University (AAU), Godwin Obaseki, by the state House of Assembly to intervene in the administration of the university is being challenged by ASUU as anti-university law
These are not the best of times for Ambrose Alli, University, Ekpoma, Edo State. The university, established in 1981 by the first Executive Governor of the old Bendel State (now Edo and Delta States), Prof. Ambrose Alli, as Bendel State University is entangled in an administrative crisis.
This is as the Governor of the state and Visitor to the university, Godwin Obaseki, through a Bill by the state House of Assembly, has been empowered to intervene in the administration of the university if the management failed and unable to direct the affairs of the institution, and to suspend any or all substantive principal officers of the university.
The crisis rocking the ivory tower began on October, last year, when three staff unions in the university; the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities (SSANU); the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Education and Associated Institutions (NASU) declared an indefinite strike over non-payment of their four months’ salaries, check-off dues and other sundry deductions.
The strike, however, resulted in disruption and total collapse of administrative activities in the university. While the crisis raised by the job boycott was yet to be resolved, but taking its toll on the activities of the university, the institution’s chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) also on the March 25, 2021 grounded all academic activities in the university as it embarked on an indefinite strike, citing similar issues as the other three unions.
The Chairman of the union, Dr. Monday Igbafen, hinged the reason for the indefinite strike on “the vexatious habitual non-pay- ment of salaries and non-remittance of check-off dues and other sundry deductions by the university.”
Igbafen, while addressing ASUU members during the union’s congress, declared that “the current strike is a climax of the failure of the university management and the Edo State Government, the proprietor of the university, to meaningfully and satisfactorily address the union’s demands for payment of the four-month salaries and one year unremitted check-off dues and other sundry deductions, which runs into billions of naira.”
Thus, the union vowed and threatened that its members would sustain the strike till its demands were met. It was, however, learnt that the immediate past Vice-Chancellor of the university, Prof. Ignatius Onimawo, who was battling with allegations of corruption levelled against his administration by the unions, which was alleged to run into billions of naira, was said to have held several meetings with the unions.
Piqued by the strike and its attendant negative effects, all pleas that the staff unions should return to work, as well as the threat to enforce the ‘nowork, no-pay policy’ on the workers failed to yield any fruitful result.
But, a factional group of ASUU at the university, the Congress of University Academics (CONUA), led by Dr. Iyawe Hanson and Dr. Nwoke Ernest, as Chairman and Secretary respectively, however, distanced the union from the strike. CONUA, while addressing journalists in Benin, the state capital, said any industrial action at this point in time was “insensitive” to the plight of students, whose parents only managed to pay their school fees.
The association, therefore, assured the students and parents that its members would not participate in the purported strike, even as they expressed their readiness and availability to teach and carry out research as required.
According to the factional union, any strike at this time when the “White Paper” to chart a pathway for the university is being formulated from the Visitation Panel’s report, is inimical to the progress of the institution and antithetical to the spirit that led to the constitution of the panel.
The union had said: “As a key stakeholder in the affairs of Ambrose Alli University, it has come to the knowledge of the Congress of University Academics, AAU chapter through a circulating resolution of its emergency congress of March 21, 2021 as released by a sister union, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, directing its members to proceed on an indefinite strike, commencing from midnight of Thursday, March 25, 2021, as a rude surprise.
“The union is also not oblivious of the several letters written by the same ASUU leadership to the Visitor of the university, Godwin Obaseki, the Governor of Edo State, to address the financial hiccups of the institution.
“The Visitor in his wisdom and in meeting the demands of ASUU, constituted a seven-member Special Visitation Panel, headed by Prof. Ikponmwonsa Omoruyi, a Professor of Law at UNIBEN with its terms of reference.
CONUA is aware that the state government is now in receipt of the panel’s report and is undergoing processing to enable the release of a white paper and subsequent in vitation of all stakeholders to meet to chart a pathway for Ambrose Alli University on April 30.
The Congress of University Academics, Ambrose Alli University chapter has rejected the purported strike by its sister union, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).”
But, the situation in the university took a new twist on May 10, 2021, when the state House of Assembly, worried by the lingering crisis, passed a Law ceding the administration of the university to Governor Godwin Obaseki, through what the lawmakers tagged: “Special Intervention Powers for Visitor to the University.”
The passage of the law was said to have been sequel to the consideration of the Bill as requested by Governor Obaseki in order to rescue the crisis-ridden university.
The House of Assembly had during its sitting on May 5, through the Majority Leader, Hon. Henry Okhuarobo moved a motion that the House be dissolved into the Committee of the House and to suspend House Rules 27, 42 to 48 to consider the Bill. The motion, however, was seconded by the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Roland Asoro.
Meanwhile, in the clause by clause consideration, the bill conferred on the Governor and Visitor to the university the power to intervene in the administration of the university when the management of the university failed and is unable to direct the affairs of the institution.
The law also empowers the Visitor to suspend any or all the substantive principal officers of the university from office for a period covered by the special intervention powers. Similarly, the bill further empowers the Governor/Visitor to set a special intervention team, comprising experts to manage the affairs of the university during the period of the special intervention.
The bill also conferred on the Governor/ Visitor the power to appoint interim principal officers for the day-to-day administration of the university, while the Visitor shall approve all financial expenditures over and above the approval limit of the special intervention team.
The Chief Whip of the House, Hon. Emma Okoduwa described the bill as timely in view of the crisis rocking the university, which according to him has stagnated its academic growth and infrastructural development.
Okoduwa lamented: “As we speak, there is a crisis between the management and the Governing Council. We were privileged to visit the university on our oversight functions and we discovered that politics has been brought into the administration of the university.
“We will not allow politicians in the form of administrators to ruin the university. So, the bill is to strengthen the hand of the Visitor to intervene in the crisis before it is too late.”
The crisis also took another dimension recently, when two former Deputy Registrars of the institution, Mr. Eddy Ehiakkhamen and Mr. Ify Nwabudike came out separately to claim that they had been appointed on April 29, 2021 as Acting Registrars of the university.
The two officers, who presented different letters of appointment, claimed that they were appointed by the university authorities.
Both letters were claimed to have been issued from two different ‘power blocs’ of the university administration. It was gathered that the letter of appointment issued to Mr. Eddy Ehiakkhamen, was signed by the outgoing Vice- Chancellor, Prof. Ignatius Onimawo; while the outgoing Registrar, Mr. Chris Adamaigbo, was said to have issued the appointment letter to Mr. Ify Nwabudike as Acting Registrar.
Following the development, the Visitor to the university, Governor Obaseki, acting on the power the new law conferred on him, on the May 10 dissolved the university Governing Council, and appointed Prof. Osarhieme Benson Osadolor, a Professor of History at the University of Benin, as the Acting Vice-Chancellor.
The government, in a statement by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Osarodion Ogie, said that the appointment and dissolution was with immediate effect.
The statement reads: “The Fulbright Scholar, Prof. Osadolor is to immediately take over the administration of the institution towards revamping and repositioning it to become a forward-looking, innovative and technology-driven institution of higher learning.
By the Ambrose Alli University (Special Intervention Powers) Provisions Law 2021, the Edo State Government hereby announces the dissolution of the Governing Council of Ambrose Alli University and appointment of Prof. Osarhieme Benson Osadolor as Acting Vice-Chancellor of the institution.”
“These directives take immediate effect.
The Ambrose Alli University (Special Intervention Powers) Provisions Law 2021 empowers the Visitor to the university to intervene in the ongoing impasse at the institution in the interest of the school, students, and the generality of Edo people.
“For some time now, the institution has been brought to its knees by mismanagement and maladministration forcing the students to remain at home, with the attendant adverse effects on their academic pursuits.
This has also grounded activities in the university community with the institution derailing from the vision of its founders.”
However, ASUU-AAU has since rejected the Special Intervention Powers Provisions Law 2021 and the appointment of an Acting Vice-Chancellor for the university by the state government.
ASUU, while reacting to the government’s directives, in a statement signed by its Chairman and Secretary, Dr. Monday Igbafen, and Anthony Aizboijie Coker respectively, insisted that the union was unconvinced by the reason given by the state government for the unconventional and hasty amendment of the University Law.
The union kicked against the amendment (law), which confers on the Governor extraordinary powers to “invade” the university with total disregard for the devastating consequences on university autonomy, long-tested traditions, ethos and organs of the university. Igbafen, who faulted the fashion in which the university Governing Council was dissolved, noted: “The Council as a tenured organ of the university cannot be dissolved by fiat without legal consequences for the university and the state government.”
The university chapter of ASUU expressed concern that the Visitor exploited the newly amended section of the University Law to appoint an Acting Vice-Chancellor from outside the university against the tradition of the university.
The union listed the negative implications of the recent actions of the governor on the viability of the university to include among others, but not limited to: “Erosion of University Autonomy (as enshrined in the University Miscellaneous Act 2003, as amended) and violation of the structures laid down by the National Universities Commission (NUC) in the administration of universities in Nigeria; gravitation towards the commercialisation of university education; tendency towards Sole Administratorship of university, which has long been outlawed in Nigerian University System (NUS); and the escalation of the crisis in the university.”
The union called on the Governor and Visitor to the university to, in the interest of the future of the university, reconsider the obnoxious amendment. ASUU identified some of the major problems facing the university presently and in the past to include direct politicisation, neglect, and gross underfunding by the successive governments of the state.
The union also claimed that the university had over the years been denied recurrent and capital budgetary provisions.
Again, the university’s factional academic union, Congress of University Academics, however, welcomed the development with open hands, and expressed readiness to work with the Acting Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Osadolor. It noted that Osadolor, a Professor of History, would take the ivory tower to its enviable heights which it had attained over the years.
The union’s position was contained in a statement, entitled: “Congress of University Academics (CONUA) AAU Ekpoma welcomes new Acting Vice-Chancellor,” signed by the Chairman, Dr. Iyawe Hanson and its Secretary, Dr. Nwoke Ernest for which copies were made available to journalists in Benin, the state capital.
Hanson said that the appointment of the Acting Vice- Chancellor by Governor Obaseki to oversee the running of the institution was timely as it will stem the current crisis rocking the university.
The statement reads in part: “The members of the Congress of University Academics (CONUA), Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma chapter, heartily welcome the appointment of Prof. Osarhieme Osadolor as the Acting Vice-Chancellor of the university.
“We state that his appointment could not have come at a better time especially on the cusp of the determination of the governor of the state to reposition the university and further the frontiers of innovative scholarship and academic excellence.
“We are profoundly appreciative of the quick intervention of His Excellency, Governor and Visitor to the university in congruent with our earlier plea to him.”
Hanson, however, lauded the outgone Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Onimawo for his administration’s numerous contributions to the growth of the university, saying he has no doubt in his mind that the Acting Vice-Chancellor, would put his wealth of experience to bear in repositioning the university.