Before We Have Another Strike; By Ogunjimi James Taiwo
On February 24 2014, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Olabisi Onabanjo University Chapter ended its 1 week old ‘sit-at-home protest/lecture boycott’ after the lecturers received their February salaries. Part of the decisions reached at the meeting held before the ‘strike’ was called off was that they do not want a situation where they would get their salaries late, like getting March salary on February 25. They resolved that if by April 2nd, they do not get their March salaries; they would embark on yet another strike to force the government to live up to its responsibilities.
No doubt, the issue of non-payment of salaries & arrears has been a recurrent issue as far Olabisi Onabanjo University (in fact, Ogun state) is concerned. And as usual, the students are always at the receiving end of the resulting face-off. When this happens, the government, instead of urgently finding solutions to the problem, resorts to spreading propaganda and attempting to paint the innocent lecturers asking for their pay black.
It is important to stress that despite the percentage this State Government led by Senator Ibikunle Amosun claims it allocated to education; it has always been ink on paper; nothing has translated into reality. Since Governor Amosun was sworn in, he has taken education trivially and left it at the rung of the ladder. While emphasis has been laid on building roads and bridges, the development of tomorrow’s leaders have been put at the bottom of the priority list (if it is even on the list).
Since the governor was sworn in, instead of developing the university and finding ways of easing the myriad of problems faced by the students, he has doubled the problems. OOU’s school fees payment method under the previous administration started with BRA, which changed to Recordsoft and later to Obochem. When this administration was sworn in, first, the method of payment was changed from Obochem, which was in all fairness a problem to OOU students on its own, but the reasons for the change were wrong; it was a case of giving the contract to a new contractor from the ‘camp’ of the governor rather than an attempt to ease the burden of the students. The Point of Sale (POS) mode was introduced and the problems still persisted, howbeit reduced. It must be noted however that while the commission being collected from each student during the ‘recordsoft era’ was N4000 naira, during this POS era, the commission being collected has doubled; the commission is now 5.5% per student while the problems are still there. With this 5.5%, it means students have to pay a commission in the range of 9000 naira, and that’s just for students whose fees are not more than 100,000 naira; students like Medical and Law students pay a lot more commission than that. Compared to Osun state that charges N300 (three hundred naira) naira commission per student and still returns N100 naira back to the school account, the Ogun State Government has surpassed itself by this inconsiderate act of extortion.
Now, if the amount being collected is even being used to develop the school, it would be a different story entirely. But there has been no development whatsoever from the angle of the state government. The university management has been left to singularly source for funds from everywhere which has led to the management nearly squeezing the students dry with different outrageous fees. First, the graduating students were told to pay N5000 naira, refundable after returning their graduation gown, but the refundable fee is yet to be refunded despite the fact that they have returned the gowns. Also, the university is telling the graduating medical students of the university to pay for the extra years spent during the strikes before they can be allowed to graduate. It’s so bad that even the funds to use for the development of a befitting car park/garage for the commercial drivers is to be contributed by the drivers themselves who pay a sum of N70 naira daily. The school is even reluctant to release the SUG funds in their care because they are probably thinking of using it to develop the school. In fact, at a meeting, the University Vice Chancellor made it clear that part of the dues paid by students as Union dues will be used to develop the school as students must also contribute to the development of the school. Everybody is being taxed; everybody is paying through their nostrils to ensure development in our schools, but the government that’s saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that the schools are well-equipped structurally and intellectually is lagging behind and not performing its duties.
To compound the problem, the University stands the risk of having some of its core courses dis-accredited. Already, the official report from the visit of the accreditation team to OOU shows that 3 core courses have been denied accreditation in the faculty of arts. The university management sent a budget of 600 million naira to the state government as funds needed to develop the university in terms of structures, stocking the laboratories and providing the university library with up-to-date books, etc, but the state government in its characteristic manner, approved just 150 million naira, but till date, a dime has not been released.
Before we have another strike, we must reflect on the issues laid down. Parents and students must for once stand up and demand value for their money. Stakeholders must not seat on the fence; they must speak up against the disregard for education being shown by this government. All hands must be on deck to ensure that the university’s rise to the pinnacle is not cut short by the government’s insensitivity to the plight of the students and their lecturers. Lecturers should not be denied their salaries; neither should students have to study in a non conducive environment.
A university seen as the ‘official’ state university should not have its libraries filled with books of 1990. An institution of this caliber should not have its laboratories empty and less-equipped than a secondary school laboratory. A university like this should not have to cramp 1000 students into a lecture room meant for 300 students. A university like OOU should not still be grappling with issues of Public address system where students are lectured with half of the class being cut off.
Voices must rise up in defense of this great institution. The Students Union must awake fully to its responsibilities and drive the orientation of the students to know who their real enemies are. Students must join their voices with their lecturer’s to demand that they be paid their salaries to prevent another strike which will cripple the academic calendar. Lecturers in turn must not leave the students alone as per accreditation issues; they must also join their voices with the student’s and offer ideas to ensure that no student has his/her course disaccredited.
Stakeholders, seasoned educationists, alumni, activist groups, civil societies, parents, students themselves must rise up and condemn the government’s lackadaisical attitude to education and prevail on the state government to pay the lecturers and release the funds needed to develop the school ahead of the visit by the accreditation team to avert yet another strike.
God bless OOU!
God bless Ogun State!!
God bless Nigeria!!!
James Ogunjimi is the Coordinator, Committee for the defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Olabisi Onabanjo University.
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