The Vice-Chancellor of Osun State University, Prof Clement Adebooye, talks BOLA BAMIGBOLA about the ongoing faceoff between the Academic Staff Union of Universities and the Federal Government, and how the dispute can be resolved
How will you describe the experience since your appointment as vice-chancellor about seven months ago?
It’s been challenging but it is the responsibility of human beings to face challenges and respond to the challenges of life. We are moving on smoothly and we are at cruising altitude, trying to stabilise the system. So as much as is given to us, is as much as we have delivered, trying to make the system work and to work not as just a university but as a 21st-century university. That is exactly what we have done in the last seven months that I assumed duty as the vice-chancellor of the university.
Some cases were instituted against the process that produced you as VC. How are you managing that area to ensure smooth industrial relations on campus?
It is guaranteed by the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that an aggrieved party or parties have the liberty to approach the court of law to seek redress as my colleagues did before my appointment and the issues were resolved also in the court of law, with the university winning the legal suit. Immediately, after I came in, the first thing I did was to make peace among the different stakeholders in the university. I met the different categories of members of staff, starting with the professors, deans, provosts, heads of departments, management, principal officers, committees, and trade unions in the university, like ASUU, the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, National Association of Academic Technologists and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Allied Institutions. I even went as far as meeting the students union group, so I was able to tour the six campuses of the university and the Isale-Osun (Osogbo) annex of the university.
I also met traditional rulers where our campuses are located and different stakeholders, like security agencies, including the police, military, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, and the Federal Road Safety Corps. So, the dust settled within one month of my assumption of duty. It is gratifying to report that I am enjoying close to 100 per cent support from workers and students of this university. The strategy of dialogue, consultation, discussion, focus group meetings, and more is what we have used to make things work for everybody and also to have respect for the different categories of workers within the system and treat them as stakeholders in the system and not just workers within the system.
Your predecessor, Prof Labo Popoola, contended with different issues, especially the unions on the campuses while in office. Have those issues been addressed?
Those issues are no longer there. First, there were six members of staff on interdiction when I came in. They have been interdicted for three and a half years, almost going to four years. They were on half salary and by the grace of God, within my first three weeks in office, I put politics and strategy into play to meet all parties at various levels. I succeeded in approaching the council and doing the necessary things that led to the resolution of the crisis, including the withdrawal of the court cases against the six individuals, and the matters were resolved and council approved and the six people are back in the university now and their full entitlement for the period that they were on interdiction has been paid to them.
Another issue was about trust which I have tried to build since I came in. You know, as human beings, we differ and there is no complete human being. So, probably little changes in attitude have influenced the peace that we enjoy now in the system.
While most universities in the country are on strike, your school has enjoyed a stable academic calendar for almost six years. What are you doing differently?
Public universities, which include state and federal ones, are run on three models. The Federal Government operates a 100 per cent funding model for personnel costs. Some state universities also run that same model of 100 per cent funding. Some other universities run a 50/50 or 60/40 model of university funding and then the state contributes to the personnel cost. For us in Osun State University, we run the approximately 50/50 model whereby we contribute 50 per cent of the personnel cost and the state also contributes 50 per cent of the cost.
Also, we take care of almost 100 per cent of the running cost of the university, running costs in terms of gardening, maintenance, cleaning services, sanitation, security services, accreditation, laboratory materials, equipment, and other things except some of them provided by the Tertiary Education Trust Fund. So, the major contribution that makes the university to be able to stand on its feet is the 50 per cent personnel cost from the state added to the 50 per cent personnel cost by the university. Therefore, our employees in this university know very well that this system is like a ‘work-and-eat children’s football tournament.’ It is when our students are here that we can get 50 per cent of the personnel cost which is added to the one from the state and it is also at that time that we get our running cost. So, when students are not here, we don’t get both the 50 per cent personnel cost and almost 100 per cent running cost. So our employees are conscious of this and the university council is also conscious of this very important element of our funding and decided on March 18, 2018, that if this university needed to survive, we should run on a ‘who-does-not-work, does-not-deserve-a-pay,’ (policy) and that has become a tradition here and that is what has been sustaining the system.
Do you think other universities should adopt your strategy?
I am not going to suggest it to the Federal Government because it is an entity and our state is also an entity. This kind of thing can be implemented when a university has students contributing to personnel costs. If you have gone on strike for three or four months or even more and you are paying salaries when students are not around and you have to continue running the semester when the students are back, where do you get the money to pay? Osun State University has done very good arithmetic of how much we need per semester. We have a template, we have the way we spend our money. So if there is a shift either by strike or something, the university equilibrium is shifted and the university will lose balance. That’s why our workers have understood over time that it is better to keep this system as it is. It is an understanding between the management and the workers.
Is your kind of model not anti-labour and will it not be impossible for unions on campus to protest against any issue they are uncomfortable with?
I met them (the unions) almost every month and we discussed. We meet on the road and stop and talk. They don’t book an appointment to see me. We discuss in the corridor and that is my style. When they have issues, they do call me at midnight. We are very free. We discuss freely. Honestly, they are good and understanding people. The way we resolve our issues is very easy. They (unions) know we can meet anywhere and they know that for everything we do, there is an explanation and we do listen to them too and in a way, we incorporate their suggestions into what we do because they are stakeholders, not just workers.
A VC will go, but they will remain here until retirement. I am not going to be here until retirement. They own this system, so their stake here is far more than mine and that is why we must try to sit down, hear and crystalise their side of the story so that we are guided.
Other Nigerian universities have been on strike for several months. How does that make you feel?
I have worked all over the world. I have taught at eight universities abroad, including the best universities, like the University of Manitoba, the University of Bonn, and a university in Stuttgart, Germany. You can’t see anywhere in the world that universities are closed for this long period and that is the bitter truth. At the risk of being called names, we have to find something around this at the level of the government and the level of unions. A nation cannot grow the way we are going.
You were, at a point, a union secretary at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, and you must have fought against some of the issues causing unrest on campuses presently. Are ASUU’s demands not justified?
You are right. We did and we fought them and that is what I am saying on the side of ASUU and the side of the government. Given the quantum of money that federal universities get from the Federal Government, members of staff of such universities should be asking their vice-chancellors questions on how they spend the money. They should ask them. It (funds) may not be enough but what they are getting should provide some basic minimum. However, what happens in this country is what I don’t understand. I am a vice-chancellor of a state university. Go to our research laboratory, and see our infrastructure. We don’t have all our roads tarred on campus, but when you go into our campuses, you will see features of university development. What I am saying is that the little we get should be used judiciously.
You are insinuating mismanagement?
There are issues about Nigeria that are very difficult to discuss and I don’t want to discuss them. But unions should start asking vice-chancellors questions.
A piece was circulated on social media recently that your university may cancel its Arabic/Islamic course. Is that true?
It is all a tissue of lies. In fact, there was no meeting, no contemplation of such. If anything, we are trying to grow our Department of Islamic and Arabic Studies. Do you know that we have a Department of Common and Islamic Law in this university and it is one of the most subscribed departments in this institution? It is on the Ifetedo campus. Recently, we met to give scholarships to students in this university, and Arabic and Islamic Studies got 35 per cent tuition support for students who want to study Arabic and Islamic Studies, approved by the council of this university. So, where this news came out from, I don’t know. Our university is a religion-tolerant institution.
My registrar is a Muslim, and the chairman of the council is a Muslim. Actually, the majority of members of the council are Muslims. Most officers who work in the office of the vice-chancellor are Muslims appointed by me.
My deputy vice-chancellor, appointed by me, is a Muslim. He is the Chief Imam of the university. Please help us to dispel this rumor quickly and to tell them that our university is tolerant. We are a mixture of different religions in South-West, Nigeria, and we are not known for this kind of rubbish.
What is your university doing to provide solutions to societal needs through research?
I have said a million times that we should try to justify the reasons that universities should continue to exist. One of the reasons is for universities to make inventions and discoveries and that is what we are posed to do in the next five years here. We are consolidating our centre for renewable resources where technologies will be rolled out. I tell you I have just selected a professor of high standing to head that unit in the university to do things that will improve the quality of life of our people not only in Nigeria but all over the world. So, this university will increase its global visibility through research. Many things are coming on board. Just this morning, I received a mail from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that one of our professors was awarded a grant to study how to mitigate the effect of malaria and COVID-19 in this part of the world. Several things are ongoing. Our colleagues in Ikire are trying to investigate issues that are related to religion and culture, and our living together. In Osun State, we have four dialect groups. We the Oyos, Ifes, Ijesas and Igbominas. Those are the four categories of people that we have in the state. Our researchers are looking at those things that join us together. Issues are being investigated all across our campuses. So, I tell you, by the grace of God, within the next one to one and a half years, UNIOSUN will be in the news in the area of discovery and inventions. New things are coming up to improve the quality of life of the people.
What is the management doing about its internally generated revenue?
We are trying to do our best. For example, at the moment, we have a farm on our Ejigbo campus that produces eggs and broilers. We market that and we make some money. We have our established palm plantation that is yielding already and selling. We also have a garri processing plant on the Ejigbo campus. We have a water factory plant here on the Osogbo campus. Our water is a household name in Osogbo. Everybody wants to buy UNIOSUN Water. We have a block-making firm. You can see the Navy trying to erect a fence on their land in Osogbo. It buys all the blocks from UNIOSUN.
Is your stable academic calendar attracting more students to apply to the university?
It is bringing pressure. How we are going to manage the admission this year is my problem now because I am sure that our quota this year will not be more than 6,000 or so, even with the expansion of infrastructure. I do not know yet how we are going to accommodate the number of students that may want to come to this university but whatever it is, we have more opportunities because we have three streams of admissions approved by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board. We have full-time, part-time programmes and sandwich (programmes) which is the weekend programme. So, any student that could not make it into the normal full-time undergraduate programme will make it into either the part-time programme, which will be 150 per cent of the time or sandwich. So, that is what we are going to do this year and we are strategising for that already.
What is your recommendation to ASUU and the Federal Government concerning the current industrial action?
They should resolve this matter. One thing I have to say is that it is bad that you are paying someone the same salary since 2009 and this is 2022. The government should look at that. It is not fair to the professors and not even fair to the civil service. The government should have looked at that a long time ago. Inflation has eaten up all the money. The prices of rice, garri, elubo yam, bread, and other things have gone up. I am pleading with the Federal Government to look into the salaries of the academic staff members and that of all other workers in this country and give people a bit of a life of ease. The pressure on people is much. Secondly, ASUU itself should be asking the vice-chancellors questions about the management of the university.