By Olubusuyi Adenipekun
Both academic and non-academic staff of Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU, Ile-Ife have refused to go back to work after the three-month strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, was called off.
Their grouse is with the university management which they are alleging has been effecting double deduction of their contributory pension scheme.
But the Vice Chancellor of the university, Professor Michael Faborode, in this exclusive interview, says that the staff are just peddling falsehood, adding that officials from the Accountant-Generalâ€™s office, ICPC and EFCC have all come to investigate the allegation and have verified that there is nothing like double deduction of pension at OAU.
He speaks on this issue, the impact of keeping the students out of classrooms and the giant strides which his administration has taken in the last three years towards rebranding the institution both locally and internationally. Excerpts:
Both academic and non-academic staff of this university are yet to go back go work after ASUUâ€™s strike in protest against the alleged double deduction of their pension fund. What is the real cause of this crisis?
Well, thank you very much. The real fact is that there is nothing like double deduction. Relevant people have been here to verify this allegation and they have given their verdict that there is no double deduction. The Accountant-Generalâ€™s office and PENCOM have been here to verify the situation.
The instruction of this issue is very clear. It is contributory pension scheme and every worker has to contribute 7Â½ per cent of his or her salary and that is exactly what is happening here. It is even deducted at source from the Budget Office and what comes here is net; and from that net, nothing, and I repeat nothing is deducted again. That is the plain truth.
You see, some people try to spread falsehood and they tell lies. They can continue to do so but there is no way that the truth will not catch up with falsehood. It is just unfortunate that they have used further lies to try and hoodwink the majority of staff, especially junior workers, making them to have this make-belief that there is some money somewhere for them.
The truth is that there is no such money anywhere in this university. I will be very happy by the time the whole issue becomes very clear. Everyone can sit back and think of the enormous damage being caused to the students. Iâ€™m sure their own children are also involved. It is very unfortunate that people will tend to stand the truth on the head in the guise of looking for something. As I said, the Accountant-Generalâ€™s office has come.
They have done a thorough investigation. They called in the ICPC, they called in EFCC. I guess EFCC has done its own investigations and found out that there is nothing. ICPC has done its own investigations. Their report is being awaited.
In the normal way they do their work, they are trying to be very thorough, to cover all grounds. So, patience is the issue for us. There is no justification for staff to say they donâ€™t want to get back to work. Nobody has declared any trade dispute with the university and I think labour laws are very clear on this issue.
So, it is left for the leadership of the unions to have a rethink and stop misleading people. Instead of being pragmatic, Iâ€™m thinking of the overall interest of the university and the children who have been outside without lectures for over 14 weeks.
So, to try and add to the disruption of studentsâ€™ academic programmes is very unfortunate, particularly when everything is based on falsehood and intrigue. It impacts on the integrity of our academic community.
What is your strategy os resolving this crisis? Are you talking with your staff?
Of course, yes. We are talking with them. We are talking with a broad spectrum of the members of the university community.
The Senate has set up a committee to look at the issue and involve some members of academic staff. Also, Council has set up a three-man committee. They have gone everywhere. They have looked into all the agencies, brought up the evidence and have clearly seen that there is no double deductions. We will continue to let them see things clearly.
What developmental projects have you embarked upon since you came on board as vice-chancellor?
I have spent over three years now as vice chancellor. By December this year, it will be exactly three and half years and I will just have one and half years left.
When we were discussing with some people three days ago, their statement is that even the blind man can see the impact of what is happening because the tell tales are everywhere on campus; the level of development in terms of physical structures.
But the greatest achievement actually is bringing peace back, bringing stability back. as I said, we were on the verge of normalising the academic calendar. In terms of physical structures, we have emphasis on lecture theatres because of paucity of lecture theatres.
We are going to commission some building projects soon. The postgraduate building is there, the Natural History Museum building is there.
These are things that would not have been achieved if we didnâ€™t make efforts to try and sell the university by bringing stability and peace back to the university. In this yearâ€™s post-UME examination, we discovered that 34,000 candidates sat for the examination.
It was only about 17,000 candidates that sat for the exams in the first year I came in as vice chancellor. As at that time, nobody really wanted to send their children to the university. Even the alumni were passive. But now, w have rekindled the interest of the alumni.
They are so passionate now. They want to bring goodwill, they want to come and assist us. As we say everyday, government alone cannot fund the university system any longer. So we need the alumni to come and do something for their alma mater. They are doing it now marvelously well.
We donâ€™t want the sort of thing that is happening now at the university (disruption of academic activities by staff unions) to again turn them away from here. Their children can now graduate promptly. A four year programme is supposed to be a four year programme.
Medical students will spend just six years. But if you begin to have elongation again and then a four year programme becomes seven years, as it was in the recent past, then people are going to turn their back on the university again. This is why the staff should also realise that whatever they do is going to impact on their own future. Because it is the way they present the university to the public that will inform the way the public will also assess the university.
We have completely rebuilt the image of the university both at the local and international arena. We are getting support and partnership here and there. Carnegie Corporation, Kingâ€™s College, London and so on and all these people have been coming to partner with OAU. These are things that academics cherish.
But it is unfortunate if some people decide not to understand some of these achievements. It is very bad that they will allow this to rule them rather than being positive and forward looking.
But, what has been helping the university in successfully forging these partnerships both locally and internationally?
For you to be able to gain the confidence of your international partners you must demonstrate credibility and service delivery.
And our records are very clear. When you are given a little ground and you use it properly, it will elicit more interest of these partners. Carnegie Corporation of New York, for example, we have got its funding extended for another there years.
We have produced a report of what they have done for us and they are very impressive. They have contributed to the progress of the university. Recently, we got the I-lab concept (internet laboratory), whereby our students can do experiment, using equipment at MIT when they are not being used here. Our boys and girls here have perfected this technology.
They have domiciled it to the African content and we are now training colleagues from Tanzania, from Uganda and now Ghana is just joining us. That partnership has just been supported and given a new funding under the US-Africa partnership. Partnership with MIT is the greatest thing that any university will want to look for in the world.
Everybody wants to associate with those who are good. It is a bandwagon effect and if this goodwill is destroyed, it is also a bandwagon effect. If all these positive things suddenly collapse we will be the loser for it. So, that is why people must think about the corporate image of university, about the future of the university and forsake all these tendencies to be very selfish and self-centered.
To what extent has the university gone with the bottled water project and what is the cost of the venture?
Thank you for asking that question because I forgot when I was telling you how the alumni have been positive and up-coming in supporting us. That project is being funded by an alumnus. We are not putting anything into it except that we want to step down the electricity there.
We are putting there a transformer as a token of encouragement because Chams Nigeria Ltd which is handling that project is investing so much. At the end of the day all they are going to do is to install the plant, get the machines working, run it for there months to train our staff and turn it over to the university as a means of contributing to the internally generating revenue of the university.
This tells you what our alumni are trying to do to help us. They believe so much in the transformation that is taking place in the university and a lot of them want to be part of this success story. So, the least you can do is to continue to encourage them to do more. Not to put on tendency that is going to discourage them from coming on board to help us.
So, OAU as a body is not putting anything into that venture. Of course, we have organised all our ventures into OAU Company Investment Limited.
They now run more efficiently, more profitably and they are not even taking money from the university to continue to remain afloat. They are using their own internal energy to sustain themselves. Before long, they will be making profit and will be using it for the universityâ€™s development.