Vice-Chancellor of the Osun State University, UNIOSUN, Osogbo, Odunayo Clement Adebooye, a Professor of Plant Physiology/Food Chemistry, in this interview, speaks on the ongoing industrial action by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, and how the Federal Government can resolve some of the knotty issues that led to the strike, his vision for the university among others. Excerpts.
By Adesina Wahab
SOME issues were raised before your emergence as the VC, have they been addressed?
The aggrieved party said the criteria set by the university management appeared to have been deliberately done to sideline candidates from Arts, Humanities and some other faculties….
The business of scholarship and academia is universal; universal in the sense that we are subjected to the same gradient of parameters. By gradient of parameters, I mean what are the indices for measuring academic performance or for measuring scholarship? These indices or the gradient of parameters are universal, nobody can dispute them anywhere in the world. If for example you want to recruit me at the University of Washington DC, United States of America, what they would do is to look at my literacies, what I scored in the different grades of parameters, what I call indices of academic performance. I will mention some of them; they may look at your citations, how much of your published works have been cited, not by yourself because sometimes we scholars cite ourselves. They will look at those people that have cited you. Is your work gaining prominence in the academic landscape globally? Two, they would ask if you have won grants; if you have won grants, how many of them? And who are the agencies that awarded the grants? And after asking that, they would ask the worth of the grant. You know grants have father and mother, the father of grants run into millions of dollars.
Have you been able to tackle any of the issues raised by the aggrieved party?
Yes. I was appointed on the night of January 3 with the mandate from the government that I should resume the next morning at 8:00am here, so, I had less than 12 hours and there was nothing to prepare over the night. I assumed duty the next day and the first thing I did when I came in was to organise meetings with various stakeholders. I met all the professors separately, I met all the collegiate separately. I toured all the six campuses within a week. I met all the unions separately, I met the principal officers separately. I made them to see that there cannot be two kings on one throne at a time, only one person will sit on the leadership seat at a time and there is always a tenure. I made them realise that whatever I have to do to make sure things run here normally, I will do and since then, I have been doing that.
How receptive are they to you?
I must confess that I enjoy close to 100 per cent cooperation in this school. Both from principal officers and the staff of the university.
The multi-campus system of the school is unique, I think Uniosun is the only institution with that status
No, there are others. Some universities are adopting that now. LAUTECH has gone multi-campus, Ogun State University is multi-campus.
Talking about the financial burden that goes with multi-campus system, and varsity managements always complain about financial challenges, wouldn’t the idea of bringing adjunct lecturers lead to more financial burden on the university?
It doesn’t. The way it is done is this: In the university, we have something we call establishment. We know the number of lecturers that will be in a department. For example if there should be 10 lecturers in physics here, we will give them eight, we take two to Ipetu Ijesha. Because Physics Education does not take the whole complement of Physics courses, it takes a few courses in physics together with some basic education courses. We now deploy two of our lecturers to commute between Osogbo and Ipetu-Ijesha to complement the efforts of the two lecturers who are domiciled in Ipetu-ijesha, so it doesn’t cost us extra. The only thing we do, those lecturers who commute, we give them what you call traveling allowance. Let me analyses this too, you look at the cost benefit. That small campus in ipetu-ijesha is contributing a lot in changing the face of ipetu Ijesha. The small campus in Ejigbo, it has changed the face of Ejigbo. The little money we pay as transportation to our lecturers who commute is not as much as the benefits that are being derived by the Ejigbo community or by Ipetu-Ijesha or by Ikire community.
ASUU members are on strike, what is the way out? Should they always go on strike to press home their demands?
Strike is a universal right of workers. Workers can go on strike and the law is explicitly clear and I would refer to the Nigerian trade dispute act as well as international labor organization code, they allow strike actions even without notice is allowed but we should ask ourselves, does it appeal to common sense that a union should embark on a one year strike or six months strike, well the answer is known to all of us. We would say well since the workers have the right to go on strike, they should try to moderate how to do it so that the lives of the young ones would not be put into jeopardy and that is the way I see all those things.
ASUU and the government are right to some extent, where government is right and where ASUU is right should be the meeting point for the two bodies and I will give you examples. I want to say it without any fear of contradiction from anywhere, the salary of a Nigerian professor is too poor, given the present level of inflation. A situation where a professor has been earning the same salary since 2009 is not acceptable. ASUU 2009 agreement is what the lecturers are still earning, even if it is the civil servants that are still earning the same salary, it is not acceptable. The salary that was calculated in 2009 was based on 2009 situation. We should moderate on the way we do things, that is on the side where ASUU is correct. Another side ASUU is correct is the level of decay in the university system, you go to some laboratories in the federal universities, you will cry that this is where they are teaching students, things are dilapidated. Some of the state universities, including Uniosun are far better than several federal universities. If you go to the laboratories in Uniosun, you will have the wrong impression that Nigerian universities are very standard, if you go to some federal universities you will cry.
One side the government is right but they are not right completely is IPPIS. In universities, you have granted them autonomy, having granted them autonomy allow them to operate. What the government should do to IPPS is to bring the package to the universities and ask the universities to domesticate the IPPIS. When universities domesticate the IPPIS, the government will play monitoring role. Do you get the point I am making? For example in Sun State University here our government is doing something similar to IPPIS but they give our university the autonomy. And the role our government plays is the monitoring role. And that is excellent. Monitoring role in the sense that they monitor how much we pay as salaries, monitor how we operate our salary account, they capture our bio-metric data every two years. But the state government allows us to manage our own finances as well as payment of our salaries. That is what the Federal Government should have done, borrow a leaf from the government of the State of Osun. Take the IPPIS to the universities, get the universities to buy into it, give the entire package to the universities, then set up your monitoring and evaluation team in Abuja, somewhere under the Federal Ministry of Finance or the Nigeria Universities Commission, let them come to the universities every two years to revalidate all the data submitted by the staff. That would have solved the problem. But the government wants to control the salaries of the federal universities from Abuja. The Federal Government has too many problems. I am not saying they should not dictate how to pay, they can dictate how to pay by handing over this IPPIS to the universities, domesticate it in the universities, let the salary units of the universities manage it. Then you play the role of monitoring and evaluation agent, you send your officers to the universities to monitor how it is being operated. That is what we are doing in Osun State and it is working like magic.
Funding is also one of the reasons for strike by lecturers, how can this be tackled?
It is true and I will explain to you. Public universities are funded on three models. The first model is 100 percent funding of varsities by the government. The second model is 100 percent funding of salaries by the university themselves. The third model is shared funding by the university and the state. In universities where 100 percent of the salary is generated, one of them is in Kwara State, so where a state university exists and all they get from government is the capital funding and not the personnel and you cannot expect the university to use the tuition fees paid by students to pay salaries when workers are on strike.
All the federal universities fall into the category of total government payment of salaries, they pay the salaries from Abuja, that is 100 percent. Then the third model is the model of shared funding of salaries that is where the government will contribute 50 and the university will contribute 50, or 60/40, 70/30 percent. The public universities that are run on the basis of self-sustenance, catering for 100 percent of their salaries or those that on shared contributions payment will not feel comfortable to go on strike because they would not want to use the tuition fees to pay workers or lecturers when they are not at work.
Some of your colleagues would tell you that they would not have anything to do with private universities, why this aversion?
Well it is an opinion and I think they are entitled to their opinion.
Students are facing challenges as a result of lack of accommodation for a university like this, are you not considering hostels for students even going into partnership with the private sector?
When this university was established in 2006 and it took off in 2007, the brief that established this university stated clearly that this should be a non-residential university, having said that some three years ago, this university realized that at rate at which this university is going, there is the need to change over and become a residential university. So this university on her own built 104 bed space hostels across our six campuses and those hostels are named after the monarchs of those communities.
Are you not acting outside the mandate?
We are not acting outside the mandate, they are the rules written down, they could be changed, we changed the content of the brief, all the hostels were commissioned by the governor, so we have become residential. Good news. If I open this window and look down there, you will see 1,500 bed hostel being constructed for the university by the BOT. The university is already building another 600 bed hostel for students who are coming in October/November. At our college of health sciences, we have secured some agreement to build 500 bed capacity hostel for our medical students. At Ajegunle , we have 240 bed hostel for our current medical students. And by the grace of God across our six campuses we are going to multiply 104 to become 208 hostels in the next one year. We are changing the narratives of the university. We have become a residential university.