LAUTECH, in the last two decades, seems not to have seen peace following the joint ownership tussle between the two owner states of Oyo and Osun, threatening its existence. SOLA ADEYEMO and ADEOLU ADEYEMO examine the lingering crises and the battle for the soul of the university
After 29 years of its establishment, the battle for the soul of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso, has continued to threaten the existence of the institution, the once pride of Oyo and Osun States.
When the idea of establishing the former “Oyo State University” was mooted in 1987 following the request by the Governing Council of the Polytechnic Ibadan, the aim was to bring university and technology education to the doorsteps of the people of the state.
But, today that dream and aspiration are being eroded by the consistent rift between Oyo and Osun, the owner states of the institution.
Following the consensus reached by the people to establish the university, the then Military Governor of the old Oyo State, Col. Sasaeniyan Oresanya, set up a committee to look into the possibility of the project.
And, by April 23, 1990, the old Oyo State, which today comprised the present Oyo and Osun States, midwifed the university project, which was named “Oyo State University” at take-off, but was later changed to “Ladoke Akintola University of Technology” by the Oyo State Edict, which was so amended through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).
The College of Health Sciences was thereafter established in Osogbo, which is today the capital of Osun State.
Meanwhile, the creation of Osun State from the old Oyo State in 1991 placed the joint ownership of LAUTECH on the two states, a development which has today remained the albatross of the university, in terms of adequate and regular funding, and management on the other hand.
With the creation of Osun State, a sharing of assets between the two states was agreed upon, and it was resolved that the university should be jointly owned and funded by both states.
The marriage, which has turned out to be that of inconvenience, continued till the administration of the then Governor of Oyo State, Christopher Adebayo Alao-Akala, and his Osun State counterpart, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, who shared the same political party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2007.
The two governors for more than six months were at loggerheads over the running and joint ownership of the institution.
The seemingly dispute and non-negotiable posture between the two states have continued unabated, culminating in the underfunding and neglect of the university, which led to series of protests by the workers and students, as well as disruption of academic and administration activities, resulting to indefinite closure of the university for several months.
Both governors were enmeshed in political and personal egos that militated against the original academic pursuit of making the institution a world class university in terms of technological advancement of the people in line with the dream and aspirations of the founding fathers.
The crisis of sole ownership of LAUTECH reached a crescendo, when Governor Alao-Akala built and equipped the LAUTECH Teaching Hospital in Ogbomoso, his home town, with ultra-modern medical equipment desiring a full-fledged university.
But, Governor Oyinlola, his Osun State counterpart saw this as an affront and would however not swallow the idea because, according to him, it would negate his own political interest to sign away his people’s patrimony.
Meanwhile, part of the Oyo State Government’s argument to justify its position for sole ownership of the university was the insistence that the university had never been jointly owned, since it was established by Oyo State Edict, which was superior to a Memorandum of Understanding, which Osun State Government was laying claim.
Besides, Oyo State Government also inferred that since Osun State had established a university, the Osun State University (UNIOSUN) with the Faculty of Health Sciences and its Teaching Hospital located in Osun, serving as Medical School for UNIOSUN, it was apposite that Osun State should hands off LAUTECH and keep what it has, while Oyo State held on to the rest of LAUTECH in Ogbomoso, where a new teaching hospital had been built.
But, some concerned groups in Osun State, however, pooh poohed Oyo State’s argument, insisting that the Pace Setter State could also boast of several other higher institutions in its domain, including the Federal School of Surveying, the first in West Africa.
The protracted crisis nosedived into the administrations of the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) led by Governors Abiola Ajimobi and Rauf Aregbesola of Oyo and Osun States respectively.
Like their predecessors, instead of harmonising and leveraging on the ideology of same political party to resolve the crisis, adequate funding of the university became another problem, thus leading to series of protracted strikes by both the Academic Staff Union of the Universities (ASUU), as well as the non-academic staff unions.
To this end, Osun State Government went to the Supreme Court to restrain Oyo State Government from forcefully effecting the sole ownership of the institution.
For almost two years in the twilight of the two-term administrations of the two governors, academic calendar of the institution suffered greatly, with the students sent home forcefully.
With this development, the university became a pariah institution as its distinguished record of academic excellence has been completely eroded.
As a result of this crisis, several parents no longer allow their children and wards to seek admission into the university.
Following the agenda for sole ownership of the university, members of staff of the LAUTECH Teaching Hospital, who are Oyo State origin embarked on protest, calling their counterparts from Osun State to go back to their state.
The discontentment, to a large extent, bred so much acrimony and bad blood among the workers that on October 9, 2019, some groups of Oyo State workers and students also protested on the campus, asking Osun State to hands off the administration of LAUTECH.
Their claim was based on the allegation that Osun State was not living up to its responsibility in terms of co-funding the institution, alleging that Osun State Government owed LAUTECH workers 10 months’ salary arrears.
But, against the agitation of Oyo State for sole ownership of the university, the Speaker of Osun House of Assembly, Hon. Timothy Owoeye, said that LAUTECH remains the joint property of both states, stressing that any view or actions contrary to the law establishing the university would amount to an exercise in futility.
The Speaker, in a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Kunle Alabi, however, stressed that there was the need for rapprochement over the ownership of the institution as the Supreme Court had laid the issue to rest, when it ruled that any of the two states willing to severe ownership must be ready to fully compensate the other according to the laws that established LAUTECH.
Owoeye, therefore, appealed to the two visitors to the university – the Governor of Osun State, Mr. Adegboyega Oyetola of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party and his Oyo State counterpart, Governor Seyi Makinde of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to find lasting solutions to the running of the institution, instead of allowing the people to play unnecessary politics with the lingering crisis.
The Speaker said: “Information at the disposal of Osun House of Assembly has it that Osun has always been performing its responsibilities to the institution. The university is a joint responsibility of the two states. Should Oyo State be willing to take the sole ownership, the laws are clear on what it should do. The issue of ownership here is not one that can be achieved through the pages of newspapers, Twitter or political blackmail.
“I am of the opinion that any of the states that wishes for divorce should initiate a genuine procedure as laid down by the law that established the institution.”
However, contrary to the appeal, Oyo State Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Prof. Dahud Sangodoyin, had expressed the determination of the Governor Seyi Makinde- led state government to take over the sole ownership of LAUTECH in the nearest future.
Affirming the resolve of the state government, the Commissioner said Governor Makinde had reached out to influential personalities in Oyo and Osun States in this regard, adding that the resolve of Oyo State was informed by the continued neglect of Osun State in funding the university and the urgent need to prevent a collapse of the institution.
Though, he agreed that the state government owed LAUTECH about N4 billion, which he said was less compared to about N7 billion owed by Osun State.
The Commissioner said: “We know that the two states owed, but ours (Oyo State) is lesser. This year, we have paid our dues to LAUTECH. Everyone around the world knows that the institution serves clinical and teaching purpose, but if they (Osun State) are neglecting the teaching aspect over time, the whole system will collapse.
“Our aim as the government of Oyo state is to take over ownership of LAUTECH. The governor has reached out to eminent personalities in the two states and LAUTECH will be owned solely by Oyo State finally. Not too long, the issues will be addressed and everyone will be happy. We are working to ensure our legacy, LAUTECH, will not collapse. Give us some time to address the issue holistically and you will be happy.”
Also, Osun State Government in a reaction through the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor. Ismaila Omipidan, said that taking critical look at the history of the crisis, except one was trying to be mischievous, party difference had never been a factor in the whole logjam.
He said: “For instance, when we had Governors Alao Akala in Oyo and Olagunsoye Oyinlola in Osun, both of whom were of the Peoples Democratic Party, there were issues. And, there were a few challenges when both states were under the All Progressives Congress. The only difference was that under the APC, owing to the clamour for regional integration, both states showed maturity and understanding in resolving the issue.
“So, at every point, one of the parties has always demonstrated the lack of good faith and sincerity in matters concerning Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH).”
Meanwhile, during the protest, the workers, under the aegis of “Oyo Workers’ Forum” carried placards with various inscriptions such as: “Osun, don’t destroy the life of our students; Osun State is the problem of LAUTECH; Osun State, leave LAUTECH alone; LAUTECH weeps; Joint ownership is a crime against LAUTECH; Oyo State must take over LAUTECH; Governor Seyi Makinde, please rescue us in LAUTECH; LAUTECH staff are hungry; No more joint ownership again,” among others.
Leading the protesting workers, the Chairman of the Forum, Mr. Adeniyi Adediran hinged their call on sole ownership of the university by Oyo State on the non-commitment of the Osun State Government towards funding of the institution, arguing further that while Oyo had been striving to liquidate its debts, Osun State’s response had remained non-availability of funds.
Piqued by the protracted crisis, the National President, LAUTECH Alumni Association, Solomon Onilede, has appealed for calm and cautioned against any attempt by any member of staff to attack or harass fellow member of staff of the university.
Towards pragmatic solutions to the logjam, the ASUU asked the government of the two states to declare a state of emergency on the LAUTECH.
The Ibadan Zonal Coordinator of ASUU, Dr. Ade Adejumo and Chairman of the LAUTECH chapter of the union, Dr. Biodun Olaniran, who made call recently while addressing newsmen in Ibadan, however, noted that it was not enough to make LAUTECH a campaign issue and not attend to the problems bedeviling the same institution after the polls.
The union, however, lamented that shortly before the expiration of his tenure; Governor Ajimobi was busy awarding contracts, without recourse to clear the 10 months’ salaries owed staff of the institution.