The non-academic staff of the Kogi State University are spoiling for a fight with the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Hassan Isah, over the implementation of the 2009 Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU)-Federal Government agreement as it concerns them. They have resolved to go on strike next month, if their demands are not met. TONY AKOWE (Abuja) and JAMES Azania (Kogi) report.
With his tenure about to lapse, the least of his problems should be a workers’ strike. But if he does not manage things well, the Vice-Chancellor of Kogi State University (KSU) Prof Hassan Isah may have such a strike on his hands before he leaves office.
The National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT), Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU) and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) have resolved to go on strike except he is given the boot.
Under the aegis of the Joint Action Committee (JAC), the workers are calling on the state government to implement the 2009 ASUU-government agreement, especially those aspects on payment of some categories of allowances.
These are minimum wage arrears, tax creditreduction laboratorystudioworkshopclinic hazard allowance responsibility allowance excess workload allowance overtime allowance and pension.
The unions are also accusing Isah of being responsible for the university’s low ranking.
But the government has given Isah a clean bill. The Commissioner for Education, Dr Ages Okai, said the school under Isah has made considerable progress, wondering why the workers have resorted to raising unnecessary dusts at the twilight of Isah’s administration.
Investigations showed that the aggrieved unions also have issues with the students , who it was gathered, volunteered to take over the workers’ job during the build-up to last session’s second semester examination. Our reporters gathered that the students were the ones sweeping the classrooms, manning the generator houses, ensuring the availability of water, mowing the lawn and undertaking other menial duties when it became obvious that the workers were bent on frustrating their examination.
The union leaders said this was far from the truth as no worker had abandoned his or her duties to students. A source in SSANU said: “Our members have always carried out their duties. The allegation is false, except the students making those allegations want us to come and clean their rooms for them.”
Last week, JAC staged a protest march to the palace of the traditional ruler of Ayingba, Alhaji Abu Shuibu Okolo. The placard-carrying protesters delivered a protest letter to the monarch on behalf of their Chairman, Comrade Babatunde Moses, for delivery to Kogi State Governor, Capt. Idris Wada.
“We have met with the management more than 40 times. We have written to the university Council more than 28 times and to the Kogi State government more than 18 times. Throughout this period, we have met with the Governor twice. We have met the deputy governor and we have met the Head of Service.
“Our welfare is not their (KSU principal officers) priority. Why is it that the staff are not being paid? Over the years, our appeal, struggles and agitations for our rights and entitlement have remained unattended to by the university Governing Council. We are, therefore, forced to forward our case to you as last resort,” they wrote.
Babatunde, who led the protest, told the traditional ruler that poor welfare of staff led to the exit of a number of senior lecturers from the university, a situation, he said, has resulted into a serious drop in academic quality and a drastic fall in rating.
“Of course this affects the university system. As a staff, you can move once you get a better offer somewhere else. People are leaving. The implication too is that the good hands are not coming.
“When there are not good hands or that the few good ones are leaving, it certainly affects the rating of the university. For instance, in a year, we lost more than eight Ph.D holders, who are senior lecturers. They got their Ph.D and left because they trained themselves,” Babatunde added.
Babatunde argued that a few years ago when the late Prof. Francis Idachaba headed the university, the institution was rated number one among state universities and the seventh nationwide. He said it was unfortunate that the same university now ranked 111 out of the 112 universities in the country.
The John Idachaba-led Student Union Government (SUG) of KSU, alongside the Academic Staff Union of Universities KSU chapter did not support the workers from the outset.
A dependable source in ASUU-KSU, who preferred anonymity, said ASUU pitched its tent with the management hence, it opted out of the agitation.
He said. “I am part of ASUU. I know how many professors interviewed me. I presented all my publications and papers. I was thinking they would award me Associate Professor, but they gave me senior lecturer that is how high the standard is here.
“About 80 per cent of the students from KSU, who went to the Law School, were top on the list. There is no truth in the allegation of falling standard at all. Kogi State University is ranked number seven among state universities in Nigeria. I am part of ASUU, so I know what I am saying.”
Debunking JAC’s claim, Idah said the 2009 Agreement was not in contention as it is between the Federal Government and its universities, saying it “aised that state universities implement same”.
At a briefing at the university on Monday, Idah said vice-chancellors from state-owned universities met and aised their individual governments to implement the terms at state level to enhance standard. KSU, Idah said, had already been implementing some of the allowances to its workers.
He listed those entitled to hazard allowance as stated in the 2009 Agreement to include: workers in the workshop, studios, clinic, laboratories, zoos, museums and farms.
His words: “Kogi State University is moving forward and is aancing.
‘’As a clinical pathologist, what I do is generating facts and figures in backing scientific statements and this is what I practise. The second reason I am used to facts and figures is religious and morals and this has been the basis of my life. I have been in the university system since 1976 and I still intend to remain there.”
Checks on KSU ranking revealed that in last year’s ranking Website of Universities (Webometrics), the university neither featured among the top 10 in Nigeria, nor appeared in the 2014 edition of the same ranking body. Also, in the NUC’s 50 best universities last year, the school had no position.
Idah, however, argued that, despite her non-inclusion by three international ranking bodies: QS World University Ranking (QSWLR), Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) and Webometrics Ranking of World Universities (WRWU), KSU has been blazing the trail, adding that the activities of those bodies are merely based “on web presence.” He said it was unfair of anyone to categorise the university as one falling in standard.
He said: “Kogi State University has 100 per cent programme accreditation 70 per cent institutional accreditation. Only 26 universities in Nigeria (universities) qualify, including KSU, scoring 71.45 per cent and with a validity of seven years.”
He said KSU was granted full accreditation of all its programmes by the National Universities Commission (NUC) in 2011, adding that, 67 academic staff had obtained PhD and 48 Masters.
The school, according to him, has been producing local software recognised by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) to run examinations and release its results electronically.
Okai said the government on its part has met its obligation to the institution, including making money available for prompt payment of salaries and staff allowances.
She said: “To the best of my knowledge, this vice-chancellor has been paying Hazard Allowance since 2011, that is when the Federal Government brought the circular, and this is meant for certain categories of staff, so what do these people want?
“They say even an ICT man that is working for the school wants to be paid. They are saying that even a typist that is watching over a screen and has damage to the eyes must be paid. Because of Hazard allowance, they want the vice-chancellor sacked. Is it fair?
“The vice-chancellor reported the case to me. NASU wanted to disrupt the last exams frustrating him. Now that they could not succeed, the only excuse is this Hazard Allowance and it is meant for nominated group of people. There are categories of people that are entitled and he has been paying them since 2011.
The government has been paying workers allocation, but let them not start fabricating lies. The vice-chancellor will soon finish his tenure anyway, why are they in a hurry to chase him out?”
Although Babatunde could not be reached to react to the management defence as his phone was switched off, a member of one of the unions told The Nation that it is common knowledge that the institution has declined in ranking in recent times.
He said: “We are aware that the authority will not admit that the institution has declined in ranking. But you can go and check it out yourself. That is the beauty of technology. We have heard the vice-chancellor say that the ranking is based on web presence. Is it not a shame that an institution that was ranked among the best 10 universities in Nigeria a few years ago is now second from the bottom? Of the 112 universities in Nigeria, including the newly established universities Kogi State University is ranked 111 and the vice-chancellor and government could still come out to defend that instead of hiding their heads in shame.”