Kunle ADELABU & Wale JAGUN
Stakeholders in Ikorodu have been reacting to the intervention by the Governor of Lagos State, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, in the crisis between the management of the Lagos State Polytechnic and the members of the staff unions which has threatened the peace of the institution in the last few years .
The governor intervened in the crisis on Friday, July 12, 2019, via a press release after the arrest of 38 staff members of the institution by the police and also constituted a Visitation Panel with a task to investigate all the contentious issues that are setting the staff union of the Polytechnic against the management.
The last time a Visitation Panel was constituted for the Polytechnic was in 1984 and was headed by Prof. Grace Alele Williams, the then Vice-Chancellor of University of Benin.
Governor Sanwo-Olu also ordered members of the staff earlier disengaged by the management to forward their letters of appeal to the school’s Governing Council within seven (7) days for the review of the process of their disengagement with a condition that the appeal letters must be duely endorsed to the Head of Service to ensure transparency in the review process.
The Governor expressed concern over the effects of the protracted crisis on the wellbeing of the school, noting that the prevailing situation has affected the morale of law-abiding employees of the institution, as well as the academic performance of the students.
He said that the Government was aware of the humiliation and denigration that the Governing Council and management of the school had endured in the last six months when this impasse began, calling on all stakeholders to keep peace in the interest of the students.
A section of the stakeholders are also asking the governor, who is the Visitor to the institution, to make the composition of the panel known to the public and commence work in earnest.
Otunba Ganiyu Olusegun Abiru, the Chairman, Ikorodu-Oga Development Association (IKODASS), and a retired Clerk/Permanent Secretary, Lagos State House of Assembly, in his reaction, commended the governor’s intervention while also stating that it is belated.
“Well, the Governor’s intervention, though belated, is commendable. As a visitor to the school , the right thing to do is to set up an inquiry into the protracted impasse between the management and the Union which is what he has done and we hope something good will come out of it”.
While doubting the impartiality of the governor’s intervention, Otunba Abiru called on the members of the enquiry to exhibit independence and discharge their responsibilities objectively.
“Already, the thinking of some people is that the present administration has inherited the partial disposition of the Ambode’s administration because the initial reaction of the present administration did not address all the issues presented to it by the Union before it directed the Union to call off its strike and therefore, one may feel a little bit worried about the sincerity of the administration in bringing this issue to an end.
“I only hope that members of the inquiry would be men of integrity and honour who will want to do a good job without necessarily dancing to the tune of the government. The membership should include of course, a respected son or daughter from lkorodu division.
“There are allegations and counter allegations from the two disputing parties and therefore, members of the committee must be neutral and dispense justice with the fear of God”.
He stated that the findings of the committee must help in preventing any future reoccurrence of crisis.
“The Polytechnic has been enmeshed in crisis right from the time the Rector assumed duty and therefore, the remote and immediate causes of the imbroglo between the two warring parties must be studied with utmost seriousness with a view to averting recurrence.
“There have been clashes between the Management and the Students a number of times while that of the Union is a recurring one”.
Speaking on the effects of the crisis on the standard of the institution’s academic, the retired Permanent Secretary stated that the crisis took the standard of the institution’s education to an abysmally ridiculous level and also took the shine off the scholarship that the school is noted for before the advent of the new Rector.
“ The standard of the school has continued to fall as the time spent on brewing troubles and fermenting the same have reduced the standard of education to an abysmally ridiculous level and taken the shine off the scholarship that the school was noted for before the advent of the new Rector.
“Whoever should head such an institution must be emotionally intelligent”.
While suggesting some of the areas the panel should look into, Otunba Abiru stated that sanctions must be adequately meted out to anybody found wanting.
“The Committee should look at the welfare of the students and the workers without ignoring the conflict resolution processes of the institution.
“Adequate sanctions must be meted out to those found culpable in the mismanagement of funds, human and materials resources . Lagos State Polytechnic is the only higher institution owned by the State Government in lkorodu division and we must not allow it to die.
Barr. Saheed O. K. Shillings, former Chairman, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Ikorodu branch, in his own reaction in a chat with THE IMPACT, also took swipe at the Lagos State Government for intervening late in the crisis .
He stated that the public perception about the government’s handling of the matter may change if credible individuals are made members of the panel to look into the crisis.
“First and foremost, for the fact that there is a change of government, the intervention evinces a large degree of insensitiveness in the office of the Visitor. While it is already late, one expects fiat and seriousness as failure to constitute the panel on time indicates a continuation of the lackadaisical situation inherited by His Excellency”, he stated.
“In broader ramification, it may be seen by the public as an indication of a low premium placed on the education sector. Howbeit, the Governor will be forgiven if he comes up with a trustworthy and efficient panel that is able to resolve the issues once and for all times”.
While suggesting expert opinions in the working of the panel, the legal practitioner recommended representatives from various departments of government, institution, State Assembly and the host communities among others.
“Considering the myriad of issues involved, including the interpretation and implementation of salary structure, the actions of the Staff Unions, the effect of the imbroglio on students, criminal prosecution and the academic calendar and security on campus as fallouts, expert opinions are required in the working of the panel.
“In that light, I suggest that we should have a member each from ‘Establishment’ (it is the department that deals with issues of conditions of service); there should be a lawyer especially from the Attorney General’s office and there should be a representative of the Lagos State House of Assembly (LAHA) .
“Notwithstanding the glaring complicity of the Ministry of Education, it should still have a representative as the administering department and to ensure proper implementation of resolutions. The host community too should be represented because it is at risk of spillovers.
“Because the crux of the matter centers on management, it is reasonable to involve a seasoned academic administrator from the Lagos State University (LASU) or other Universities or a retired administrator.
“A nominee of His Excellency, who could offer candid personal opinion and report, should complete the list”.
Barr. Shillings also called for free-hand for the members of the panel to operate independently.
“The Panel should be given free hand to assess the situation after hearing from the respective stakeholders and blocs including the students.
“It should make recommendations on the salary matters and may conduct negotiations where necessary.
“The administration of the Rector should come under serious scrutiny particularly on the management of resources and coordination prowess generally”.
He stated that the recommendations from the panel, aside proffering lasting solutions, should also establish erring officials and meted out disciplinary actions against such.
“There should be recommendations for lasting solutions and disciplinary actions against erring parties. It may be considered whether guilty or not, if the Rector’s continued engagement would be in good interest of the institution. The culpability assessment should be extended to the Ministry of Education (hence my circumspection on its membership of the panel)”.
Shillings also enjoined the government to be mindful of time in constituting the panel.
“I believe that time is of the essence”.
In another chat with THE IMPACT, Barr Adeboye Dankwo, a legal practitioner and community leader in Ikorodu, while stating that the intervention came too late, suggested that members of the panel proposed by the governor should cut across academic and non-academic.
“The Governor’s intervention came possibly too late, as some unhealing injuries have been inflicted on parties involved ”, Barr. Dankwo stated.
“We don’t know who are in the Panel yet, but I think it’s a nice approach.
“Membership should be drawn from both academics and none academics, but members should not be known or familiar with parties in the crisis.
“The panel should be looking wholistically at both the remote and immediate causes of the crisis, with the view to nip such permanently in the bud. Their report should serve as reference and templates to resolving and forestalling similar crisis in our institutions of learning in Lagos state”.
Barr. Dankwo also offered himself to serve the community and the state as member of the proposed panel to unearth problems facing LASPOTECH and help proffer lasting solution to them .
“I would be so glad to be part of that panel”.
Another community leader and social commentator, Mr Monday Ohi Obadan, speaking on the Governor’s Intervention, stated:
“Delay is not denial. The governor has shown empathy by giving a “listening ear” to parties in the stalemate in order to find a lasting resolution.
“ He should be commended. Nonetheless, the credit should go to the pressure groups that took the issue to the doorsteps of the governor”.
On the composition of the panel, Obadan stated:
“The panel should be made up of Technocrats on conflict resolution, probably “chartered arbitrators”, legal luminaries, alumni of the institution, representatives of parents; students union, workers and either a clergy, cleric or representative of traditional institution and representative of Civil Society Organisations (CSO)”, he suggested.
On the task of the panel, Mr Obadan stated that the government must ensure that its findings are implemented by using it to restructure the institution towards achieving the aims and objectives of its establishment.
“If it is meant to end the stalemate , it is welcome and I hope government would implement its recommendations to the fullest.
“How to resolve the impasse and not who is right or at fault be be the major focus of the panel. Restructuring the operations of the institution towards achieving conducive learning which is the primary objective of the institution should also be pursued”.
Otunba (Dr) Fatai Olukoga, a former Special Adviser on Education, Lagos State, in a chat with THE IMPACT, also suggested ways which the panel should follow in finding lasting solutions to the protracted crisis.
“In my own opinion ,the Governor has taken the right steps which his predecessor failed to do. As Moderator to the Polytechnic, it does behold on him to intervene and find solution to what has been the cause of long strikes at LASPOTECH.
“The panel will call for memorandum among the warring groups, study it, interrogate people that needed to be interrogated and come out with a white paper for government to look and make a policy paper out of it.
“The Governor has the right to choose the panel members from academics outside the Polytechnic with others members drawn from Ministries , private organizations and Alumni of the Institution.
“The panel should go by memorandum that set it up. Thus , they should not have limitations but look at the cause and causes of the strikes and recommend appropriate actions”, he emphasized.
A former Principal officer of the Polytechnic who also spoke with THE IMPACT but did not want his name in print, was of the opinion that the government should have constituted the panel and made it public.
“The governor must act quickly to allow the panel begins work.
“The composition of the panel must be those that are experienced in institution administration and crisis management.
“It’s membership and findings must be made public. It’s members must be neutral and possibly outside the institution and even Southwest region of the country because, it’s members must not have any connection with the institution due to the way and manner the situation has been allowed to degenerate”.
Contrary to the views and observations in some quarters, especially from Ikorodu, that there has been no intervention since the crisis broke out , there had actually been series of interventions.
Some of the stakeholders who spoke with THE IMPACT recalled that there had been several interventions by various arms and units of the government.
Others also confirmed that there were individual interventions as well.
According to a senior official in the institution, there had actually been interventions but all were to no avail.
“There had been many interventions in the crisis but unfortunately, they were not able to achieve desire results because a party to the crisis wanted to have it all. Some of these interventions were reported by a newspaper (referring to THE IMPACT).
“There was an intervention by the management before they were all labeled, so also was the one by the Governing Council of the institution and the Alumni association.
“It is also on record that the former Deputy Governor of the State under Ambode’s administration also intervened but she was not listened to . In the same administration, the Head of Service and the Special Adviser to the Governor on Education, Mr Bank Anthony, equally made attempt to resolve the crisis.
“There was also an intervention by the members of the Lagos State House of Assembly before the recent intervention but the union also rejected their resolutions.
“I hope and pray that the combatants will allow peace to reign now with the new government’s intervention. Like every other sane person, I am also expecting the panel to unearth the problems and proffer lasting solutions because we cannot continue like this in this school. I expect the management and the unions to cooperate with the panel whenever it begins sitting in the interest of all”, he pleaded.
Aside the interventions mentioned above, THE IMPACT also gathered that there was an intervention by the body of former Principal officers of the institution, Oba Kabir Shotobi, the Ayangbure of Ikorodu, Hon. Sanai Agunbiade, the Majority Leader of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Asiwaju Olorunfunmi Basorun, former Secretary to the State Government and a host of others.
The matter has been before the National Industrial Court since 2017, and the court had advised the parties to seek amicable resolution of the crisis.
Specifically, the Court on Wednesday, September 27, 2017, directed the parties involved to explore amicable resolution of the issues before the adjourned date in line with the provision of section 20 of the NIC Act, 2016.
Unfortunately, all these interventions and the advice by the Court have had no effect on the protracted crisis as the situation has continued to degenerate and causing the state and the host community, Ikorodu, lots of embarrassments.
The Impasse :
It will be recalled that for about three years now, the three Staff Unions of the Lagos State Polytechnic, Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Polytechnics (SSANIP) and Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU), embarked on an Industrial Action over the issue of CONTISS 15 Salary Migration Scheme for Staff members which the institution’s management, under the leadership of Mr Samuel Sogunro, stopped based on the alleged directive of the former Governor of the State, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode.
Since then, there had been series of protests by the unions and students, confrontations among the unions, management and students, siege on the management and Governing Council members, arrest of union members and alleged intimidations of staff members by the management .
For most part of the last three years, the institution’s library complex, health centre, power and other important units of the school were shut down while infrastructures, inventions, academic exercise, which have been on the upward surge in the institution in recent years, are now sliding downward as the crisis persisted.
The institution has also witnessed frying of bean cakes in front of the Library Complex, which also house the administrative and the Rector’s offices, to satirically mourn the exit of the Sogunro-led administration.
Most unfortunate was the placing of rituals at strategic places on the Ikorodu main campus of the institution allegedly by the warring parties .
While the public is applauding the government for this new intervention, parties involved in the protracted crisis have also been enjoined to embrace peace and cooperate with the panel of investigation whenever the government constitute it in order to achieve a long lasting peace and take the institution back to the path of greatness .