Time to tame the forces warring against LASU By OLABISI DEJI-FOLUTILE

Students of Lagos State University resumed for their second semester on Monday but the crisis rocking the institution is far from abating. Last semester was particularly bad for students as the vice chancellor and lecturers engaged in a battle of supremacy. Throughout the semester, the Vice Chancellor, Prof John Obafuwa, was locked out of his office by lecturers and other protesting workers. Also, the university Senate could not sit, making it impossible for the first semester exam results to be ratified.

I doubt if there is any university in Nigeria today that is more known for crisis than its academic exploits as LASU. This is a university campus where gunshots have become the order of the day. News of unrest at LASU far outweighs that of research, innovations or any form of learning that a university is known for. Sadly, in the beginning, this was not so.

That is why a lot of people are worried about happenings in LASU today. It is particularly worrisome, especially when one considers the fact that this is a university that used to be one of the best in Nigeria. Its law programme was rated as one of the best run in Nigeria and its products were among the best at the Nigerian Law School.

Even now, its medical programme is still said to be fantastic and the university boasts some of the world’s best professors in their fields of expertise. Some of these dons are making waves in Africa and other parts of the world. Why should a university with such high records be in this kind of mess?

There is no point comparing today’s LASU with any university outside Nigeria. Compared with its counterparts in Nigeria, it is obvious that it has derailed big time. If one considers the frequency of negative news on LASU, especially between the university workers and the management, one could say without any fear of equivocation that it has no rival among Nigerian universities. It is only in LASU you hear stuff like lecturers pelting VC with sachet water and a university withdrawing certificates it duly issued.

There was even a time the Ojo campus of the institution was turned into a sacrifice centre where fetish substances were placed in strategic corners as lecturers battled former VC, Prof. Lateef Hussein, in his bid to get a second term of four years. Then, unknown people would prevent the VC   from gaining access to his office by placing fetish substances at the doorstep. In turn,   the VC would invite Muslim clerics to cleanse and sanctify the campus for his use. Unfortunately, this sort of negative news report was everywhere.

The lecturers are at it again. This time, they are calling for the resignation of the vice-chancellor.

Staff unions are hinging their call on what they describe as Obafuwa’s bad leadership style, victimisation and non-payment of their outstanding salary arrears. But the vice-chancellor is saying the allegations are cheap blackmail.

The VC had before now withdrawn PhD certificates that the university granted to 14 of its senior   lecturers on the grounds that they were issued in error. That was in November last year.   But the affected lecturers said since the certificates were signed by the VC, withdrawing them would reduce the worth of the university in the sight of the public. And because of that, both the institution’s senate and administrative blocks have been under lock and key.

Truly, it’s unbelievable that a university could issue a PhD certificate in error. That is a serious indictment on the university management. But shouldn’t there be a better way of resolving that than chasing the vice chancellor and the entire management team out of the campus and holding the entire university community hostage?

Academics and politicking are two different things. While it may be difficult to completely rule out politics from institutional management, prioritising politicking over research and   learning in an academic environment is very dangerous. The level of   politicking   in LASU is counter-productive. Why should workers be the ones determining the tenure of a vice-chancellor? If they are happy, the vice chancellor is retained and when they are angry, he leaves. That’s absurd.

Unfortunately, Lagos State government, the proprietor of LASU, behaves as if it is helpless in the face of this challenge. Both students and lecturers in LASU are so powerful that you can’t help but wonder where they derive their power from, what gives them the confidence that they will always have their way and why it seems they always do too.

The Lagos State government would have been pardoned if it had many universities. One could have concluded   that it was probably overwhelmed by the demands of managing its numerous universities. But this is a state that has just one university in a mega city of over 17 million people, according to its own statistics which it claimed it got from a parallel census conducted during the National Census. A state government like Lagos struggling to manage a university calls for serious concern. That is why it’s high time the government took a decision on LASU as to whether to continue to run or shut it down. If it must run it, then it should be ready to run it well for the sake of the future of the 11,333 students of this institution.

Governor Akin Ambode should put LASU on his priority list. Restoring the old glory of this institution and ensuring its sanity should be non-negotiable. Government should be more committed to funding LASU and improving on infrastructural deficiencies there. It should also commit more money to research and development.

Lagos State cannot pretend   that all is well with a university where the VC is chased out of his office for more than six months. The state has a responsibility to ensure that LASU performs the traditional functions of a university to the fullest.

Ordinarily, LASU should be one of the top universities in this country. It should be using its prime location in a mega city to benefit from the array of industries and companies in Lagos and its environs.

Industries should be competing to partner with LASU on research projects and its products should be hot cake in the job market. It should be enjoying the advantage of proximity to these companies. In fact, the university should be a centre of excellence. It should be maximising all the advantages that being in a commercial city like Lagos offer and should be generating enough internal revenue to develop itself.

Ondo State University of Science and Technology though located in remote Okitipupa fares far better in terms of internal revenue generation than LASU. The university gets substantial revenue from its various entrepreneurial schemes. There is no reason why LASU should be 100 per cent tied to the apron strings of its owner. A university that ought to be training students on entrepreneurship should stop giving the world the impression that it does not know how to create wealth.

But the university needs a peaceful atmosphere to achieve all of these things. There should be a total commitment to progress in LASU by both the faculty and the school management on the one hand and the student community on the other. A university community that dissipates the bulk of its energy on creating and managing crises will find it difficult to focus on tapping into opportunities even when such are staring it right in the face.

PUNCH