Rights and Freedom Advocates (RIFA) has been monitoring events in Oyo State College of Agriculture and Technology for a while. The Oyo State College of Agriculture and Technology (OYSCATECH), Igbo-Ora is a tertiary institution of learning established in 2006 to produce skilled-personnel to boost agriculture for food sufficiency and managed by the State government although started operation in 2007/2008.

The College three staff unions; Academic Staff Union of Polytechnic (ASUP), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Polytechnics (SSANIP), Non-academic Staff Union (NASU) and the management have been at loggerheads for three years without any sign that the industrial dispute would soon subside unless critical stakeholders intervene before the matter gets out of hand.

While we noted intervention of some traditional leaders, Honourable Muideen Olagunju of Oyo East/west state constituency, religious leaders, etc., it is expedient that we brought the issue to the public court not as a pillory but exhortation to find lasting solution to the duel. The reports at our disposal show that the genesis of the crisis was in January 2016 when government reduced its subvention to the College to N25million as against the usual N100million.

This impromptu decrease in subvention greatly affected the salary payment of the College and settlement of other administrative expenses of the School with lower number of students’ intake whose meagre tuition fees, sales of admission forms’ proceeds, acceptance fee for both part-time and full-time students accounted for paltry N112.7million per annum if no default in a School with over N1billion as annual salary.

This has made the School to be indebted of total salary arrears of N378.115miilion for 2016, N602.41million for 2017 and N157.84million for January to June 2018 excluding the July to October 2018 salaries arrears. In short, the College workers are owed almost 18months salaries. The Unions have embarked on another round of strike since June 2018 just few months after resuming from a State-wide joint strike by tertiary institutions of learning owned and owed by Oyo State government and the government seems to pay lip service to the issue as nothing concrete has been done to alleviate the workers’ sufferings and the students are at cross-road on what to do as they do not know whether to go to another School or go for a trade.

In response to this, the students held a protest at the Oyo State government secretariat on October 18, 2018 but the situation has not improved despite the protest.
It is a pity that since Governor Abiola Ajimobi came on board as the governor of Oyo State, no single structure was built in the College to have facilitated increase in enrolment of students. In fact, the government lackadaisical attitude towards the College raised suspicion about the intention of the current All Progressive Congress (APC)-led government in Oyo State educational policy.

Is it not the same government that despite wise counsel not to embark on creation of additional institutions of learning went ahead to create another Technical university when it has already failed in providing the needs of the existing higher institutions of learning? It was just of recent that BOVAS Company donated some classrooms when felt disappointed and embarrassed by the glorified secondary school status of the College. And instead of the government to pay the outstanding salaries and develop the School infrastructure, the threat of downsizing of workforce is now the new song. But we are quick to ask when last did the government downsize the number of political appointees or withhold their salaries in Ibadan?

RIFA sympathizes with the management of the College who was also affected by the salary payment irregularity but was just coerced by the government to issue memo on invoking no-work-no-pay rule. Nonetheless, we are oblivious of default in the payment of government functionaries’ salaries and entitlement as the staff of the OYSCATECH are neglected leading to death of many Staff including a dean; DR Kabir Bello. While we understand the efforts of the governing council at restoring normalcy to the College, the body language of the government seems blurring as there was nothing substantial on the ground to show government commitment to return the workers to work on time.

RIFA is aware of the stakeholders appeal and intervention that the staff should resume work as soon as possible while action would be taken afterwards towards settlement of their entitlements arrears. This is a laudable action by the traditional, religious and political leaders who saw government lackadaisical attitude as an attempt to either suffocate the College to extinction or stampede it to increase tuition fees being charged on the students.

Regardless of the motive of the government in ignoring the plight of the workers of the OYSCATECH, the fact remains that the government played down the workers’ demand because none of the state government key principal officials has his or her children in the College.

RIFA thus demands that the Constitution should be amended to reflect that whoever takes government appointment or agrees to take government elective position must as from the month of swearing in patronizes only government educational institutions while in office failure of which should qualify the person for impeachment within three months of taking oath of office and fails to withdraw his or her children to public schools if they were not there as at the time of taking oath of office.

Although a template showing agreement on how to settle the salary arrears between the union and the management was secured by RIFA showing proposed gradual and fractional settlement of the arrears starting from fourth (4th) and eighth (8th) week after resumption and the restoration of full salary by November 2018, that hope and plan seemed to have been dashed by now as government shows no serious interest.

We hereby call on the government to hearken to the call of the stakeholders by resolving the issues from the scratch. It would be disastrous for government to await workers revolt during election before trying to buy their votes at any cost as witnessed at the last Osun State gubernatorial election in September 2018. RIFA suggests a certain percentage of security vote may be reserved for the arrears payment and or part of the internally generated revenue channelled to the course or Paris club refund be dedicated to such issue of salary arrears requiring urgent attention.

Luqman Soliu
Rights and Freedom Advocates (RIFA)

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