Following allegations of misappropriation and embezzlement of funds levelled against the Vice-Chancellor of the Osun State University, Professor Labode Popoola by members of the non-academic staff unions, which led to the disruption of academic activities, closure and subsequent re-opening of the institution recently, Popoola has dismissed the allegations as lies, stressing that the university was bankrupt when he assumed office. Uchechukwu Nnaike reports
The face-off between the non-academic staff unions of the Osun State University (UNIOSUN) with the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Labode Popoola was hinged on the management’s non-payment of their earned allowances, despite inheriting about N3 billion from previous administration.
The Joint Action Committee (JAC), comprising members of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non-academic Staff Union (NASU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists also rejected the council-approved and published condition of service, which according to the members did not enjoy the input of the university community. They also alleged that some staff members had been removed from the university’s payroll and demanded immediate reinstatement of the affected members.
To press home their demands, the unions had on several occasions, disrupted academic and other activities, while calling for the removal of the vice-chancellor for misappropriation and embezzlement of funds.
However, reacting to the claims that he inherited N3 billion left by the past administration, Popoola said the university was “bankrupt” when he took it over.
“I didn’t inherit N3 billion, what I had in the papers handed over to me when I came in was N1.8 million, including TETFund money, needs assessment money, grants owned by some researchers in this university. Those three categories of funds you can’t even touch them, they don’t even belong to the university, so the university was bankrupt when I took it over and we found out later that there were debt owed running into close to N1 billion, they are recorded, the council knows about it.”
Speaking to journalists in his office in Osogbo recently, the vice-chancellor stressed that he has never been corrupt, but he fights corruption “and so we have the situation of corruption fighting back. I always like to refer people to my profile, there are some international engagements you get involved in and if you are corrupt, your name will not even appear in such engagements. It is all allegations, lies, blatant ones because there is nothing like this.”
He however said he has made close to N2 billion since he became the vice-chancellor 18 months ago through blocking of leakages and insisting that school fees must be paid.
“We operate a ‘no fee no exam’ regime since I came, that was not the case; so maybe they are also referring to the money that I made as being part of the money left behind from the past regime. We have managed whatever resources we have prudently.
“No university pays salaries ahead of me in this country; a state university that is not funded by the government, we barely receive about 25 per cent of our salary bill from government and yet for the 18 months that I have been here, we pay salaries by the 25th of every month and it is full salary.
“So if you are talking of N3 billion, I have done a simple arithmetic, I have been here for 18 months so if truly there was any N3 billion, divide it by N166 million, which is my wage bill, that will be that in 18 months I have stolen N166 million every month. If they say that N3 billion has been embezzled, it means that every month I have been stealing N166 million so how reasonable that is, is for you to decide. “The important thing is that I am not a corrupt person, I have never, I talk about it anywhere I go; I have never taken bribe and I have never given, but I have suffered for it. Go to the University of Ibadan (UI) it is the same problem that people have about me; that I am too rigid. So it is a lie.”
Explaining other ways the university has saved money since he assumed office, Popoola said: “When I came here, we had a retainership relationship with one of the networks and we were paying about N9 million per quarter and I thought it was too high and I invited them here and told them we were going to change, there are other options, there are so many networks we can partner with; so it came down to N6 million, it didn’t come into my pocket. So in a year, we are saving about N12 million, I don’t know why a university would prefer to pay higher than the market rate.
“To conduct examination in this university before I came here, it cost the university an average of N10 million to N12 million per semester and I said I came from UI and as big as it is, I am not sure they spend up to that; and of course I scrutinised things with my principal officers particularly the DVC academics, we are on the same page on this matter and we spent less than N5 million last rain semester exam. “This past Harmattan exam, we even spent much less. Also, I was handed a bill of N158 million for the accreditation of 19 programmes, again I said I am not sure we spent up to this at UI and we did the analysis, we called heads of departments to work together on it; we ended up spending N54 million and all the programmes were accredited. There are so many of them and it is important that journalists are curious about the reasons for this.”
The vice-chancellor emphasised that workers are not fighting him because they don’t have any reason to; rather he said a group of people entrenched with interest, who are not even up to 20 are against him.
“At UNIOSUN, we have a group of people entrenched with interest, very few and they operate under the guise of unionism, they are not even up to 20. They were in charge of administration before I came here and I think I am beyond that, I am responsible to council so it is not possible for a group of people under unionism to control me. So it is just about vested interest; it is no longer business as usual, we have blocked leakages, we are entrenching discipline and you know people don’t like change, particularly when it affects their interest, that is what we are dealing with, it is not about workers.
“We operate in the state where, added together, workers are being owed close to two years’ salaries and here is a sub-set of that state, an institution in that state where full salaries are paid before the end of the month, so please why will workers be fighting such a person, this is just common-sensical.
“So workers are not fighting me, some individuals are fighting me and they hide under unionism. If you have the business as usual approach to doing things; laws are not obeyed, there are disciplinary issues people want to sweep them under the carpet, if you are not the kind of administrator that will allow such, they will say you are highhanded, it is as simple as that.”
Popoola added: “One of the problems we have here is that many workers have mortgaged their salaries; there is a law in this country, for no reason should a worker take less than a third of his/her salary at the end of the month. So if you are taking a loan, fine, but you should not take a loan that will tie you down that will make life difficult for you.
“Many of them were depending on some of these perks and for me, it doesn’t work, it doesn’t happen. Some of them were contractors, we have workers here who have people fronting for them; who have registered companies, we have busted them so I am not expecting that they will not resist this. It should interest you how we are able to pay salaries; we are not funded by the government and we pay salaries.
“In the history of this university, there was a time when three to four month salaries were not paid and it was at the time that government was even funding the university; government at a time was funding this university very generously, but they were owing salaries.”