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‘No strike at Wesley varsity’

Workers of private universities are not known to go on strike.  But this is not the case at the Wesley University, Ondo (WUNO), where incessant strike is threatening its stability, report KOFOWOROLA BELO-OSAGIE and DAMISI OJO.

THE selling point of private universities over the years has been that they do not lose time on their academic calendars because of strike.  Prolonged strikes by workers’ union in public universities contributed to the proliferation of private universities which made their debut about 16 years ago.  This advantage convinced many parents to choose private universities.  The assurance that they would know when their wards would graduate right from the start encouraged many of them to make financial sacrifices to pay the fees charged by these institutions.

But the promise of uninterrupted academic calendar is not being fulfilled at the Wesley University, Ondo (WUNO), where workers have been going on strike regularly to protest non-payment of salaries.

In July 2015, the university, which started as the Wesley University of Science and Technology, had to go on a forced mid-semester break following workers’ refusal to work because of salary arrears of 21 months.  The strike delayed the conduct of the institution’s second semester examinations.

In 2016, the school was shut for similar reasons.

The same situation is repeating itself now as the lecturers have refused to teach for some weeks now though the institution has denied there is a strike.  Some parents complained to The Nation that their wards were not being taught despite having paid the fees. They regretted that it was a recurring problem in the institution owned by the Methodist Church.

A woman who did not wish to be named, to protect her daughter, an Accounting student, said: “My daughter is coming back.  There is a strike. They are telling lies.  She said they have not been taught since last week.

“When I spoke to a lecturer in the institution, he said that parents owed the school almost N200 million in fees; he said we should not take our children away. But I asked how they allowed parents to owe that much.

“This is not the first time the strike is happening.  My daughter is in 200-Level.  Last year, there was a strike as well which lasted two weeks.”

The parent lamented that the problem that forced parents away from public institutions was now bedeviling WUNO.

“It is a terrible experience because this is what we were running from.  That is why we sacrificed to put our children in private schools so they will come out on time.  It is unfortunate,” she.

Another parent, names withheld, also confirmed the strike.

“We have a situation where the studnets are not being taught.  My son is presently at home.  He has been home since last week.  I think this is the third time this is happening and he is in 200 Level.

“They are collecting money from us but my son is not being taught. I feel bad about it.  When they resumed, for almost three weeks there were no lectures. And I was sending him money to feed.  They just started teaching them about two weeks ago before this present case again,” he said.

A Law student of the university, who preferred not to be mentioned, lamented that WUNO proprietors were underfunding the institution even though its academic standard was high.

He said workers, especially lecturers, were not receiving their salaries regularly to aid motivation and encouragement.

He said the lecturers were ready to impact knowledge but could not work on empty stomachs.

He urged the management of the institution to dialogue with its owners to allocate more funds for its proper running.

A lecturer in the department of Biological Science who also spoke in confidence on phone said workers were being owed for varying periods.

“Some workers are owed 20 months, some 15, others 10 months’ salaries.  Last year, we were on strike for three months.  We returned to work without a tangible solution to the problem.

“The proprietors used to pay one or two months out of the backlog and the situation persists till now.

Apart from the present economic hardship in the country, the lecturer hinged the problem in the university to alleged mismanagement of funds by its management.

He also accused the proprietors of nonchalance towards uplifting the institution.

A parent, who lives in Akure, Mrs. Mary Onitiri, a widow, said the frequent strike over non-payment of workers and lecturers were affecting the academic activities in the university.

She noted that her son, a Law undergraduate, said the teachers’ plight was negatively affecting the students.

Mrs. Onitiri urged the Methodist Church, Nigeria to strive hard to ensure proper funding of the institution in the interest of the future of their children.

When our correspondent visited the university, the Vice Chancellor, Prof Olu Aderounmu, the former Provost, College of Education, Ikere-Ekiti, was not available for comments.

However, Mcnezer Faseun, a Senior Assistant Registrar (SAR), who doubles as the Legal Adviser/Head of the Public Relations Unit of the institution, noted that the development was not peculiar to the university alone, but the larger society.

Faseun said the economic hardship in the country had made it difficult to pay salaries.

“With the present economic hardship, no educational institution, banks, agronomy, import and export promotion is not feeling the pinch.

“For instance, almost all the states cannot afford to pay salaries as at when due.  Most administrations had to propose to their workers the understanding of leaving the inherited backlog of salaries till later day to enable them pay their current salaries.

Fasehun explained that the reason the institution had teething problem was because of its restriction to being a University of Science and Technology without cognizance of the fact that the academic history of the host community was the pursuit of Medicine and Law which were not part of the courses the university started with which would have guaranteed enrolment.

On the recent accredited courses by the National Universities Commission (NUC) Faseun said the development  was made possible through effort of the incumbent management to give a new lease of life to the institution away from original challenges.

He said the institution would be offer courses including Law, para-medical courses like nursing, Post Graduate courses in Management Sciences and Participation in the Joint Universities Pre-degree Board (JUPEB) programmes among others.

Faseun said the management was doing everything possible to prioritise the welfare of the workers and students in the institution.

The Methodist Bishop of Owo Diocese, Revd Solomon Adegbite during the recent synod admitted that the institution is still crawling’, stressing that measure had been taken to correct the ills of the past, but efforts be doubled to clean the mess associated with the University through shortage of funding.

This, the cleric noted made it difficult for the staff to receive their salaries as at when due.

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