In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the pioneer chairman of the Congress of Universities Academics (CONUA), Niyi Sunmonu, speaks on why university teachers at OAU, Ife formed a parallel union, their grievances against the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), and the spread of their new union in other universities.
PT: Please give us a brief background on the Congress of Universities Academics (CONUA)?
Sunmonu: Some few months before October 20, 2016, the leadership of ASUU OAU branch under the leadership of Dr. Caleb Aborisade was alleged of constitutional and ethical violations. The violations include the falsification of report on the resolution on congress that occurred in the time past. One other infraction was spending beyond certain amount of money limit without the approval of the Congress. These things were generating ill feelings among members and got to a head on 20th October, 2016.
There was a congress and these allegations were read out. Incidentally, the Chairman then, Dr. Aborisade was not on ground but the congress was chaired by his vice. In the course of reading these allegations, members got infuriated and before you can say Jack, the leadership walked out of the congress. So we called for an emergency congress, members said that they were tired of the Dr. Aborisade-led executives and we then sanctioned them to form a caretaker committee, which I was nominated to serve as the chairman.
We packaged our grievances and sent to the national body of the union. The national body then sent in the highest committee of the union, which is the Committee of Trustees, to resolve the crisis. Before then, a certain committee led by Professor Oshodeke who happens to be the vice president of ASUU at the national level came and we made bold to say that he filed in a wrong report, which was also part of the reason why members of the union were agitated. So, when we packaged our grievances, we exposed the lies of the earlier committee in a written document.
ASUU national in their wisdom then sent in the highest committee headed by Hassan Sunmonu. This committee, we must say, came three times. The first time was on November 29 and left December 1. But when they came, they approached us through the discredited members of the executive of ASUU in OAU and as such, members felt we should not honour that invitation. So, we did not attend to the members of trustees.
But in their magnanimity, they came a second time on February 11, 12 and 13 of 2017 and this time, they approached us directly. They sent messages and were circulated into the pigeon holes of members. They were told that if they want a lasting solution they should ban the caretaker committee if they are of the opinion that they are not in line with the provision of the Constitution and then call for a fresh election, because members said they were tired of Dr Aborisade, and you would see that this matter would be resolved in no time. The committee promised to come back later.
They did come back on August 14 and this time approached us through the discredited leadership again and members refused to attend the meeting.
Several constitutional aberrations were also made by the national executives. For example, when we came on board as caretaker committee, the treasurer who was a signatory to the account, refused to sign cheques because he believed we were in crisis and by the time we finish the crisis, the money that needs to go national will go to the national. But through back door, the treasurer (local) was removed and before we knew it, we learnt that the national president said the financial secretary should double as treasurer. That means one single person can sign for money. Before we knew it, the sum of N11 million and above was transferred from the local account to the national. This gave us some kind of indications that these people were not interested in resolving our matter but about the money of the union.
We believe that constitute financial breaches because the mandate with the bank is that the treasurer will be category A signatory and the chairman or financial secretary will be category B. They, however, changed the mandate…
PT: Did you carry out any investigation to know that the bank did not connive with the chairman?
Sunmonu: We have it on strong record that the bank connived with them. There are two banks involved. Wema Bank in OAU and Skye Bank, now Polaris Bank. The singular attitude of the removal of the treasurer against the constitution and insulting words from Dr. Caleb Aborisade gave us indications that this is not the old ASUU that is being led by principle individuals. But we still waited to see through the process of grievances.
Now in August as I mentioned, a preliminary report was given, subject to approval and rectification of ASUU NEC. So by December, if I am not mistaken, I don’t know where it held, the report was upheld and ratified. Some of the arguments of our point of grievances were upheld by the team sent by national body. And Dr. Saheed Ademilokun, who was the financial secretary, we accused of opportunism because part of the constitutional provision of ASUU is that if you are serving the union as an executive, you cannot be on sabbatical or any form of leave. The man while serving went on sabbatical leave in Kwara State University in Malete and when he learnt that a petition was written in that respect, he promptly dropped that leave to contest for another election.
But we were surprised that in January 2018, the report of the highest committee on ethics and grievances alleged me as the chairman of the caretaker committee of breach, contrary to ASUU constitution. And also that I committed a series of illegal acts, including sealing up of the branch secretariat in violation of ASUU constitution.
Meanwhile, the allegations were not true because I was nominated and elected to serve. I just came to the congress and was nominated. And I feel I can’t go against what the congress say I should do. The other one that I locked the door of the secretariat; it should be noted that I didn’t lock the door. The congress of October 20, 2016 was a heated one. Members locked the secretariat. The second time when the trustees came, an attempt was made to open the door for them. I called the congress for December 1 but by that time they had left. I had interaction with them November 31 and that day I immediately called a congress and members said until issues were resolved, the secretariat remains locked.
So, by February 2018, what we discovered as the report of NEC was that Dr. Aborisade was sanctioned for six months, Dr Saheed Ademilokun was sanctioned for one year. While me, Niyi Sunmonu; Henry Oripeloye, Professor Aluko, Dr. Monica Orisadare and Dr Tunji Ogunyemi were all asked to be expelled from the union. Other members who protested against the N11 million illegally taken from the union account to the national body without due process were also asked to be suspended. These were over 700 members. So, ASUU national contributed more harm than good.
A congress was then called, because I felt there was need to give feedback to the members in later February, and that congress decided that freedom of association is enshrined in the Constitution and that was how we formed CONUA on February 22, 2018 and we had official take off on of March 6, 2018 which was graced by two universities; Kwara State University and University of Ilorin.
UniIorin gate used to illustrate the story.
PT: Did these two universities tell you they would be joining?
Sunmonu: They did not say so because they came to witness our inauguration and also to listen to our story then go back to their universities to see what they can do. I must say that they are willing and other schools that I won’t mention their names. The reason why I mentioned the two schools was because theirpresence was widely reported in the newspapers.
PT: Is CONUA recognised or registered with the necessary authorities?
Sunmonu: The process of registration has started and what we need to do for the union to be registered according to law with the necessary authorities have been initiated.
PT: We understand that you don’t want to tell us names of other universities in which you have members, but how widespread are you?
Sunmonu: As at the last count, we have about nine to 10 universities that we are in constant talk with. I should also mention that Federal University of Oye- Ekiti recently declared publicly that they are in support of what we are doing in Ife. They came here and we had understanding of what we want to do.
PT: Can we then say that you already have a branch in FUOYE?
Sunmonu: I won’t want to say that but we had areas of understanding to solidify about the future.
PT: So, what is the relationship between you and ASUU?
Sunmonu: We relate well, we are academics and mature mind. We only have different ideologies. We believe that when you agree on a certain code of conduct you should abide by it. We individually have good interactions with ourselves.
PT: If you say that you are all academics, what then is the difference between the two unions?
Sunmonu: As an individual, I like it when members of the community speak. But we tend to correct some ills. We don’t believe in arbitrariness. We set to offer transparency, rule of law and for the common good. In the past when ASUU coughs, the authorities shake, but now union leaders at different level can no longer hold authorities accountable. This is what we intend to offer differently.