By Mohammed Takura
February 14, 2016.
A sudden announcement by the Federal Ministry of Education (FME) yesterday, revealing the appointment of 13 new Vice Chancellors for the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) and 12 other federal universities established by the Goodluck Jonathan administration between 2011 and 2013, has sparked an outrage within the academic community.
The Intellectual had exclusively reported on Friday that all the incumbent vice chancellors affected were Prof. Mobolaji E. Aluko Otuoke, (Bayelsa); Prof. Jibril Amin, Dutse (Jigawa); Prof. James Ayatse, Dutsin-Ma (Katisina); Prof. Mohammed Farouk, Kashere (Gombe) and Prof. Ekanem Braide, Lafia (Nasarawa).
Also affected were: Prof. Abdulmumini Rafindadi, Lokoja (Kogi); Prof. Oye Ibidapo-Obe, Ndufu-Alike (Ebonyi); Prof. Isaac Asuzu, Oye-Ekiti (Ekiti); Prof. Geoffrey Okogbaa, Wukari, (Taraba); Prof. Lawal Suleiman Bilbis, Birnin Kebbi, (Kebbi); Prof. Ben Chuks Okeke, Gusau (Zamfara); Prof. Shehu Abdulrahman, Gashua and Prof. Vincent Tenebe (NOUN).
A statement by the FME explained that President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the appointments of Prof. Abdalla Uba Adamu of the Department of Mass Communications, Bayero University, Kano as the new Vice Chancellor of the NOUN; Prof. Kayode Soremekun (Federal University, Oye-Ekiti); Prof. Auwal Yadudu (Federal University, Birnin Kebbi); Prof. Fatima Muktar (Federal University, Dutse); Prof. Haruna Kaita (Federal University, Dutsin Ma) and Prof. Andrew Haruna (Federal University, Gashua).
Others include: Prof. Magaji Garba (Federal University, Gusau); Prof. Alhassan Gani (Federal University, Kashere); Prof. Muhammad Liman (Federal University, Lafia); Prof. Angela Freeman Miri (Federal University, Lokoja); Prof. Chinedum Nwajiuba (Federal University, Ndifu-Alike); Prof. Seth Jaja (Federal University, Otuoke) and Prof. Mohammed Kundiri (Federal University, Wukari).
But the action negates the normal procedure of appointing vice chancellors for federal universities. A University’s Governing Council is the appropriate organ vested with such powers, which can only be exercised after a rigorous, transparent selection process.
As a rule, a University would have advertised the impending vacancy of the position six months to the end of the tenure of its incumbent vice chancellor, who is entitled to a single term of five years. And once the incumbent’s term expires, an acting vice chancellor is immediately appointed, pending the confirmation of a substantive one.
Although, the affected 12 federal universities do not yet have governing councils, the method adopted in appointing the vice chancellors is nevertheless strange to the university system. “What the Minister of Education ought to have done,” a Professor told the magazine on the condition of anonymity yesterday, “was to have constituted governing councils for the 12 federal universities. Once the councils are in place, the Minister would now give them the task of appointing new vice chancellors. This can be done in three months! But now, the Minister seems to have handpicked his friends and associates and then names them as vice chancellors. That is not done anywhere.”
The Intellectual gathered that none of the affected vice chancellors has yet received any official communication about their purported sack from the FME, but had only heard the news through the media.
Interestingly, the National Open University of Nigeria has its own governing council, headed by Senator Ameh Ebute. Although, the incumbent vice chancellor, Prof Vincent Tenebe has exhausted his first term of four years, the university’s enabling law still provides for a second term of three years. This subsisting law, which enabled the institution’s pioneer vice chancellor, Prof. Olugbemiro Jegede to spend two terms of seven years, has not been amended.
By unilaterally appointing a vice chancellor for the institution, the FME, and by extension, the Minister of Education, usurped the powers of NOUN’s governing council, thereby setting a dangerous precedence. Besides, appointing a Professor of Mass Communication with no knowledge of the Distance Education dynamics to head the Open University is unjustifiable.
Outrage across the land
A renowned academic, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, expressed deep disappointment over the development. “Is this how the Minister of Education, (Mallam Adamu Adamu) wants to administer the sector? Just look at the list, more than 80 percent of those appointed are from the north. When (Goodluck) Jonathan established those institutions, he ensured that those appointed as vice chancellors were not from the locality where the universities were domiciled. Only the Registrars were picked from the respective communities. But look at what Adamu Adamu has done. It is really laughable. Didn’t he consult experts? We have the Committee of Vice Chancellors (CVC). We have the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). We have eminent Professors all over the place. This is not good for the system and for the (Muhammadu) Buhari Administration. Does the Minister really know just how serious the task of managing a university is? It should not be a job for the boys for God’s sake.”
Another University teacher, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, also described the appointments as a serious breach. “This is an opportunity for ASUU to stand up and be counted and let the whole world know that this action by the Minister of Education is not only illegal, but also makes a mockery of the university system.”
Meanwhile, the Coalition of Civil Society Groups (CCSG) has kicked against the action. In its protest letter to President Buhari, signed by its President, Etuk Bassey Williams and Secretary-General, Ibrahim Abubakar, the CCSG said the action contravened the provisions of the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act No.11 of 1993 (as amended) by decree No.25, 1996 and further amended in 2003 and 2012 respectively and other agreements as contained in the 2009 FGN staff union agreement.
The letter said: “While this does not come as a surprise owing to the influence of one of the Special Advisers to the Minister of Education in orchestrating the appointments of his friends and cronies without following due process, we are however concerned about the constitutional breach and the resultant litigation battle this action may cause, which in turn may generate unnecessary distractions to your focused administration.”
“We are compelled to call your attention owing to the illegality in the removal of Vice Chancellors of 13 Federal Universities, including the National Open University of Nigeria and the hasty appointment of friends and cronies in place of those illegally removed from office.
“While we are not unmindful of the fact that you would have acted on the recommendation of the Minister of Education in approving their removal, it is pertinent to know that in the pursuit of ambition driven by unguided passion and greed, impunity becomes inevitable as the end, irrespective of the means, is all that matters and in this case, the removal of these Vice Chancellors is the outcome of an unguided passion and greed by the Minister of Education and his Special Adviser.
“The constitution is quite clear on the procedures to be followed in the appointment and disengagement of Vice Chancellors and none of these procedures was followed in the above case.
“The appointment of Vice Chancellors is a tenured appointment, which presupposes that every appointee is expected to serve the prescribed number of years as stipulated by the Acts governing the institutions.”
Efforts to reach the Education Minister for comments were unsuccessful.