Rotimi Lawrence Oyekanmi.THE GUARDIAN. 25 April 2013
Govt dumps merit, names indigenes as VCs, registrars, bursars
• Varsities bar northern, southern applicants from ‘elite’ courses
FAR from the tradition of academic excellence upon which the nation’s universities were built, appointments to their key positions are now increasingly being influenced by ethnic and religious considerations, an investigation by The Guardian has revealed.
Instead of curtailing the unethical practice, the Federal Government seems to have tactically endorsed the unwritten rule; looking the other way each time merit is disregarded in the appointment of vice chancellors, registrars and bursars.
The trend now holds sway, especially in the older universities as the government succumbs to pressure orchestrated by ethnic bigots who employ a combination of threats, blackmail and even religious sentiments to get their preferred candidates appointed.
Among the 27 older federal universities, that is those founded between 1948 and as recently as 2007, only the University of Abuja, headed by Prof. J.S.A. Adelabu; the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) headed by Prof. Vincent Tenebe; the Federal University of Technology, Minna (Prof. Musibau Akanji) and the Federal University of Petroleum Resources (Prof. Alhassan Bichi) have vice chancellors that are not directly from the geo-political zones where the respective institutions are located. The other 23 are headed by professors from the same geo-political zones where the universities are domiciled.
Of the nine new federal universities established in 2011, three out of the six located in the northern part of the country are also headed by academics from the north. They include: Federal University, Dutse, Jigawa (Prof. Jibril Amin); Federal University, Kashere, Gombe (Prof. Mohammed Farouk); and Federal University, Lokoja, Kogi State (Prof. Abdulmumini Rafindadi).
The remaining three are being headed by academics from the southern part of the country. They are: Federal University, Lafia, Nasarawa State (Prof. Ekanem Briade); Federal University, Wukari, Taraba (Prof. Geoffrey Okogbaa); and Federal University, Dutsin-ma, Katsina State (Prof. James Ayatse).
The last three in the 2011 set, located in the southern part of the country – Federal University, Ndufu-Alike, Ebonyi State; Federal University, Otuoke, Bayelsa State and Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, Ekiti State, are also headed by academics from the south – Profs. Oye Ibidapo-Obe, Mobolaji Aluko and Isaac Asuzu respectively.
Looking even at the latest three federal universities established in the North in 2013, Federal University, Gashau, Yobe State; Federal University, Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State and the Federal University, Gasua, Zamfara State, the first two are also headed by academics from the north (Profs. Shehu Abdulrahman and Lawal Suleiman Bilbis), while Prof. Chuks Ben Okeke, from the southeast, heads the last one.
The first generation universities, that had hitherto been the epitome of ethics and due process, have also been bitten by the ethnicity bug. For instance, the University of Ibadan (UI), founded on November 17, 1948, which appointed Prof. Kenneth Dike, from the southeast, as its first Nigerian vice chancellor and Emeritus Prof. Tekena Tamuno, from the Niger Delta region, as vice chancellor from 1975 to 1979, has since joined the ethnic vice chancellors’ club. After the tenure of Ayo Banjo, an emeritus professor of English, who was vice chancellor between 1984 and 1991, all the university’s vice chancellors have always been from the southwest.
Between 1960 when it was established and 1966, the University of Nigeria (UNN), Nsukka also had foreigners as its vice chancellor. They were Dr. George Marion Johnson (1960 -64) and Prof. Glen Taggart (1964-66). In fact, between 1978 and 1979, Prof. Umaru Shehu, a northerner, was UNN’s vice chancellor. However, from 1980 to date, except for 1994 when Prof. Umaru Gomwalk was appointed as the sole administrator, all UNN’s vice chancellors have been Igbo.
Take, also, the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, established in 1962. The institution’s first vice chancellor was British, Dr. Norman S.Alexander before he was succeeded, in 1966, by Dr. Ishaya Audu, a northerner, who held sway till mid-1975. But between 1978 and 1979, the institution also had what would eventually be its only vice chancellor from the southwest part of Nigeria, Oladipo Akinkugbe, a renowned professor of medicine. Since then, ABU’s vice chancellors have always come from the north. In fact, the attempt to appoint one in 2009, when Malam Adamu Ciroma was the pro-chancellor, got so messy that Ciroma decided to resign. The current vice chancellor, Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha emerged in controversial circumstances.
The case of the University of Benin (UNIBEN), established in 1970, is also intriguing. At the expiration of Prof. Emmanuel Nwanze’s tenure as vice chancellor in 2009, the campaign for the appointment of a Bini indigene as vice chancellor became ferocious. A particular group, in an advert published in a couple of newspapers, practically threatened the Federal Government, insisting that it was either a Bini indigene was appointed UNIBEN’s vice chancellor or nobody else. The eventual emergence of Prof. Osayuki Oshodin in November 2009 as vice chancellor, even when he came third among the contestants in the order of merit, is seen as a fall-out of that agitation.
The ethnic bias has also affected the admission process, as in one northern university and another in the South for instance; it is difficult for students from the South and North respectively, to be admitted for ‘elite’ courses like medicine, law, pharmacy and accounting, according to sources.
Banjo told The Guardian that the Federal Government might have encouraged the ethnic dimension by establishing a federal university in each state. To him, the decision by the Federal Government to ‘give’ each state a federal university is being interpreted by the states as their own share of the national cake.
He said: “When I was leaving the University of Glasgow (in 1959) and the position of vice chancellor became vacant, the search party went to New Zealand to get one. And that was because the whole thing was based on merit and the best interest of the university. The distance between New Zealand and Glasgow, Scotland is about 18,805 kilometres.”
Education Minister, Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufai, spoke directly on the issue recently, during the inauguration of the governing councils of 21 federal universities in Abuja. She asked the new councils to tackle the glaring irregularities in the appointment of principal officers.
Her words: “The councils must ensure that proper attention and priority be accorded the relevant universities’ laws and government guidelines in such appointments. Governing councils must ensure that transparency, probity and due process are followed in the selection and appointment processes, so that the best and the right candidates emerge for these positions.”
She added: “The erroneous idea that chief executives or any principal officer (of a federal university) should come from its locality is alien to the system and should not be allowed to becloud your decisions on this. Rather, merit should be the guiding principle.”