Higher institutions and crises over appointment of heads

UniAbuja VC, Prof James Adelabu and Unimaid VC, Prof Ibrahim NjodiBy Maryam Garba Hassan

The leadership crisis in Nigeria’s higher institutions is fast becoming one of the challenges affecting the system, apart from the series of strikes that have taken over the sector at all levels for a long time.

This year alone, administrative crisis erupted in a number of federal and state owned universities, polytechnics and colleges of education among which are Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, University of Maiduguri, Borno state, Modibbo Adama University of Technology, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi and of recent that of University of Abuja, leading to a stalemate in the process of the appointments of new VCs, provosts and eectors of the institutions.

The leadership tussle mostly borders on ethnicity, politics and selfish interests, and to some extent, the interference of the federal government in the selection of heads of institutions, perhaps because such office or position is lucrative and comes with a lot of benefits like that of political positions.

From the series of crises over who succeeds as head of universities and other tertiary institutions, the appointment of VCs of Nigerian universities is fast becoming a political, ethnic, or religious issue.

The most disturbing aspect of the administrative crises is the issue of localizing the office by the host communities who insist in ensuring that only candidate from that region or state assume the mantle of leadership of such institution whether the person is qualified or not.

It is unfortunate that the battle for the positions of heads of higher institutions has assumed the proportion that often leads to bitterness amongst desperate contestants who sometimes resort to blackmail, ethnicity or tribalism, and even religious war to get the position like politicians.

For instance, the recent controversies at the University of Maiduguri, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Benin, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Ahmadu Bello University and Modibbo Adama University of Technology, which was caused by ethnicity and baseless issues has exposed the rot among some Academicians who do not consider or place priority on merit as part of criteria for the selection of a head in our higher institutions.

The 2003 University enacted Act stated that when there is a vacancy for the post of a Vice Chancellor, the Governing Council shall first advertise the vacancy in a reputable journal or a widely read newspaper in Nigeria, outlining the qualities of the persons who may apply for the post. Afterwards, the Council shall constitute a Joint Board and a Search Team which will consider candidates on the short list drawn up by the search team.

According to the act, the criteria for the post includes specified years of post-professorial qualification, academic and administrative leadership, professional standing/honours, fellowship of relevant/professional societies, proficiency in ICT, societal linkages, ability to attract funds/research grant, contribution to knowledge (academic publications, inventions), interview performance which would be scored along candidates’ vision for the university, articulation, personality and general knowledge and referee reports.

A candidate is expected to score at least 75 out of a total 100 points to make the next list. The Joint board would then recommend to the Council three (3) suitable candidates for further consideration. The Council then selects one candidate from among the three candidates recommended to it and thereafter informs the Visitor (President).

It is pertinent to note that with the current trend in the selection of heads of institutions, especially that of VCs and even as stated in the Act, merit is the most important criteria to be used in the selection of Vice Chancellors.

Just as the crises in those schools ended as a result of the attention it got from the regulatory bodies, Federal government, and Academic circles and concerned Nigerians; same problem is currently brewing in University of Abuja situated in the nation’s capital. The battle for the number one seat in the University of which Interests have divided the committee set up to oversee the selection process of a new VC which began since January as the tenure of the VC, Prof. James Adelabu expired.

The position for VC of the school was advertised in January this year and about 123 eminent professors applied for the position, which the Governing Council led by Gen. Samuel Ogbemudia pruned to 21 including candidates recommended by members of the Committee. A committee was constituted by the Chairman Governing Council and headed by Prof. Anthony Adegbulugbe.

The committee was divided between the two external council members even as both groups used the same criteria and applied the rule to further their interests.

To curtail the problem before it escalates, the process was suspended indefinitely on May 2, 2014 when crisis erupted within the screening council committee when some members attempted to subvert the laid down selection processes.

One of the causes of the crisis in University of Abuja is that, the vacancy advertisement placed by the committee in the national dailies did not contain conditions until after the submission of applications by the interested candidates when the committee brought about 12 conditions which were alleged to favour their candidate.

Worried by the development and in an effort to address the issue, recently the Supervising Minister of Education, Nyesom Wike, met with heads of tertiary institutions and Chairmen of their Governing Councils in Abuja where he condemned the localisation of appointments of heads of tertiary institutions by host communities.

According to the Minister, localizing appointments of heads of higher institutions will hinder the quest of Nigerians to have quality education for the development of the country through merit appointment of qualified candidates to such positions, regardless of where they are coming from.

“The current trend is also not healthy for the system and it cannot continue to operate like this. Government is not happy with the new development and has to do something urgently to stop the trend as the consequences will be grave.

He said though government would not interfere with the running of institutions, but has a responsibility to ensure that diligent processes were followed in determining the leadership of institutions.

“We encourage every Nigerian to vie for any position as long as they are qualified,” he stated.

The minister who advised heads of institutions to work together with host communities to ensure peace, harmony and progress in the sector, said governing councils should not allow sentiments to guide them in the selection of VCs, Rectors and Provosts.

Of course, councils of universities have powers in the selection and appointment of VCs in universities but they must be made to exercise their powers judiciously by not taking the laws in their by acting in manners capable of bringing crisis in the sector particularly now that it is faced with a lot of problems and to avoid litigations.

It is recommended that the decision of university councils in appointing a VC based on political consideration, ethnic and religious sentiments should be addressed as a matter of urgency before it gets out of hand.

To control or bring to an end this problem before it gets out of and as the office is becoming more competitive, Governing Councils should be reminded of their responsibilities and the extent to which they can exercise their powers as stated in the 2003 Act and they should be urged to adhere strictly by the guidelines.

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