The removal of the vice-chancellors once again conjures up the arbitrariness in the system
A group under the aegis of Coalition of Civil Society groups last week shut down the entrance of the National Assembly and Ministry of Education in Abuja to protest against what it described as “the sacking of 13 vice-chancellors of Nigerian universities”. The chairman of the coalition, Bassey Williams Etuk, called on President Muhammdu Buhari to relieve the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, of his appointment because of the manner the appointment of new vice-chancellors was handled. While some of the arguments canvassed by the protesters could be easily dismissed, many critical stakeholders also have misgivings about how the 13 vice-chancellors were replaced without due process.
The action of the federal government on the issue, according to the CVC, was capable of doing incalculable damage to the nation’s education system. “When the 12 universities were established and governing councils were yet to be constituted, the government then abridged the process for the appointment of VCs and randomly picked the set of outgoing/out-gone VCs. The same procedure was employed again when the ‘upgraded’ Colleges of Education were pronounced as universities. We heaved a sigh of relief when that aberration was reversed. It is thus inconceivable that such an aberration will be condoned and adopted under the current dispensation,” the statement said.
We align ourselves with that sentiment expressed by the vice-chancellors, even though we warned in earlier editorials against most of these new federal universities that were established by presidential fiat with no enabling laws and primarily for political reasons. While it may be convenient to forget now, the laws governing the operations of these institutions were foisted on them several months after they were proclaimed into existence. Similarly, their vice-chancellors were randomly and arbitrarily handpicked more as task force project managers to go and establish the institutions. However, this background of arbitrariness and impunity should not warrant the untidiness in the recent removal and replacement of those vice-chancellors whose tenures were still valid.
In its campaign for autonomy for Nigerian universities, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has repeatedly decried government’s interference in the running of tertiary institutions in our country. “You will find out that circulars are emanating in most cases from the National Universities Commission, interfering in the day-to-day running of the universities. We are also worried that in some situations, you find the vice-chancellor summoned by SMS to Abuja when they should be administering their universities,” ASUU President, Dr. Nasir Isa Fagge, said recently.
We agree that there are salient issues tied to autonomy that have to be addressed by all the critical stakeholders. But at a time education in our country is already in a serious crisis, it is unfortunate that an unnecessary problem has been created in some of our campuses. We therefore urge the Minister of Education to study the rule books that guide governance in the universities and make the necessary corrections. Even with the imperfections in our universities, their uniqueness and peculiar procedures must be respected if we are to help them place Nigeria in a competitive position in a world ruled by knowledge and innovativeness.