Thursday, July 14, 2016 12:31 pm
By Wumi Raji
Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, is in deep crisis. Right now the University has no Governing Council, no Vice Chancellor – substantive or acting – and, at least, no active Deputy Vice – Chancellor. Only the registrar still retains his position but he, too, dare not come near his office. This is because members of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU) have laid siege on the University administrative building. They have been doing so since June 7, the day after the Governing Council, following a meeting held at a secret location in Abuja, announced Professor Ayobami Salami as Vice Chancellor elect for the University. On Thursday June 23, and in an apparent attempt at averting tragic confrontations, the registrar announced the closure of the University, asking students to immediately vacate their halls of residence. He never indicated any date when they could return to resume their studies.
The crisis has its roots in the process of appointment of a new Vice Chancellor for the University. Advertisement for the position which was to become vacant on June 23 was put out in two national tabloids in December, 2015. Applications soon began to come in, and, by January 26, 2016 being the deadline set for submission of formal expression of interets, eleven (11) candidates had formally applied for the job. The search team subsequently constituted to seek out other suitable individuals who, for one reason or the other, failed to send in applications returned on March 8 to report that out of thirty eight (38) people searched, only three indicated interest but that none of them applied for the job in the end.
The day the Governing Council took the report of the search team was March 8, and it was that same day that it decided to shortlist the applications. It was during that exercise that the body took its first wrong steps: against worldwide practice where the shortlisting process is considered as a preliminary procedure where all candidates who make the list look forward to the day of the interview with equal hopes, the Governing Council took the opportunity of the exercise to give rankings to the candidates, with one of them scoring, in fact 100%. By carrying out detailed assessment of the dossier of the candidates, the Governing Council usurped the role of the Joint Council and Senate Selection Board which section 3.3 of the “Universities Miscellaneous Provisions Amendment Act, 2009” vested with the power of considering “the candidates and persons on the shortlist drawn up under subsection (2) of this section through an examination of their curriculum vitae and interaction with them…” (emphasis mine).
Furthermore, out of the eleven candidates, only six made the shortlist. Four of them were from Obafemi Awolowo University while the other two were from the Federal University of Technology, Akure. The five candidates who did not make the shortlist were all from Ife. What makes this particularly curious is the fact that two of the candidates whose applications were considered to be fit only for the trash bin made the final list in the 2011 exercise which produced the outgoing Vice Chancellor. Since the criteria contained in the advertisement for the position were exactly the same as those of the immediately preceding one, people naturally started asking questions on how the Governing Council arrived at the shortlist.
Not a few people felt that by shortlisting less than fifty percent (50%) of the applicants who applied from OAU, the Governing Council seemed to be putting a big question mark on the quality of professors produced by the institution. This is especially more so since it shortlisted the two candidates who applied from FUTA, making it hundred percent (100%) for that institution. Finally, since one of the criteria set down in the advertisement insisted that candidates applying for the position must “enjoy excellent physical and mental health”, people find it difficult to understand while Council decided to include in the final list the name of one of the two candidates from FUTA who clearly has health challenges, having just been stricken with stroke.
But members of two non-teaching staff unions on campus, namely the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the Non-Academic Staff union of Universities did more than just raise questions. They simply headed for the court. While, however, their counsels were still struggling to perfect their papers in Federal High Court, Akure, the Joint Council and Senate Selection Board sent notices to the shortlisted candidates, informing them that the interaction would hold on April 7. In reaction. members of the two unions took a decision to literally blockade the entrances to the venue of the interaction, thus preventing the candidates from getting in, and members of the interaction panel from getting out. It in fact took the intervention of Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi before the unions could agree to relax the blockade.
By this time, they had already succeeded in serving the University with the court processes. Having received the papers, the University responded by filing a notice of preliminary objections, in which it declared that the court had no jurisdiction to entertain the matter. The court fixed Tuesday June 7 for the hearing of the preliminary issues. This having been done, the belief of the members of the community was that the Governing Council would suspend the selection process until the court case had been dispensed with. Not so, surprisingly.
On Wednesday June 1, the Registrar and Secretary to Council, in flagrant display of an attitude of utter contempt for the court of law, sent sms messages to the shortlisted candidates informing them that the interaction which had earlier on been suspended would soon be re-visited. They were told to get themselves ready for it. Two days later, and precisely on Friday June 5, the candidates were sent letters by the same officer, informing them that the interaction would now take place on Monday June 6 in Abuja, FCT. The venue and time of the interview were not indicated in the letter. Rather, the candidates were simply asked to report at the liason office of the Obafemi Awolowo University in Abuja on the evening of the preceding day, where they would be informed of the time and venue of the interaction.
On receiving the letters, three of the four internal candidates on the shortlist immediately wrote back to the Selection Board, informing it that due to the subsisting court case, they would not be able to present themselves for the interview. They also gave as added reason the fact that the invitation issued to them contained no information as regards the venue and time of the interview,
The Joint Council and Senate Selection Board simply brushed aside the letters and went ahead with the interaction. The three internal candidates who had earlier written back to the Board boycotted it. Only Professor Ayobami Salami, the candidate who had earlier been awarded the maximum marks of 100% presented himself for the interaction. One of the other two candidates from FUTA was also physically present. The second who as I said earlier was down with stroke was interacted with on phone. At the end of the interaction, Salami was ranked as number one, predictably, while the two candidates from FUTA were placed in the second and third positions respectively.
In other words, even the man who currently suffers from a debilitating stroke was recommended as appointable. The Board had to do this, apparently, in order to make sure it meets the demand of the provision of section four of the Universities Miscellaneous (Amendment) Act which insists that three names must be recommended to the Governing Council out of which it will then select and appoint one as Vice Chancellor. It was on the same day – Monday, June 6 – that the Selection Board interacted with the three candidates that they wrote their report and submitted it to the Governing Council; and it was on this same day that Council met to consider the report. It was, finally, on the same day that it announced Salami as the new Vice-Chancellor. All this from an undisclosed location in Abuja,
Hell was let loose on campus when the news came through the following day. As leaders of SSANU and NASU headed for the Federal High Court in Osogbo to report what the Governing Council had done, other members trooped out in protest and eventually converged in front of the administrative building. They resolved to lay siege on the building from then onwards, vowing never to allow Salami to step into the office of the Vice Chancellor. Fortunately, Tale Omole, then the incumbent Vice Chancellor had not yet arrived in the office as at that time.
Having received briefing on the situation, he wisely decided to stay away. Until his tenure expired on June 23, Professor Omole never tried to come near the office of the Vice-Chancellor again. Actually on that Thursday June 23, SSANU and NASU members brought a mock coffin to the campus. The “coffin” had “RIP TALE OMOLE” boldly inscribed on it. First, they marched round the campus with the “coffin,” before finally taking it to the University gate where they set it on fire. Afterwards, they returned to the front of the administrative building, fried akara balls and shared them out among themselves. As far as they were concerned, they had carried out the funerals of the former Vice Chancellor.
Salami did not try to come to the office the following day, June 24, when his tenure was supposed commence. What he did, instead, was to send a message to the University community, announcing himself as the new Vice Chancellor, expressing willingness to negotiate for peace. But members of the two unions simply ignored him. They carried on with their action, daring the man to try to come near the office of the Vice Chancellor. On Thursday June 30, ASUU branch of the Obafemi Awolowo University finally held a congress. Earlier, and precisely on June 13, and without calling a congress, its chairman had issued a statement which he described as the “Official Position (of ASUU) on the Appointment of a Vice Chancellor” to the press.
The statement had absolved the Governing Council of any wrong doing, stating clearly that the body had observed due process in the course of the appointment. Among other such issues, the statement maintained complete silence on the fact that the Governing Council had acted in contempt of court in the final stage of the process. It refused to raise questions on how it happened that some of those who made the shortlist in 2011 failed to do so in the latest exercise, even when the advertised criteria remained the same. It refused to see anything wrong in scoring candidates at the level of shortlisting. And it saw nothing wrong in including somebody who has serious health challenges on the final list, much against one of the conditions included in the advertisement. ASUU congress of June 30 was tense.
There, members of the union made it clear that the statement sent out by the chairman does not represent their position on the appointment process and insisted that it should be repudiated. That same evening, the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu came on air to announce the dissolution of the Governing Council of the University, along with that of the University of Port Harcourt. The Minister also ordered the suspension of the process of appointment of a substantive Vice Chancellor for the University until after the case in court must have been decided.
The announcement was greeted with wild jubilation on campus. SSANU and NASU members who had spent several days at the barricade felt vindicated and they went round the campus dancing in jubilation. ASUU members who, just a few hours before the announcement, had forced their chairman to retract a statement which he claimed to have issued on their behalf also rejoiced. The next thing was to wait for the next announcement from government, which was expected to provide direction on how the leadership of the University would be reconstituted.
Today, close to two weeks after the Minister had made the announcement on the dissolution of the Governing Council and the suspension of the selection process, the University has continued to exist in limbo. No new Council has been put in place. There is nobody functioning in the capacity of a Vice Chancellor. Senate cannot sit because there is nobody that has the power to call the meeting or act as chairman. Because there is no Senate to take the decision, students cannot be called back to campus to resume their studies. June salaries have not been paid because there is nobody to instruct the bursar to do so. Everything, in short, is at a standstill.
But just why should a simple process of selecting a new Vice Chancellor precipitate so much crisis and give birth to the kind of rancor that we are currently witnessing in Obafemi Awolowo University? Going by its conduct in this exercise, it seems to me that the Governing Council has, along the line, compromised itself. This being so, it has found it impossible to handle the whole process with an attitude of impartiality and objectivity it required. Consequently, the men and women in that body have ended up letting themselves and the entire community down. The lesson to take away from this lies, as I see it, in the need to maintain an attitude of honesty and retain a sense of history whenever we find ourselves in positions of responsibility. Any attempt to circumvent this can only result in chaos and anarchy as is currently being witnessed in Obafemi Awolowo University.
Wumi Raji is an Associate Professor in the Department of Dramatic Arts, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.