Saturday, August 6, 2016 12:15 am
By Wumi Raji
Obafemi Awolowo University Ile Ife burst to life on Wednesday, August 3, 2016 following the arrival of fresh students on campus. Their return was part of the decisions taken at the Senate meeting held on Thursday, July 28. It was the first meeting of the body to be presided over by the new Acting Vice Chancellor of the University, Professor Anthony Elujoba. As decided also at the meeting, returning students are to come into residence on Sunday, August 7 while lectures are to commence on August 8.
The latest crisis in the University was caused by the imperfect handling, to put it mildly, by the now dissolved Governing Council, of the process of appointing a new Vice-Chancellor for the University. The tenure of Tale Omole, then the incumbent Vice Chancellor, was to expire on Thursday, June 23. The very first steps taken by the Council even as they commenced the process of appointment made it clear that the body had already made up its mind as regards who the new helmsman would be. In response to this, members of Non-Academic Staff union of Universities (NASU) and Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) had proceeded to the Federal High Court, Osogbo to initiate a legal action against the University on the matter.
But, to the consternation of all the discerning members of the University community, and against the universally accepted practice of staying action on any process that has become a subject of litigation, what the Council did was to, on Monday June 6, and from a yet unknown location in Abuja, announced the name of Professor Ayobami Salami as the man to take over from Tale Omole. The protest generated by the announcement led to the closure of the University through a circular signed by Dotun Awoyemi, registrar and secretary to Senate.
On June 30, and apparently to prevent the situation from degenerating to a conflagration, President Muhammadu Buhari, exercising his power as Visitor to the University announced the disbandment of the Governing Council, and ordered that the process of selecting a new Vice Chancellor be suspended until the pending court case had been decided.
On Monday July 17, the President again issued a directive to the University Senate, asking it to immediately convene and nominate a suitable Professor for appointment as Acting Vice Chancellor of the University. The name of the nominee was to be sent to the Federal Ministry of Education in Abuja. The campus burst into activities as soon as the announcement was received officially as different interest groups immediately commenced consultations.
All kinds of meetings were held in all kinds of locations on campus. Groups went into alignments, broke up and then re-aligned. By the evening of the second day, opinions had begun to coalesce around Anthony Elujoba, former Dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy. On Wednesday morning, the sixty – eight year old man who had also at one time served as Chairman, Committee of Deans himself sent text messages to members of Senate, indicating his interest in becoming the Acting Vice Chancellor.
On Thursday July 21, Senate finally met to decide on their nominee. First, there was a long debate as to whether to simply adopt Professor Omolayo Ajayi, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Administration) who presided over the meeting as the nominee, or whether to put forward a fresh name altogether. In the end, it was decided to nominate a different person. Two candidates emerged following the call for nomination: the first being Anthony Elujoba and the second, Professor Adebayo Lamikanra who, interestingly, is also of the Faculty of Pharmacy. At the end of the balloting, Elujoba polled 201 votes to Adebayo Lamikanra’s five (5).
The kind of excitement displayed on campus was indescribable as news broke out that Professor Anthony Elujoba had been chosen by Senate as the nominee for the post of Acting Vice Chancellor. Members of SSANU and NASU who had for weeks maintained a blockade of the administrative building immediately announced their decision to leave the trenches and return to work as soon as the nominee had received his letter of appointment. The approval rating for Elujoba among members of the academic staff was also totally overwhelming. The man himself felt humbled by the near total acceptance that his nomination as Acting Vice Chancellor received. A strong Christian that he is however, he interpreted the development only as part of the blessings of God in his life. It was no wonder then that the very first place he headed for after his victory in Senate on July 21 was the church.
Elujoba got cracking immediately after collecting his letter of appointment. In less than two weeks after resuming as Acting Vice Chancellor, he has held meetings with the leaderships of all the trade unions on campus, an opportunity he seized to solicit for their support, undertook tours to all students hostels, ordering commencement of rehabilitation works where necessary, and convened a meeting of Senate where a revision of the University’s academic calendar was carried out. June and July salaries were paid together on July 29. Directives have also been sent out to all Deans and Directors, asking them to forward all pending cases of promotion to the Appointments and Promotions Committee. In short all gladiators have agreed to sheath their swords and offices in the University are now open to normal administrative and academic activities.
But not everybody feels at ease yet with the atmosphere of peace and quiet which currently pervades in the University. This is because the Federal Government is, till date, yet to reconstitute the University’s Governing Council which it dissolved on June 30. Putting together a new Council for the University is important not least because of the fact that Professor Anthony Elujoba has only six months to spend in office. Within this period, the process of appointing a new Vice Chancellor will have to be initiated and followed through to conclusion and the Governing Council represents the only body that has the legal responsibility to undertake this. Hopefully, when the Visitior eventually gets round to this task – which should be soon – he will ensure that only men and women of integrity and courage who will not at any point abandon the law or jettison due process are appointed to serve on the eminent body.
Wumi Raji is an Associate Professor in the Department of Dramatic Arts, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.