Universities, leadership and due process
Now that the immediate outrage over the matter seems to have abated a bit, it is pertinent to point out that the Federal Government’s sacking of the Vice Chancellor of the National Open University (NOUN) and those of the 12 universities established by the Goodluck Jonathan administration is a powerful advertisement of anti-democratic policies, even as its appointment of new ones to replace them is an unabashed display of ignorance. It is for this reason that the sense contained in the various protests to President Muhammadu Buhari over the matter should be taken seriously.
Apart from being a violation of the Universities Autonomy Act 2003, the government’s usurpation of the powers of the Governing Council of these universities, with its legal implication, provides recipes that may become fodders for protracted litigation and industrial action. Besides, that some professors are willing to further the illegality by accepting positions as replacements without following due process, is an indictment of persons who ordinarily should be the custodians of the processes they themselves have set.
For the purposes of enlightenment, Section 3 of the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions Act) No. 11 of 1993 as amended states that the powers of appointing a vice chancellor are vested on the Governing Council: Section 3(2-4) states inter alia:
“Where a vacancy occurs in the post of a Vice-Chancellor, the Council shall – advertise the vacancy in a reputable journal or widely read newspaper in Nigeria, specifying – the qualities of the persons who may apply for the post, and (ii) the terms and conditions of service applicable to the post, and thereafter draw up a shortlist of suitable candidates for the post for consideration; constitute a Search Team consisting of – a member of the Council, who is not a member of the Senate, as chairman; two members of the Senate who are not members of the Council, one of whom shall be a Professor; two members of Congregation who are not members of the Council, one of whom shall be a Professor, to identify and nominate for consideration, suitable persons who are not likely to apply for the post on their own volition because they feel that it is not proper to do so.
“A Joint Council and Senate Selection Board consisting of – (a) the Pro-Chancellor, as chairman; (b) two members of the Council, not being members of Senate; (c) two members of the Senate who are Professors, but who were not members of the Search Team, shall consider the candidates and persons on the shortlist drawn up under subsection (3) of this section through an examination of their curriculum vitae and interaction with them, and recommend to the Council three candidates for further consideration. “The Council shall select and appoint as the Vice-Chancellor one candidate from among the three candidates recommended to it under subsection (3) of this section and thereafter inform the Visitor.”
From the foregoing provisions, it is clear that no minister has the powers to appoint or sack vice chancellors, and no university functions without a council. Former Dean of Law and legal consultant, Prof. Ehi Oshio in his interpretation of the prescription of the appointment and removal of a vice chancellor under the Nigerian law observes that: “Once the appointment has been made by the Council, it is legally binding and effective without any input from the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who is the Visitor of all Federal Universities. The latter has no direct role to play in such appointment. The law only requires the Governing Council to inform him of the appointment after the Council has made the appointment.”
In the same vein, Section 3(8)-(11) of the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions Act) No. 11 of 1993 as amended, also provides that the power to remove the Vice-Chancellor from office is vested with the Governing Council. It specifies the grounds for removal, after due process has been followed, to be gross misconduct or inability of the vice chancellor to discharge the functions of his office as a result of infirmity of body or mind. It also outlines the procedure for the removal of the Vice-Chancellor to ensure fair-hearing in the process.
If these are the prescriptions of the law in black and white, why should the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, embark on such exercise capable of causing disaffection? It is even curious that Anthony Anwuka, the Minister of State, who is a professor and former Vice Chancellor of a university, allowed this to happen on his watch. Did the Minister of State have any input in this procedural blunder? Just as the minister’s embarrassing state, it beggars belief that some of the special advisers to the Minister of Education are active members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the influential trade union of Nigerian university lecturers. If they hold their union in high esteem and are convinced of the cause it pursues, why did they not guide the Minister aright?
It is even ridiculous to note that the new appointees are serving academics in their respective universities, who ought to know the illegality of their appointments. This points to a baffling and scandalous situation which academics have called upon themselves; namely, that like the typical Nigerian position-seeker, even the respected academic, who should be a paladin of moral rectitude and the rule of law, is willing to trample the law for personal gains. This is an implausible commentary for, and a shameless expression of lack of integrity by senior members of an institution noted for forthrightness.
Regarding events of this nature, stakeholders such as the Committee of Vice Chancellors (CVC) should come out and condemn in strong terms this arbitrariness and misinformation carried out by the government. Even though nine of the 13 vice chancellors had served their tenure and had only three days to go before the announcement of their sack, it was still illegal, unjust and a procedural breach for the government to act the way it did.
Although the idea of independent universities is far from being realised in this country, the modest height of autonomy the university system has attained all these years should not be jeopardised by the palpable ignorance displayed so wantonly by government.
In normal climes, a minister who misleads or disrupts the peace and tranquility of the university would be fired if the man does not have the decency to resign. Consequently, the president must step in and ensure that this process is reversed. If this government is desirous of saving the nation the embarrassment of dubious and needless litigations, it must allow due process to prevail.