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Appointment of new VC and ASUU’s absurd theatrics at UniAbuja

The recent spate of advertisements for the post of vice-chancellors by several federal universities has elicited reasonable reactions from cross-sections of stakeholders in the Nigerian…

The recent spate of advertisements for the post of vice-chancellors by several federal universities has elicited reasonable reactions from cross-sections of stakeholders in the Nigerian university system and the entire tertiary education sector in the envisaged smooth transition to new leadership in the institutions.

This was consequent upon the legitimately proactive action of the honourable Minister of Education, Professor Tahir Mamman (SAN), to authorise and approve the declaration of vacancy and solicitation for applications from interested qualified candidates for the position of vice-chancellors and chief executives of these institutions.

So far, the Abubakar Tafewa University Bauchi, Usmanu Danfodio University Sokoto, University of Maiduguri and the University of Abuja have released their advertisements at the behest of the minister, with each advert a reflection of the peculiarities, state of development and aspiration of the affected university, moving forward. More universities will advertise the same post in the coming days and weeks, while the minister will continue to take appropriate actions concerning the operations of the federal universities pending the reconstitution of their governing councils by the federal government.

As a concerned stakeholder and parent of children who have and still study in Nigerian universities, including the University of Abuja located in Gwagwalada, my place of domicile since the 1980s, it is disheartening and embarrassing to have learned that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) of UniAbuja, is reported to have rejected the advert for the position of its vice-chancellor.

As reported by Leadership Online, the union through its branch chairman, Dr Sylvanus Ugoh, contended that the advert “was not acceptable to the union and its members because it contravened relevant laws”. Given that Dr Ugoh himself and the branch Secretary along with other members of the union are said to have lately benefitted from a promotion exercise approved by the same minister they are now accusing of contravening “relevant laws”, it is simply absurd and shameless to rush to the press to condemn an action that is not within the purview of the union.

It is equally gratifying that some concerned members of the University of Abuja community have swiftly reacted to counter the ASUU’s indefensible folly in the public domain. This was necessary before unsuspecting members of the public were swayed to believe that the university’s ASUU operatives were on any principled agitation and mission. As succinctly pointed out by one Dr Sadiq el-Saye of the Faculty of Social Sciences, the union’s action is just an opportunistic game plan of some ambitious elements using their influential associates in the local leadership of ASUU to confront and derail a transition process that has, through the standard advert, seemed to put their ambition of becoming the next vice-chancellor at jeopardy. The concerned academic went to great lengths to substantiate his weighty allegations against the ASUU leadership and their backers which have remained unchallenged from within the university community.

As a resident of Gwagwalada, who witnessed the inception, growth, and development of the university, and who continuously interfaces with critical actors in the institution, it is also obvious to me that the unwarranted attack of the advert by the branch ASUU is borne of feared suffocation by a new raised bar of academic-cum-professional attainment, double-faced absurdity and inordinate ambition for power among elements using the union as the attack dog.

It is a trend that seems to have started following the dissolution of the Governing Council of the university in June last year which has coincided with the period of transition for the appointment of a new vice-chancellor to succeed Professor Abdulrashid Na’Allah.  In the absence of the Governing Council and with the Vice-Chancellor insisting on the highest standards for the university, the ASUU, particularly elements within its fold with the ambition to become the next Vice-Chancellor, immediately felt threatened. They intensified the politics of hate and even bigotry against the outgoing Vice-Chancellor who has done so well to improve the fortunes and image of the university. Unfortunately, this hostility has now been extended beyond the university management to the minister who is only doing the needful in the absence of the Governing Council using the advert as the catalyst.

It may be recalled that when President Bola Ahmed Tinubu dissolved the governing boards of non-statutory federal government parastatals and agencies, including the governing councils of universities, some forces in the university system particularly ASUU and its membership protested that Mr President had no such powers to exercise. They relied on extant laws because the councils could only be dissolved on grounds of incompetence and corruption which were not evident against the dissolved councils. However, when it became evident that Mr President’s action was in order, as it was based on his constitutional powers and public interest, the imperative for new councils to be reconstituted by the government became a fait accompli and acceptable to everyone sensible enough to appreciate the issues involved, except for the unreasonable members of ASUU who always insist that things must always be done their way.

It is thus in this context that the Minister of Education stepped into the arena to take appropriate actions where necessary in place of the Governing Council for the universities to continue to operate and be governed unhindered. As I mentioned earlier, the Minister of Education is a lawyer of no mean repute. So, there is no question of him taking actions inconsistent with the laws or established procedures and practices. In any case, this is not a novel or new practice in government circles, as it applies to all government ministries and establishments. It is also not a new practice in the Nigerian university system. Ministers are always referred to by the universities for actions or decisions requiring councils’ attention when they are absent. The reference to provisions of the miscellaneous acts by the ASUU is immaterial because no laws could ever contemplate leaving the universities ungoverned or unstuck in their operations because of the absence of their governing councils. I want to believe that it is for this reason that even some of the protesting ASUU elements in the UniAbuja led by the branch chairman quietly accepted and enjoyed their recent promotion which the same minister approved in place of the council before they now turned cynical on the advert for appointment of new Vice-Chancellor.

Close watchers of events and dispassionate observers of happenings in the FCT’s education flagship and only public university are dismayed by the recent turn of events, particularly the ASUU’s double-faced approach in the university’s dealings with the Minister of Education. For instance, people are asking how the ASUU accepted the promotion of its members and rejected the advertisement for a new Vice-Chancellor approved by the same minister. Is there anything more to it than the advertised reason by the union for its inelegant posturing and action? Is the opposition to the advert borne out of the bar it has raised in terms of requirements to be met by aspiring candidates? One is compelled to ask these questions because until now, the process for the appointment of a new Vice-Chancellor at the University of Abuja has always been an all-comers affair, leading to the deployment of all primordial factors, especially religion, and ethnicity over and above cogent academic-cum-professional determinants. Now that the process has been elevated with cutting-edge knowledge metrics in line with global best practices as contained in the widely adjudged standard advert, the status quo ante would seem to have been upturned, and the beneficiaries of the old order are afraid of losing out owing to their failure to meet the new improved requirements. Hence, the attempt to scuttle the process by all means possible using ‘relevant laws and due process’ as a convenient cover; and ASUU as the vehicle to actualise the nefarious agenda.

Even at that, observers are surprised and bemused at how the union could be talking tough about legalism and due process when it is known that in past transitions, prominent ASUU activists at the university had deployed ethnoreligious cards to influence the emergence of the leadership of the institution.

In particular, it is still remembered in informed circles within and outside the university how the union leveraged its strategic position and influenced the emergence of a Vice-Chancellor whose disastrous tenure the university is yet to recover from. The union succeeded then because it was able to deceptively mask its use of religion under the guise of ‘internal candidature’. Besides, in its internal process and leadership recruitment at Uniabuja, merit is always relegated in favour of crude identity politics by the union. It seems that the irony of what it preaches being at variance with what it practices in the University of Abuja is completely lost on the union. What a shame. When ASUU of UniAbuja talks of the law, who is fooling who? What is the union up to? Is the law supposed to be selectively applied or applied at the whim of the union and its members?

To be sure, the union in its press conference also raised other issues bordering its members in the University of Abuja. As a concerned Nigerian and I am sure other concerned members of the public, those rather mundane issues, and the unending conflicts around them should be the primary concern of the union and the university management to sort. After all, it is an open secret that the elements leading ASUU in the university have never liked the person or accepted the leadership of the outgoing Vice-Chancellor, even for one day. However, what is not acceptable and should be condemned by all people of good conscience is the attempt by unreasonable but ambitious elements within ASUU to derail the transition to new leadership in the ivory tower sanctioned by the Minister of Education in place of the Governing Council. Because they entertain the fear that they may not meet the requirements set for the post of Vice-Chancellor is not a license for them to resort to gangsterism in the relatively peaceful University of Abuja.

The University of Abuja has ‘moved on’ in a new positive direction in the last few years and the bar for its leadership has been raised for only those who have worked hard to wear the cap. In other words, it is now merit-driven over and above primordial consideration. Anyone who has legitimate aspirations and cannot at the moment meet the requirements will have an opportunity in the next five years to up their game and be ready to contest in the next transition. Plunging the university into a needless crisis on the altar of a failed personal ambition can and should not be allowed to stand.

DR Ya’u J. Maigari JP wrote from Gwagwalada, Abuja

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