Today, the universality of tertiary institutions in Nigeria is gradually being eroded if not lost. Almost every university in the country is enmeshed in the domestication of appointments of principal officers of the institution like the vice-chancellor, bursar, registrar, deans, HoDs and others.
Most host communities see universities in their domains as theirs and so, are in the forefront of clamouring for ‘a son of the soil’ to be head of such institutions, thus undermining the quality of education and academic development, Daily Trust reports.
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Findings have shown that most federal universities in the country have domesticated the appointments of principal officers and other key positions of such institutions in efforts to assert ownership and control by host communities of such schools.
But experts and stakeholders in the education sector see this trend as dangerous to the growth, quality and development of education in the country.
For instance, some lecturers at the University of Ilorin who spoke with Daily Trust Saturday on the issue noted that the domestication of appointment of vice chancellors has negatively impacted the development of the school.
It was gathered that while the present Vice Chancellor hails from Kwara State, the Registrar is from Kogi State and the Deputy Vice Chancellor from Kwara. The university’s Librarian is also from Kwara but the school Bursar is not from Kwara.
A professor, who does not want his name in print for fear of victimization, and very conversant with the implication of the policy on the school lamented the situation, noting that it has done the school more harm than good.
He said: “Autonomy of universities in Nigeria is a two-edged sword with its merits and demerits. The domestication of appointments in universities is an upshot of the autonomy of universities.
“Hitherto, the Visitor of the federal universities had the exclusive power and prerogative to appoint the VC out of the three nominees that might be presented to him. In this way, there was a limitation to tribal or ethnic considerations. We had cases of universities that had VCs who were never from the location or catchment areas of the universities. Prof. Akinkungbe was in ABU before he was moved to the University of Ilorin then. Some other universities had a long history of having VCs who were not indigenes or who were not even Yorubas. But with the power of appointment being vested on the universities’ Council, appointment of principal officers of universities is now solely within the confines and power of the Council, making it easy to play and execute tribal jingoism with appointments.”
The source added that the “Politics in universities has now become intensely built on ethnic, tribal or religious struggles. The host communities of these federal universities (including Unilorin) see themselves as authentic or rightful owners of the universities and believe they have greater claims to the top positions therein.”
According to him, “in this regard, universities that are supposed to be universal have become too localized and invariably churn out products who are localised in their worldview; being taught by locally recruited lecturers who are given preference over other more competent candidates from outside the recruiters’ tribal or religious family.”
He added that “As a Yoruba man, you cannot become a dean, not to talk of VC in many universities in the East or North and vice versa. A don who worked in a federal university in Benue documented his travails or discrimination suffered in the university just because he was not a ‘son of the soil.’ It has become so bad that universities cannot lay claim to being exempted from parochialism that is bedevilling our nation. Go to Unilorin, you will see all forms of parochialism playing out in all aspects of the university’s operation. You can smell at the moment the clandestine or implicit politics of religion and tribe as the university is moving towards the process or preparation for the appointment of another VC even when it is two years from now. Ask the incumbent VC what he has suffered because he is not the “son of the soil” being from Oro in Kwara South, so to say, he will tell you emotional stories.”
So, domestication of appointment of principal officers in Nigeria federal universities, he noted, has brought about greater havoc to the university system than blessings. “Academic excellence is relegated to the back burner and even jeopardized. Students’ quality has degenerated because instead of producing graduates with a better worldview, universities inculcate in them tribal and religious parochialism. In some universities, you cannot become the president of the students union unless you are an indigene. Too bad. Where did we get it wrong? Perhaps from the time we fought for university autonomy,” the Prof added.
Also speaking on the issue, the Provost College of Education Ilorin, Professor Yusuf Abdulraheem, who is an Alumnus of the University of Ilorin, said the trend is becoming a dangerous phenomenon that has negatively affected universities across the country.
“This issue is becoming a very dangerous trend in our university system and the cry of ‘it is the turn of our son or daughter to be appointed as VC’ is now becoming a phenomenon in the Nigerian universities which has negatively affected the standard of education in Nigeria.
“In the past, the university is regarded as a global house, a city where anybody whether from immediate community or from afar can become the VC. But the indigenization of the University VC is now making everybody to see the university as their own property and their share of the national cake. To them, the VC in that university must be their son because they believe that is the only way they can also tap from the national cake without minding its consequence on the academic standard.
“Where a VC who is an indigene of a state is not competent, then there is going to be promotion of mediocrity, considering the appointment such VC will also make. You will notice that this trend which is emerging can be attributed to the establishment of many states universities where each state will claim it is the “son of the soil” that will be VC. However, the worst is to insist that only the son of the immediate environment where the university is located can become the VC. Unlike in the past, the power to appoint VC is now vested in the Council which has made local politics to play a very significant role in the appointment of VCs.
“Universities in other climes are not bothered about who heads the institution and we have seen a situation where a Nigerian is the head of universities in East and South Africa without any complaint from any of the citizens. This is because they understand that a VC is a major reason in the success factor of any university and that is why the trend of making a son of the host community VC is a bad trend which is not assisting our education system. Today in Nigeria, none of our universities is among the first 500 in global ranking unlike before,” he added.
In Oyo State, Ibadan Indigenes under the aegis of many organisations, religious bodies, gender-based associations and prominent Ibadan clubs, recently demanded for an Ibadan Indigene as the next vice chancellor of the University of Ibadan after the expiration of the tenure of the VC of the institution, Professor Abel Idowu Olayinka.
The agitation forced the Senate of the institution and the federal government to appoint an acting VC for the institution.
Reacting to the effect of the agitation, an Associate Professor of Comparative Politics at the University of Ilorin and an Ibadan indigene, Dr. Gbade Ojo, said the idea of universality in tertiary institutions is completely lost in our ivory towers.
He said when recruitment and promotions are compromised, it would affect the qualities of graduates.
He said: “Recruitment and promotions based on nepotism will no doubt affect the quality of our graduates. The standard is already compromised by tribalism cum primordial sentiments. Many of our graduates are unemployable.
“No doubt, Nigerian universities need quick redemption. As far back as the mid 70s, Prof. Peter Ekeh wrote about nepotism and favouritism in federal universities. It has grown full blown in contemporary Nigeria.
“The idea of universality is completely lost in our ivory towers. A check on who is the VC of Nigerian universities revealed that they are recruited from the local potentates across the country. In a number of federal universities, religion is a potent factor vis-à-vis who gets what, when and how. The saddening thing is that both federal character principle and the commission to superintend over the system are comatose.
“The so-called appointment of counsellors and pro chancellors from other zones aside from where the university is based is nothing but mere cosmetic exercise. In such a system as we have them today, forget about development. We are unable to build strong institutions in this country. It is like no one is in charge.
“The UI saga is like following the multitude to do evil. UI should be a beckon of excellence but alas, the same cancer that has gripped the system is still manifesting now. Though a university system should be sensitive of its immediate environment, but this has been taken too far.”
At the Bayero University Kano, the appointment of principal officers is done through a democratic electoral process where members of staff select eligible candidates for the available positions for the prescribed period.
The position of Vice Chancellor of the university for instance is determined through community acceptance/preference of university community poll, where members of the university community select who they want as the VC.
A similar electoral process is used in choosing faculty and departmental officers.
A member of staff of the university who spoke with Daily Trust Saturday in confidence said the selection process was part of the autonomy being enjoyed by the university and has nothing to do with the state of origin of the candidates.
He said what matters in the selection of the heads of department or deans of faculties is the qualification of the candidates and the support they get from members of staff of their faculties or department as the case may be.
“Basically, the appointment does not have anything to do with the regional background of the candidate. You can be from Bayelsa, from Ondo, or any part of this country so far as you have the qualification and the support of your department you can be HOD or Dean of faculty,” he added.
However, Daily Trust Saturday investigation revealed that the majority of those occupying the seats as Deans and HOD across faculties and departments in the university are from North-Western states including Kano, Katsina, Kaduna and Jigawa with a few from Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi states.
The Dean, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Nasarawa State University Keffi, Professor Nasiru Medugu Idris, said the appointment of principal officers that did not follow the due procedures in Nigerian universities has negative effects not only on students’ quality and development but also on the society and the university community at large.
“Let me start with vice chancellor and registrar’s appointment. If the Visitor and governing council did not consider merit in the selection process, the entire university will suffer as we have seen recently in the selection process at the University of Ibadan and University of Jos which generated tension from various corners.
“So, the issue of state of origin, ethnicity, religion and tribe normally comes into play when the process of selecting the vice chancellor did not follow due procedures and merit. Take for example, with some states and private universities, VCs are appointed at will by the Visitors through the governing councils,” he said.
He noted that most of the universities that are successful and performing very well today had the selection process for their VCs mostly based on merit, which affects other appointments within the university such as directors and deans of colleges and schools.
He further said “In most universities, faculty deans and HODs selection are done through election process, although with sentiments towards religion and ethnicity.
“ASUU is fighting for full autonomy of universities today to reduce external influence from politicians, as well as debar irrelevant stakeholders from interfering in the university’s administration and other matters.
“Let me give you an example with Nasarawa State University Keffi. The first, second and third vice-chancellors were all non -indigenes and they did very well. Today, the university is one of the best state universities in Nigeria. Take another example with ABU Zaria, University of Ilorin and Bayero University Kano. Non indigenes are doing well and making the institutions proud. Today, University of Ilorin is the first-choice university for applicants into tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
“According to the recent international university ranking in Nigeria, Covenant University Ota is the best in the country because merit always plays vital role not only in appointment of VCs, registrars, deans and HODs, but even in their staff employment and students’ admission,” he said.
A senior Information Officer at University of Maiduguri said employment of the best persons for any job in the university was based on their ability to perform the job not on affiliation.
According to him, the university had in the past employed officers independently with approval of the governing council but the system had changed with the advent of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS)).
“All appointments now have to be approved by the Head of Service of the Federation and the Federal Character Commission whose representatives must take part in the recruitment interviews,” he said.
Daily Trust Saturday however gathered that some principal officers in the university like the vice chancellor, registrar, bursar and librarian all hail from Borno State.
Mumini AbdulKareem (Ilorin), Jeremiah Oke (Ibadan), Richard P. Ngbokai (Kano) & Misbahu Bashir (Maiduguri)