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Producing next ABU VC will be rancour-free – Bunu Sheriff Musa

Weekly Trust: One of the national dailies in Nigeria questioned your appointment as the Chairman of Ahmadu Bello University Governing Council. It argued that in…

Weekly Trust: One of the national dailies in Nigeria questioned your appointment as the Chairman of Ahmadu Bello University Governing Council. It argued that in view of the prolonged absence of President Umaru Musa Yar’adua, he couldn’t have issued your appointment letter. What is your take on this?

Engineer Bunu Sheriff Musa: There are two things. You have to understand the person you are talking about. I am not just an ordinary person. I have gone through government before. I have been a Minister for seven years in this country. I have been Nigeria’s Ambassador to France. The Federal Government will be the last body you will go to impersonate and sleep well.

I cannot take a letter to a hot bed like ABU and say I have been appointed if I didnt know where I was getting my letter from. What else do I want in life? If I am still desperate for position, I will have gotten into politics. My background should have made it clear that I couldn’t have gone to claim what is not mine.

You see, governmental decision is not something that you do in a day. When the former Chairman of the Council resigned, the President was in Nigeria and the Minister of Education, Dr Sam Egwu, has a duty to ensure that nothing goes wrong in the University. I expected the Minister to immediately put a process in place to get another Council Chairman for ABU.

In fact, as Chairman of ABU alumni, I showed interest in seeing that somebody good was selected to replace the former Chairman. I was asked if I had anybody in mind and I even nominated four people after wide consultation through the alumni association. After three days of submitting the names of those I nominated, a call came that Mr President said I should be the one to take over as the Chairman of the Council.

I asked what happened to my nominees and I was told that it was a Presidential directive. As you can see, I even nominated people that I felt could do it and the responsibility eventually fell on me. I still have that message in my phone.

As a member of the former Council, can you tell us what actually happened during the last selection exercise?

In the last exercise, we went through the advertisement and   interview process after the selection committe went round and they didn’t find anybody to add to the list of those who had applied. An interview was then conducted for those who applied but it was in the collation of the interview result that some mistakes were detected, which led to the abandoning of the process. Of course, bad blood later came into the whole excercise because of the leakage of the result of the scoring of the interview conducted.

At a level of University Council, one would expect that people who are there should have self-control, ability to keep secrets and not divulge information to the people that are not supposed to know. But on the day we were to meet in Council to deliberate on the result of the interview, to our utter dismay, the result was already on the front page of Leadership newspaper.

I picked up the paper on my way to Zaria and had to draw the attention of Council to that fact. That was how the problem started. Secondly, people started insinuating about things that should not have happened. In the good old days when the responsiblity of selecting the VC was placed on the visitor, the visitor was entitled to be given three names to select from. It is not number one or two that would be picked.

Sometimes, number three could be picked. The last exercise started derailing from the moment people started complaining that the number one person had to be picked, denying the Council the responsibility of picking out of the three. The idea is not to score 1-3 but to score three that have qualified for the interview, so that the panel that would finally sit will select one based on their own reason too. It could be the last man who had other things that others don’t have or whatever.

Did you attempt to investigate how the information leaked out?

I was just an ordinary member of the Council. I was not the Chairman then.

If you were the Chairman, what would you have done?

If I was the Chairman, that process would have continued to its logical conclusion and I would have investigated it to know who among us was responsible.

How do you intend to ensure that the next exercise for the selection of the VC goes on smoothly?

On the receipt of my appointment as the Chairman of the Governing Council from the Federal Minsitry of Education after the approval of Mr President, I went to the university to meet the Senate and the acting VC. One of the important road maps that needs to be started with is to have representative of congregation that were duly elected with fresh mandate so that they will go to Council and join Senate members for the selection exercise.

Part of the problems we had with the first exercise was the fact that people were insinuating that the tenure of some of the congregation and Senate members on the Council had expired. So they were only waiting for us to conclude and rush to court that the process was faulty, because there were people who had no mandate to be part of the selection team. So it was probably a blessing in disguise that the whole thing crashed.

If the exercise had been concluded, it could still have been subjected to some litigation because of the faulty foundation. So I said with the new Council headed by me, we must do things as they should be done. We started with the election of the congregation. We were told that congregation had not been held for about four years in the university. So you can understand why people were avoiding the inevitable step. But I insisted that we should do that.

I asked them why they didn’t hold their congregation for four years when it was supposed to be held at the beginning of every semester. They said every VC normally avoided holding the congregation because it is a speaker’s corner where everybody says what he wants to say and VCs dread that.

In the last exercise, the issue of ethnicity came up. How do you intend to avoid all that this time?

We are going to tackle this problem by following due process and doing things transparently with the fear of God. We are not going to look at people from their religious or ethnic background. We are going to advertise it. Those who participated in the first exercise will be allowed to participate again. There will be no exclusion. We are told that universities nowadays have got certain criteria that a Professor must have a minimum of ten years’ experience as professor before vying for the post of VC.

In the case of ABU, if we insist on that, those who are now going round gathering supporters and sympathisers will be excluded because they are all four or five years old professors. So I saw a kind of danger signal that if we don’t become a little bit more flexible to include those that participated, you’d stand the chance of creating more problems, especially from those already complaining.

But why must you relax the rules just because some people are complaining when every university insists a prospecting VC must be a professor of ten years’ standing?

This is Nigeria. Sometimes, an abnormal situation requires an abnormal solution. If you don’t understand the realities that you are dealing with, the tendency is that you will set the whole place on fire. A person like me who has come into the Council as President of ABU alumni association wants to see that my alma mater has the best leadership without having any problem.

If I do anything that will set the place on fire, it’ll negate the very principle on which I am standing. In fact, when I went to adddress the Senate immediately after my appointment when I knew they were going to have a meeting, I told them that I felt indebted to ABU for what I have gotten from it. It was ABU that made me what I am in life, because with good education, I was able to rise in my career.

I always say that those of us who passed through ABU owe it a duty to pay back. As I was going into the Senate chamber to address them, I drew their attention to all the photographs of former Vice Chancellors hanging on the wall where you could see Professor Ishaya Audu, who was a Christian and governed the ABU very well. You could also see the picture of Professor Iya Abubakar, who was a Muslim and also did his best for ABU.

I told them that there is no need to begin to bring religion into the issue of the selection of VC, because scholars of both faiths had been VCs before. There is no big deal if a Muslim or Christian emerges VC tomorrow. So with due process, transparency and the fear of God, I think we are going to conclude the process of selecting a new VC without any problem.

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