Over time, the controversies surrounding the appointment of vice chancellors of public universities in Nigeria, especially state-owned varsities, have grown into a threat to the progress of the country’s university system.
The power tussles in the appointment of the university ombudsmen are mostly between the governing councils, unions of varsities and state governments, this is usually so because the parties involved try to ensure that their preferred candidates get appointed, most times against the most deserving candidate for the job.
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However, the decision is always met with protests, disagreements and hurtful accusations to make sure that the not too accepted candidates are ousted.
The issue at the fore, in most cases, is that the appointed vice chancellors are not indigenes of the state where the university is located. It has become a rare sight to have a non-Igbo emerging VC of any public university in the South East, non-Yoruba in the South West varsities nor other tribes becoming VC in any public higher institution in the North.
Many Nigerian universities have experienced a crisis at one time or the other in the process of appointing a new VC. More recent are the University of Ibadan, Lagos State University (LASU), Osun State University (UNIOSUN), Federal University Oye-Ekiti, (FUOYE) and Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Osun State, amongst others.
The most recent is that of Obafemi Awolowo University where the appointment of Prof Adebayo Bamire was greeted with protests because he was not an indigene of the area.
Some said their son was schemed out of the process despite the varsity saying due process was followed.
The controversies have continued to generate a lot of reactions with so many saying it is not mandatory that the VC comes from the state or community of the varsity.
Reacting to the issue, the Committee of Pro-Chancellors of Nigerian Federal Universities cautioned against the introduction of primordial sentiments in the selection of vice chancellors and administrative officers of universities in the country.
The chairman of the committee, Prof. Nimi Briggs, in a statement urged all stakeholders to forge a common front to tackle the many challenges currently bedevilling universities in the country.
The pro-chancellors condemned the insistence that an indigene of Ife be appointed to the position of vice chancellor saying that OAU is a federal university that has staff from all over Nigeria.
While insisting that OAU is a university that recruits staff and students from all over the world, the pro-chancellors said, “In the same vein, the vice chancellor can come from any part of Nigeria and the wider world.”
They said stringent protocols guide the appointment of vice chancellors and that it is a well-defined scoring formula that is not subjective.
“This is followed by the presentation of the candidates’ vision for the university if appointed and his or her track record and pedigree in realising aspects of that vision. The answers provided constitute what makes the difference between applicants.”
Speaking on the system, the Vice Chancellor of Federal University Kashere, Gombe State, Prof Umaru Pate, said the current system ordinarily is good where autonomy is properly exercised by the governing council instead of the system of compiling three names, taking it to Abuja, through the ministry and then to the president.
“Sometimes, it takes a lot of time and in some cases that could not necessarily be in the overall interest of the university.
”The current system is summarised in such a way that the council normally is composed of very eminent personality, who in his wisdom, comes up with who he feels is the most appropriate candidate based on the interaction and without any necessary interference from outside,” he said.
Prof Pate said: “We have all sorts of influences trying to shape the outcome of the process without necessarily taking a look at the quality of some of us that apply for the position.”
He noted that in the history of vice chancellorship in Nigerian universities, up to a point, the vice chancellors were not from the areas of the locations of the universities.
“Like now, just like any other thing, people try to regionalize the process and localize it. So the issue of merit, competence and criteria are not cared for. People who do not even know what a university system is, try to influence how a university should be run and some people have some sense of entitlement because the universities are located in their environment even though it is owned by the federal government, sometimes without even any assistance from the local community.”
He said they try to see how they could struggle and push for candidates who ordinarily are not superior to other candidates that may apply.
“And now, politicians have developed interest in the university system because of their elections. Some have some kind of strategic thinking that if the VC is from their side, probably he may end up being the returning officer and their lecturers are likely going to be the returning officers, so it is in their interest to ensure that it is their candidate that is stationed to control affairs in the universities,” he noted.
He said the localization of the Nigerian university system tends to give a sort of picture of a locally-minded idea. “You go to a university for example and find that the lecturers are from the same location—the HOD, the deans and even the VC—sometimes are all from the same location.”
“Today, the kind of pressure you get as a vice chancellor is almost all about what is going to happen in the locality. So everything begins and ends locally – your students are local, lecturers are local and sometimes the head of the institution is local.
“There is nothing to give the university system the kind of national and universalistic outlook expected.”
While noting that the heads and the communities must be sensitized to know that the university is supposed to have that universalistic approach, the don said, there is a need to improve the quality of the recruitment system by allowing universities to recruit proper and competent personalities from all over the world, not only from their localities.
On how he was picked as vice chancellor, he said: “I saw an advert in a newspaper and I was consulted by some colleagues asking me to give it a try. I applied based on their requirement and at a later time, we were invited for an interview. After the interview, I was called for the job.”
The Dean, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Nasarawa State University Keffi, Prof Nasiru Idris, said the laws that established universities are very clear and the criteria for appointing vice-chancellors and other principal officers of tertiary institutions have not narrowed down the office to either university community or a particular region.
“Merits and scholarships always take the light of the day. As the name implies, University is universal. Be it a federal, state or private university, but local factors always prevail nowadays unlike the practice in the past,” he said.
He pointed out that Prof. Adamu Baikie from Kano State was at one time VC of the University of Benin; Prof. Isa Mohammed from Bauchi was one time VC of University of Calabar; while the current Tor Tiv from Benue was one time VC of the Federal University Dutsinma, Katsina State and a host of others.
For the process to succeed, he advised that it should be transparent and all stakeholders should be involved without underlying motive.
“Most problems normally occur because some outgoing vice chancellors and chairmen of governing councils always want to impose who takes over from them and some university communities and other stakeholders would resist thus leading to crisis as we have seen in University of Ibadan and OAU and others,” he said.
The don, however, maintained that full university autonomy is the answer, adding that there should be no external influence, be it from the governor, president, minister of education or politicians regarding the appointment of vice chancellor and other principal officers of the university.”