The decision of the present administration to sack all the vice chancellors of 12 federal universities that were established by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan is generating ripples and rightly so. Even angrier reactions are trailing the removal of Professor Vincent Tenebe, Vice Chancellor of the National Open University (NOUN), whose fate was announced alongside others that included the Vice Chancellor of the Federal Wukari.
The media might have captioned the sack with various headlines that attributed the sack to the federal government as may be expect under the concept of collective responsibility but it is glaring here that the call was that of the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu. The minister threw morality to the wind and adopted nepotism and rascality to announce successors for the Vice Chancellors before their tenure properly ended.
True, nine of the twelve have ended their tenure but what happens to the others who were lumped into an exercise whose objectivity will be a subject of controversy for a long time. For instance, Professor O. Geoffrey Okogba of the Federal University Wukari resumed in August of 2011 and gave all the appropriate notices to the authorities including the National Universities Commission (NUC). He did not take any entitlement as VC, which stipulates that his tenure started in August 2011. More perplexing is the case of Professor Tenebe of NOUN, who has been regarded as a change agent in the sector, but he was simply kicked out of office by this latest fiat.
In the academic community, a position is already being put forward that the Governing Council of NOUN has the sole power to remove the vice chancellor. The institution could thus be in for some tough time of fence mending should the minister persist in this foolhardiness.
He seemed to have also overplayed his hand. Yes, he has been under intense pressure lately as his office and residence have taken on the status of pilgrimage grounds for lobbyists that besiege him round the clock to beg for appointments. If Adamu Adamu felt that strongly that he owes these supplicants the duty of finding them jobs he could have at least asked them to exercise patience until the occupants of the positions they sought had properly ended their tenure. In the alternative, he could have gone ahead to establish new schools, assuming he can find the money in this economy, and send his beneficiaries to man them.
The Minister of Education might have also violated the enshrined principle of Federal Character as four of his twelve appointees are from one state in the north. It remains to be seen if the apprehension expressed in some quarters in the run up to the 2015 general elections are not now being substantiated.
The outrage that has greeted the minister’s decision clearly indicates that President Muhammadu Buhari has again been fed the wrong brief by an appointee who is out on his own mission. This act of administrative brigandage must have been packaged and presented to Mr President as some form of reform. Unfortunately, the widespread fear now, to say the least, is that with the blanket sack of the these vice chancellors our educational sector has entered into the same reverse gear that the nation’s economy is presently running on. It is a further attempt to irk Nigerians and make them miserable for whatever offence officials of the present government feel they have committed.
One must ask: where is the sensitivity of the Minister of Education? Series of faux pas in managing the economy saw the naira taking such unprecedented drubbing against major world currencies in its history of existence. The outrage that greeted the series of missteps in the management of the economy was disregarded as the ranting of the disgruntled. Today, the education sector has been similarly placed on the path to accelerated decline over the selfish and parochial interest Adamu Adamu and whoever it is he covertly answers to as a Minister of the Federal Republic.
Of course part of the complaints in the past has been the undue government interference in the administration of tertiary institutions. Such interference played roles in the decline of the quality of education in Nigeria since government actions had at such times seen several institutions shut down for weeks on account of disagreeable government policies or decisions. Those in the ministry of education or whoever emerges as minister have consistently failed to accept that our Ivory Towers should be insulated from the muddy politicking that only serves to derail progress in learning.
Even though the sacked Vice Chancellors were appointed by a former administration that the appointees of the presented government will do anything to vilify, including unleashing suffering on the larger populace, they could have at least recognise the fact that these are eminent scholars who possessed the requisites competences. Removing them in the manner the minister did has sent out the message that competence and excellence has no place in the contemporary Nigeria where budding academics could lose their tenure at the pleasure of another appointee. The moral of the gist is that those appointed and to be appointed by the present administration have no business striving to excel once the government reaches its twilight since the incoming government will likely sack them simply because they were appointed by another government.
This is not the change we sought. This is not the change that millions of Nigerians were willing to die for.
In the coming days, the minister will make futile attempts to defend his indefensible action. He will pay talking heads to do the circuits on television networks and radio programmes with the barrage of write ups that will try to force feed nation the junk about how the decision was taken in our best interest.
Adamu Adamu, in line with the trending fad, might even resort to the slogan of war against corruption to nail some of these people that he had already victimized. As of now, there are no known cases established against the former Vice Chancellors and phantom allegations should not materialize overnight. Those that attended schools that did not fall under Adamu Adamu’s imperial reign should be able to read between the lines.
Agbese is an international public affairs commentator based in the United Kingdom.