THE Federal Government violated the Code of Conduct provisions of the 1999 Constitution when it appointed Kayode Soremekun, a retired professor as the Vice Chancellor, Federal University, Oye-Ekiti , investigations by The ICIR have revealed.
Soremekun was no longer eligible for the position as of February 12, 2016 when President Muhammadu Buhari approved his appointment alongside 12 others after sacking substantive Vice-Chancellors of Federal Universities appointed by his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan.
Before announcing the sack of the former VCs and the appointment of the new ones including for the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), the president also dissolved the governing councils of the universities.
The power to appoint and remove vice-chancellors is spelt out in the University Miscellaneous Act 2003, according to which that power rests with the governing council.
At the time, however, in clear violation of the autonomy of the universities and extant laws providing that only Governing Councils have the right to appoint and remove Vice Chancellors for public universities, President Buhari approved the names of the 13 new Vice Chancellors.
It would take two years before the president admitted he acted in error and dissolved the governing councils. He, however, never rescinded the appointment of the VCs who then were appointed without the due process supposedly to be carried out by their respective governing councils.
FUOYE VC’s appointment violates code of conduct for public officers
While appointing the vice chancellors by default, the Federal Government appointed Soremekun who retired as the Head of Department of International Relations at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) in 2007 as the Vice Chancellor of Federal University, Oye-Ekiti.
His appointment contravenes the provisions of the 1999 Constitution’s Fifth Schedule under the Code of Conduct for Public Officers, Section 4 (1) and (2) which prohibit a retired public officer from taking up full-time employment in any public institution while already drawing pension.
A letter from Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife exclusively obtained by The ICIR also confirmed that the current Vice Chancellor of FUOYE indeed retired from the school on June 30, 2007.
According to Section 4(1) of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers, a public officer shall not, after his retirement from public service and while receiving pension from public funds, accept more than one remuneration position as chairman, director or employee of – (a) a company owned or controlled by the government; or (b) any public authority.
Sub-section (2) states that a retired public servant shall not receive any other remuneration from public funds in addition to his pension and the emolument of such one remunerative position.
Explaining this provision, Abdul Mahmud, a legal practitioner said, “Where Section 4 (1) Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule appears to suggest that a public officer shall not accept more than one remunerative position, subsection 2 out-rightly bars all public servants from receiving salaries in addition to their pension.”
He added, “The combined reading of Section 4(1) and (2) is that a retired professor who is on pension cannot be appointed vice chancellor. However, qualifications for VC-ship are as set out by the Act establishing the university.
“The Act must never be in conflict with the Constitution.”
An official of FUOYE who did not want his name mentioned because he may be victimised by the university’s management said, “A retired public servant cannot take up full-time appointment. The position of the vice chancellor is a full-time position which a retired professor cannot occupy since there is law that established FUOYE in 2015 before Prof. Kayode Soremekun was appointed as FUOYE VC in 2016.”
Further findings by this newspaper revealed that after his retirement from OAU in 2007, Shoremekun took full-time appointment as a Professor at the University of Lagos (UNILAG). He allegedly left the university unceremoniously when it was discovered that he retired from OAU in 2007 and his appointment was found inconsistent with the law.
Sources within UNILAG said he ran away from the university when he was to be arrested.
“It was after he ran away from UNILAG that he went to Covenant University and from there to NOUN before he was appointed as FUOYE VC by default in 2016,” another FUOYE official said.
“His appointment as FUOYE VC was an error on the part of Federal Government because it negates Public Service rules and regulations.
“The position of a Vice Chancellor is not for a retired professor under no circumstances. It is specified that the age of a Vice Chancellor must not be more than 65 years at the time of assumption of duty. The reason for this is that the person must not retire from service of the university before the expiration of his or her tenure as Vice Chancellor.”
Part of requirements for being a Vice Chancellor according to guideline issued by the Federal Ministry of Education is that the candidate must not be more than 65 years at the time of appointment and must be a professor of at least 10 years.
By the age that the VC retired from OAU, which was 53, he was still qualified at the age of 63 in 2016 when he resumed office. However, his retirement status was inconsistent with the provision of the Fifth Schedule of Code of Conduct for Public Officers in Section 4(1) and (2).
The National Universities Commission (NUC) that regulates Nigerian university system declined to comment on whether a retired professor can take up the post of a vice chancellor given the position of law.
Director of Public Information at NUC, Ibrahim Yakassai who requested this reporter to send his enquiries to him via WhatsApp when he was called on his mobile phone did not respond though the app indicated the message was delivered and read.
I didn’t apply for the job, I was appointed—Shoremekun reacts
The man in the centre of the controversy, Kayode Soremekun however defended his appointment when contacted by The ICIR. On his appointment as the university Vice Chancellor despite being a retired professor, Shoremekun said, “No, I did not apply for that job please; it was just done by the President and the Minister. You should ask them.”
While the laws establishing public universities in Nigeria under University Miscellaneous Act 2003 spell out the procedure for the appointment of a vice chancellor which include advertisement for the position in national dailies, shortlisting of qualified candidates, interviews and appointment, his appointment and those of 12 other VCs by president Buhari fell short of these procedures.
“You may wish to know that my appointment was a political appointment,” he explained. “I did not apply…there was no advert…no interview…I just got the appointment.”
Going by what the constitution stipulates, Soremekun was not entitled to taking a full-time employment in any government institution after his retirement “in 2006”, according to him, at the age of 53.
He, however, applied and got employed at UNILAG as a full-time professor, but that did not last as according to him, “my appointment was found to be inconsistent with my retirement status. I had an early retirement. My retirement was 17 years earlier.”
“They said they couldn’t give me a full-time appointment; rather they would give me a contract appointment,” Soremekun said.
He said the university management found out the inconsistency and had to backdate the original appointment they gave him.
“In UNILAG, there was an advert and I applied. They interviewed me and they gave me a full-time appointment. Then the appointment was backdated, after two or three years to the contract appointment. The contract expired and I had to leave, and I went to Covenant University. From Covenant I went to another Federal University, the National Open University of Nigeria.”
“I would have gone to court at that point in time. But I said no, I didn’t want any trouble with anybody because if you gave someone an appointment and then two or three years later you then backdated it and said it’s a contract appointment,” he said.
“They gave me a full-time appointment initially because I was assessed all over again as a fresh member of staff.”
Is contract the same thing as full-time employment?
Soremekun who said his appointment was changed from full-time to contract at UNILAG because of his retired status said he also picked a full-time job at NOUN, where according to him he was accorded all the benefits of office and emoluments.
“Are you aware that after retiring, I took a full time job at the National Open University of Nigeria?” he queried this reporter.
When told that his appointment at NOUN was supposed to be a sabbatical, he said “No, I was not on sabbatical, I was on contract.”
But when he was reminded that a contract job was not a full-time job, Soremekun said, “the Vice Chancellor job is also a tenure job too. The contract is a full-time job, are you aware of that? I was given all the benefits and emoluments at the Open University.”
When once again he was reminded that the NOUN appointment was contract he responded, “You see a contract appointment was also a full-time appointment because I was getting my full salaries and emoluments. At a point, I even acted as a Dean there.”
Political appointment is an aberration to Nigerian University system—ASUU President
Biodun Ogunyemi, National President of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) did not take kindly to the fact that Shoremekun’s retirement status violated the provisions of the law.
He described the appointment, when contacted by The ICIR, as one of the anomalies in the Nigerian university system.
“The provision of the code of conduct is applicable to the office of the vice chancellor. I have talked about this in the past,” Ogunyemi said in response to a question posted to him on whether or not a retired professor is affected by the constitutional provision.
“Many of these things that are wrong we have had cause to talk about them in the past and that was why we had a running battle with that VC. I don’t think those issues are resolved yet. We did petition to the Minister and we did even to the visitor and governing council and nothing came out of our petition. These are some of the anomalies we see in the system.”
The president, who is the Visitor to the university, the ASUU president insists, has no right to appoint vice chancellors directly without the governing councils.
“The Visitor has no right to appoint vice chancellors directly and that was even when the Visitor dissolved the governing councils. Once you appoint anybody from outside the law that governs the institution, you are acting extra-legal and those absurdities are those things we have been attacking in recent years,” he said.
“We protested, we said the governing councils should be brought back until they completed their terms. If they had served their terms new councils should be established immediately. We said those appointments should be regularized and VCs should not be appointed executively.
“They are not Executive Officers. If you appoint VCs executively, you are violating the university autonomy law. This has been the kernel of our old argument against what is going on in the system. That law we are talking about also specifies that the government should visit universities every five years, the last time they visited those Federal Universities was 2012.”
Asked if the position of Vice Chancellor is a political appointment, Ogunyemi replied, “No, the law governing universities has no place for political appointees. What they are doing with our vice chancellors is that they are just corrupting them and they are giving them that false sense of being Chief Executives. There is nothing in our law that calls them Chief Executives.”
“A Vice Chancellor is one among equal and they are calling them political appointees because they want to corrupt them. It is an aberration. Vice Chancellors are not supposed to be called Chief Executives; they are not supposed to be called political appointees. There is no room for political appointees in the university system and the procedure for appointment is governed by law,” he explained.