Professor Abiodun Onilude is a member of the Senate of the University of Ibadan. He was former Dean of the Faculty of Science and current Head, Department of Microbiology of the university. He speaks with WALE AKINSELURE on the crisis that has greeted the process leading up to the emergence of the next Vice Chancellor of Nigeria’s premier university.
Like never before, there are a lot of contentions around the emergence of the next Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan. Why is this so this time?
Let me say that there is no particular issue on ground for contention other than the fact that some people believe that they have influence up there in Abuja and want to use such influence on the selection of the next Vice Chancellor. Also, they refuse to agree that in any particular election, someone will win. What you discover is that due to their action or inaction, the actual autonomy of the university is being eroded. The power of the Senate to appoint its own member to serve on the selection board is also being eroded by people from the Ministry of Education, that is the Minister of Education himself and the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC). They have no role to play in the appointment of Vice Chancellor. Why are they coming around to annul elections? It has never happened in the University of Ibadan. Let’s see how far the powers will go. But, it will reach a particular point where we will tell them that they don’t have that power.
But, it seems the university itself gave the room for the federal government to come in going by crises, protests by the non-academic staff unions. Why blame the FG for intervening to resolve the crisis?
What has any union got to do with the appointment of the Vice Chancellor, whether ASUU, SSANU or NASU? The Act of the University, 1995 (as amended) gives no room for any union in this particular issue. It is purely academic and between the Senate and the Governing Council. Unfortunately, I do not know how exactly some unions came around and started disrupting the entire process and the entire university. Note that the Council was able to accede to whatever it is that SSANU and NASU demanded which came out of pure effrontery to the governing board. The Council is the overall boss of everyone of us and they should be respected. The council was having its meeting and SSANU, NASU in asking for a stop to the meeting put off electricity, put off airconditioner and lock up council members, under threats. Of course, the Chairman of Council, who is about 80 years, and was just recuperating would not want to die there. So, in order to save your life, you have to agree to their demands, at that moment. Under such stress, anybody will agree to anything.
If you say they have nothing to do in the appointment, do you push aside one of the agitations of the non-academic staff that there was a plan to impose a Vice Chancellor on the university?
How can they talk about imposition when there is a particular procedure that was followed right from the beginning? The Act of the University, 1995 (as amended) stipulates the procedure for the appointment of a Vice Chancellor. The procedure has not been breached at any point in time. We were at the tail end wherein the selection board will meet and you now come around goaded by some other people within the system who don’t want to agree that somebody will win to say that you don’t want certain person and created anarchy. They now started stoning those who stood for the selection. In fact, one of our members was stoned near the skull and he had to be treated at the school’s Jaja medical centre. When did we start breeding brigands as union leaders in the university system? I was a past Chairman of ASUU, a past national leader of ASUU. At no time will you have people over there behaving in such a way. What exactly are you portraying the University of Ibadan to be? Let there be responsible unionism.
Aside the agitations of the unions, there were petitions against the emergence of members of the selection board like Professor Peter Olapegba and Professor Ezekiel Ayoola.
The petitions went straight to the Chairman of the governing council, and knowing fully well that council cannot superimpose referred the petition to the Vice Chancellor for action. Council and Senate have separate functions. The Chairman, Council referred it to the Vice Chancellor who happened to be the Chairman of Senate and he referred the case through the Registrar to the people who were alleged to have committed offences and they responded. Senate now sat down to look at it, check it and discovered, in the long run, that the protestations were not worth the salt. And that is why we at Senate agreed that the election that was held to elect members of Senate into the selection board was okay. And we agreed that the e-voting procedure was alright and was not faulted. This is because all the people concerned, including the person in charge of the e-voting reacted and Senate, in its wisdom, looked at it and said it was okay with the result. What role has the Minister and NUC Executive Secretary in the appointment of Vice Chancellor? It is nothing but political brigandage. With time, we will be in the position to let the courts tell them to mind their business in Abuja. This is the University of Ibadan, and whatever is done in Ibadan today will be replicated in other universities and we don’t want something bad going out from us.
But, you are already aligning with the directive of the NUC and, by extension, the Minister of Education to kickstart the process again by re-conducting the election for representatives on the Joint Council/Senate selection board on Wednesday.
It wasn’t that we restarted the process. The Minister asked us to go back and redo the election that is bringing people from Senate to the selection board. Senate in its wisdom debated the issue and we discovered that we don’t want Ibadan to be in the negative all the time. We do know that what these people are doing to us is wrong; they are breaching our autonomy; there is no room for the Minister or NUC Executive Secretary to order us to do something. Senate is independent of any governmental agency. You cannot control Senate. We said that we don’t want to be in the negative and if that is what the man wants, such that it will calm some frayed nerves, so be it. But, we said it should never be cited as precedence. We don’t want people disrupting all the things we have done and we want things to move on. In that letter written by the Executive Secretary, NUC, on behalf of the minister, it was stated that we should commence the conduct of the election immediately. Considering that the tenure of the current Vice Chancellor is to lapse on the 1st of December, we said that we don’t have the time and decided to go ahead with the election on Wednesday. Within 24 hours, with the consent of the Registrar and her team, they said they are ready to conduct the election, we gave the go-ahead for the election. We had the election and the same set of people as the first time was elected. We do know that there are some people even among us doing all they can to goad them in Abuja to interfere in the process in Ibadan.
With Wednesday’s election done, are the 18 applicants who initially satisfied the requirements for position of the Vice Chancellor set to be re-invited as the NUC letter mandated? What is next?
The next thing is for the Registry to pass the ratified list of members of Senate elected to the governing council for necessary action. But we are hearing again that Abuja is not happy with the election we held on Wednesday. Senate, in its wisdom, has agreed to whatever the Minister wants. Let the council invite the 18 applicants again; the Senate will continue to play its part.
In some quarters, there is also the position that the crisis is also about having a candidate with a particular religion emerge.
I don’t want to delve into that particular aspect. But, I do know that we all serve a God that does not lie. I do not know about having a Christian or Muslim but the same God we are serving is a God of truth, God of honesty.
You seem so sure about existence of some godfathers behind the crisis?
There are godfathers and when the time comes, we will expose everything. But, the godfathers should go and sit down and allow council, senate to do their work. Let the godfathers respect institutions in the university system. Let them respect the Council, Senate of the university. The godfathers should go and sleep because, if care is not taken, the whole thing will consume them as well.
With the Senate headed by the Vice Chancellor, there are notions that the Senate is being goaded by the Vice Chancellor to support the emergence of a particular candidate.
There is nothing of such. The Senate is not made up of fools; it is made up of professors as well as academics who have attained the highest level of education. They can reason, argue to reach a conclusion on a particular issue. The University Vice Chancellor is just first among equals. Ibadan is not a place where somebody can just manipulate anybody. The Vice Chancellor cannot manipulate anybody. Are you saying Senate, that is made up of well over 650 persons, can be manipulated by one person? You are talking of the best set of professors and academia in Africa.
Going by the practice over the years, what are the basic criteria that the selection board uses to grade candidates before arriving at a final choice of Vice Chancellor for the university?
I know that the criteria we have been using along the years include that you have to be a professor of 10 years and above; you have to be very visible academically; you also have to belong to various academic societies as a fellow; you ought to have contributed immensely through receiving various grants, bringing in various grants to the university for the training of our students and for manpower development; also if you have been able to serve as director or dean or any capacity that showcases you as a good leader. I know that the federal ministry of education brings some criteria too, which are often modified internally. But it is up to the Council to know what to do.
In making a choice of the next Vice Chancellor, does the University of Ibadan need change or continuity?
Of course, you will want progress to be made in any particular milieu. It won’t be that you will go back to the ways you have been doing things before. When you keep on doing the same thing the same way, then you don’t expect to get better result. Definitely, whoever is coming in should bring in changes into the style of administration.
Another Vice Chancellor is expected have emerged by December 1, which is a few days away. Considering that the appointment process has only just restarted, do you agree that there is the possibility of the university having an acting VC come December 1?
That is exactly what the people in Abuja, as well as those godfathers in Abuja, want. But Senate is very much averse to that. This is because it means you are breaching the procedure. They want to bring in some elements of politics into the whole thing which we are not interested in. We just want to go back to our work; do our research; teach our students and at the same time carry out some community services. We are not interested in all they are doing in Abuja; let them not bring their politics into our campus.
Does the Senate have confidence in the Nde Joshua Waklek led governing council to surperintend over a fair process leading up to the emergence of the next Vice Chancellor?
We have full and absolute confidence in the Waklek-led Council to deliver, provided Abuja allows him to do his work. There is no room for any union to interfere in the election of a Vice Chancellor. How can some people come around to say they don’t want a this or that person? What were you looking at when the process commenced? We are about to conclude the process and some people came around to say they don’t want particular candidate and that a particular candidate should be included in the shortlist. People should not throw caution to the wind.