The lingering OAU crisis

The Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, has been in the news in recent times for the wrong reasons. The Federal Government, on Monday July 18, directed the Senate of the university to appoint an Acting Vice Chancellor for the institution. This was the latest of bizarre developments on the crisis which started with the commencement of the search and selection of a new vice chancellor for the 55-year-old federal university by its Governing Council headed by Professor Rowland Ndoma-Egba, a renowned orthopedic surgeon. Initially, allegations of financial impropriety were levelled against the then outgoing  vice chancellor, Professor Tale Omole, who then tasked his challengers to go to court or petition the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) if they had any facts to substantiate their claims. Until his tenure terminated, however, nothing concrete was done in that direction.

It was no wonder then that the eventual selection of Omole’s deputy in charge of Academics, Professor Ayobami Salami by the Governing Council was seen as an attempt to continue with the old order and met with stiff resistance, not by the institution’s branch of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), but by its  Non Academic Staff Union (NASU) and Senior Staff  Association of Nigerian  Universities (SSANU) local branches which constitutionally have no role whatsoever in the appointment of a vice chancellor. They alleged that Omole in his desperation to install his crony compromised the process to favour Salami. They therefore called for the dissolution of the Governing Council and the selection of another vice chancellor. They proceeded to court to halt the process but the university’s Governing Council also went to court to obtain an order, under whose cover it ensured the selection of a new vice chancellor and the winner received due official documents and was in fact congratulated by the authorities as the new vice chancellor.

Naturally, the academic calendar of the OAU is lagging behind that of its counterpart federal universities due to the crisis that has bedeviled the university and this ought to be a great source of concern to all stakeholders, including members of alumni and parents. The intervention of the Federal Government in the aftermath of the sit-out being held by the NASU/SSANU members at the University Secretariat directing Senate to appoint an Acting VC after dissolving the University Council and suspending the process of the selection of the vice chancellor left many key questions unanswered. Who will call the Senate to order where the choice will be made, seeing that there is neither a VC nor Council in place? Even salaries have not been paid since there is no one to order and sign same. We think that the restoration of order should have been ensured before the Federal Government intervention. Or are the NASU/SSANU members so powerful that they can muscle a sitting government to do their bidding? When did the appointment of a vice chancellor become the job of NASU/SSANU?

Indeed, how do you whimsically suspend a process that has been concluded? Has the congregation of professors who voted denied selecting Salami? The intervention of the Federal Government is an aberration, given that federal universities have been granted autonomy by the Federal Government. What is more, the agitation that attended the selection of the new OAU vice chancellor is not novel. To take just one recent example, in the case of the choice of the current Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole as the vice chancellor of the University of Ibadan, there were also protests and it took the intellectual wizardry of the then Governing Council headed by Wole Olanipekun (SAN) to resolve the imbroglio. The OAU is not the first place where a DVC Academics has succeeded the incumbent vice chancellor.

The national body of ASUU should not watch what is the gain of several months of struggle go down the drain. This is not about Salami. It is about the due process. The choice of an acting VC will further compound the extant problems, as precluding former contenders from participating in the new process is not justiciable. Again, the courts are there to adjudicate in situations like this, such that the lives of young ones in school are not allowed to go to the ruins while workers flex muscles. There are processes for removing incompetent vice chancellors. Salami has already been appointed and given a letter to that effect. He should be allowed to resume and then evaluated and removed if the need arises, but it must be based on facts rather than trumped up charges. The cases in court should be allowed to run their course while the school calendar runs as scheduled.

To say the least, the manner of the announcement of the sack of the OAU Governing Council and its University of Port Harcourt counterpart is demeaning, and may discourage competent citizens from taking up such responsibilities in the future. Those in positions of authority both at the federal and university levels should aim for peace. This is the only condition under which this citadel of learning which has produced great minds can continue to play its role in engendering development, earning accolades and recognition in the comity of varsities globally.