THE appointment of Professor Ayobami Salami as the new Vice-Chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife has now brought to an end the earlier suspended selection of a new Vice-Chancellor for a five-year term for the university. The suspension of the selection process was occasioned by the violent protests from two non-teaching staff unions, NASU and SSANU, condemning the selection process because it was considered as a violation of university statutory provisions governing the selection of a new vice-chancellor. Their claim was that the Governing Council usurped the statutory duty of the Joint Council and Senate Selection Board by shortlisting candidates before the Joint Council/Senate Selection Board was even put in place in the first instance.
I have followed the various events and the politics around the selection process from the view points of both the aspirants and the condemning unions through their released statements, protests, ASUU interactive forum, and also through comments from senior academic staff members and of course from the grapevine as well. From all these, it was evident that the protests arose from a lack of awareness and understanding of the current provisions that have made the Governing Council self-regulating with respect to the selection of a vice-chancellor. This ignorance then became a veil for aggregating and venting bottled displeasure with the out-going vice-chancellor which was then couched as a manipulation of the selection process to favour that the candidature of Prof Ayobami Salami. The ignorance of the selection procedure also affected some of the candidates who applied, a situation that caught some of them unaware with respect to networking and establishing rapport with the ‘kingmakers’, that is, the Governing Council members. They had thought the change of government would affect the composition of the Council whose membership were composed under the previous government. This informed the persistent call for the dissolution of the current Council and the blackmailing of its members as having being compromised.
Rather than own up to the fact of their ill-preparedness, some of the internal candidates picked up grouse with Professor Salami. Their grouse with him lied in the choice of method he used to campaign for support, as against that of the rest of the aspirants to the office of vice-chancellor.
Professor Salami’s previous positions in the university must have further boosted his interest for higher leadership roles in the University. While he was in Senate in 1996, Professor Wale Omole was the vice-chancellor. Prof Salami has been part of the transitions from Professor Wale Omole to Professor Roger Makanjuola and then to Prof Mike Faborode. All these selections, were done under the regulations. As a member of the Council then, he participated very actively in the ushering in of the new vice-chancellor, Professor Faborode. From 2006, he was appointed Director of the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Studies up till 2010 when he again became a Member of the Governing Council of Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Owo in Ondo State from 2010 to 2014. As an insider and a member of the team that supported Professor Tale Omole as vice-chancellor in 2011, Professor Salami was elected to become the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the university, a post he has held till date.
Professor Salami has traversed all these transitions from different university administrations at Obafemi Awolowo University as a key player in the highest decision-making organs of the university and, thereby, was in good knowledge of how things are done in the system.
Armed with this knowledge, he had known which direction his campaign strategy would move. So while most of the aspirants their campaigns, focusing more on outside influences such as running after governors, prostrating in royal palaces across Yoruba land, and courting influential pentecostal men of God all over Nigeria, Professor Salami simply chose to be guided by his administrative experience in the recent past.
Contrary to the issue of imposition touted against the outgoing vice-chancellor, Professor Omole, by NASU and SSANU in their releases and declarations in their protests and advertisement in the national dailies, Professor Salami was, and is still, a grass root person.
The impression of many members of the university community is that a number of the aspirants to the office of the vice-chancellor did not even campaign to any of the internal members of the Governing Council who they knew so well, while Salami was running up and down, his impressive and compelling credentials notwithstanding. He obviously was able to persuade many. Another factor that spoke more eloquently of Professor Salami’s chances above all other candidates was an intimidating list of several grants he has brought into the university since 2004 as a world-renown researcher. He is ranked as one the best two researchers in terms of research funds attracted to the university. Grants are cardinal for research to run and for students to be abreast of standard practices in research and knowledge dissemination.
In terms of preparation for the race, few of the aspirants seemed to have started early enough. Quite a number of them just woke up with the call for applications for the vacant job in December 2015. Unlike others, Professor Salami had been preparing for becoming vice-chancellor a long while ago, given his administrative experience over time which towered over that of all others. His strategy was to build his intimidating curriculum vitae rather than depend on the goodwill of godfathers.
The Governing Council did their shortlisting and the result was a shock to the university, and particularly those who had expected their candidates to make the shortlist. The result should be a big shame to the University! Out of eleven aspirants who applied, only six were shortlisted with five of OAU professors knocked out of the list while two contestants from the Federal University of Technology, Akura (FUTA) made the list. The five professors were knocked out for not being productive in scientific publications for the past five years, or since the announcement of their professorship, lack of international exposure and lack of grants attracted to the university.
Instead of staff unions protesting against the shortlisting, they should be ashamed because this was a big statement on the state of research in the university. How can such professors sustain themselves on their jobs in foreign universities where you have to justify the reasons the university must keep you for the next minute? How would the university now account for the research grants in tertiary institutions such as ETF and TETFUND to the Federal Government? The university administration must find a way of shaking up this lethargy among academics, especially professors, who traditionally are supposed to be the drivers of research innovations.
Therefore, ASUU need to help their half brothers and sisters in unionism, that is NASU and SSANU, to be more ethical in union activism and popular struggle each time there is a cause for such in the university. ASUU should provide the required leadership in this direction for other unions, that is, the sanctity of data and information must be protected for the communication of truth. The ivory tower shouldn’t be a home of violence but a haven where problems are solved for the society.
Once again, I like to restate that when the old system had long ceased to be in force, it was still brimming in the psyche of some office seekers. And by the time they came close to the reality of the whole show, it was almost too late for redemption. So the real cause of the crisis in the university was not the manipulation of the selection process in favour of Professor Salami but the ignorance of critical stakeholders about the selection process.
- Opaloka is a Research Assistant at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.