The appointment of vice chancellors in Nigerian universities is always full of intrigues. In many cases, the selection process is marred by conflicts of interests and petitions, which often results in legal actions.
By Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Act 2003, otherwise called Universities Autonomy Act No. 1, 2007 and Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Act 2012, the process for the appointment of a vice chancellor in public universities is the statutory responsibility of the Governing Council of each university.
In the last few years, some universities have had their share of controversy in the appointment of vice chancellors.
For instance, in the fourth quarter of 2021, Osun State University (UNIOSUN) was embroiled in controversy over who to succeed the then outgoing VC, Prof. Labo Popoola.
The University of Ibadan (UI) last year equally experienced its own upheavals in the process of appointing a new VC; it took the intervention of education minister, Adamu Adamu to resolve the impasse and for the selection process earlier suspended to continue.
The selection process was characterised by intrigues, accusations and counter-accusations, which peaked with protests from staff unions. At a time, there were campaigns for an Ibadan indigene to become the VC.
A similar scenario played out in Lagos State University (LASU), forcing the Visitor, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, on two occasions, to reject recommendations of the Governing Council.
The appointment of Vice Chancellor of Federal University, Oye Ekiti, Ekiti State (FUOYE) followed the same pattern. Events leading to the appointment of Prof. Abayomi Sunday Fasina as VC had resulted in legal action.
The latest of such crises is that of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), where a group protested the emergence of Prof Adebayo Bamire, an indigene of Ilobu in Osun State, as substantive Vice Chancellor of the institution.
The protesters had accused the Governing Council of scheming out an indigene of Ile-Ife, the institution’s host community, from being appointed.
The protest was later suspended following intervention of prominent persons, including the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi. The monarch cautioned indigenes and residents of the ancient city who were dissatisfied with the process to desist from actions that could lead to breakdown of law and order in the state.
Speaking on appointment of VCs and issues around their emergence, Prof. Abideen Olaiya of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), said: “There is a problem with the system, people use sentiments of religion, tribe and the union they belong to. Even those who are not academics are now interested in who becomes vice chancellor and are turning themselves into kingmakers, threatening to make universities ungovernable if their favoured candidate is not given consideration
Education consultant, Jacqueline Samuel Odiadi, lamented that appointment of vice chancellors of some institutions in recent times are distorted by ethnic sentiments, bigotry and irrational statements devoid of professional dictates the office commands.
“The malaise of the larger Nigerian society called ‘son-of-the soil’ syndrome has finally taken hold in academia. It wasn’t so before. Leadership capability top academic records and ability to move the institution up, not tribe or candidacy through traditional rulers, state or local government areas,” she said.
According to her, the vice chancellor of a university is expected to possess both high academic and sterling personal qualities to function effectively as both the academic and administrative head of learning and research-based institutions.
She said whereas the Chancellor or Pro-chancellor could be a political appointee, the appointment of VC is often subjected to a rigorous process to ensure that the best candidate emerges.
Odiadi noted that the vice chancellor is the Chief Executive Officer of the university and heads academic and administrative departments. She said the VC is expected, amongst other duties, to serve on several university councils, assist with policy development, academic planning, assist with fundraising, prepare budgets, handle external relations of the institute and is also the chief ambassador of the university. She stated that institutions have yardsticks aspiring vice chancellors are expected to meet.
“Generally, a VC must possess at least Ph.D. in his or her chosen discipline, possess extensive academic, teaching and managerial experience; a good record of scholarship; interpersonal skills with a wide range of people; problem solving skills; superb active listening, communication and presentation skills; ability to think on your feet and talk to the press; ability to be collegial and deal with issues in a professional manner; ability to network and having top notch administrative skill set, among others.
“There is nothing in the foregoing that these skills are the exclusive preserve of a race, creed, gender or tribe. To advocate along these lines is to exhibit the fragmented state of our current polity. The Nigerian State is currently in a dangerous and unenviable state of disunity or fragmented unity, which is now playing out even at the level of academia. We often celebrate Nigerians appointed as VCs of foreign universities and other institutions of higher learning; but we cringe when a Sokoto man becomes the VC of a federal university in the West or South or an Anambra man emerges VC of an institution in Kano.
“We need to focus on the job or office of the VC, remind ourselves again, refocus on who a VC is, or expected to be; laid down parameters for appointment of a VC, what soft skills and other non-academic skills a VC must posses, ensure transparency and compliance with due process, devoid of any form of bias in the screening exercise and subsequent appointment of the vice chancellor or head of any tertiary institution.
“The current happenings playing out are as a result of long years of mistrust of the process, underhand measures in the appointment of VCs, lack of transparency and non-conformity with due process in the appointment of vice chancellors. I have no support for those playing the ethnic card or flying the indigenship flag, I, however, support review of the whole process of appointment,” Odiadi said.
On his part, education consultant, Julius Opara, lamented that indigeneship and ethnic sentiments have caused a lot in the country, and more painfully, in the education sector.
“Most times, the cap might not fit the indigene being groomed for the position. Why force it? Do we, at every instance of our educational life play politics to the neglect of common sense? We should realise the simple fact that integrity and passion of a person to be appointed as vice chancellor, is as important as his/her administrative and leadership acumen.
“It is important that we begin to understand that the position of a vice chancellor is an exalted one, signifying utmost honour for the person holding it. It is not a gift card for favour received.”
Opara noted that there are administrators who are of impeccable character, with high integrity, experience and astute collegial disposition across the country who can be requested to occupy the position of the vice chancellor, but cautioned that such should be solely based on the recognition of the good works they had done.
“If such a person happens to be an indigene, no problem as long as we are putting a round peg in a round hole.” Opara maintained that the yardstick for appointing a VC should be purely on merit and not on ethnic sentiment. He said: “He or she should have strong leadership skills. By that, I mean the vice chancellor must know his or her business well and be morally committed to maintain the dignity of the position.
“Apart from the individual being a noted academic, who has over the years gained a strong administrative acumen, a vice chancellor needs to possess five leadership qualities as proposed by Dr. Khursheed Ahmad.”
But a registrar at Kashmir University, Lagos, said a vice chancellor is one who should possess leadership in vision, integrity, excellence, accountability, transparency, autonomy and teamwork.