Varsities’ governing councils and burden of politics
Nigerian universities are not short of drama. Examples are students’ ‘uprising’ against the institutions, teachers’ exploitation of the former as well as lecturers’ revolt against the government to the former’s internal wrangling over supremacy as the recent situation at the University of Lagos shows, writes Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL
On May 9, 2017, then-minister of education inaugurated the governing councils of 23 federal universities appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari. There are 40 federal universities in Nigeria. Federal University, Dutse, Jigawa had members with no chairman as of that time. There were 37 council chairmen and 165 members. Out of 165 members, the state of origin of 141 members and geopolitical zones for 151 members were identified. Fourteen members could not be identified based on either state of origin or geopolitical zones.
Further break down of the figures showed that south-west had the highest number of council chairmen (10) and south-south had the least. North-west had the highest number of council members and north-central had the least. In total, north-west and south-west had the most numbers of council chairmen and members while south-south and south-east had the least. Each geopolitical zone should have at least four council chairmen and 25 members if distributed evenly.
At the state level, there should be at least five appointments from each state including the Federal Capital Territory. Borno State had 10 members and the only south-eastern state that had an above-average number of appointments was Imo State with seven. Similarly, south-south had Bayelsa with five appointments.
Chinedu Ugwu, a scholar, further shared his thought on the scenario. He said, “I found out that most states with more than average appointments are ruled by All progressive congress party (APC) while those with the least appointments are from the opposition parties (PDP, APGA).
“Similarly, the regions with the least appointments are affected by one restiveness or the other such as those clamouring for secession (Biafra) or resource control (Niger delta avengers). The states affected by Boko haram terrorism such as Borno and Kaduna had more appointments possibly because they are connected to the ruling party, APC.”He raised a few posers: “Having looked at the data, the office of my citizen will leave you with these few questions: Does this reflect federal character application and sense of belonging? Does it mean that there are no accomplished people from the states or region with least appointments that meet the criteria?”
Nigerian universities are not short of drama. From students’ ‘uprising’ against the institution to lecturers’ exploitation of the former; from lecturers’ revolt against the government to the former’s internal wrangling over supremacy. There is also the corrosive politicking that leaves the institution in a choke-hold grip of both external and internal forces in a war of attrition that provides veritable recipes for Nigerian sitcoms like the Fuji House of Commotion.
The recent leadership crisis that sprung up at the University of Lagos has once again thrown up the issue of the legitimacy of governing councils in Nigeria’s university system.The Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Act 2003, otherwise called the Universities Autonomy Act, is considered an interesting piece of legislation. Enacted by the National Assembly and signed into law on July 10, 2003, by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. It was on January 12, 2007, as Act No. 1 of 2007.
The composition of each governing council of federal universities under the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Act 2003 remains the same as in the Principal Act, Decree No.11 of 1993. The only “insignificant difference”, as noted by a law professor, Ehi Oshio, is in respect of the opening phrase in the Principal Act that the “council of any university shall consist of” which is now changed under the Amendment Act to: “There shall be a council for each of the universities consisting of”.
The implication of this appears to be that whereas the Principal Act assumed the continued existence of the councils and provided only for their composition, the Amendment Act created the councils before providing for their composition with the same clause, Oshio argued.Under both acts the governing council of a federal university consists of the pro-chancellor; vice-chancellor; the deputy vice-chancellors; an official from the minister of education; four persons representing a variety of interests and broadly representative of Nigeria to be appointed by the National Council of Ministers; four persons appointed by the Senate from among its members; two persons appointed by the Congregation from among its members; and one person appointed by convocation from among its members.
The council’s membership can be viewed in two ways: ex-officio members (vice-chancellor, deputy vice-chancellors and one person from the ministry of education. These are all members of the council by virtue of their offices) and non-ex-officio members (all other members); and external members (pro-chancellor, representative of ministry of education and the four other members representing a variety of interests appointed by the National Council of Ministers) and internal members (vice-chancellor and deputy vice-chancellors, are normally referred to as internal members of the governing council. These are members and representatives of the university community in council).
So, what kind of person should form the council? The amended act explains: “Persons to be appointed to the council shall be of proven integrity, knowledgeable and familiar with the affairs and tradition of the university.”In other words, the government must ensure that such an individual is of proven integrity and be knowledgeable and familiar with the affairs and traditions of the university.
Curiously though, apart from the moral qualification, the act does not clearly state any educational qualification for membership of the council.“However,” said Oshio, “the necessary implication to be gleaned is that, for a person to be knowledgeable and familiar with the affairs and tradition of the university, he must at least have gone through the university system. In other words, it can safely be implied from this provision that a member of the governing council should be at least a graduate from any recognised university.”
Yet, when the federal government constituted the first sets of governing councils’, non-graduates were included.The governing council, as indicated above, is the highest authority of the university and has full responsibility and control for the custody and disposition of all finances and property of the university. The chairman of the committee is the pro-chancellor, while other members are constituted as external members, including visitors, appointees from various interest groups and internal members, mainly university management, including representatives of the senate.
The council is responsible for approving the financial guidelines of the universities; determining the terms and conditions of appointment of the vice-chancellors and principal officers of the universities as well as annually reviewing the universities’ budget to monitor their performance and assess the overall impact of their implementation, among other responsibilities.
For a starter, the council has powers to do anything, which, in its opinion, is calculated to facilitate the development of the university, including the regulation of the constitution and conduct of the university. The pro-chancellor and the council that he leads play a critical role in the affairs of a university.
In Nigeria, a vice chancellor is regarded as the chief executive of a university. Yet, he cannot act independently in the selection, employment, evaluation, or discipline of university officers and students. Instead, the head of the Federal Government of Nigeria performs these tasks. According to a scholar, Felix Chima Ugwonali, the administrative structure of the university is such that it is difficult to say who is in control. Every employee is expected to have some responsibilities, but ultimate authority rests with top management. Thus, accountability and authority are vertical, but responsibility can be both vertical and horizontal.
Former vice-chancellor, Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago Iwoye, Prof Sheriffdeen Tella said, “The university general administration is headed by a governing council like a board of directors in the private sector, making broad policies.Tella explained, “The council is composed of external and internal members and headed by a chairman, appointed by the government in the case of a public university or by the proprietor for private. The general day to day administration is done by the VC and his management team. They are responsible to the council.
“Council can call the administration to order through its chairman. For the UNILAG case, like any other, if there is a petition of great consequence, the chairman could have called a council meeting to set up a committee within the council to look into the issue and make recommendations. Universities are run on the committee system.”
On his part, former vice-chancellor, Lagos State University (LASU), Prof John Obafunwa said the council of any university reserves the right to ask questions or discipline any erring member of staff. The former VC noted that once a vice-chancellor oversteps his boundary, he could be questioned or calls to order by the council.
In 2016, a public affairs analyst, Babajide Alabi, said of the crisis of confidence concerning university’s governing council, “In federal universities, you will think quality will be the keyword. Unfortunately, the system for the appointment of officials, especially vice-chancellors, has been corrupted that educational attainment is no longer one of the criteria. The university administrators in the country are now more of politicians than intellectuals.
“The process is far from being transparent, as godfatherism has also crept into it. The recent ‘flip flop’ events at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife, have portrayed the Federal Government via Adamu, as unserious and partial umpires. The fallout of the appointment of an incumbent vice chancellor for the university has no doubt cast serious doubt on government’s plans for the university sector.”
A little background, the then acting VC at the Obafemi Awolowo University was opposed by a powerful clique because he was not from Ile Ife -he was from Ibadan. It was a power game in which they prevailed in the end by ‘enthroning’ their own man.Appointments into the governing councils of Nigerian universities are often characterised by high-level politicking with merit and integrity often the sacrificial lamb. Even at that, the internal wrangling of the council can put the educational system at a standstill.
Education experts like Dr. Ocheme Akpakwu and Prof. F.A. Okwo, pointed out that education is an offshoot of the political system, which explains why education is influenced by political considerations. When political factors such as ethnicity, sectionalism, religion, partisanship, catchment area, quota system and favouritism influence the appointment of council members, vice-chancellors and other principal officers of universities, the morale of staff and students is dampened, mediocrity is enthroned and productivity is affected.
They said in an academic report, “Every day, managers of federal and state universities are confronted with personnel issues and problems which demand that they make and take decisions. As resources are generally scarce to satisfy the competing needs of their institutions and various interests, educational managers are bound to make choices from available alternatives. Their choices could, however, be influenced by many political factors from within or outside the institutions that could have implications for the appointment of council members, vice-chancellors and other principal officers of universities. Whether from within or from outside, managers of these universities take decisions that discriminate against certain alternatives.
The power of appointment is the subject of occasional abuse by visitors or governors who choose to play politics with higher education. The implication of this for personnel management in federal and state universities is the likelihood of vice-chancellors and other principal officers appointed on the basis of ethnic loyalty and sectional politicking, showing bias in favour of those from their ethnic, religious or sectional background who may have helped them to power and by so doing, may contribute to the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of the universities, Akpakwu and Okwo explained.