A few days ago, on 12th February, 2016, the Minister of Education announced that President Buhari has approved the appointment of thirteen Vice-Chancellors for Federal Universities in replacement for those supposedly removed from office. This has attracted spontaneous ire and condemnation of some well-meaning Nigerians including Civil Society organizations as a gross violation of the Universities Autonomy Act 2003, and an unprovoked attack on University of Autonomy, a naked usurpation of the powers of the Governing Council of these universities and a brazen affront on the rule of law and due process amongst others. This brief analysis is a juridical anatomy of the true legal prescription on the appointment and removal of Vice-Chancellors of Federal Universities under our extant laws.
Statutory Framework of Federal Universities in Nigeria
Federal Universities in Nigeria are creatures of Law. Each University is established by an Act enacted by the Federal Legislature. These enabling laws specify the powers, functions and responsibilities of the various constituent bodies and functionaries of the universities.
Two major statutes provide the legal framework for Federal Universities in Nigeria as follows:
The enabling Law of each university which established it, and
The Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act No. 11, 1993 as amended by The Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions)(Amendment) Act No. 55 of 1993; The Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions)(Amendment) Act No. 25 of 1996; The Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions)(Amendment) Act 2003, otherwise called The Universities Autonomy Act No. 1, 2007 and The Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Act 2012.
It is to be observed that the provisions of The Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act No. 11, 1993 and the amendment No. 55 of 1993 as well as No. 25 of 1996, have been adapted and incorporated into the various enabling laws of the Federal Universities in the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004. However, the amendments of 2003 and 2012 not yet formally incorporated are to be read into the enabling laws under the principle of incorporation by reference. Thus, these laws whether formally incorporated or not, now form integral parts of the enabling laws of all Federal Universities.
Autonomy of Universities
Two new Sections introduced by The Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2003 clearly proclaim the autonomy or independence of the Universities as they provide as follows:
“S.2AA. The powers of the Council shall be exercised, as in the Law and Statutes of each University and to this extent establishment circulars that are inconsistent with the Laws and Statutes of the University shall not apply to the Universities.” and
“S.2AAA -The Governing Council of a University shall be free in the discharge of its functions and exercise of its responsibilities for the good management, growth and development of the university.”
The purpose of these provisions is to liberate the universities from the entanglement of the Civil Service and to enable the Council exercise its powers and perform its functions without undue external interference or influence.
Appointment of Vice-Chancellors
The relevant provision of the law on this subject is to be found in section 3 of the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions Act No. 11 of 1993 (hereinafter referred to as the Principal Act) as amended by the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions)(Amendment) Act No. 25 of 1996 and the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions)(Amendment) Act, 2003 (No. 1 2007) otherwise referred to as the “Universities Autonomy Act” which are now integral parts of the provisions of the enabling law of each Federal university. Section 3 of the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions)(Amendment) Act No. 25 of 1996 had amended Section 3 of the Principal Act No. 11 of 1993 by prescribing a single term of five years for the Vice-Chancellor and the procedure for the appointment.
However, under section 3 of the Principal Act as amended, the power to appoint the Vice-Chancellor now vests in the Governing Council, provided that the latter informs the Visitor after the appointment has been made.
For the avoidance of any doubt section 3 of the Principal Act as amended provides:
“3. – (1) There shall be a Vice-Chancellor of a University (in this Act referred to a “the Vice-Chancellor”) who shall be appointed by the Governing Council.
(2) Where a vacancy occurs in the post of a Vice-Chancellor, the Council shall –
advertise the vacancy in a reputable journal or widely read newspaper in Nigeria, specifying –
the qualities of the persons who may apply for the post, and
(ii the terms and conditions of service applicable to the post,
and thereafter draw up a short list of suitable candidates for the post for consideration;
constitute a Search Team consisting of –
a member of the Council, who is not a member of the Senate, as chairman;
two members of the Senate who are not members of the Council, one of whom shall be a Professor;
two members of Congregation who are not members of the Council, one of whom shall be a Professor,
to identify and nominate for consideration, suitable persons who are not likely to apply for the post on their own volition because they feel that it is not proper to do so.
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