No to village vice-chancellor
The Village Headmaster was a popular Nigerian television drama series created by Olusegun Olusola and produced by Dejumo Lewis. The drama was Nigeria’s longest-running television soap opera showed on the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) from 1968 to 1988 and starred Justus Esiri and Femi Robinson, The programme was developed by Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) and rated as a major success of television drama in the country.
The Village Headmaster was set in the fictitious Yoruba village of Oja. The contending issues on daily basis were social problems and the effect of government policies in Oja. Produced after Nigeria gained independence in 1960, it was the first major television drama with an ensemble cast from different ethnic groups. Nigerian Pidgin was mixed with Standard English as the Oja residents’ language of choice. Most of the scenes occurred in the Oloja of Oja’s palace, the headmaster’s school, and Amebo’s palm wine shack. All these depicted typical village atmosphere where people’s culture and tradition were observed.
Apart from Dejumo Lewis, the Oloja and traditional ruler of Oja who featured prominently, as most scenes were conducted in his palace, the second most important character was Justus Esiri, whose role captured the title of the drama – The Village Headmaster. Like the Oloja, most scenes occurred in his school.
In terms of personality ranking, the village headmaster could be the most important person in the village, perhaps, for being the most educated. Even the traditional ruler of Oja, sometimes relied on him for advice on burning village issues. Take note, village issues and not national or international issues. The headmaster may know little or nothing on issues outside his immediate Oja village.
Here is an old-fashioned school headmaster, intelligent, and always wearing khaki shorts and carrying books while trekking to school. To the villagers, the headmaster was like a ‘black white man,’ being perhaps the only person who could understand English when the white man spoke.
The world of the headmaster and indeed the entire villagers revolved around the happenings in the village. All the actions and thoughts of the headmaster are rooted in the village culture and tradition. The headmaster, though perceived as a “black white man,” he is also the village champion. He joins villagers in gossips at Amebo’s palm wine drinking shack.
I have taken time to relive the famous The Village Headmaster to illustrate how one educated “intelligent” man is seen by the villagers as a demigod simply because they could not see beyond their noses. They don’t know what is happening beyond the village. The headmaster is an expert in the village affairs. He thinks and acts and respects the culture and tradition of the village. His intelligence does not go beyond the happenings in the village.
While that may be okay for a village school, it cannot be okay for a university. There is a ‘universe’ in a university. Thus, put together, we have universe + city. Call it a city that deals with the universe and not just a village, town or country.
It is against this background that the emerging trend in Nigeria whereby university vice-chancellors are selected from the immediate village or community of the institution is an aberration and most offensive as it negates all the norms for which a university is known for. Our universities are being turned into village tertiary institutions that must accept students, teachers and other ancillary staff from the immediate environment. The spirit and purpose of university have departed from our clime, which explains why standards have collapsed.
Unfortunately, the Federal Government has been in the vanguard of this anomie. The Nigerian perverted education system has been promoting this abnormality and accepting it as a norm. It started by restricting prospective candidates to what is called ‘catchment area’ outside which they cannot be offered admission.
Thus, from village students on campus, we are advancing to having village vice-chancellors, whose job is to promote the culture and tradition of the community. The village vice-chancellor will identify with the traditional rulers, identify with village gossip and palm wine drinking joints. He will serve as the brain box of the village as the traditional ruler will consult him on burning village issues. That is the direction we are marching in this 21st century Internet technology age.
It is therefore not surprising that the other day, Ibadan elders demanded that the next vice-chancellor of the University of Ibadan must be an Ibadan indigene, a son of the soil, as it is often said in this clime.
According to reports, the leaders of the Ibadan socio-cultural group, Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to appoint Ibadan descendants as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan and the Chief Medical Director of the University College Hospital when these positions become vacant.
Alleging marginalization in the past when these positions were handed out, the group went further to draw a long list of possible candidates for the vice-chancellor position, which contained names of Ibadan indigenes they want President Buhari to consider.
By implication, the Ibadan elders have already selected the Vice-Chancellor, which they now want Buhari to approve. This is an abnormality in the academic world, which does not happen anywhere in the world.
Without mincing word, President Buhari should simply ignore the distraction, which, if granted would turn all our tertiary institutions to village institution that would further deprecate Nigeria’s already diminished academic standing.
If President Buhari grants the Ibadan elders’ request, then the indigenes of all the other federal universities will make the same request for the university in their domain to have an indigene as VC and government will have no reason not to grant it.
The other day, it was reported that a Nigerian professor, Charles Egbu, was appointed Vice-Chancellor of Leeds Trinity University in the United Kingdom. According to information, Professor Egbu will take over from Margaret House, who will be stepping down after seven years.
If a UK University, a foreign white man’s country, could appoint a Nigerian black man as Vice-Chancellor, what on earth would stop a Nigerian from being appointed vice-chancellor in any university anywhere in country?
There is a way out to stop the drift of our universities to becoming village institutions. While state university could afford to appoint indigene of the state as VC of a state university, the same cannot be the case with federal universities.
Consequently, to solve this problem once and for all and that is if the Federal Government is ready and willing to restore order, as a matter of policy, no federal university anywhere in the country should have a vice-chancellor from the state where the university is located.
The University of Ibadan should have a Vice-Chancellor from the far north, while Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria should have a VC from the south. The University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) should have a VC from the far north the same goes with the University of Maiduguri having a VC from the south.
There was a time when vice-chancellors of federal universities were appointed from beyond the state where the institution is located. Those were the time when Prof. Adamu Baikie a Zaria born, distinguished educationist, academician and university administrator served as the VC of the University of Benin; Professor Emmanuel Emovon from Edo State served as VC of University of Jos and Professor Frank Ndili from Delta State served as VC of UNN, among many others.
Can we return to that golden age when academics reigned in the universities and not politics of son of the soil?
Finally, as part of the solution to the prevailing academic anomie, the policy of catchment area and environmentalism whereby university can only admit candidates from their immediate environment should be expunged. Candidates should be free to apply to any university of their choice while the universities should also be free to admit the best candidates from anywhere in the country and beyond. That is the ideal all over the world. That is the way forward.
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