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University autonomy, ASUU meddlesomeness and war against Pantami

By Prof. Joe Abugu
19 February 2022   |   10:56 am
ASUU is perennially in the news and sometimes for the very wrong reasons. Two recent events precipitate this piece. The first is the resolution to yet embarking on another strike over the Federal Government’s indisposition to honour agreements. Whilst this may be within the legal objects of ASUU, quite a number of members have questioned…

ASUU is perennially in the news and sometimes for the very wrong reasons. Two recent events precipitate this piece. The first is the resolution to yet embarking on another strike over the Federal Government’s indisposition to honour agreements. Whilst this may be within the legal objects of ASUU, quite a number of members have questioned the wide ambit of its demands.

It is unfortunate that University professors earn the equivalent of salaries paid to Assistant Directors in the Ministries or Local Government Councilors or Supervisors in banks. The emolument of academics is a given issue for ASUU to address. The National Minimum Wage implementation for academics is another pivotal issue. Members believe that these should be the core agitations by ASUU to lift its members from the jaws of poverty to economic sufficiency.

Time there was when Professors earned more than Ministers. A lot of emphasis is being paid today to revitalize of infrastructures in tertiary institutions with the impression created that without ASUU, the entire infrastructural framework of tertiary education will crumble. Desirable as that may be, it is not the core mandate of the body. Such prophesy of doom is myopic and self-serving. While ASUU contends with the Federal Government about the revitalization of infrastructures, this position has not been taken to State and privately funded universities, thus giving the impression that the dearth of infrastructures is only a problem of federal universities.

Poorly funded state and private universities abound. One would also have expected the Union to galvanize students, parents and alumni to join forces in the quest for improved infrastructural funding of universities. Instead, it carries on with an air of superior paternity of knowing it all. The putative strike just declared has also raised the issue of the lobby machinery of ASUU in achieving its demands or put differently, whether it has fully exploited all other avenues for averting a strike. It is students who suffer. It is paradoxical that while ASUU asserts the interest of sustenance and standards in the Universities, the students suffer the attendant disruptions.

The second catalyst of this piece is the recent pronouncements concerning the rank of Professor conferred by the Governing Council of Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO) on Dr Isa Ali Pantami, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy. At a news conference, ASUU took on Prof. Pantami and declared that his Professorship is illegal. It further directed its members not to recognize the title, embarking on a foray into unchartered territory with serious issues of locus standi and jurisdictional competence. Like an Octopus, ASUU is lashing out at different fronts at the same time.

We shall dwell in detail, several questions come to the fore: Which body or authority has the legal capacity to confer Professorship? Who has the capacity to challenge any irregularity in the appointment of a Professor? What is ASUU’s legal capacity in the appointment of Professors in a Federal institution?

Is there a uniform standard/qualification for the appointment of Professors that is sought to be maintained and enforced by ASUU? Is there a precedent for ASUU to follow?

A University Governing Council is the supreme governing body of each University. The Council is responsible for making policies and decisions for the good of the University and the general management of the affairs of the University lies with the Council. The Council has the authority and power to do and facilitate anything that will better the university community, including making rules and regulations for students and staff of the University.

By section 3 of the Federal Universities of Technology Act 1993,  the University shall have power to inter alia institute professorships, readerships or associate professorships, lecture-

ships, and other posts and offices and to make appointments thereto; and by section 6, the Council shall be the governing body of the University and shall be charged with the general control and superintendence of the policy, finances and property of the University.

It is clear, therefore, that ASUU has no power to institute or confer professorship. It is noteworthy that the University Council comprises two representatives of the congregation of teachers. Whilst the congregation is the body of academics in the University, it is not synonymous with ASUU. Can ASUU then have the power to declare a Professorship conferred by an institution illegal? The answer may probably be found in the Rule book or Constitution of ASUU.

As a registered trade union under the Trade Union Act, its Rule book neither contains any clause conferring powers of certification of academic titles nor the power to declare one, illegal. The autonomy of the University and insulation from interference by meddlesome interlopers can be found in the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Act 2003, commonly referred to as the Universities Autonomy Act.

Section 2AAA (1) provides that 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. University autonomy also entails the power and capacity to create academic units and explore new areas of research and learning without specific restraints, as innovation dictates. Clearly, interference by ASUU in the Council’s discharge of its functions is unlawful being inconsistent with the provisions of section 2AAA and the concept of autonomy. Autonomy is not only about freedom from government interference.

There is no external body authorised to confer and stripe a professor of his rank within the educational regulatory system in Nigeria. Even the National Universities Commission has no such powers. Furthermore, on autonomy, ASUU has over the years relegated the issue of financial autonomy from the Federal and State Governments into the shadows of its demand. It is hypocritical to seek administrative autonomy and yet cling to state funding of staff and infrastructures. Herein lies why strikes are perennial. It is not rocket science to fathom this.

Nigerian Universities commonly establish an Appointments and Promotions Committee which sets our procedures for selecting and recommending to the Council those to be conferred with the rank of Professors. It is a committee of the University Council. The constitution of this committee is usually included in the Staff Regulations or Statutes made by the Council and qualify as subsidiary legislation for the purpose of guiding the Council in the conferment of professorships, fellowships and other academic titles.

Every University independently follows different procedures, rules and regulations in the conferment of a professorship. In Nigeria, the Vice-Chancellor is an automatic member and chairman of the Appointment and Promotion Committee. The Vice-Chancellors wield major influences in the conferment of academic titles. This is so because when applicants’ assessments are sent to the Universities, it is the prerogative of the Vice-Chancellor as head of the Appointments and Promotions Committee to receive, peruse, declare and affirm that the report is a positive one.

ASUU has not addressed the common abuse of this prerogative by Vice-Chancellors across universities. The number of required assessed publications for appointment to the rank of Professor also varies from one University to other. Some Universities use a Point system in assessing publications whilst others simply rely on the volume of publications and interviews, both oral and written. Many old Professors got elevated to the rank with lesser publications than is presently required of Professors.

ASUU has not championed the standardisation of the requirements for the appointment of Professors. It is an axiomatic fact that Senior Lecturers in the older public Universities spend more time waiting on the cue for elevation into the professorial rank with overwhelming publications as opposed to their counterparts in State and Private Universities. These are flaws that ASUU has not considered worthy to address.

In Europe, for instance, at the University of West England, candidates to be conferred with the rank of professorship undergo two stages, successful candidates will be appointed Professors and their title determined in discussion with the Vice-Chancellor of the University. Thus underscoring the importance of the Vice Chancellor’s discretion in the appointment.

In the United States, at Harvard University, there’s an internal and external appointment of professors which is akin to the practice in Nigeria Universities and in some institutions an independent commission is charged with recommending candidates for appointment.

In Nigeria Universities, there is external and internal conferment of a professorship. For the external, advertisement is made to the general public. The advert mode is commonly preferred as it allows internal and external applicants to compete for available vacancies. The foregoing simply underscores the discretional latitude attendant to the appointment of Professors and fellowships in universities.

On Pantami’s new rank, FUTO’s management in a paid advertisement, published in two national dailies, invited interested candidates to apply for itemised vacancies. The due process appears to have been followed as can be gleaned from the Report of ASUU FUTO branch that investigated the matter. This is hereunder quoted in extenso:

REPORT OF THE ASUU FUTO PROBE PANEL ON THE PROFESSORIAL APPOINTMENT OF DR. ISA IBRAHIM AS A PROFESSOR OF CYBERSECURITY

1.0 Background:
At the ASUU FUTO Congress held on Wednesday, 22nd of September, 2021, the Congress approved the appointment of the probe panel on the appointment of Dr Isa Ibrahim as a Professor of Cybersecurity by the FUTO Governing Council.

2.0 Membership:
i. Engr. Prof. M. S. Nwakaudu – Chairman
ii. Prof. G. A. Anyanwu – Member
iii Prof. C. E. Orji. – Member
iv Prof. Mrs O. P. Anyewuchi – Member
V Prof. T. I. N. Ezejiofor – Member/Secretary 

3.0 Term of Reference:
To ascertain whether due process was applied in the appointment of Dr. Isa Ibrahim as a Professor of Cybersecurity by the Governing Council of FUTO and submit a report within seven days.

4.0 Modalities
4.1 Extension of Time
The panel requested for and obtained two week extension to enable the panel complete the assignment.


4.2 Materials:
i. Copies of the advertisement for academic and academic support staff vacancies in FUTO for the positions of professor, reader, senior lecturer, etc., which appeared in the DAILY SUN and THE GUARDIAN of Monday, September 21, 2020 and Tuesday, September 22, 2020 respectively. (See appendix 1 and 2).

ii. Federal Universities of Technology Act, Cap F23 (section 11(1)-(6), and section 18(1)-(2), (See appendix 3).

iii.  Students’ handbook of the cybersecurity department (see appendix 4).

iv.  Guidelines for the appointment and promotion of Academic Staff for 2020/2021 Appraisal year (see appendix 5)

4.3 Interaction with relevant stakeholders (see appendix 6)

The panel interacted with the University Registrar; Immediate Past Chairman, Committee of Deans; Dean, School of Information and Communication Technology (SICT); Deans who were members of ASAPC – 2020/2021 Appraisal year; Some internal members of last FUTO Governing Council; Acting Head, Cybersecurity Department.

4.4 Meetings:
The panel held six meetings to carry out the assignment (see appendix 7,8,9, 10, 11 and 12).

5.0 Findings/observations:
The panel found/observed as follows:
i. FUTO in her quest to be counted in the modern trends in the fields of science, engineering, technology, etc, decided to establish new programmes such as forensic science, software engineering, mechatronics engineering, cybersecurity, radiography and radiation science, etc. 

ii. FUTO advertised for vacancies in academic and academic support staff in six schools (Namely SICT, SESET, SOES, SOHT, SBMS and SOBS) and 23 departments including cybersecurity. 

iii. Vacancies advertised for in the academic departments (including cybersecurity department) are for professor, reader, senior lecturer etc. 

iv The advertisement appeared in two National newspapers (The SUN and the GUARDIAN) and interested candidates were invited to apply for the position to which they qualified.
 


iv. The advertisement appeared in two national newspapers (THE SUN and THE GUARDIAN) and interested candidates were invited to apply for the position to which they are qualified.

v. Dr Isa Ibrahim responded and applied for the post of Professor of Cybersecurity. He was given a temporary appointment as a professor of Cybersecurity in the cybersecurity department, for which he accepted in writing.

vi. Dr Isa Ibrahim’s qualifications include Bsc, MSc in computer science and MBA all from ATBU, PhD in computer information system from Robert Gorden University, Aberdeen, UK. He is a fellow and member of some foreign computer science professional societies.

vii. Dr Isa Ibrahim was requested to submit details of his publications and productive works for both internal and external assessments. He complied with the request.

viii. Dr Isa Ibrahim’s publications and productive works were sent to the Dean of SICT for internal assessment for the purpose of establishment of prima facie case for the professorial appointment. 

ix. The Dean of SICT assessed the publications and established a prima facile case for Dr Isa Ibrahim for him to be appointed a professor of cybersecurity. 

x. The prima facie case for Dr Isa Ibrahim was presented to the Academic Staff Appraisal and Promotion Committee- professorial (ASAPC-Professorial) meeting held on 17th March 2021. The committee discussed the issue and recommended same for approval by the FUTO Council.


xi. The Council at its meeting held on the 18th of March, 2021 approved the prima facie case for Dr Isa Ibrahim to be appointed a professor of cybersecurity.

xii. Following the approval of the prima facie, Dr. Isa Ibrahim’s publications and productive works were sent for external assessment. The external assessment returned positive and the Council at its meeting of 20th August 2021 approved his appointment as a Professor of Cybersecurity.

xiii. Dr Isa Ibrahim was given a tenure appointment as professor of cybersecurity following his appointment by FUTO Governing Council.

xiv. Dr Isa Ibrahim has assumed duties and is currently involved in the teaching of CYB 201(Fundamentals of Cybersecurity), via online and lead supervisor of one PhD student/staff of the cybersecurity department. 

6.0 Conclusion:
From our findings and evidence before the panel, members are of the opinion that the appointment of Dr. Isa Ibrahim as a Professor of Cybersecurity by the FUTO Governing Council followed due process. 

7.0 Recommendation:
The panel strongly recommends that the University management should as a matter of urgency, take appropriate actions, including legal action, against those who deliberately try to drag the image and reputation of FUTO to the mud.


SIGNED: Engr. Prof. M.S. Nwakaudu (Chairman); Prof G.  A Anyanwu (member); Prof C. E. Orji (Member); Prof. Mrs. O. P. Onyewuchi (Member) and Prof T. I. N. Ezejiofor. 

With the foregoing report, one wonders what happened at ASUU National Executive Committee warranting it to issue a bolt face statement declaring Professor Pantami’s appointment illegal? Was this report from the local branch ever discredited? If it is, with what facts besides the bare facts reported by the Committee? In the face of the foregoing, can ASUU National Executive prohibit anyone from recognizing and properly addressing the Professor by his title of appointment?

It is not the case of ASUU that a candidate who ought to have been appointed has been displaced by irrelevant or parochial considerations in favour of Minister Pantami. If that were the case, it would also not vest the Union with power to declare Pantami’s appointment illegal. An academic who suffers such a setback may have the locus to petition the courts for redress. The Court of Law may nullify the appointment of Professor where it’s established that the laydown procedures were not followed in the appointment.

While there may not be any Nigerian recorded case law on this, there are a number of Asian cases where the appointment of a Professor has been nullified.  The courts in those judicial systems also underscore that there is always an element of discretion in the conferment of the rank of professor or reader notwithstanding that an applicant has met all the set requirements.

ASUU being a trade union lacking in legal authority to enforce the regulations of the University and with membership drawn from different Universities in Nigeria, certainly has no legal capacity in the appointment of Professors and would lack locus standi to pursue a particular claim of nullity in the absence of uniformity across universities.

The sin of Pantami: It would appear that the sin of Professor Pantami is the fact that he is a serving Minister of the Federal Government at the material time. However, Appointments and Promotions regulations across universities permit the evaluation and promotion of an academic staff whilst on study leave or leave of absence. It is also not contestable that a person in government or other service can apply to be conferred with an academic title.

Notable examples abound:
A. In 1985, Professor Jerry Gana was appointed Professor of Geography after leaving the Ahmadu Bello University for several years and whilst serving as Chairman of Mass Mobilisation for Social and Economic Recovery (MAMSER);

B. Professor Ndi Okereke-Onyuike whilst serving as Director-General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange was conferred with Professorship by the University of Nigeria Nsukka, a premier university. She never had a full-time appointment with the University;

C. Late Professor Dora Akunyili had left the University of Nigeria for several years  in public service before she was elevated to the rank of Professor by the same University of Nigeria, Nsukka;

D. Professor Ngozi Osarenren was elevated to full Professorship whilst on Leave of Absence and serving as Commissioner for Education with the Edo State Government;

E. Late Professor Olakunle Abdul-Rasheed Lawal of the Lagos State University was similarly elevated whilst on leave of absence and serving as Commissioner for Education in the Lagos State Government;

F. Professor Ige Bolodeoku, the current Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, was elevated Professor whilst on leave of absence serving as Senior Special Assistant with the Government of Ondo State;

G. In 2013, Professor Muhammed Ali Pate had left Government service as a Minister of State for Health when he was appointed Professor in Duke University’s Global Health Institute, USA. In 2019, he was further appointed a Professor of Public Health Leadership at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health;

H. In 2021, Professor Musibau Babatunde of the University of Ibadan was elevated Professor of Economics whilst serving as Commissioner, Ministry of Budget & Economic Planning, Oyo State.

These examples merely underscore the point that the appointment or promotion of a professor whilst in public service or some other vocation is not an aberration but a practice sanctioned by university regulations. It is a universal practice to appoint persons with extensive industry experience as professors. Where was ASUU when these notable appointments were being made in the Nigerian University system?

In all of these, the locus or capacity to challenge or sue any Governing Council in the exercise of its discretion to appoint a Professor or Reader is tenuous. In any case, there is no such precedent. Furthermore, as contended above, in the absence of uniform rules and procedures across Universities, ASUU cannot choose at its whim and caprice and respectfully, needs a new agenda!

Prof. Joe Abugu, SAN, FCIArb (UK), FNIM
Professor of Commercial & Industrial Law, University of Lagos.