Moves to halt irregular professorial appointments

The Association of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities or AVCNU has proposed reforms to deal with the increasing number of individuals being promoted to professorships without apparently following due process.

At its recent annual conference, AVCNU took a unanimous decision to put forward a reform proposal to the National Universities Commission to arrest the trend, which is threatening the integrity of some institutions.

Some of the irregularities with regard to promotion have been leaked to the media, resulting in embarrassment for the affected universities. In a recent feature published by the Nigerian Guardian, journalists Eno-Abasi Sunday and Ujunwa Atueyi revealed how some academics became professors in non-transparent circumstances.

Since the story appeared, individuals have been emboldened to speak out about how other academics have become professors in questionable situations.

University of Nigeria, Nsukka

There has been an eight-year controversy revolving around two professors in the faculty of business administration at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka: Uche Modum and Uche Chibuike.

Chibuike, a former dean in the faculty, alleged that the appointment and promotion board, a sub-committee of the university’s governing council, and the council itself disregarded academic culture and standards in the promotion process leading to Modum's appointment as a professor of accounting.

In his official letter to the governing council Chibuike, who is currently on sabbatical in the African Studies Centre at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, accused Modum of “forgery and falsification of academic documents including age falsification”.

Chibuike alleged in an official protest letter that his colleague’s curriculum vitae contained serious flaws.

“In 2008 when I was the dean of the faculty of business administration I noticed major discrepancies in Professor Uche Modum's 1995 professorial appraisal form and her 2008 official curriculum vitae.”

In a 1995 professorial appraisal form “Modum claimed that she had authored 15 journal articles out of which six were published and nine were accepted for publication”, he further alleged. But none of the nine articles had been published, he said, adding that two Nigerian journals involved “confirmed in writing to my office” that they had no record of such articles.

In a letter to the vice-chancellor in 2008 Chibuike accused Modum of multiple forgeries and falsification of academic records and requested that the allegations be investigated. The council duly investigated and found Modum not guilty.

It directed that the whistle blower should apologise to Modum for “deliberate character assassination”. Chibuike demanded a copy of the investigation report before he would consider apologising, but was dismissed by the council for “insubordination”. Chibuike then approached the National Human Rights Commission and education minister without success.

Modum has put up a stout defence. In an interview with the Guardian, she claimed that Chibuike – her former student – was ''ignorant'' of the rules and regulations guiding professorial appointments in the 1980s.

She claimed to have received acceptance letters from journals undertaking to publish her articles. “Whether these two articles were published or not, it does not break any university regulation.” A former commissioner of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, Modum said she was disturbed by how Chibuike was ''obsessed'' with tarnishing her reputation.

Some lecturers at the university believe the council should conduct a new public hearing on the case, in order to protect the university’s reputation.

Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike

In another development, the national executive council of the Academic Staff Union of Universities or ASUU has called on Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to set up a panel to investigate allegations of maladministration against the outgoing vice-chancellor of Michael Okpara University of Agriculture in Umudike, Professor Hilary Edeoga.

The union has accused Edeoga of improper promotion of academic staff.

''Hilary Edeoga embarked on mass recruitment and promotion of academic staff to the rank of professors without the requisite qualifications. The staff involved do not have the required teaching and research experience in the university system and the years expected for post-PhD qualification,” said a professor who did not want to be named.

Lagos State University

Lagos State University has also appeared in the news with regard to allegations of irregular promotions.

In an article in the Guardian, the immediate past chairman of ASUU’s university chapter Dr Adekunle Idris alleged that the immediate past vice-chancellor of the university, Professor John Obafunwa, had circumvented professorial appointment processes, leading to the elevation of certain lecturers who did not have the requisite publication records.

In the course of this titanic confrontation between the union and the vice-chancellor, the latter withdrew Idris’s PhD certificate, which had been awarded by the appointment and promotion board and ratified by the governing council.

The reconstituted council subsequently restored Idris’s certificate, rejecting the reasons put forward by the vice-chancellor for his actions. Meanwhile, the council has set up an ad hoc committee to look into allegations of improper professorial appointments.

Non-transparent culture

Taking a broad view of developments Professor Sunday Ighalo, an agronomist at Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma in Edo State and the national internal auditor of ASUU, confirmed that a non-transparent culture in promotions and appointments exists in some universities.

''The problem of promotion to professorial level in some of our universities is assuming alarming proportions because of the dirty tricks of some vice-chancellors who deliberately set aside the rules of the game. Some have manipulated the entire process because of the enormous powers they wield,” Ighalo contended.

“The solution to this problem is to ensure that every member of the appointment and promotion board has unfettered and unlimited access to reports sent in by external assessors. No more, no less.”

Professor Frank Igboji Idike, vice-chancellor of Ebonyi State University, agreed that all was not well in the culture of promotion. ''It is true that every university has rules and regulations guiding promotions, including promotions to the professorial cadre. But these rules must conform to internationally accepted standards,” he said.

Addressing the challenge

Meanwhile, Professor Peter Okebukola, a former deputy vice-chancellor of Lagos State University who attended the recent AVCNU meeting, said it was encouraging that the challenge of irregular promotions was being tackled.

“I am aware that some universities have started to improve the rigour of the promotion process. The bad news is that the practice is still prevalent in private universities seeking to quickly bolster the number of professors with a view to satisfying accreditation requirements.

“At the AVCNU meeting in Jos, where I shared my worries with my colleagues, it was largely agreed that NUC [National Universities Commission] should step in and work with universities by providing minimum standards for the appointment of professors in terms of rigour and quality of publications, below which no university should go.

“However, these proposed reforms should not violate university autonomy.”