Fragile peace after vice-chancellor selection row
The acting vice-chancellor, Professor Anthony Elujoba, will oversee the establishment of a new governing council after the previous council was dissolved by the Education Minister Mallam Adamu Adamu after it failed to follow the correct selection procedure for a permanent new vice-chancellor.
Welcoming the minister’s intervention, trade unionist and human rights activist Abubakar Ismaila said: “It is a pity that some senior academics in Obafemi Awolowo University would set aside the crystal clear process in the election of a new vice-chancellor with a view to favouring some candidates.
“I must salute the doggedness and the courage of some members of the campus-based industrial unions for putting up stiff resistance and to ensure the entrenchment of the rule of law.”
The saga dates back to early December 2015 when, in accordance with university procedures, an advertisement was placed in the national media calling for eligible candidates to apply for the position of vice-chancellor, a post which was to be filled on or before 23 June.
At the time of the application deadline on 26 January, there were 11 candidates. To the surprise of the university community, the governing council shortlisted six candidates at its meeting on 8 March, bypassing Section 3.3 of the Universities Miscellaneous Provisions Amendment Act 2009, which gives this function to a joint council-senate selection board.
At its March meeting the governing council also ranked the candidates in a questionable process which, according to reliable sources, saw one clearly favoured candidate receiving a score of 100%.
Of the six shortlisted candidates, four were professors from Obafemi Awolowo University or OAU. The other two were from the Federal University of Technology Akure or FUTA.
The list, leaked to the press, polarised the university community, producing a heated exchange of articles in the press, and prompting lawyers hired by the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities to approach the High Court to stop what they regarded as an illegal process.
Associate Professor of Dramatic Arts at OAU Wumi Raji expressed unhappiness at the process in an article, in which he wrote: “Not a few people felt that by shortlisting less than 50% of the applicants from OAU, the governing council seemed to be putting a big question mark on the quality of the professors produced by the institution.
"This is especially so since it shortlisted two candidates who applied from FUTA, making it 100% from that institution.
“Finally, since one of the criteria set down in the advertisement insisted that the candidates applying must enjoy excellent physical and mental health, people find it difficult to understand why council decided to include in the final list the name of one of the candidates from FUTA who clearly has health challenges, having just recovered from a stroke.”
Those in support of the process were emboldened by an article written by someone called Adediwura Alawode who challenged all the points in Raji’s article. Alawode accused Raji of belonging to the same “depraved universe” as those who “project and accept falsehood as truth”.
“The ethically deceased inhabitants of that degenerate space are always animated by and drunken with happiness when grossly distorted facts favour them. But when they are at the receiving end of such vile practice, they hang no fire in howling about how their human dignity and rights are battered and violated,” the article said.
A search by Kunle Jaiyesimi, a journalist with Lagos tabloid PM News, suggested that the name Adediwura Alawode was false, giving credence to the view that the article written under that name had been sponsored by one of the favoured candidates in the vice-chancellorship race.
Upon learning of the pending lawsuit, the governing council unsuccessfully filed a notice of objection on the grounds that the court had no jurisdiction and set up a joint council and senate selection board which invited candidates to an “interactive interview” on 7 April.
The move caused palpable tension on campus with members of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities blocking the access of candidates to the interview venue.
Candidates were then asked to present themselves in Abuja for the interviews. Three candidates from OAU refused to take the nearly five-hour road trip to Abuja, citing the fact that there was a court injunction temporarily restraining the council from proceeding with the selection process and that their invitation outlined neither the venue nor time of the interview.
Three candidates presented themselves in Abuja for the interview, including Professor Ayobami Salami, who had received a 100% rating during the first shortlisting and two other candidates from FUTO. The governing council announced that Salami was the successful applicant.
The move attracted the attention of the education minister, who announced the dissolution of the governing council, and declared the selection process null and void. The minster also ordered the university senate to reconvene and select an acting vice-chancellor to serve for a maximum of six months pending the establishment of a new governing council.