By Masara Kim
University of Jos students protest external interference in VC selection
There is currently an unprecedented political interest in the selection of a new Vice Chancellor for the University of Jos, as the current VC’s tenure elapses this June. This University has an interesting history of having been founded by a Southwestern University located over 800kms away, under the carefree watch of many Plateau neighbors.
What became the University of Jos was established in November 1971 from the satellite campus of the University of Ibadan. This was after the then Head of State, Yakubu Gowon failed in his bid for the creation of a satellite campus for Ahmadu Bello University Zaria in Jos.
The first students of the University were admitted in 1972 as pre-degree students and the first Bachelor of Arts degree program begun in October the 1973. By October 1975, the then military government under General Murtala Mohammed, with an indigene of Plateau, Joseph Gomwalk as Administrator of the State, established what is now called the University of Jos as an institution.
Classes began at the newly reorganized University of Jos in October 1976 with 575 students spreading over the existing four faculties of Arts and Social Sciences, Education, Natural Sciences and Medical Sciences. Post-graduate programs were added one year after. By 1978, Faculties of Law and Environmental Sciences were established and the Faculties of Arts and Social Sciences were separated.
Less than 50 years later, the University has expanded to over 15 faculties with over 14,000 students, operating in three campuses, producing some of the world’s leading Professionals. Little wonder, some two decades ago, the Carnegie Corporation of New York gave Unijos a $2 million grant to upscale its operations. Dozens of related interventions have also come to the institution, making it a favourite destination for many who desire quality University education.
However, determined to truncate this massive progress, including an unprecedented infrastructural growth currently ongoing in the University, individuals with yet to be determined motives increasingly create obstacles, mostly with grave implications for peace.
In 2020, precisely April, the House of Representatives Committee on Federal Character accused management of the university of violating Federal Character policy on employment and admission. But aside from denying the University the right to fair hearing, the committee ignored Federal University, Dutsinma in Katsina State, where the Chairman of the House Committee on Federal Character, Abubakar Kusada comes from, which has its Vice-Chancellor, Registrar and Librarian all from Katsina State.
Similarly, in Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Kaduna State, where Honourable Samaila Suleiman, the lead accuser of Unijos management comes from, the immediate past Vice-Chancellor, the DVC Admin, the Bursar and the Librarian were all from Kano State. Meanwhile in University of Jos where the Committee for whatever reasons refused to acknowledge that aside from the Vice Chancellor and Registrar, all other principal officers are from different regions, reflecting the needed Federal Character. Interestingly, the University has also had dozens of Vice Chancellors from other States and has trained all categories of people, including foreigners.
While it is clear that the University’s antagonists failed in their attempt to distract management and/or push for their removal from office, likely to institute their own persons of interest and achieve their hidden goals, last February’s passing away of the Chairman of the University’s Governing Board, Prince Tony Momoh appears to have created a perfect opportunity to resume their schemes.
Prince Momoh initiated the process for the selection of a new Vice Chancellor , six months to the expiration of the current VC’s tenure, via an advert on 23rd December, 2020, to be concluded in April 2021 before the expiration of the Council’s tenure in May 2021. Precedent to this was the constitution of a Search Team.
The Governing Council first met and took the report of the Search Team, after which Council elected her own representatives on the Selection Board (Interview Panel). This was followed by a Senate Emergency Meeting which elected two members of the Selection Board. The Selection Board met and shortlisted candidates from the list of applicants and scheduled an interview for 20th – 22nd April. All these were done in compliance with the Universities Act. Council proposed a meeting to take the report of the Selection Board for Friday 23rd April where a VC would emerge.
However, the entire selection process was abruptly disrupted and the Council Members summoned by the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC) on 22nd April 2021, contrary to the powers and functions of the Commission.
Part of the claims being publicized for this action is the supposed absence of a substantive Chairman of Governing Council. But the University of Jos Act Cap U8 LFN 2004, Third Schedule, Article 1(7) states, “if the Pro-Chancellor is not present at a meeting of the Council, such other member of the Council present at the meeting as the Council may appoint as respects that meeting shall be the Chairman at that meeting, and subject to Sec 4 of the Act and the foregoing provisions of this paragraph, the Council may regulate its own procedure.”
The University of Jos Governing Council Standing Orders Article 9 further supports stating that, “if the Chairman is not present at a meeting of the Council, such other members of the Council present at the meeting as the Council may appoint in respect of that meeting shall be the Chairman at that meeting.”
In compliance with the above provisions, which are recognized by the University Autonomy Act, subsisting Council Members through due process elected Dr. (Mrs.) Philomena Mutbam to preside over the Governing Council’s meetings. Dr. Philomena Mutbam as acting Chairman of the Governor Council superintendended over all Official duties with respect to the Office of the Pro-chancellor or Chairman of Council without objection from any authority. Such functions include approval of promotions, Finance and General Purpose Meetings including procurements which were all accepted by the Supervising Federal Ministry of Education.
Unless Nigeria is an animal kingdom where some animals are more equal than others, in University of Benin, a former Chairman of Governing Council once resigned and contested an election without being replaced. Council members of the same University sat and elected an acting Chairman who presided over a process that saw to the emergence of the present Vice-Chancellor, Professor Lilian Salami.
There was no interference from the NUC or any other body. The NUC by the way, was established to carry out regulatory, supervisory and accreditation roles only. One wonders where the body got its powers to suspend a legitimate process.
The NUC Act (1974) specifies the functions of the NUC to include: advising the President and State Governors, through the Minister, on the creation of new universities and other degree-awarding institutions in Nigeria; preparing, after consultation with the State Governments, the universities, the national manpower Board and such other bodies as it considers appropriate, periodic (physical) master plans for the balanced and co-coordinated (infrastructural) development of all universities in Nigeria; laying down Minimum Academic Standards in the Federal Republic of Nigeria and accrediting their degrees and other academic awards.
The NUC is also empowered to ensure that quality is maintained within the academic programmes of the Nigerian University System. It might carry out other investigations as provided in the Act, on any other matter relating to “Higher Education” (academic affairs), but not Administrative structures.
According to the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Amendment) Act 2003 Section (1), “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.” These functions and responsibilities according to the Act include the appointment and/or removal of a Vice Chancellor in accordance with the Act. Not even the President has powers to appoint or sack a Vice Chancellor except through the Governing Board.
However, in the case of University of Jos, not even a Minister, but a Head of an agency is stripping a constitutional Governing Board of its powers and independence, making it useless. By this act, the NUC boss has taken upon himself the fate of an entire University and by extension, the future of the over 14,000 students currently undergoing different programs therein. This is because by suspending the VC selection process a day to the final step of its last duties before its tenure expires, the NUC has created a vacuum that might take half a year to fill.
The Universities Act allows the appointment of an Acting Vice Chancellor to serve for six months in the case of the removal or expiration of tenure of an incumbent. The present UJ VC’s tenure expires in June, but the University’s Governing Board’s tenure expired last weekend. This ultimately means taking another series of months to constitute a new council, which might take another several months to start sitting and eventually complete process for the selection of a new Vice Chancellor.
By implication, the next student results and convocation might be delayed, likewise other Administrative duties that require substantive Officers. In addition, candidates vying for the Vice Chancellor position who might have been cleared might be caught up by age limit and ultimately disenfranchised.
This appears to be the exact plot of the University’s enemies – to disrupt smooth running of its affairs and bring in their own interests. Whether academic or political, this interest is already showing signs of disrupting peace in Plateau State.
Already, protests have started manifesting, which if not quickly addressed through adopting the right practices in the appointment of the VC might snowball into full-blown conflicts. Findings already suggest brewing agitations amongst indigenous youths who might stage violent reactions if the ongoing illegality continues.
But what do merchants of war care as long as it creates room for them to ship their interests into the State, which has been a key target since the 70s when the famous Mohammed Marwa aka Maitasine began his violent uprisings?
Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State who is also Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum has a huge work to do here. He is reputed as a peace builder and should deploy that integrity to avert a huge disaster for the State and nation, because whatever affects Plateau affects everyone in it, including foreign Nationals.
President Muhammadu Buhari who is the Visitor of the University also needs to act before his selfish lieutenants bring his name to disrepute. Buhari was GOC 3rd Armoured Division Jos before he became Head of State in 1983. He is aware of the conflict dynamics of Plateau, particularly as it affects University of Jos, which has long been encroached upon, causing security threats to students.
People of goodwill, Nigerians at home and in the diaspora should also intervene through all legal means to see that this impending crisis is averted. This is because if it succeeds in Plateau, there is no guarantee it will not be replicated elsewhere.
Prof. Attahiru Jega, a reputed scholar and former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been appointed as the University’s new Pro-chancellor/Governing Board Chairman. A perfect choice at a perfect time. Jega did extremely well while holding similar position in Plateau State University Bokkos. However, one of the contestants for the Vice Chancellor position is from same state with him, which somewhat disqualifies him from presiding over the selection process.
According to the Code of Conduct for Nigerian Judicial Officers, a Judicial Officer should disqualify himself in a proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including but not limited to:
(a) he has personal bias or prejudice concerning a party or personal knowledge of facts in dispute;
(b) he served as a legal practitioner in the matter in controversy, or a legal practitioner concerning with whom he previously practiced law served during such association as a legal practitioner concerning the matter or the judicial Officer or such legal practitioner has been a material witness in the matter;
(c) he knows that he individually or as a judicial Officer or his spouse or child has a financial or any other interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding;
(d) he or his spouse or a person related to either of them or the spouse of such person
(i) is a party to the proceedings, or an officer, director or trustee of a party
(ii) is acting as a legal practitioner in the proceedings
(iii) is known by the judicial Officer to have an interest which could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceedings.
Nigerians are keenly watching to see how this matter goes – whether the concerned parties will tow the path of honor and withdraw their steps or damn the consequences, posing even greater danger to Nigeria’s peace, unity and progress.