Home / Education / At Ife, University autonomy goes gaga By Bolanle Bolawole

At Ife, University autonomy goes gaga By Bolanle Bolawole


Education Minister, Adamu Adamu
Education Minister, Adamu Adamu
[email protected] 0705 263 1058
The on-going impeachment drama in Brazil is interesting; but, perhaps, more newsworthy is the reaction of President Dilma Rousseff to the plot to oust her from office. Not only had she been quoted as describing the impeachment plot as a “coup”, she has also fingered her vice-president as one of the “conspirators” and, perhaps, its chief beneficiary. “If there were any doubts about my denunciation that a coup is underway, there can’t be now. The coup plotters have a leader and deputy leader… The mask of the conspirators has fallen… They are coup plotters without respect for democracy…This is the biggest judicial and political fraud in our history. They are trying to bring down without legal justification a president elected with 54 million votes” Who were the vile conspirators, if we may ask: Vice-President Michel Temer and Speaker of the lower house of Parliament, Eduardo Cunha. So sure of success were the conspirators that VP Temer had written and started rehearsing the acceptance speech he would make if Rousseff was impeached! So audacious; that is the stuff of which impunity is made. It leaked and now Madame President has the opportunity of a life-time to fight back and, possibly, turn the table on her foes.
A similar charade played out a fortnight ago at the Obafemi Awolowo University, hitherto University of Ife aka Great Ife, over the appointment of a new vice-chancellor. Ife is my alma mater; so, I naturally have a soft spot for it. I allowed the University and its culture to pass through me; deeply took in its radical culture and participated actively in its politics; was a vibrant student activist as a Member of Parliament (Students’ Representative Council) and Chairman, Adekunle Fajuyi Hall, 1981\1982 session. I belonged to the two radical students’ groups – the Alliance of Progressive Students (ALPS) and Movement for National Advancement (MONA).Those were the days of Wole Olaoye, Femi Falana as students union leaders; they were also the days of the likes of Biodun Jeyifo, Segun Osoba, Toye Olorode, Dipo Fashina, Idowu Awopetu, Malam Femi Taiwo, to mention but a few, of the towering lecturers who were the patron saints of the Ife radical school. They were days when Vice-Chancellors were Vice-Chancellors – towering intellectual figures and independent-minded academicians. They were days when Vice-Chancellors had integrity and honour, and spoke truth to power. They were days when Vice-Chancellors stood their ground against rampaging dictators and tin-gods, rather than genuflect and kow-tow to those in the corridors of power. They were days when the Ivory Tower was truly an Ivory Tower. They were the glory days of the university system and university education in Nigeria.
Sadly, no more! OAU, Ife has a few more months before it changes its vice-chancellor and the process for the appointment of a new Vice-chancellor reportedly commenced not long ago. Applicants have been shortlisted, some from within and some from outside. Among those from within, one is said to be the establishment candidate. Usually, establishment candidates are those perceived as able to cover the back and tracks for others. They are usually people who will not ruffle feathers but will continue the shenanigans of the past. In short, they are “government as usual” persons. They also are usually part of the present set-up; so, they can be trusted not to rock the boat or open any Pandora box. They know where the skeletons are in the cupboards of corruption and with the key in their hand, they can be expected to keep the ghosts locked up. Either for fear of what failure to deliver may portend or because of their confidence in the sure-footedness of their plans, those trying to rail-road the establishment candidate into office over-played their hands in such a way that they burned their fingers badly – exactly like Vice-President Temer did in Brazil. I was passing through Ife – and stopping over – when the drama began to unfold. The spade works included compromising hitherto vibrant unions and manipulating the election into the caucuses that would eventually cast the deciding votes. Cry, the beloved country! The vibrant and fear-invoking Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) of the days of Fashina, Olorode, Awopetu etc. is no more! And it is not only politicians that stuff ballot boxes and manipulate the electoral system; even egg-heads are said to be experts here. Someone said it is the politicians that are appointed to head the Universities as Council chairmen, pro-chancellors or what-have-you that are corrupting the system and spoiling our academicians. Could politicians have suggested such shenanigans to the likes of Takena Tamuno, Ade Ajayi, Ojetunji Aboyade, to mention but a few? Birds of a feather, I dare to say. Communality of interest; greed; and a heart that is perverse are the vices that bind them together.
Convinced that their plan was fault-proof, the establishment candidate reportedly went to town; booked an events centre for his celebration party; lined up bishops and a church service for thanksgiving service. Invitations were sent out; someone said even “aso ebi” or “anko” had even been procured. The media was also already awash with news of the “in-coming” vice-chancellor; a popular television station had done a documentary or is it news analysis on the “in-coming” vice-chancellor and the challenges before him. At this time, however, no interview had been conducted! But the favoured candidate, the establishment man, had been holding court, compiling the lists of friends and foes. When, eventually interviews were fixed for Thursday\Friday, it was meant to be just a mere fulfilling of all righteousness. Marks were said to have been awarded before the interview date and this filtered into the hearing of members of the academic community. The favoured candidate was said to have been awarded 100% up to that point while other lower marks were “awarded” to the other candidates. On the day the charade was to be given the stamp of authority, the other contestants from within decided to stay away; only the establishment man and two others from outside, one of them said to be an invalid, were ready for the so-called “interview”. Union leaders who had not been compromised, however, struck to derail the charade. A court injunction was got; when this would not do, they mobilised and blocked the venue of the interview. The electors were held hostage from early hours to late in the night. When hunger walloped them, they summoned courage and forced their way out. You expected them to have learnt their lessons; on the contrary, they were still bent on pulling their plot through as they relocated to another venue. Unfortunately for them; they met the unionists equal to the task as they were besieged and bombarded here again. It reportedly took the intervention of a first-class Yoruba Oba to rescue them from the enraged workers; but not before they had agreed to be served the court injunction and to thereafter disperse in utter ignominy.
Now, what they said happened at Ife was shameful for many reasons. One: If gold rusts, what will silver do? If this kind of impunity can take place in a university community with over 320 Professors, why do we complain about the crude and debased politicians that bestride the landscape like colossus? Two: For decades, the University community, supported by the larger society, fought for University autonomy, especially from the stranglehold of military dictators. The nation felt that with autonomy, our universities will be best able to fulfil their mandate. But with what we are seeing, university autonomy may have become an albatross around the necks of our institutions of higher learning. Nincompoops and all manner of charlatans are manipulating university autonomy to get into the Vice-Chancellor’s Lodge. Autonomy strictly constricts the Government in the choice of university vice-chancellors. This was why President Muhammadu Buhari reversed himself recently when he saw that he had been misadvised to sack the Governing Councils of some institutions. Are we to begin to clamour again for the removal of university autonomy since it is now being grossly abused in some quarters? Three: When the best candidates are rigged out and incompetents are manipulated into the saddle, the whole university community and the university system suffer. In any community where the best are governed by the dregs, there are problems. That has been our bane in the country as a whole. Four: Candidates who lobby or manipulate the system to get into office usually always holds their loyalty not to their constituency but to the forces and elements that “helped” them to get the unmerited favour. They thus become beholden to, and enamoured of, their godfathers to the chagrin of their primary constituency. Contracts and such other favours and largesse are necessarily given out to those “helpers” to compensate them. Five: In many instances, agreements ceding out the university resources to the “helpers” are said to have been determined and pre-arranged before the plot is agreed upon and executed. In such instances, the establishment candidate, even if he gets into office, is just a lackey and glorified errand boy usually held captive and treated as hostage by his godfathers. Six: Humongous amount of money is said to change hands to execute such plots. How do egg-heads come about the N70 million or N140 million that some sources say such dubious projects cost? Here, again, politicians are said to usually come to the rescue. They offer the “investment” and demand mouth-watering returns afterwards. This way, the resources of many of our institutions of higher learning are mortgaged. We can go on and on.
Many of the crises in our institutions of higher learning are traceable to the subversion of the selection process of vice-chancellors. When the wrong person is chosen as vice-chancellor; when he begins to kow-tow to his godfathers and neglects the welfare of students and staff; and when universities resources are frittered or siphoned – bedlam! If university autonomy will not deliver the right candidate but continues to be abused, then, we have got to find another way out of the miry clay.

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