By Mike Igini
IN 2004, when the forces of tribe and indigene almost truncated the Governing Council recommendation of the immediate past Vice Chancellor of the University of Benin(UNIBEN),Â Professor Nwanze, after the selection process and he came tops on the list, I drew the attention of the Federal Government then in a published article in Vanguard, February 2, 2004, page 35, titled â€œUNIBEN VC:Gambling with merit and due processâ€ to the dangers of setting precedent of subverting a merit-based process for tribal consideration.
Eventually, excellence and merit triumphed. Unfortunately, as the university is today faced with the same challenge of appointing a new vice chancellor, the same old, failed and unavailing arguments of tribe has resurfaced. But from the corridor of memory, one can still easily recall the noble history of UNIBEN.
It has remained a quantum history of excellence embossed with integrity, merit, due process and a culture of deep thinking. The appointment and succession of vice chancellors in this great citadel of scholarship have also manifested strict adherence to excellence and merit. Indeed, the university Governing Council has always been a rendezvous of men without taints; men with the noblest of character. This has made the process of appointment of VCs a sane, sober and a serene exercise without rancor.
Needless to add, that the appointment of VCs in UNIBEN, except for just one ugly incident, had never been determined by mundane issues of indigene or tribe. Though, a handful of unrepentant ethnic ideologues always lurk around the veranda of this time-honored merit process midwife by previous Governing Council but have never succeeded.
Will the present Governing Council succumb to the forces of indigene or tribe instead of merit and excellence that UNIBEN is known for?Â On matters of the purpose and mission of a university, it is official; that the University of Benin is currently first among equals in Nigeria, the number one University in Nigeria by the webometric ranking of African Universities (http://www.webometrics.info/top100_continent.asp?cont=africa).
Sadly, it holds this mark of distinction at the 68th position in Africa. This is a ranking where the University of Zimbabwe, a country at the nadir of its economic strength is ranked 25th; showing that even in bad economic times, some nations do not allow the foundations of their future to degenerate.
What this manifests is that, despite our wealth as a nation, the very foundation of our future as a country is being built on sandy shores. Nigeria has lost every sense of the core values upon which a nation is built, the core values of education.
Any nation that triflesÂ with its education is wishing away its future. An indication of the etiological basis of our moribund education is the shameful incident currently playing out at UNIBEN, regarding who occupies the post of the Vice-Chancellor. Way back in 1992, the argument then was that a Deltan, Prof. Andrew Onokheroraye who came tops after the internal process midwifed by the university governing council should not succeed Prof. Grace Alele Williams because they are from the same state. The argument could not withstand his enviable academic and administrative prowess and was confirmed as vice chancellor.
Again, after his tenure, in another merit based process to select a successor, another Deltan with unmatched credential, Prof. Olomu came tops on the list and should have been appointed but the then Chief of Naval Staff from Edo State, Real Admiral, Okhai Mike Akhigbe, while acting as deputy to then Head of State, General Abdulsalam Abubakar, who was away in Jamaica, ignored the recommendation of the Governing Council and announced Prof. Anao who came last on the list, as Vice Chancellor of UNIBEN.
That incident marked the first ugliness introduced into the appointment process of VC in UNIBEN.Â Prof. Uwanze from Delta in yet another merit based process emerged tops and succeeded Prof. Anao after much shenanigans to trade off his well deserved appointment for a ceremonial post of pro-chancellor that even Asagba of Asaba, shockingly,Â was ready to accept at all cost.
The present tussle appears to be a contest of more serious contenders from Edo State but the unfortunate argument now is whether somebody from other parts of Edo State should be allowed to contest for the post instead of a Bini man given that none has been appointed VC? I recall, that as students, then in UNIBEN, we opposed the idea of promoting tribes over merit and also recognised the danger of subverting a merit based process for ethnic consideration. WeÂ pointed out then that if we are not careful, a time would come when award of marks after examination and the number of first class that should, ordinarily, be determined by students performance would be subjected to ethnic and state of origin and not scholarship.
Mr. Igini, Director, Centre for Leadership & Values, writes from Lagos.