By Tonnie Iredia
When a Nigerian University bestows honorary degrees on certain persons, the recipients need not meet any academic requirement. Some of them may be elementary school drop-outs or tradesmen like carpenters, sometimes described as ‘furniture makers’.
Indeed, many rich persons, among them ‘armed robbers’ and 419 experts, can obtain honorary degrees by sponsoring certain university projects. Thus, the honours are hardly deserved. However, not much fuss is made about them because in the sub-consciousness of everyone including those honoured, little or no value is attached to non-academic degrees.
It is a different ball game for a person to be awarded a degree and be described as a graduate of a university. A proper graduate must have gone through prescribed training and at the end was found worthy both in character and knowledge. Put differently, the said training must have been premised on some processes and procedures as well as a set of rules to which every candidate had to adhere.
A breach of this requirement may bar a student from graduating. It can also lead to the withdrawal of a degree if the breach is discovered after it had been awarded. The latter is what appears to have influenced the Senate of the Abia State University to approve at its 69th Extra-Ordinary meeting on March 01, 2013, the withdrawal of a degree it had awarded to one of its former students- Orji Uzor Kalu.
According to the registrar of the university, Mr O. E. Onuoha, Kalu’s punishment was based on “the strength of the findings and recommendations of an investigative panel into allegations of breach of the extant Academic Regulations” of the University by the former student.
While Eighty-eight (88) members reportedly supported the decision, only three (3) dissented. Kalu’s wrongs appear quite many. First, he allegedly violated the regulations on admission-by-transfer because his transcript from his previous school-the University of Maiduguri allegedly did not bear the letterhead of that institution.
Second, although matriculation is mandatory for all fresh students, Kalu reportedly did not matriculate. Third, Kalu allegedly spent only two semesters in the university instead of six, that is, one year instead of three academic years of study.
Obviously, a student that can commit all these atrocities and get away with them must be a super human. In earnest, Orji Uzor kalu was not just a student because he was in his glorious university days, the Executive Governor of Abia State and was thus the Visitor to that university.
He was however not the only super human in this subject. Abia State University could also be so described being the only university in the world whose student also served as its Visitor-the highest authority in a university. What this suggests is that there was likely to be some impropriety in Kalu’s academic carrier.
Consequently, if what the university has done now corrects the wrongs, the rest of us should not lose any sleep. Unfortunately, that is a simplistic conclusion. As a public institution, the university has a duty to answer many questions to the satisfaction of the public.
First, was there really an investigative panel? If so, who set it up? Second, when was it set up and what was its composition? Third, what were its terms of reference? Fourth, where did it carry out its work and for how long? Fifth, were its sessions held in public? Sixth, did the panel gather any data at all? For instance, what was the opinion of the University of Maiduguri on the authenticity of the controversial transcript?
If as we hear, the panel arrived at its findings without Kalu’s defence, that sadly breaches the elementary principles of natural justice. Again, what was the role of the State Governor in the saga? It seems curious that the University released the report of the panel only after the office of the State Governor had made its own verdict known on it!
The episode can be likened to a local government election in Nigeria in which results are collated and declared at the Government House by the returning officer and members of the electoral commission who are card carrying members of the ruling party. This analogy appears logical because the first public statement that was made on the so called enquiry was by Mr. Ugochukwu Emezue, the spokesman to the current Abia State governor.
There is also the need to comment on Nigeria’s culture of selective justice. If the allegations against Kalu are correct, he deserves his fate but where are all those who aided him by acts of omission and commission? Who was the chairman of the university’s admission board at the time?
What roles did he/ she and other relevant operatives involved in admissions play in the alleged malpractices? Did they not see the ‘fake’ transcript from the University of Maiduguri or did they see only what they wanted to see? Why did Kalu’s lecturers especially his Head of Department allow such an ‘occasional’ student who spent two instead of six semesters to ‘progress’ from one level to the other to the point of graduating?
Did he obtain grades in absentia for some examinations? There are two other important persons to be mentioned. The first is the then Vice Chancellor (VC) who must have received the ‘fake’ documents that came from ‘above’. What was that former VC’s posture? The second is the current State Governor, Mr. Theodore Orji.
Being the Chief of Staff to the Governor at that time, could he have been the courier of the fake documents? It is important to unravel everything so as to purge the University of unwholesome disposition. It is therefore necessary to know how many cases like that of Kalu exist in the university.
They are likely to be many because if the executive arm of government influenced officials of the university as can be imputed from Kalu’s case, the legislature can do same through oversight influence, business men can also use money to get what they donot deserve from the University. In short, we need to know which degree of the University is actually earned and how to differentiate it from the phony ones. Until then, it is not unwise to be cautious of Abia State University degrees.