By Babajide Alabi
It is very disturbing that we find ourselves going back and forth discussing the administration and management of the Nigerian education sector. We cannot overlook the recent happenings that no doubt would affect the quality and standard of materials produced under this system. It is also unfortunate that these developments have graduated from ‘joke’ to the ridiculous. There is something worrying about the future of the sector, especially since the inception of the government of the All Progressives Congress (APC) led government. To be fair, it is not that the sector had performed brilliantly in the past, but with recent developments under the supervision of Adamu Adamu, minister of education, there are causes for concerns.
Adamu has been swimming from one controversy to another, especially on appointments in the university sector. The way and manner he has administered the ministry so far calls for concerns, considering the fact that he has allowed himself to be used as pawn by influential Nigerians. Many times we have tried to work out the reasons why Nigerian universities cannot compete with their international counterparts. With recent developments, they are becoming very obvious. In Nigeria, private universities owners tend to appoint administrators that will overlook their ventures for profits.
In federal universities, you will think quality will be the keyword. Unfortunately, the system for the appointment of officials, especially vice chancellors, have been corrupted that educational attainment is no longer one of the criteria. The university administrators in the country are now more of politicians than intellectuals. The process is far from being transparent, as godfatherism has also crept into it.
The recent ‘flip flop’ events at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, have portrayed the Federal Government via Adamu, as unserious and partial umpires. The fallout of the appointment of an incumbent vice chancellor for the university has no doubt cast serious doubt on government’s plans for the university sector.
The events in the past weeks have revealed that the minister is obviously a man that is either overwhelmed by this position or easily influenced. Whichever way it is, the unfolding events in the university has unmasked him as a man who speaks from both sides of his mouth. This does not forecast a rosy future for the university administration. If after approving the process of selection of the appointment of a Vice Chancellor, he could turn around and dissolve the Governing Council, succumbing to external pressures, there is cause for alarm.
The announcement of an acting Vice Chancellor for OAU, Ile Ife last week has once again called for serious thoughts on external interferences in the administration of the university system. The minister’s action, on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari does not portend anything good for the country. This singular action gives the impression that the country is still operating under the military.
Reminiscent of those dark days when sole administrators were chosen to run the affairs of universities, the minister directed that an acting VC be appointed. The dissolution of the governing council, suspension of the appointment of a substantive vice chancellor and the ‘selection’ of one in an acting capacity have brought a big dent on the seriousness of this government in playing fair game in the universities.
It is obvious that the power game on the selection of the vice chancellor for the Great Ife is more than the position of the minister. He seems helpless to do anything other than what the power wielders wanted. He looks like a puppet who is controlled by strings. We may want to identify these “strings” as tribalism, corruption, godfatherism, among many.
Unfortunately, these strings have pulled the heart of the minister apart. He has succumbed to the dictates of these powers who hid behind non-academic union officials to disturb the peace of the Ile Ife campus for many months. With recent developments, it is obvious these union officials were acting on the dictate of superior powers to oppose the candidacy of Professor Ayobami Salami.
The union officials threw spanners in the wheel of progress and behaved more like motor park touts than individuals who work in a university setting. The interests of these people is far more than the development of the university. It is parochial, tribalistic and unprogressive, especially in this modern age. These power wielders have succeeded in achieving their objective by the appointment of an acting VC, and there has been jubilation in their camp. The basis of their jubilation was the acting VC is an indigene of Ile Ife. It is speculated that this appointment was facilitated by a prominent traditional ruler who insisted an indigene must run the university.
This is a new and ridiculous dimension to the administration of the university. With the many problems facing university administration, if being an indigene is now a criteria for appointment, definitely, the system is on a fast lane to destruction. The various comments following the appointment of the acting vice chancellor has been divided on tribal lines. This is really unfortunate, as it is being suggested that Salami might have been opposed because he is from Ibadan.
I doubt if the minister had a good thought about this before approving the appointment. If he or any of his advisers had, they would have realised that this is a dangerous trend that will fight back in future. Will it not be justifiable if in the future, the Emir of Kano insists that that the VC of Bayero University come from his domain? And to achieve this he insists that all legal process of selection be discounted with. Whoever is the minister of education at this time would have to contend with this bad precedent that the incumbent minister has set.
When will Nigerian officials be bold to say no to tribalism, corruption, undue influence and godfatherism in all areas? It is when they can maintain quality process for appointment that Nigeria can raise its head in the comity of nations.
Let us not deceive ourselves by trying to compare our education system with other countries. We still operate archaic and easily manipulated system that celebrates who you know, rather than what you have to contribute. The developments in Ife have brought a new meaning to government’s fight against corruption. This is why citizens are confused about government’s definition of corruption and the fight against it.
Corruption is not limited to money. It is corruption when a system properly constituted is jettisoned just because it does not favour a select few. Corruption is when undue pressure is applied to a government official to go against an earlier endorsed appointment. Corruption is when university appointments are politicised and given out on the basis of being indigenes. Corruption is when officials of unions are used to undermine the process of legally constituted authorities.
While the Nigerian university system seem desperate to go down the hills, many African countries are improving theirs. These are wise countries that have allowed their universities to grow independently and not with government or union interferences. To redeem the quality of the university system the ball is in the minister’s court. Will he stand by all these illegalities that are fuelled by undue pressure? How long do we go before we get it right?