The Illegality of Removal of 13 Vice Chancellors – An Open Letter, By Coalition of Civil Society Groups
Your Excellency Sir,
The Illegality of the Removal of 13 Vice Chancellors In Some Federal Universities Including the National Open University of Nigeria and Our Humble Plea for the Immediate Removal Of the Minister of Education, Hon. Adamu Adamu
May we first of all salute you sir for the manner in which you have been steering the ship of the Nigerian State through your deliberate and conscious efforts in tackling the scourge of corruption to a standstill without minding whose ox is gored. There is no doubt that your undeniable stance against the biggest problem of this country has helped to put a check on the excesses of corrupt individuals both in the public and private sectors, and this will no doubt help to improve the low rating Nigeria currently has in the annual computation of the Corruption Perception Index by Amnesty International.
While the fight against corruption is not the only visible achievement that has been made in your short time in office, may we also acknowledge the giant strides made in promoting transparency, accountability and good governance, which have, in no small measure, helped to strengthen our nascent democracy through the independence of the judiciary and legislature, like never before witnessed since the return to democratic in 1999. Also worthy of commendation is your respect for the rule of law as a reborn democrat and we are indeed elated that since your assumption in office as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, you are yet to be faulted on this declaration at the Chatham House a few weeks before the 2015 Presidential election that brought you to power.
It is in view of this impeccable record that we want to call your attention to an act of impunity and illegality that has just taken place in the Federal Ministry of Education so that the unblemished track record your administration has so far maintained in operating within the ambit of the law is not destroyed through the vaunting ambition of a few persons in your government. We are compelled to call your attention to the illegality of the removal of the Vice Chancellors of 13 Federal Universities in the country, including the National Open University of Nigeria, and the hasty appointment of friends and cronies in place of those removed from office.
While we are not unmindful of the fact that you would have acted on the recommendation of the Minister of Education in approving their removal, it is pertinent to point out that in the pursuit of ambition driven by unguided passion and greed by some of your officials, impunity becomes inevitable, as exhibited in these removals. May we remind you, Mr. President, that it was this same strain of unguided passion and greed by a few elements that has led to the embarrassment still being generated by the 2016 budget, which will now go down in history as the most controversial budget ever prepared in Nigeria.
The constitution is quite clear on the procedures to be followed in the appointment and disengagement of Vice Chancellors, and none of these procedures were followed in the above case.
1. The appointment of a Vice Chancellor is tenured, which presupposes that each appointee is expected to serve a prescribed number of years as stipulated by the Acts governing of their institutions.
In the present case, none of these Vice Chancellors were allowed to complete their tenures, and they were all removed without following the due process of the law.
2. In the event that a Vice Chancellor is to be removed from office before the expiration of her tenure, it is the board of the Governing Council of her university that is empowered to recommend or effect the removal of such a possibly erring Vice Chancellor.
In the above case, the Minister had already dissolved the boards of the Governing Councils of these universities with such statutory powers, as such the removal of these Vice Chancellors from office can be deemed to be illegal, null and void.
3. In appointing new Vice Chancellors or any public officer for that matter, it is an offence and breach of the Federal Character principle for one third of the total appointees to come from a particular State.
In the case of the recently appointed Vice Chancellors, it might interest you to note that four out of the twelve appointees are from Kano State University, which is a clear violation of the Federal Character principle.
While this does not come as a surprise owing to the influence of one of the Special Advisers to the Minister of Education in orchestrating the appointment of his friends and cronies without following due process, we are however concerned about the constitutional breach and the resultant litigations this action may cause, which in turn may generate unnecessary distractions for your focused administration.
To this end, we kindly beckon on your strong democratic values, which have remained a focal point to other African leaders, to please:
1. Allow the status quo to remain while you consult far and wide on the necessity or otherwise of removing these Vice Chancellors;
2. Investigate the rational for the recommendation and subsequent appointment of four Professors from the same State University of the Minister of Education, which is a gross violation of the Federal character principle.
Much worrisome to us is the case of National Open University of Nigeria whose governing council members are still in office and whose board has not been dissolved, but whose Vice Chancellor was removed without consulting the governing council. In the light of the above development, the questions begging for answers are:
• Where did the Minister get the recommendation leading to the sack of the Vice- Chancellor of the National Open University and his immediate replacement?
• Where is due process in this?
• Is it not a tradition in the university system that when there is a vacancy in an institution for the Office of the Vice-Chancellor, a publication is made available to the public to that effect for qualified candidates to apply, before they are then screened, and three out of the qualified nominees are recommended by the governing council to the Visitor of the university to choose from and confirm?
• Is it not an abuse of due process that the Hon. Minister of Education unilaterally transferred a serving Vice-Chancellor (Federal University, Dutse, Jigawa State) to another university (Federal University Wukari, Taraba) when the tenure of the said Vice-Chancellor has not expired?
Pursuant to the provisions of the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act No.11 of 1993 as amended by decree No.25, 1996 and further amended in 2003 and 2012 respectively and other agreements as contained in the 2009 FGN staff union agreement, the leadership of the Coalition of Civil Society Group is in total disagreement with the recent sacking of 13 Vice-Chancellors of the newly established Federal Universities across the country by the Minister of Education, Hon. Adamu Adamu.
The action of the Minister is greeted with sadness as it is considered a breach of the provisions of the University Amendment Act and to a large extent a gross violation of the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which guarantees universities autonomy in Nigeria.
The Act as mentioned, provides for the amendment of the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act No. 11, 1993 and makes new provisions, among other things for the autonomy, management and re-organisation of the Universities in Nigeria without government interference.
Alarm was raised by concerned and meaningful citizens of Nigeria on February 11, 2016 of the plan by the Hon. Minister of Education to sideline due process in the removal of and appointment of Vice-Chancellors for the newly established federal universities across the country, even though the tenures of the purportedly sacked Vice-Chancellors have not expired. For instance, the tenure of the incumbent Vice-Chancellor of the National Open University was to end in 2017, but he was among the 13 Vice-Chancellors sacked.
While it is an academic tradition protected by the Universities Act that a Vice-Chancellor must be allowed to complete his tenure in office without undue interference by the government in the absence of a prima facie case of incompetency and mental illness against him/her, taking into cognisance the peculiarity of the University, it is an aberration for the Minister of Education not to toe the path of the law and err on the side of caution, but to resort to illegality by unjustly terminating the tenures of these 13 Vic-chancellors.
In conclusion sir, while we are confident that the issues raised in this letter will be looked into and treated with the urgency it demands. Kindly accept, as always, the compliments of our highest regards.
Etuk Bassey Williams (JP). FCICN