On the Matter of Dismissal and Appointment of Vice Chancellors: A Response To Messrs. Etuk Bassey Williams and Ibrahim Abubakar
I have just finished reading your letter to President Muhammadu Buhari on behalf of what you have identified as the “Coalition of Civil Society Groups”. The purpose of your letter is to contend that in the matter of the removal of 13 Vice Chancellors of Federal Universities, the president has breached the constitution. You further submit that the new appointments breached the federal character principle and are, for the most part, tainted by cronyism.
Since your letter did not contain the list of the groups on whose behalf you claim to speak, it is difficult to see how representative your “groups” are of what, by definition, is civil society and the multiplicity of groups to be found therein. If I were the president, or I were advising the president, I would promptly ignore your letter for its facelessness. This is not a charge to be taken lightly. Here is why.
You have accused the president of a constitutional breach. That is not a light charge in a well-ordered society based on the rule of law. It would therefore be necessary to be very clear who are those making the charge and on what basis. As an ordinary citizen who, by definition, is a part of the civil society from whose ranks your “groups” are selected, I find it difficult to take this charge seriously.
Where were you all when the initial appointments were made? If the president had the power to appoint those Vice Chancellors without more, how come the president no longer has the power to remove them, without more? When you kept quiet when the initial appointments were made, what gives you the legitimacy now to protest when “illegality” upends a previous “illegality”? As a Yorùbá saying might put it: “Olè gbé e, olè gbà à” [A thief steals something, another thief divests him of it].
There is a lesson here that we all can learn and it is the principal reason why I decided to write this little rejoinder. In a decent society—very few think of our country as a decent society—those who are just appointed would reject the appointments or at least ask that “due process” be followed before they would accept their appointments. I am certain that none of them would take this course. When, therefore, two years into their tenure, their appointor has a change of mind, for any or no reason whatsoever, I definitely will not be extending myself on their behalf.
The real reason here is that the entire structure of the administration of tertiary education in our country is built on legal quicksand and political chicanery. To begin with, no vice chancellor has anything that resembles autonomy in the running of his or her institution: they, one and all, are beholden to an organ, the National Universities Commission, whose bona fides are not exactly sterling. As some of us have argued in the past, the NUC cannot be a part of the revival of university education in Nigeria. It is, I would argue, an unnecessary dissipation of the president’s time to be losing sleep over the appointment of administrators of universities. And when we do not insist on the decentralisation that would make civil society, yes, civil society the real locus of control of a quintessential civil society outfit like educational institutions, it is insincerity of the highest order, perhaps even fraud, to protest specific irregularities like the one that has attracted your disapprobation.
When those who have just been dismissed were appointed, what “due process” was put in place? Where were the advertisements for the positions they were appointed to fill? What interview processes did they go through? What constituencies of their respective universities did they interact with before their appointment? What plans did they use to sway their appointors to pick them over competing others in the process?
One last word to the new appointees: welcome to the line of prospective dismissed Vice Chancellors, somewhere down the road [apologies to Barry Manilow].
Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò teaches at the Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, U.S.A.