By Adekunle Jaiyeola
On Thursday 24th March, 2016, some officers of two staff unions namely Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU) arrested the attention of Obafemi Awolowo University and the public with an advertisement An Open Letter to President Muhammadu Buhari jointly written by the unions and published in The Nation in which they called for the dissolution of the Governing Council of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. The call was premised on their uninformed interpretation of the statutes of the University guiding the appointment of a new Vice-Chancellor, after realizing that their candidates did not make the shortlist that the Governing Council of the University produced at the end of one of its early lawful exercises.
The main arguments of the advertisement were two. The first was that the Governing Council used advertised criteria along with non-advertised ones to arrive at a shortlist of six candidates out of eleven who applied to be Vice-Chancellor. Their second argument was that the Governing Council, by this initial shortlisting exercise and alleged subsequent ranking of applicants, took over the duty of the Joint Council and Senate Selection Board which was not yet put in place at the time of the shortlisting. Contrary to what the advertisement fed the public, the Governing Council of Obafemi Awolowo University did not use criteria other than the ones advertised but drew criteria from the advertised eligibility criteria. And more to the point, the Governing Council did not engage in any forms of ranking in the shortlisting exercise. This was a clear case of falsehood awaiting evidences!
Placed against the call for the dissolution of the Governing Council of Obafemi Awolowo University in the advertisement, the ASUU-Federal Government Agreement of 2009 which granted autonomy power to governing councils of universities would show that the two unions demonstrated sharp ignorance of the laws of the University guiding the appointment of a new Vice-Chancellor. In sharp contradistinction to the pre-ASUU-Federal Government Agreement of 2009 practice in which names of ranked candidates for the office of Vice-Chancellor were sent to the Visitor for a final selection, the autonomy bill of 2009 Agreement has empowered university governing councils to appoint Vice-Chancellors based on criteria stipulated by their laws and statutes. The councils are also empowered to guide and interpret the statutes and laws of universities governing the appointment in question. The Governing Council of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, has acted in conformity with the autonomy bill by drawing up its criteria for shortlisting from the eligibility criteria advertised in the national dailies.
Questions have been raised in the national dailies about the role of ASUU in this protest. Or why has ASUU not come up with a position regarding the procedure used by the Governing Council to produce a shortlist of candidates for the Vice-Chancellorship race? I suppose the way to answer this is to first inform the public that there are usually four workers’ unions in Nigerian universities. They are Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU); National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT); Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU); and Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU). Secondly, members of ASUU and NAAT are the ones who are more central to the main engagements of universities which are teaching and research. These two unions did not and have not partaken in any public protest or press war against the procedure of the Governing Council for the said shortlisting exercise. Could it be that they were less intelligent than the University line staff in SSANU and NASU on appointment procedure? The following may suffice as an answer. ASUU fought for the autonomy granted to university governing councils and the Obafemi Awolowo University branch of ASUU might have observed a thorough misapprehension and disruption of the autonomy in the protest and press war of the two unions but would not want to rock boat with sister unions or waiting for an appropriate time to air its voice. The Obafemi Awolowo University NAAT might have as well observed the OAU Governing Council procedure as functioning concretely within the autonomy power granted to university governing councils. After all, the so-called criteria used by the Governing Council for the discredited shortlisting exercise by the two unions are also promotion criteria used for university staff who engage in teaching and research in their senior ranks.
In closing, what are the chances of this call for the dissolution of the Governing Council of Obafemi Awolowo University in view of the recent announcement of President Muhammadu Buhari that the Federal Government of Nigeria erred in the dissolution of the governing councils of the twelve Federal universities? In the autonomy granted to universities, the Federal Government has no power to dissolve university governing councils. The councils are empowered to run their terms to the end except in cases of gross misconduct. It was against this provision that President Muhammdu Buhari came to state, that there was nothing wrong in acknowledging the error committed by the Government in the dissolution.
Members of the two unions are hereby advised to do a further study of the provisions of the autonomy bill of the 2009 ASUU-Federal Government Agreement. The study would confirm the position that their call for the dissolution of the Governing Council of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife was uninformed and therefore misguided.
Mr. Adekunle Jaiyeola is a graduate of the University of Ife and Human Right Activist in Ile-Ife.