Governor Rotimi Amaechi
Following the recent face-off betweenGovernor Rotimi Amaechi and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over the re-appointment of Prof. Barineme Fakae as Vice-Chancellor of Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST), the governor ordered Fakae’s confirmation as substantive vice-chancellor for a second term. But the union has explained that the illegality in the VC’s appointment started since 2007. Ernest Chinwo and Uchechukwu Nnaike report
Candidates who applied for admission into the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST) for the next academic session may have to seek other alternatives, as the disagreement between the visitor, Governor Rotimi Amaechi and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over the recent re-appointment of Prof. Barineme Fakae as vice-chancellor of the university might linger.
Amaechi kept his words with the confirmation last weekend, of Fakae’s appointment as substantive vice-chancellor of the university for a second term. The announcement, which was contained in statement signed by the Secretary to the State Government, Mr. George Feyii, was perhaps the climax of the attrition that engulfed the university since August 1, 2012 when Fakae’s first tenure expired.
On its part, the institution’s chapter of ASUU, backed by the national body, has vowed to sustain the strike it started till the governor reverses the appointment, which it claims is contrary to the university’s law.
The union embarked on strike on August 13, 2012 at the expiration of a seven-day notice requesting the governor to reverse the appointment of Fakae as the then acting vice-chancellor.
Chairmen of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) and University of Ibadan (UI) chapters of ASUU, Dr. Karo Ogbinaka and Dr. Segun Ajiboye, respectively who briefed journalists on behalf of the national body last week, quoted Section 3(1) of the university’s law, related to the appointment of vice-chancellor thus: “Subject to the provisions of this paragraph, the vice-chancellor shall be appointed by the governor acting on the recommendation of a joint selection committee of senate and council.”
They also cited Section 4(2) which stated that the deputy vice-chancellor “shall assist the vice-chancellor in the discharge of his functions on full time basis and act in the place of the vice-chancellor when the office of vice-chancellor is vacant or the vice-chancellor is for any reason (including absence from the precincts of the university) unable to perform his functions as vice-chancellor; and references in this law to the vice-chancellor shall be construed accordingly.”
The union recalled that the irregularity in Fakae’s appointment as vice-chancellor had been on since 2007, when the governor appointed him to run for the first term contrary to the provisions in paragraph 3(1) of the first schedule of RSUST Law No 7 1980.
“The visitor at a congress meeting of the union apologised to the union and the university community for the error and appealed for Prof. Fakae to be allowed a single tenure of four years…”, the ASUU chiefs alleged.
The union also opposed Fakae’s re-appointment as the acting vice-chancellor, on the grounds that he did not make the first three positions as contained in the result of a screening exercise conducted by the Joint Selection Committee for the five shortlisted candidates, out of the 10 candidates that applied for the post of vice-chancellor.
Meanwhile, speaking for the first time since the strike began, Amaechi urged the striking lecturers to feel free to challenge his action in court, saying that he acted within the provision of the state’s law governing the university.
The governor was quoted as saying that “there is a difference between the federal law, which the president had signed which governs federal universities and the state law. They (ASUU) want me to disobey the law that sets up RSUST. I wish them luck, but this will not happen within the period that I am governor of Rivers State.
“There is what is called the rule of law and true federalism. Unitary system should not be applied in a state. The law setting up RSUST allows its vice-chancellor to run for three-year second term after the expiration of his first term.”
He noted that professors in the university who are members of the governing council stepped out of the council also applied for the position, which he said was an outright breach of the laws of the institution.
“ASUU in Rivers State wants to take up the position of a governor to appoint the vice-chancellor. There has to be discipline and there has to be implementation of law and order”, he said.
The governor was said to have vowed to ensure that salary was not paid to any lecturer who fails to report to his or her duty post. He regretted that RSUST lecturers, who are the highest paid in the country are in the habit of blackmailing his administration.
Amaechi also vowed to exercise his powers as the visitor to confirm Fakae for a second term. The confirmation, which was contained in a statement signed by Feyii remarked on the anomalies in the process that some lecturers employed to ensure that Fakae did not return for a second term.
The statement read in parts: “The Governor and visitor to the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST), Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, has approved the appointment of Prof. Barineme Beke Fakae as the Vice-Chancellor of the university for a second term.
“The appointment was done in conformity with the provisions of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology Law, through a Joint Selection Committee of members of Council and the Senate, set up for the purpose.”
The statement said the committee short listed five candidates for the position, namely: Prof. B. Onuegbu, Prof. M. Ahiakwo, Prof. N. Lale, Prof. B. Fakae, and Prof. C. Enyinda.
It said at the end of the selection process, two candidates, namely, Fakae and Enyinda, were forwarded to the visitor for consideration, who, in exercise of his discretionary powers, chose, Fakae.
“In this regard, it is pertinent to state that it was discovered that Prof. B. Onuegbu, Prof. M. Ahiakwo and Prof. N. Lale, who were also candidates in the selection process were involved in the nomination of members of the Joint Selection Committee. Professors Onuegbu and Ahiakwo nominated Professor Ogburia and Professor S.Amadi, as members of the committee, while Professors Lale and Ahiakwo, who were members of council nominated Amabipi Martins, Mrs. Matilda Nondim, Chief Nemi Adoki, Deacon Abigo and Chief Wike into the committee.
“As candidates for the position of the vice-chancellor, they are barred morally and legally from participating in the process of the selection of persons to be nominated into the body to determine their suitability as vice-chancellors. Professors Onuegbu, Ahiakwo and Lale, were therefore disqualified from contesting for the position. The fact that they were allowed to stand for the selection and were interviewed did not cure the initial defect and substantive disability. The principle to be protected here is that, a candidate cannot choose his own judge.
“So, contrary to the claims by ASUU and some other elements, in an attempt to deliberately misinform and mislead the public, the appointment of Fakae was done in accordance with due process.”
The statement also justified Fakae’s re-appointment, considering his achievements in his first tenure. It noted that in 2008, when Fakae assumed duties as vice-chancellor, less than 20 per cent of the courses run by the institution had Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) accreditation, but that university now has 100 per cent of its courses accredited.
It also said that out of 124 universities in the country, RSUST was not only among the top 27 considered qualified for visitation by NUC for the purposes of institutional accreditation, but was also institutionally accredited with an impressive score of 67.25 per cent and rated A in the second category to operate as a university for the next five years.
The statement also stated that RSUST moved up from 76th position on the World Webometric Ranking of Nigerian Universities to the 19thposition.
It added that Fakae had completely stamped out cultism, which was at its peak some years ago, leading to the death of students in their numbers. It appealed to ASUU and other stakeholders not to take measures that would disrupt the activities of the university.Many indigenes of the state and scholars from other universities across the country viewed the ultimatum by the union as a direct affront to the state government.
The union said in a letter jointly signed by its Chairperson and Secretary, Dr. Felix Igwe and Mr. E.O. Ekwulo, dated August 13, 2012 that: “During the period of the withdrawal of service, there shall be no teaching, examination, grading of scripts, project supervisions, inaugural lectures, appointments and promotions meeting, statutory meetings (council, senate, boards etc) or other meetings directed by governments or their agents.”
It was alleged that deans of faculties held a meeting with the vice-chancellor the day the strike started with the resolution that strike was not the best option to resolve the impasse and was not necessary.
“Considering that the purported strike action by ASUU, RSUST is illegal and unnecessary at this time in the development of our university, we, the committee of deans and academic directors hereby collectively resolve to carry on with our normal academic activities in line with the university law, for the benefit of our children”, the deans said.
Supporting the management’s position, the Students’ Union Government (SUG) said, “there is no strike in the university at the moment. What is happening is that some lecturers just decided to withdraw their services without any justification. Normal academic activities are still going on, but some students are taking the advantage of the seeming strike to stay at home.”
The SUG President, Godswill Amadi, said the re-appointment of Fakae was “a reward for hard work. Those who are criticizing the visitor for taking the decision should visit the university and see the level of development that has taken place under the leadership of Fakae.”
He called on his fellow students to shun the strike called by some lecturers and attend their lectures.
“Let me use this medium to inform my fellow students that normal academic activities are going-on in the school. Students should attend lectures and prepare for their exams since there is nothing like strike.”
Many also condemned the action of the lecturers, stating that considering the sanity that Fakae restored to the university, they were expected to support him. Others said the lecturers were fighting Fakae because he obstructed the avenues through which some of them extort students.
A senior management staff of the institution, who preferred anonymity, said some lecturers were collecting up to N200,000 from students to award undeserved marks. She also said there could be some political undertones to the strike.
“In the last election, APGA won in all the booths on campus. Some lecturers were openly distributing money to lure voters. Besides, who is funding these lecturers? They must have some people funding them to cause mischief on campus”, she alleged.