• Thursday, July 18, 2024
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Governing Councils: Why ASUU screams foul

FG ignores ASUU, to inaugurate varsities governing councils

…It mirrors FG’s disregard for education – Odion-Akhaine

… ‘Politicisation of governing council dangerous for tertiary institutions’

…ASUU’s grievance totally misplaced – Obono-Obla

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has kicked against the appointment of new governing councils in the federal institutions of higher learning, saying it was illegal to remove the existing ones before the expiration of their tenures.

Emmanuel Osodeke, president of ASUU, in his speech on the dissolution of the governing council by the National Universities Commission (NUC) as directed by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, insisted that the dissolution is “illegal,” and that it will “pave the way for all manner of illegalities in the Nigerian University System.”

He also said that “ASUU shall do all within its powers to ensure that the dignity of the academia is fully restored in line with practices obtainable in forward-looking climes.

“So, Nigerians should hold the federal and state governments responsible if governing councils are allowed to snowball into an avoidable industrial crisis.”

ASUU decried the continued erosion of the autonomy of public universities, which he said was a clear violation of the Universities Miscellaneous ACT 1993 (as amended in 2012).

The union said that the illegal dissolution of the governing councils by the President as well as some state governments, was tantamount to a coup against the public university system.

The Universities Miscellaneous Act No.11 of 1993, amended in 2012 gives room for the ex-officio members, non-ex-officio members; and internal and external members for the governing council.

The ex-officio members include the vice-chancellor, deputy vice-chancellors, and one person from the Federal Ministry of Education. These are all members of the council by their offices. All other members are non-ex-officio members.

On the other hand, external members of the council consist of the pro-chancellor, the representative of the Federal Ministry of Education, and the four other members representing a variety of interests appointed by the National Council of Ministers, among others.

All other members of the council, including the vice-chancellor and deputy vice-chancellors, are normally referred to as internal members. These are members and representatives of the university community in the council.

Tenure of councils:

Section 2A brought into the Principal Act by Section 2(3) of the Amendment Act is a very significant new provision. It provides: “The council so constituted shall have tenure of four years from the date of its inauguration provided that where a council is found to be incompetent and corrupt it shall be dissolved by the visitor and a new council shall be immediately constituted for the effective functioning of the university.”

Stakeholders believe that the President Tinubu administration was wrong for not allowing those elected into the council to complete their tenures, especially the internal members.

Going by the Act, experts blamed the government for removing the elected members of the council when they were not found guilty of corruption or incompetency.

Ifeanyi Abada, a former ASUU chieftain at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), said: “The government has the right to withdraw the external members, but the internal ones ought to have been allowed to complete their tenures going by the Act.”

Abada also said that the removal of the elected members of the governing council violates the autonomy of the university system, which according to him is what ASUU is fighting against.

“It is obvious that the Federal Government did that to give room for their political faithful,” he alleged.

He however, maintained that the members of the governing council who were aggrieved by the disposition of the Federal Government failed to understand that a new administration was in place.

“For me, I think they should have re-contested if they are sure of their capabilities and integrity among the university community,” he said.

Similarly, Kayode Adebayo, the University of Lagos chairman of ASUU, questioned the Federal Government’s action in dissolving the universities’ governing councils.

Adebayo said that the action amounted to abuse of the autonomy of the universities.

As the controversy rages, other stakeholders have weighed in. While some believe that the President acted within the ambits of the law, some others warned that the politicisation of the nation’s tertiary institutions was dangerous.

ASUU’s grievance totally misplaced – Obono-Obla

As a lawyer and former Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Assets Recovery, Obono-Obla Okoi, voiced his concerns about the controversies surrounding the appointment of the governing council members.

Obono-Obla, a former presidential aide, said that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) does not have the authority to determine the appointment to University Governing Councils.

He noted that the hue and cry by ASUU over the appointment of the governing Council members of universities by President Tinubu was totally misplaced.

“My point is that appointment of the membership of the Governing Councils doesn’t require the appointment of only technocrats, as suggested by ASUU.

“Anybody can be appointed into the Council, as long as he fulfils the criterion spelled out in the statute, establishing the universities he has been appointed into,” he said.

Obono-Obla was also of the view that it was the prerogative of Tinubu to appoint anybody of his choice into any appointment as long as he meets the condition(s) stipulated by the law. He cited Section 5 (a-h) of the University of Calabar Act 2004.

According to him, “It prescribes the method or the quality of people that should be appointed into the governing council by Tinubu.

“Tinubu is required to appoint nine persons representing a variety of interests and broadly representative of the whole Federation.

“No special qualification is stated and is required as long as the appointment reflects a variety of interests and is broadly representative of the whole Federation.

“Therefore, Tinubu has satisfied the requirements laid down by the law for the appointment of members of the universities belonging to the Federal Government of Nigeria.”

Ventilate your anger in court, Oduwole tells ASUU

Similarly, Ajibola Oduwole, lawyer, said the problem with the presidential system of government was that it gives so much power to the president, noting that there were instances where presidents or governors removed people whose tenure is yet to expire.

“ASUU ought to ventilate its anger in a court of competent jurisdiction. We have had several instances where presidents and governors remove people whose tenure is yet to expire,” he said.

Hammed Muritala, media and development practitioner, said that ASUU cannot dictate to the President who to or not to appoint to university governing councils, as long as the appointments do not run contrary to extant laws, noting that the President has the legal authority to appoint members to councils of public tertiary institutions in the country.

“Whether the appointees are retired politicians or not shouldn’t be ASUU’s headache. While ASUU may have concerns, its focus should be how to hold those appointed accountable and transparent in the performance of their responsibility of ensuring effective management of the universities.”

‘Tinubu breached the law in this regard’

Some stakeholders in the educational sector and lawyers said President Bola Tinubu violated the extant law by arbitrarily sacking the governing council of universities without their tenure expiring.

They noted that by the existing law the Federal Government has no power to dissolve universities governing councils unless they are found incompetent or wanting.

But they were unanimous in saying that the President had the power to appoint anyone, into the governing council of tertiary institution composition.

Sylvester Odion-Akhaine, professor of Political Science, disagreed with the appointments, noting that the President’s action violated the extant law, wondering what impact some of the people appointed would make.

“These are people who would be sleeping in meetings, nobody is questioning the power of the President but he must follow the extant law and not disrupt everything across board, there were people whose tenure had not expired.

“Can’t he see former VCs, educationists to appoint? Education is going down in Nigeria and the way we are going shows we are not serious about reviving it. The appointment is just political patronage,” the professor said.

Similarly, Coalition of Civil Society Organisations in Nigeria (COCSON) expressed dismay with the situation, noting that the Federal Government had no power to dissolve universities’ governing councils without any offence.

“The ideal thing is that pro-chancellors should be renowned academics or professionals with a track record of contributions to education, rather than politicians. We know the President has the powers, but I see ASUU’s fears,” Bunmi Odesanya, public affairs analyst, said.