FG: Suspension is a routine administrative procedure
Whistleblowers: It’s a welcome development
The Nigerian university system is on a fresh collision course with the Federal Government over the last Thursday suspension of the Vice-Chancellors, who are currently facing trial over allegation of fraud and financial recklessness levelled against them by some individuals in the universities.
The affected vice-chancellors are those of the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), Prof. Adebiyi Daramola and the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Prof. Olusola Oyewole.
There had been agitations from the university workers’ unions for the suspension of the embattled vice-chancellors, who had already been dragged to court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to pave way for thorough investigation of the allegations, claiming their continued presence in the office would obstruct investigations. But, prominent stakeholders and key players in the sector, in their reactions to the Federal Government’s directive, described the government’s action to suspend the vice-chancellors, whose tenure of office was due to lapse in less than two weeks, as a direct assault on the University Autonomy Act.
According to them, the Act had placed the responsibility of the appointment and removal of a vice-chancellor in the hand of the governing councils of the institutions, and that the new decision has rubbished the law.
The Autonomy Act was a fallout of the Federal Government and universities’ staff unions’ agreement which has been renegotiated over time.
However, the Federal Government has insisted that its decision was a routine administrative procedure that is not strange to the civil service rule. In response to New Telegraph’s enquiry on the matter, the Director of Press in the Federal Ministry of Education, Mrs. Chinneye Ihuoma, via a short message, said: “It was a routine administrative procedure to suspend officers that are being investigated for serious offences to enable effective investigation. Both cases are well-known to media and would be vacated when it is determined by competent court of jurisdiction.”
The letters announcing the suspension of the vice-chancellors were signed on behalf of the Education Minister, Mallam Adamu Adamu by the Acting Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Dr. Hussaini Adamu.
The letters, which were delivered on Thursday, May 11, were dated Friday, May 5, 2017. This came on the heels of the Tuesday’s inauguration of the Governing Councils of the two universities alongside 21 others. Investigations by New Telegraph had revealed that the decision to backdate the letters before the Governing Councils’ inauguration was to avoid conflict with the University Autonomy Act, but the stakeholders including the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the affected institutions’ governing councils and other individuals, are unhappy with the development.
They viewed the decision as Federal Government’s deliberate action to delve into matters that were already before competent courts of jurisdiction, and that the suspension was prejudicial. However, news from the grapevine has it that the FUNAAB Vice-Chancellor, Oyewole, is contesting his suspension, and that he has vowed to resume office and complete his term of office except the newly inaugurated governing council of the institution takes a fresh step to sack him. Meanwhile, in its reaction to the development, FUNAAB issued a statement claiming it was still making enquiry into the matter.
The statement, which was signed by the Head, Directorate of Public Relations, Mrs. Emi’ Alawode, stated: “The Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogun State, has been inundated with inquiries on whether the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Olusola Oyewole, has been suspended from office or not. “Consultations are in progress with the university administration on the true position of things, while a formal statement will be issued in due course.
Meanwhile, all normal academic and administrative activities are ongoing unabated in the university.” But unlike Oyewole, his counterpart at FUTA, Adebiyi, may not show up in the office this week, and so has left the Senator Joseph Waku-led newly inaugurated governing council of the university to choose his successor in acting capacity, and complete or start afresh the process of appointing a substantive vice-chancellor.
It would be recalled that following petitions written by some members of staff in the two universities, and particularly the members of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), EFCC had in November 2016, arrested and docked both Oyewole and the then chairman of the FUNAAB’s Governing Council, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, over allegations of financial impropriety.
T he development had led to the resignation of Ogunleye as the Pro- Chancellor and Chairman of the university’s Governing Council. This was not after he had reportedly refunded more than N5 million he was accused of collecting from the university fraudulently.
Other members of the Council also refunded various sums of money allegedly taken from the university to the institution’s purse through the EFCC. In retaliation, the university had summarily dismissed the members of SSANU, who signed the petition against the management including the National Publicity Secretary of SSANU, AbdulSobur Abdul- Salaam. Similarly, the development at FUTA had led to the trial of Daramola and another principal officer of the university in February.
They were only released after perfecting their bail conditions.
But, in his reaction to the development, the Chairman of the FUNNAB’s chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Dr. Adebayo Oni, told New Telegraph that the position of ASUU would be made known as soon as the national headquarters of the union takes a decision.
Meanwhile, a senior member of the FUTA management, who craved anonymity, described the development as sad and unfortunate, saying under no circumstance should the Federal Government have bowed to the pressure of those he called blackmailers.
The source stated: “At worst these vice-chancellors, whose tenure were about to end should have been placed on terminal leave and not suspension. This action would create instability in the system because once a vice-chancellor is not doing the bidding of some individuals then they can blackmail such a Vice-Chancellor no matter how good he is in office.
The source added that the problem might not be unconnected with the politics of succession of the vice-chancellors in the two institutions. But one of the SSANU senior officers, who also craved anonymity, welcomed the suspension order, saying it would put checks to the excesses of university managers.
The source further explained: “Ideally, in line with the University Autonomy Act, only the Governing Councils of universities have powers to remove Vice-Chancellors.
The act clearly removes the appointment, discipline and removal of a vice-chancellor from the President, ministry, agency, including the National Universities Commission (NUC) and vests it on the Council. However, Public Service Rules also state that a public officer, who has a criminal charge against him or facing prosecution, must be interdicted and suspended until he clears himself of the charges and absolved.
This was the situation that led to the wife of Justice Ademola and HoS of Lagos State, voluntarily relinquishing her position immediately she was prosecuted alongside her husband. Immediately the case was cleared, she was reinstated and back to her post.
“In the case of FUNAAB and FUTA, however, while the Vice-Chancellors were being prosecuted, it behoved on the Councils to invoke the relevant sections of the Public Service Rules and direct the Vice- Chancellor to step aside till the resolution of their cases in court. This, the councils of both universities refused to do.
The councils, and particularly that of FUNAAB, could not have the moral confidence to do it because they were heavily indicted in the allegations that led to the prosecution.
Recall that many of the Council members refunded various sums of money to EFCC and the Chairman of Council, Senator Ogunlewe had to resign and is also being prosecuted for his roles? Based on the foregoing, the Council, expectedly protecting itself, could not have the moral right to invoke the Public Service Rules and suspend the VC. “All this while, the ministry was hamstrung by the University Autonomy Act and could not intervene or impose itself on the Council to do what was proper on the matter.
It appears that the chance came for the Ministry of Education to do the needful during the period of interregnum between the dissolution of the former councils and the inauguration of new councils to enforce the Public Service Rules.
The letters were dated May 5, while new Councils were inaugurated on May 9. During this period, the ministry was in charge as had been the practice and as such the needful was done.”
Meanwhile contrary to the action of the government, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and the Association of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (CVC/AVCNU) had said the association was not considering the suspension option. Rather, the association said some actions were being taken to address the matter, but definitely not the option to suspend the embattled vicechancellors.
According to the Secretary- General of the group, Prof. Michael Faborode, the committee did not bother to talk about the case for fear of being prejudicial.
The truth about the allegations, Faborode noted, would soon come out, even as he described the whole allegation as lies, saying the truth would be revealed soon. “All these are futile and the Committee would not want to join issues with the authorities of the institutions and dissipate energy unduly because we strongly believe that the truth will prevail,” he said.
Faborode added: “If the presence of the affected vice-chancellors is obstructing EFCC investigations and court process, the university authorities would have requested that they step aside.”
He blamed some segments of the university system for the crisis in the system, saying what some people or group of people concerned themselves with was how to pull down their vice-chancellors by looking for various ways to drag their names in the mud.