‘Selecting a VC along ethnic lines, irresponsible, an aberration’
The tenure of incumbent Vice Chancellor of the University of Calabar (UNICAL), Professor James Epoke, ends in December. As expected, scheming, intrigues and manipulations have taken centre stage, while issues of ethnicity, money, standard and excellence are the major talking points among the candidates, their supporters and various interest groups. One-time chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), UNICAL Branch and senior lecturer, Department of English and Literary Studies, Dr. Ndubuisi Osuagwu in a chat with ANIETIE AKPAN, opens up on issues related to the race.
The race for the office of the vice chancellor of the University of Calabar has begun, what are your expectations.
For me I think the contestants should see it as an opportunity to serve as first among equals in the system. We expect that those who are getting into the race should bear in mind that service is not something that should drive anybody into desperation, simply because he/she wants to occupy a position. I would also like a situation where we go beyond thinking that the university is no longer universal, but a village thing because that way we will be able to reach out and get the very best, that is, a vice chancellor whose name will be mentioned and people will have respect for the institution. Where the person comes from should be of no consequence. As a matter of fact, if we have to maintain the university culture, I think we should be able to get the best for ourselves and that will be in the best interest of the university.
Does ethnicity or zoning have a role to play in the selection of a vice chancellor?
Ethnicity in selecting a vice chancellor is even illegal. That is part of the aberration in the system and does not make the institution university. In fact the emphasis on ethnicity, zoning according to senatorial districts and things like that is irresponsible. As a matter of fact, the best vice chancellor we has been Prof. Emmanuel Ayandele, If you look back, you will see that nobody seems to have been able to match his record. Not necessarily having an indigenous vice chancellor does not apply only to UNICAL, but to every university across the world. A situation where in South Africa you have a Nigerian as a vice chancellor speaks volume, whereas in Nigeria, you cannot even think about a vice chancellor beyond the locality. This is sad. The law is very clear and there is nothing about ethnicity or locality or whatever, but what the law envisages is about the best that can be found and it does not matter where the best comes from.
Do mundane issues like these affect scholarship and general academic standards in our universities?
Yes, they do. In fact in a public lecture I gave sometimes ago at Imo State University on the topic, “From University to Local Varsity,” I talked about it. We now have local varsities and not universities because you have the head of an institution selected purely on the basis of his being a homeboy or a homegirl. This puts the vice chancellor under immense pressure to hire qualified and unqualified from his community or locality just to maintain a good relationship with his people. This brings people who have no business in the system in. Such helmsmen surround themselves with people who always say yes, protect him and not necessarily the institution. When most of the teaching and non-teaching staff are from the VC’s village and community and close to 90 per of the students population also from the locality, then what you have is a local varsity. Since universities are centres where we acquire universal knowledge, we should act universally within the Nigerian university system.
Now, it appears minimum number of years served as professor to be qualified to contest for vice chancellor in UNICAL is no longer adhered to. What is your take on this?
My personal view is that the age of Methuselah has nothing to do with the Wisdom of Solomon. You may have professors with 30 years experience, but who have very limited experience of the workings of the university system. They are academics who just sat down and wrote papers upon papers and became professors. They don’t even understand how well the system works or what makes the system the way it is, more than one that has spent 10 or 12 years as a professor. That notwithstanding, I think the basic qualification is professorship.
UNICAL for instance, has tinkered with the number of years one has to be a professor to qualify. It moved from five to seven. If it moves to 10 years, it is still okay. But it has nothing to do with lowering of standard. What the law says is that the person has to be a professor and a reputable professor. But the governing council has a right to fix the number of years it wishes, taking into account, whatever consideration in its wisdom.
So much money is said to be exchanging hands in the race to curry favour, what is your position on this.
It is a sign of desperation to resort to this, and it is an aberration in the system. When somebody begins to spend so much money just because he wants to be a vice chancellor, the person’s intention becomes suspect.