Buhari’s apology: Discordant tunes from government, as stakeholders insist on sacked VCs’ recall
Expert calls for dismissal of Minister, NUC’s boss
Indeed, the apology by President Muhammadu Buhari over his administration’s decision to terminate the appointments of some vice chancellors and their governing councils without considering the existing laws has received commendations. But stakeholders have other demands,UJUNWA ATUEYI writes
When on Saturday, February 13, 2016, report of President Muhammadu Buhari’s termination of appointment of new vice chancellors (VCs) and dissolution of the governing councils of the affected universities broke, the action generated hues and cries from various stakeholders across the country, with condemnation trailing it. But Buhari has since apologised to Nigerians at a forum of All Progressives Congress (APC) stalwarts in Abuja.
Buhari was quoted to have said: “We gave a blanket order which we had to rescind when we said all boards are suspended or dissolved. We had to go back and lick our vomit in terms of universities’ councils because we found out that according to their laws, they cannot choose vice chancellors unless the councils sit and interview candidates who want to be VCs.
“So, there is nothing wrong in saying sorry and going back on your decision. So, we said sorry and allow all the universities to continue with their councils. So, please try to bear with us as we reflect on where we found ourselves”.
Among those who commended the president’s bold step was the Secretary-General, Committee of Vice Chancellors (CVC) of Nigeria, Prof. Michael Faborode while others urged Buhari to sack the Education Minister, Adamu Adamu and the Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof Julius Okojie for wrongly advising him.
Playing hide and seek with the directives will not help matters. The president’s apology implies that the ‘sacked’ vice chancellors should be notified officially that they were not sacked; hence those who were yet to complete their tenure should be recalled to their universities to complete their tenure as vice chancellors
In describing the action as worthy and upright, Faborode said the act would restore global confidence, trust and respect for the president’s development initiatives since many agencies in higher education had raised concerns on the unexpected developments.
According to him, “The President’s action is magnanimous to the extent that he publicly admitted that errors have been committed and he duly apologised. It is a courageous act of leadership, and I think it should re-instill confidence in all those who see him as the leader who can substantially correct some of the endemic ills of the Nigerian society to which most previous leaders only paid lip service.
“As far as the CVC is concerned, the university system is a sacred institution globally, hence it should be insulated from sporadic actions that violate its sacredness and autonomy. The Presidency will do well to ensure full compliance with Buhari’s apology and implied directives that all that had been done wrongly should be reversed”.
He said the ‘sacked’ vice chancellors should be notified officially that they were not sacked, and that the governing councils of those whose tenure has expired should commence procedure for the appointment of new VCs.
Also corroborating Faborode’s view is a professor of Virology and former Vice Chancellor of Redeemer’s University, Ogun State, Prof. Oyewale Tomori who commended the president act. But for failing to guide the president aright, Tomori called on Buhari to “Go further and sack the education minister, as he did to those who messed up his budget and also sack the NUC Executive Secretary, Okojie for failing to resign when the VCs were illegally sacked and for keeping quiet all through the issue.
“In saner climes, he would have been the first to resign, except he WAS in agreement with Adamu. And now that the president says he is sorry, he should have resigned. If we do not fail to defend our rights, we have no right enjoying those rights”.
While analysing the entire scenario, former Chairman, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja branch, Mr. Monday Onyekachi Ubani, said any decision taken wrongly should be appropriately amended, especially now that it has been declared publicly as a mistake.
He said, “If the president has apologised for the sack then it was a wrongful sack and there is a legal remedy. If they are wrongfully removed, then they should be rightly re-installed. Apology is accepted in law when the legal wrong that has been committed is remedied by the person who has committed the legal wrong. Therefore, apology is not enough”.
But shortly after the much-publicised apology, which received praises from stakeholders and observers, officials of the Federal Ministry of Education and NUC came out with what they described as “clarification on the president’s apology”. First was the Senior Special Assistant to the Minister of Education, Mr. Dauda Abdulramid, who. according to report. stated that Buhari’s apology did not imply reinstating the sacked vice-chancellors given that government’s earlier position could not be reversed.
His argued that the decision of government couldn’t be rescinded by recalling the sacked vice chancellors, adding, “He did not say he had reversed the sack; he only apologised. Once government takes a decision, it stands by it. Maybe, subsequently, they will take caution. But that does not mean he clearly stated that the sacked vice chancellors should be recalled”.
Head of Information and Public Relations, NUC, Mr. Ibrahim Yakassi, also stated, “The situation is misunderstood; the president was speaking in past tense; go back and read what he said. He made reference to the dissolution of all boards in this country. It has nothing to do with the 13 vice chancellors who were recently disengaged. It has no relation to that. The president dissolved all boards in this country, including all the councils of federal universities then. But he rescinded that decision as he said because the councils needed to be in place to appoint vice chancellors. There was a process then; most universities’ vice chancellors were leaving office then”.
He continued, “The president’s apology has no relationship whatsoever with the recently disengaged vice-chancellors or councils. It was in reference to the dissolution of councils of the entire country that he included the councils of universities. So, the councils that he meant – he actually spoke in past tense – were the councils of these universities dissolved. The 13 vice chancellors was done much later; it has no relationship with that. So nobody is going to issue out any policy statement; nobody is going to recall anybody”.
While reacting to the conflicting interpretation given by these officials, Faborode advised government to desist from playing hide and seek with the directives and do the needful without further delay.
He said, “Playing hide and seek with the directives will not help matters. The president’s apology implies that the ‘sacked’ vice chancellors should be notified officially that they were not sacked; hence those who were yet to complete their tenure should be recalled to their universities to complete their tenure as vice chancellors. For those whose tenures had expired, the Governing Councils should set in motion the procedure for the appointment of new vice chancellors, and in the interim follow the extant regulations to appoint acting VCs to hold forte until the process for appointing new VCs are concluded”.
He continued, “The current randomly selected and appointed VCs should be free to contest in any of the universities once they are qualified to do so by the set criteria. As decent academics, one would have expected them to decline their so-called appointments and appeal to the minister to follow due process in their appointment.
“Universities and academics should set standards for society rather than allow the ills of the society to over-shadow them and becloud their sense of good judgment. We must not sacrifice truth, adherence to the rule of law and good governance on any alter of expediency in the affairs of our universities. The best way to ruin a country is to incapacitate her universities, her source of knowledge and her last bastion of humanity, and we in Nigeria should do well to avoid this”.
On his part, National Coordinator, Education Rights Campaign (ERC), Mr. Hassan Taiwo Soweto, remarked that the presidents’ apology as an acknowledged fact, “but it does not obviate the fact that an attempt was made by a supposedly democratic government to subvert the internal democracy of the university system. And this is very worrisome, given the fears expressed by a section of the country as to whether or not Buhari’s, military, despotic pedigree would not follow him into this democratic dispensation. I would have expected that he would have been more thoughtful before he took any action”.
Going forward, Soweto advised the federal government to take the step of ensuring that the so-called “Jonathan Universities” have their enabling laws as well as properly constituted governing councils.
As he put it, “It is only after then that the issue of VCs can then be sorted out. There is no doubt that in the twilight of Jonathan’s administration he set up these universities mainly to win votes. So for the most part, little or no thought was given to doing things properly. The ERC demands that the new government should not also commit the same arbitrariness as the past administration”.
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