Federal polytechnics: Whither your governing councils?
It was perhaps in reaction to that ambiguity that subtle agitations had arisen in certain quarters about the fate of governing councils of federal universities, as agitators argued that it was improper to treat them like boards of other parastatals and agencies.
For instance, in the article entitled, “The tenure of political appointees in the Nigerian presidential system,” Brig.-Gen. D.O.I. Ikponwen (rtd) had argued that grouping “boards of federal universities under federal executive bodies would undermine the independence and autonomy of universities which stakeholders have vehemently argued for in recent times.”
This proposition probably aided the Presidency’s reversal or clarification on August 1, 2015 that boards of federal universities are exempt from the said dissolution.
The reversal may also have been informed by a recourse to the extant provisions on the autonomy and management of federal universities as stipulated in the Universities Miscellaneous Provisions Amendment Act, 2003, otherwise called the Universities Autonomy Act No. 1, 2007. It specified the tenure of office of the councils, which can only be dissolved for incompetence or corruption.
With the August clarification, which has (for now) rested the issue, one would have expected the same treatment extended to federal polytechnics, for though their councils do not share exact composition and nomenclature, a similarity (which supersedes other considerations) exists. This calls for critical appraisal to correct any persisting imbalance or anomaly in the present circumstance.
The similarity has to do with the fact that both academic structures are citadels of learning created with the ultimate objective of transforming the socio-political space from the state of primitiveness to a state of civilisation in arts, science, technology and other spheres of knowledge.
It also finds explanation in the fact that as with the universities, members of governing councils of federal polytechnics also have specified tenure, while the council retains office for a statutorily specified period except if found incompetent or corrupt.
The Supplementary Provisions in the Federal Polytechnics Act (Second Schedule, Section 7) relating to the governing council specify that “a member of the council, other than an ex-officio, shall hold office for a period of three years, beginning with the date on which he was appointed, and shall be eligible for re-appointment for a further term of three years and thereafter he shall no longer be eligible for re-appointment.”
Removal of a polytechnic council member is on the ground of misconduct or inability to perform in office. Governing councils of federal universities are for a single term of four years, though fraud and incompetence remain common conditions in both cases. If both systems have this similarity because they are academic-driven entities, why then should universities be treated with such a difference that implies that its counterpart does not matter in the present circumstance?
The Presidency should be clearer on whether the federal polytechnics are among the boards so dissolved and why so. Insistence on this clarification has become imperative to generate a better intellectual and more robust argument that would help to right the wrongs of the past.
I am inclined to assume this position because it is time for us to properly differentiate pressure on the government to make appointments to satisfy political expediency and pressure to respect extant laws. In some quarters recently, people have had to remind the government of some existing agreements between it and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on conditions for council dissolution and the need to quickly reverse the announcement, as they deemed it too early in the day for the two-month-old administration to start fighting with a more vociferous ASUU.
The so-called agreement should really not be the turning point as much since the Universities Miscellaneous Provisions Amendment Act, 2003 is in existence. According to Prof. Ehi Oshio in his “Composition and Tenure of Governing Councils of Federal Universities Under Nigerian Laws,” the “agreement” was only a restatement of the relevant section of the Act on conditions for council dissolution.
More so, it was “thanks to the vigilance and effective research prowess of ASUU and its ever vibrant and versatile attorney, Mr Femi Falana, who dramatically retrieved the Act from limbo,” that enabled the swords of ASUU and the Federal Government to be sheathed and the “now famous agreement” arrived at.
Essentially, the “agreement” was only between both parties to allow the law obtain, going forward. Do we now want to re-invent the wheel? Do we want the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) to now dramatically retrieve the Federal Polytechnics Act from limbo and confront the Federal Government with it so that another “agreement” is drawn up before their councils are accordingly regarded?
It is our expectation that this administration should always act proactively by doing the right things first time. That is the benefit of history and we do not have to go the wrong way twice.
By implication, the polytechnic system is not expected to have anything less. It would therefore make much meaning for government to place the two tertiary education systems on same page and treat them alike. The governing councils of federal polytechnics should be exempt from the group of dissolved boards of parastatals and agencies and allowed to complete their tenure as stipulated in the Federal Polytechnics Act.
Not conforming to the provisions of the Act is tantamount to acting with impunity and here is an administration to which the word “impunity” is starkly odious and more fancied to be associated with the Dr. Goodluck Jonathan era. President Buhari’s government should not take sides with those who feel that the polytechnics are inferior to universities. Over the years, the crisis of perceived superiority of universities to polytechnics has persisted.
If this recent selective action goes uncorrected, it portends the danger of only helping to widen the perceived gap between universities and polytechnics in the minds of younger generations of Nigerians and employers of labour, such that the main objective of creating polytechnics in the first instance becomes misplaced without minding the provisions of the enabling Acts.
Besides, the Federal Polytechnics Act gives structure and coordination to their management as it also explains roles, functions and relationships among the various members of the polytechnic community. This Act, which is part of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, sets out policies, rules and regulations governing the life of the polytechnic and its members.
Today, it is the boards of the polytechnics that are dissolved without reference to the relevant sections governing its tenure. Tomorrow, it could be the rector or registrar, bursar or deputy rector that is removed without reference to the relevant sections. In such event, is the Act meant to live or to die? Should government have a hand in the neglect, disuse or possible death of the Act?
As a government on the “Change” platform, the Buhari administration should begin to put things on the right course by respecting the Rule of Law in also being guided by the provisions of the Federal Polytechnics Act on the tenure of council members.
Oshanugor, a journalist and publisher, lives in Lagos