13 Federal University Vice Chancellors were sacked on the second Saturday of February. This fresh round of sacks follows the ousting of 26 directors-general of government agencies, including Onyeka Onwenu.
Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu released a statement confirming the sacks, but did not disclose the reason why. The move has stirred protest as the VCs were tenured (i.e. they had permanent academic posts, guaranteed until retirement), and a lot of them were let go before their time.
They have immediately been replaced, and four of the new appointees are from one higher institution alone – Bayero University in Kano.
Protest lies at the foot of President Mohammadu Buhari as decisions for sacks in a democracy are supposed to go through governing councils who recommend any removals via the Minister to the President, but those councils have allegedly been dissolved by the Minister of Education.
By virtue of provisions of acts setting up various universities, the President as the visitor, in the case of federal institutions, is empowered to appoint and remove vice-chancellors on the recommendation of the boards of governing councils.
The president’s decision usually flows from the advice given by the education minister or special adviser on education.
Concerned, Coalition of Civil Society Groups wrote a protest letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, complaining that the removal of the affected vice-chancellors and their replacements did not follow due process allegedly because they failed to comply with extant laws governing the universities and provisions of the constitution. The office of Vice-chancellor has statutory standing that makes it a tenured appointment. It requires strict adherence to laid-down procedure in removing the holder. Most of them were not allowed to complete their tenures.
If the allegation that the boards of governing councils had earlier been summarily dissolved by the Education Minister preparatory to the sack of the VC’s, we call on President Buhari to institute a probe to find out why this was done.
This is imperative because such action may engender distractive and destabilising litigations by some of the aggrieved parties. The minister might have wittingly or unwittingly acted in breach of the provisions of University Amendment Act and indeed may have violated laws of Federal Republic of Nigeria which guarantee university autonomy.
While we urge the President to review the appointments with a view to ensuring that excellence and competence are not sacrificed for cronyism, favouritism and nepotism we call for caution in subsequent removals and appointments of public officers. Besides, the Federal Government has a duty to inform the public why it takes actions such as these since we are in in a democracy.