FEDERAL GOVERNMENT’S ORDERS ON OAU ARE WRONG
It is surprising to read in an advertorial published by the Federal Ministry of Education in one of the national dailies of last Friday that the Federal Government has approved the dissolution of the Governing Council of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. The same advertorial also carried the order of the FG to the effect that ‘the process of the appointment of a substantive Vice-Chancellor in OAU be suspended pending the determination of the subsisting court case’.
For the avoidance of doubts, we of the university community and stakeholders are compelled to observe that the two decisions of the Federal Ministry of Education are wrong, unconstitutional, and subjudice. We condemn the move in its totality.
First, the order for the dissolution of OAU Governing Council grossly contravenes the position of the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions)(Amendment) Act 2003, otherwise called the Universities Autonomy Act No. 1, 2007 and the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Act 2012, which clearly outline the roles, functions, responsibilities, and powers of the varied constituent organs and functionaries of federal universities in the country.
To dissolve a properly constituted Governing Council whose tenure has not lapsed and that has not been found guilty of incompetence and corruption in the discharge of its duties as the Federal Government has done in OAU smacks of wanton disregard for extant laws. It is a clear act of injustice that questions the avowed commitment of the government to the rule of law and the principles of fairness, justice, and integrity. According to S.2AA. of the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions)(Amendment) Act 2003, ‘The powers of the Council shall be exercised, as in the Law and Statutes of each University and to this extent establishment circulars that are inconsistent with the Laws and Statutes of the University shall not apply to the Universities’ (our emphasis). The implication of this as regards the OAU Governing Council is that the advertorial of the Federal Government via the Ministry of Education does not have any legal weight.
In the case of the OAU Governing Council, there is no established case of incompetence or corruption. The cries of the Non-Academic Staff of University (NASU) and Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities (SSANU), OAU branch, to the effect that the Governing Council compromised the process of the appointment of a new Vice-Chancellor for the school are misplaced and baseless. The Council adhered strictly to the regulation concerning the appointment of a Vice-Chancellor. The unions are just unduly paranoid, enslaving themselves with the sickening speculation that the new Vice-Chancellor will not look into their grievances. It is totally false to posit, as the unions did, that the Governing Council exercised its power wrongfully. That the FG made the wrong move to disband the Governing Council is glaring evidence that it learns nothing from the mistake it later admitted it made in usurping the powers of 12 Governing Councils of some federal universities by appointing VCs for them a few months ago!
Second, the order for ‘the suspension of the process of the appointment of a substantive Vice-Chancellor in OAU pending the determination of the subsisting court case’ instituted by NASU and SSANU shows that the FG has been misled and led by the nose. A simple verification of the state of things with respect to the appointment of a new Vice-Chancellor would have saved the FG from the mortal mortification it attracts to itself by its order. The truth is that currently there is neither vacancy in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor nor is there any ongoing process for the appointment of a new Vice-Chancellor in OAU. That process has been completed as far back as June 6, 2016, when the Governing Council at its special meeting considered the report of the Joint Council and Senate Selection Board for the appointment of a new helmsman for the university and decided to appoint Professor Ayobami Taofeek Salami as the 11th Vice-Chancellor of OAU for a term of five years with effect from June 24, 2016.
To validate the appointment, the Federal Character Commission under the Presidency on June 20 issued a ‘Certificate of Compliance’ to the Registrar of OAU authorising him to ‘issue a letter of appointment to Professor Ayobami Taofeek Salami as the substantive Vice-Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University’. And on June 24, a day after Prof. Bamitale Omole’s five-year tenure ended, Prof. Salami assumed office as the 11th Vice-Chancellor of the university. His address on assumption of office to the university community can be accessed by anybody on the Internet. Prof. Salami’s assumption of office was even widely reported in the media. How the Ministry of Education and the Visitor who were duly notified of the completed process that produced Prof. Salami ignored both that and the media reports on it is perturbing and incredible! Just what makes them think there is an ongoing process for the appointment of a Vice-Chancellor in OAU when in reality that process has been effectively completed?
Again, as the above-quoted S.2AA. of the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions)(Amendment) Act 2003 unequivocally maintains, this advertorial of the FG is inconsistent with the Laws and Statutes of the University. To act otherwise is to flout the provision of S.2AAA. of the extant law which says that ‘The Governing Council of a University shall be free in the discharge of its functions and exercise of its responsibilities for the good management, growth and development of the university’. The Governing Council of OAU has justly discharged its responsibility in following the established process in the appointment of a Vice-Chancellor in the person of Prof. Salami. The submission of a Professor of Law, Prof. Ehi Oshio, in a paper on the issue of the appointment of a Vice-Chancellor by a Governing Council is apt here.
His well-constructed explication is this: ‘Once the appointment has been made by the Council, it is legally binding and effective without any input from the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who is the Visitor of all Federal Universities. The latter has no direct role to play in such appointment. The law only requires the Governing Council to inform him of the appointment after the Council has made the appointment. It is for his information only. The law does not require him to do anything about the appointment. He is not empowered to approve, reject, disapprove, confirm or modify the appointment’.
Thus, the FG and/or the Ministry of Education cannot directly or indirectly exercise the power it does not constitutionally have to nullify or put on hold the appointment of Prof. Salami. This conclusion is consistent with the provision of Section 3(8)-(11) of the Principal Act as amended, which avers that only a Governing Council has the power to remove a Vice-Chancellor from office on the grounds of proven misconducts and incapacity to discharge the duties of the office.
In our view, the appropriate intervention of the FG in the issue in OAU should have been to ask the striking NASU and SSANU to return to work and patiently await the outcome of the case they filed in court against the emergence of Prof. Salami as the Vice-Chancellor. Both the unions and the FG are wrong to act on a matter before a court. Their actions are subjudice of the court. It is blatant contempt against the court. On the basis of rule of law, only a court of competent jurisdiction can invalidate the process that produced Prof. Salami as the substantive Vice-Chancellor of OAU. All well-meaning Nigerians are hereby implored to prevail on the Federal Government of Nigeria to obey its own laws.
SIGNED: CONCERNED OBAFEMI AWOLOWO UNIVERSITY COMMUNITY MEMBERS