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Clannishness in the Nigerian University System

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Professor Hope Eghagha

The nauseating rot which has permeated the sociopolitical fabric of Nigeria has insidiously crept into the Nigerian university system with disastrous consequences. It is not a surprise because the universities are inhabited by Nigerians who cannot be extricated from the currents of their geographical environment. To be sure, it did not start today. It has simply reached an offensive crescendo, what with the fetish, absurd drama that took place at Obafemi Awolowo University Ife last week over the appointment of a Vice Chancellor. Not even our revered dramatist Professor Wole Soyinka could have crafted that negatively thrilling drama that shook genuine academics to their souls! Need we refer to the ugly fight in the University of Lagos that compelled the exit of Professor Eni Njoku (Easterner) in 1962 and his replacement with Dr Saburi Biobaku a Westerner?

READ ALSO: That Dirty Slap at Awka

As a young man, I remember reading Chukwuemeka Ike’s novel The Naked Gods which is set in the 1960s where aspirants to Vice Chancellorship got involved in some fetish nonsense. The novel is about ‘a display of power and self-aggrandisement of academics in the quest for the position of the Vice Chancellor of the newly established Songhai University’. If literature is a mirror of life, I leave the rest to readers on what fed the writer’s imagination in producing The Naked Gods. Indeed, the naked, blemished gods of Ife descended from their pantheon to desecrate the academic walls of the Great Ife University last week.

Having been in the university system since 1978, I can with some authority comment on this gradual but sure descent into infamy, obsequiousness, and lust for power, especially in the appointment of principal officers in the universities. Juju, including burying live cows, fetish pots at junctions, and babalawos on campus has been part of the unhealthy game. It was the bloody fights that preceded the second terms of VCs that made the government change tenures to a single five-year term. The VCs have become infinitely powerful, both administratively and in determining the future of the institutions. The average VC presides over funds’ disbursement at different levels. The fierce struggle for the position is not over who will do the utmost research or produce excellent students or attract funding to the university. It is about power. Power over their peers. Power over funds. Power to relate with the men in the corridors of power. And this is tragic. It is true that we have had and continue to have some excellent Vice Chancellors, men and women who run the system on Committee basis without trying to muscle their way against enemies, real or perceived. Such men are to be commended. We need more!

Last week, the nation was shocked when videos of some persons dressed in fetish robes and carrying objects associated with ‘juju’ pranced about the premises of Obafemi Awolowo University to protest the emergence of a Vice Chancellor who they claim is not an indigene of Ife. How Chief Awolowo would have shed tears if he could see the nonsense that took place in an institution which he established following the egalitarian principles which still held sway in the 1960s! The people of Ibadan had also clamoured for an Ibadan indigene to be appointed Vice Chancellor of the national and international institution last year. The federal universities at Ilorin, Jos, and Benin among others are institutions which have cornered the Vice Chancellorship for indigenes of the community which hosts the university. This is a disgrace. Shame to academics who champion the ethnic card in appointing persons to an office that require academic and research competencies. The federal universities are in cities. But the ethnic groups which claim ownership of the cities under consideration do NOT own the universities. We must place on record though the appointment of some experienced non-ethnic VCs to handle the takeoff of some universities in 2011. The dynamic Professor Oye Ibidapo-Obe (now deceased) was appointed VC of Alex Ekwueme University Ndufu-Alike Ikwo. Left to academics within the system, they are not likely to elect a non-indigene to the office of VC!

Because the university is a place where truth, honesty, ideals, and learning are upheld, ought to be upheld, this town-gown incestuous relationship and influence are dangerous to the survival of university education. Often, when ASUU highlights the challenges of the educational system in the public space, it ignores the internal problems of the universities. If ethnicity becomes the most important factor for appointment to academic positions as we are told currently happens in some universities, then our universities are in trouble. The university idea accommodates all shades of competent persons irrespective of their beliefs, religion, orientation, and racial/ethnic background. In some universities except one is an indigene they cannot act as Head of Department despite being the most senior academic. This dangerous nonsense happened when Abia and the Imo States were split and people from the other side could not enjoy the full benefits of the system! When Ekiti State was created out of Ondo State, academics of Ondo extraction were virtually thrown out of the campus!

While the charade at Ife was playing out, news came that one Dr Toyin Tofade, obviously a Nigerian of Yoruba ancestry, will from July 1, 2022, become the first Black woman to serve as president of Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (ACPHS), US, in the college’s 141-year history. Toyin, it is interesting to observe, took her first degree from Obafemi Awolowo University! A Nigerian who had her initial studies in Nigeria can head an institution in America, yet Ife indigenes and their counterparts in some other universities are clamouring for indigenous Vice Chancellors! Shame on such ethnic jingoists.

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Only academics can restore sanity to the university system in Nigeria. The universities in the big cities fare better than the provincial ones which seem to live like the ostrich. The University of Lagos has a good mix of employment. Traditionally, the University of Lagos has a Deputy Vice Chancellor among the three Deputy Vice Chancellors who are not Yoruba. Good for the image of the university. But can an Igbo man be appointed Vice Chancellor in Kano even if he spent all his years there? Will ethnic politics allow the emergence of a Deltan as VC of UNN? Can a Yoruba man be appointed Vice Chancellor in Makurdi? Can a non-Yoruba emerge as Vice Chancellor in Unilag? Can a northerner be VC in Delta State University? Can a Yoruba be appointed Vice Chancellor in Sokoto? Only the military governments achieved that through cross-posting, a practice was later jettisoned with the advent of democracy. These are disturbing questions that the universities need to interrogate and provide answers to if they must compete favourably in the global academy.

Finally, it is retrogressive to think ethnicity or ‘indigeneship’ in an academic institution where excellence should be the determinant of upward movement. The fetish monkeys at OAU should be fished out. The academics who encouraged them by default or design should be banned from heading the university. Except we remove the toga of ethnicity in running our universities, those centres of learning would remain clannish and glorified institutions of academic masturbation.

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UN chief warns of ‘catastrophe’ from global food shortage

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UN chief warns of ‘catastrophe’ from global food shortage

The head of the United Nations warned Friday that the world faces “catastrophe” because of the growing shortage of food around the globe.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the war in Ukraine has added to the disruptions caused by climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and inequality to produce an “unprecedented global hunger crisis” already affecting hundreds of millions of people.

“There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022,” he said in a video message to officials from dozens of rich and developing countries gathered in Berlin. “And 2023 could be even worse.”

Guterres noted that harvests across Asia, Africa and the Americas will take a hit as farmers around the world struggle to cope with rising fertilizer and energy prices.

“This year’s food access issues could become next year’s global food shortage,” he said. “No country will be immune to the social and economic repercussions of such a catastrophe.”

Guterres said U.N. negotiators were working on a deal that would enable Ukraine to export food, including via the Black Sea, and let Russia bring food and fertilizer to world markets without restrictions.

He also called for debt relief for poor countries to help keep their economies afloat and for the private sector to help stabilize global food markets.

The Berlin meeting’s host, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, said Moscow’s claim that Western sanctions imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were to blame for food shortages was “completely untenable.”

Russia exported as much wheat in May and June this year as in the same months of 2021, Baerbock said.

She echoed Guterres’ comments that several factors underlie the growing hunger crisis around the world.

“But it was Russia’s war of attack against Ukraine that turned a wave into a tsunami,” Baerbock said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted that Russia has no excuse for holding back vital goods from world markets.

“The sanctions that we’ve imposed on Russia collectively and with many other countries exempt food, exempt food products, exempt fertilizers, exempt insurers, exempt shippers,” he said.

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Bandits release Zamfara wedding guests after payment of ransom

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Bandits release Zamfara wedding guests after payment of ransom

Local and federal highways in the North-west have become vulnerable as bandits continue to ambush and abduct travellers.

The gunmen who abducted 29 people returning to Zamfara State from Sokoto State where they had gone to attend the wedding of colleagues have released them after the payment of an unspecified ransom.

The victims, who were mostly dealers of mobile phones and phone accessories at Bebeji Communication Market (Bebeji Plaza) in Gusau, the capital of Zamfara State were abducted in Sokoto 13 days ago.

Secretary of the GSM Dealers Association in the state, Ashiru Zurmi, confirmed the release of the victims but didn’t give details.

One of the victims reportedly died in captivity.

Though the amount paid as ransom to secure the release of the hostages has not been revealed, Abdullahi Lawal, whose brother was among those abducted, said their relatives were asked to make donations. He said his family raised N33,000 while the phone sellers’ association “provided the remaining money.”

“Every family was told to gather N400,000 while the members of the plaza and their colleagues in the state provided the remaining money. Some family members were able to raise the money in full, but we couldn’t. I took the money to the plaza and I was told that they were still negotiating with the bandits” he said.

He said he didn’t know how much was given to the bandits “but I’m happy that my brother is okay,” he said.

From N5m to N700,000

A phone accessories seller, Sharhabilu Muhammad, told PREMIUM TIMES over the phone that the officials of the phone dealers association negotiated with the bandits to reduce the ransom they originally demanded to release the captives.

“You know that the initial money they said was N5m for each of the captives but our officials kept negotiating with them (bandits) until they reduced the money to N700k,” he said.

When asked about the person who reportedly died in captivity, Mr Muhammed said his identity has not been revealed.

“We don’t know because even the bandits didn’t tell but we’ll surely find out when they (captives) arrive at Gusau tonight,” he added.

The police command spokesman, Mohammed Shehu, didn’t respond to calls and SMS sent to him on the development.

Backstory

PREMIUM TIMES reported that the wedding guests were abducted when bandits opened fire on the two buses they were travelling in a few kilometres after Bimasa in the Dogon Awo junction, Sokoto State.

They were returning from Tambuwal town in Sokoto State where they had attended the wedding of a colleague, Jamil Umar.

The captives were travelling on a Toyota Coaster bus belonging to the Universal Basic Education Commission UBEC and another bus owned by Gusau Local Government.

The bandits had demanded a ransom of N145 million to release the 29 hostages.

Bandits have been terrorising North-west states and a part of North-central Nigeria, killing and displacing hundreds of people and rustling domestic animals.

Travelling on federal and local highways is becoming dangerous as bandits block roads, abduct and kill motorists.

Major federal highways including Abuja-Kaduna, Gusau-Sokoto-Birnin Kebbi, and Birnin Gwari-Kaduna have become travellers’ nightmares with attacks and abduction or killing of travellers becoming a daily occurrence.

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Reps demand review of public officers’ salaries, allowances

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Reps demand review of public officers’ salaries, allowances

A motion seeking the intervention of the House of Representatives in the conflict between the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad, and Justices of the Supreme Court, over issues bordering on welfare and working conditions suffered a setback on Thursday.

While the House called for a general review of salaries and allowances of all political office holders and public servants, the members were divided over which committees should handle the task.

The Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, Onofiok Luke, had moved a motion to seek the intervention of the chamber in the crisis rocking the apex court and better welfare package for judicial officers across the courts.

Luke, who moved the motion titled, ‘Need to Address the Deteriorating Working Conditions of Judicial Officers,’ prayed the House to urge the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to upwardly review the remuneration of judicial officers in line with present economic realities.

The lawmaker prayed the House to urge the Federal Government to increase the budgetary allocation of the judiciary for the upcoming fiscal year and provide special intervention funds for the development of the arm

He further prayed the House to mandate the Committee on Judiciary to ensure compliance and report back within six weeks for further legislative action.

While the lawmakers were making amendments to the prayers, the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase, called for an upward review of the welfare package of all public office holders.

Wase, who stated that he appreciated the memo from the Justices to the CJN, noted that only the RMAFC had the responsibility to review remuneration of government officials.

The Deputy Speaker made reference to a part of the motion that read, ‘The remuneration of judicial officers was last reviewed in 2008 by the RMAFC when the official exchange rate was N117.74 to $1, whereas the naira has considerably depreciated.’

Wase partly said, “I think this particular element does not affect just judicial officers, maybe because they cried out now. I don’t think it is right that we have to wait every time until people write letters of complaints and there is protest before we begin to do the right thing.”

Rephrasing Wase’s proposed amendment, Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, said: “The DSP’s amendment is that we should not isolate the Judiciary and all those enumerated constitutional bodies and public office holders. They should be reviewed; a comprehensive review based on all the things that Hon Luke said – the exchange rates and this and that.”

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