Universities are a legacy of the twelfth century. The period was not only an age of revival in the field of learning; it was an age of new creation in the field of institutions of higher education. The era set in motion the rapid evolution of the human mind. Universities were looked upon as remote monastic establishments, far from the world of affairs. In fact, universities had not existed hitherto because there was not enough learning in Western Europe to justify their existence. They came into being naturally with the expansion of knowledge in this period. Besides producing the earliest universities, the twelfth century also fixed their form of organisation for succeeding ages. Universities are society’s prehensile thumb, without which the advances of the last two (19th and 20th) centuries could never have been made, and on which the future advances in knowledge and technology depend.
In our clime, the first generation of Nigerian universities came into being at the initiative of the indigenes based on the recommendations of the Ashby’s report. The Ashby’s Commission report also recommended the establishment of the National Manpower Board (NMB) and the National Universities Commission (NUC) culminating in the establishment of the Yaba Higher College in 1934 following consistent demands by West African Intellectuals. This snowballed into the establishment of the University College, Ibadan as a campus of the University of London in 1948, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 1960, the University of Ife in 1961 (now Obafemi Awolowo University), and the rest of our first generation universities. The University of Ibadan later became autonomous in 1962.
Under the apparently placid surface of the academe, innumerable rivulets of secret activities are constantly whispering away. The whole citadel of learning called the university is richly, vigorously and invisibly alive with an underground life of its own. Indeed, politics are inseparable from any kind of cooperative society. It takes two to make a quarrel, but wherever three are gathered together they are certain to generate some kind of political activity. Outside government there is no more fertile field for the practice of politics than a university. From the small family unit to the parliament itself, people combine and recombine in a bewildering, changing kaleidoscope of groupings in order to achieve their aims. This is allowed in all human societies including the academia. But when the gathering or re-gathering involves the exchange of money in a cavalier manner in order to bring about a shortcut to an otherwise orderly process that demands transparency and due process, it is called corruption.
The university, revered as the highest echelon of intellectual and moral values is supposed to produce the human resources and manpower needed to steer the affairs of ‘state’. This invariably suggests that if there is a failure in leadership or dysfunctional state of affairs in any society, the teachers in the ivory tower should be held responsible. This therefore implies that the process of selection of the vice-chancellor of any university should be based purely on merit and capacity, devoid of the usual politics of fraternity, ethnicity, religion and other sentiments. However, what is now worrisome is the great caprice and a tendency of the ivory tower to learn the dirty politics of the larger society, rather than these citadels of learning becoming the moral and ethical standard bearers for the rest of society.
There is no gainsaying the fact that leaders of the ivory tower (hitherto known for astute integrity and high moral proclivity) are invited by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to serve as returning officers for major national elections because the university as a distinguished community of scholars, teachers and researchers is trusted by the larger society to conduct profound and sublime assignments. But if the process of appointment of a vice-chancellor for any university is perceived to be marred by irregularities and ‘the highest bidder becoming the winner’, what then is the hope for the wider Nigerian polity?
On May 27, 2020, the print media were greeted by the advertisement of ‘Vacancy for the Position of Vice- Chancellor’ for the University of Calabar. The university which started in 1975 as a campus of the University of Nigeria and became autonomous in 1979, has had quite some prominent vice-chancellors from inception till date. Many erudite scholars and administrators, notably, Professor Emmanuel Ayandele, Professor Kelvin Ettah, to mention just a few, led at different times. Nothing was heard or known about irregularities and exchange of money or gratification before their emergence as vice-chancellors. But in the last two dispensations of the university administration, it is alleged that, ‘cash and carry’ and movement of ‘Ghana-must-go’ bags played a significant role in the appointment and sustenance of the administrations.
According to a reliable source, about N17 million was involved at a time and, about N40 million was involved at another time. This is aside from the huge amount of monies sent to Abuja and other places at different times to sustain the highly revered position of vice-chancellor that was allegedly bought off the shelf of those who determine who becomes vice-chancellor. No one knows how much would be involved in 2020. The only question still begging for answer remains: is the position of vice-chancellor for the University of Calabar for sale?
The role of the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities, University of Calabar Branch (ASUU-UCB) in the whole marketing and sale of the position of the vice-chancellor as rumoured from the grapevine is amply disturbing. Rather than ASUU-UCB to maintain and defend the values of the ivory tower, it is alleged that certain immediate past Chairmen of ASUU-UCB and then members of the University Governing Council were the bag carriers for the transactions. It is not certain if the immediate past chairman of ASUU-UCB who is also currently a member of the University Governing Council would be involved in the courier of money for the purchase of the position of the vice -chancellor in the current dispensation.
The world is watching as to how the process of appointing a new vice- chancellor for the University of Calabar would be this time around. It is sincerely hoped that the current provision would be to premise the process on a fair, credible and level playing field where the best candidate that can provide “administrative leadership to a well-informed and articulate local academic community” would supervene. Let the ‘best’ candidate who satisfies the requirements for the exalted position be appointed to run the affairs of the University of Calabar. For the process to be transparent and acceptable to all the aspirants, it must be insulated from the primordial pastimes and sentiments that marred the two immediate past exercises.
Arikpo, a university don, wrote in from Ugep, Cross River State