The Federal University, Oye-Ekiti (FUOYE) has been embroiled in controversies over the appointment of a new vice-chancellor (VC).
And like other Nigerian universities including the University of Ibadan (UI), Lagos State University (LASU), among others, the selection process for Mr Soremekun’s successor has not been smooth sailing.
The controversies surrounding the selection process at the nine-year-old institution has snowballed into a full-blown crisis, leading to the intervention of the federal government through the National Universities Commission (NUC).
Both the university’s governing council chairman, Mohammed Yahuza, and Mr Soremekun, in separate telephone interviews with our reporter, confirmed that mistakes were made. They, however, noted that the wrong steps have been retraced and that the processes would be completed within the next week.
At an intervention meeting held at the NUC office on December 8, the executive secretary of the regulatory agency, Abubakar Rasheed, ordered a fresh start of the selection process, warning concerned parties against flouting the university’s law.
The NUC’s position was hinged on a series of petitions filed by many stakeholders including external members of the governing council, staff unions and applicants.
Many have accused Mr Soremekun of meddlesomeness, and an attempt to foist a preferred candidate on the institution as his successor.
On August 20, 2020, the university advertised vacancy for the position of vice-chancellor in a national daily, listing conditions for interested applicants to meet.
However, some of the conditions were that the applicant should “be preferably from a federal university,” and that soft copies of applications should be forwarded to the e-mail addresses of both the outgoing VC, Mr Soremekun, and the university’s registrar, Olatunbosun Odusanya.
A few stakeholders including the university’s branch of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and its Akure zonal chapter kicked against the two clauses. They accused the vice-chancellor of deliberately inserting the clauses to narrow the choice to a preferred candidate and to gain access to all applications.
They also accused the vice-chancellor of teleguiding the six-man joint council and senate selection board. The board, which has as its chairman, the newly appointed chairman of the governing council, Mohammed Yahuza, also has as members Alkali Kolo and Abdullahi Jibrin, an external council member and the representative of the federal ministry of education, respectively.
The other board members Mojisola Oyarekua and Patrick Okolua, both professors, represent the university’s senate, while the university’s registrar, Odusanya, acts as the board’s secretary.
Despite the criticisms, the university went ahead with the selection process, and about 60 candidates were said to have applied.
The 60 applicants were later pruned down to nine and were billed to appear before the selection board on November 12 for the statutory oral interviews where the best three would be chosen for onward recommendations to the governing council.
The nine successful candidates include Adimula Abiodun from University of Ilorin (UNILORIN), Kwara State; FUOYE’s incumbent deputy vice-chancellor in charge of academics, Abayomi Fasina; Adedeji Sokefun from National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN); Samuel Lawal, Temi Ologunorisa, Waheed Adekojo, Olajide Oladele, and Tomola Obamuyi.
But while the applicants were at the Lagos venue of the scheduled interview on November 12, they were notified by the governing council that the interview could no longer proceed due to “technical reasons.”
“On that same day, another advertisement was placed in The Guardian newspaper with the criticised clauses of preferably federal universities and the directive that soft copies should be sent to the vice-chancellor removed,” a source at the university told PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter on the phone. The source does not want to be mentioned for fear of victimisation.
Council members recuse selves
Despite the fresh start as indicated by the new advertorial, some members of the governing council still felt uncomfortable with the selection process, accusing the vice-chancellor of influencing the selection committee to work to the answer.
In his response to an invitation to an “extraordinary” governing council meeting scheduled to hold on November 28, an external member of the council, Sabo Inuwa, notified the registrar of his intention to recuse himself from the selection process.
In the response, a copy of which PREMIUM TIMES exclusively obtained, Mr Inuwa wrote; “With interested parties and devices multiplying by the day, all trying to access and manipulate the selection processes for a suitable person to emerge as VC of our young university to advantage, I feel torn apart and severely constrained, operating in such a heavily charged atmosphere, yet wanting to remain fair-minded and just.
“I, therefore, wish to honourably recuse myself from participating in this and subsequent meetings that may convene, for the purposes of this recruitment exercise; unless of course appropriate steps are taken to remedy the situation.”
Mr Inuwa listed some of the expected remedies to include an undisclosed request by the vice-chancellor to the governing council chairman.
In another instance, both Mr Inuwa and another governing council member who doubles as a member of the joint council and senate selection board, Alkali Kolo, jointly wrote to the education minister, Adamu Adamu, seeking his intervention in the crisis over the VC appointment.
The letter, which is titled; “Urgent Executive Brief on VC’s Selection Processes at FUOYE,” alerted the minister of what the authors described as an impending danger at the university.
The duo wrote; “With the ongoing effort of recruiting a new VC for FUOYE, so much has contributed into rubbishing the exercise, for which a simple majority of the external members of Council, who are same time members of both search and selection committees; and most of the internal members have recused themselves, due to the overbearing nature and meddlesome approach of the VC; who sees it his birthright to determine who succeeds him.
“Right now, an unlawful selection committee meeting is taking place here in Abuja; chaired by Dr MLYahuza against a subsisting court order stopping the entire exercise till the VC exits the system.
“What necessitated our reaching out to you, Sir, is that after today’s meeting, their intention is to convene a kangaroo Council meeting next Saturday, the 5th of December, to produce and announce a new VC.”
They added that “The threat of violent reaction is real,” and called on the minister to quickly intervene.
Similarly, both ASUU and other workers’ unions in separate memos called on the governing council to ensure fairness and justice in the appointment process.
ASUU, in particular, described the second advert placed in the dailies as an afterthought, saying it was a deliberate attempt to compromise the process.
Their cry led to the NUC’s intervention which rubbished the earlier processes and ordered fresh ones.
VC’s influence persists
Following the NUC’s intervention meeting of December 8, the governing council reconvened at the Nigeria Stored Products Research Institute, Yaba, Lagos, on December 13 to review the entire process.
According to a governing council member, prior to the December 13 meeting, no member of the council had access to applicants’ applications, and that the guidelines for grading them were kept secret by a few members of the selection board “in connivance with the VC.”
“To our surprise, while marks were allocated to positions such as head of department and faculty deans as administrative experience, holding a position as deputy vice-chancellor (DVC), which ordinarily should be the height of administrative competence as is the tradition across other universities, no score was allotted it in FUOYE,” the council member, who craved anonymity, said.
Instead of allotting marks for the position of a DVC, the source said the board allotted marks for experience in distance learning.
“We argued vigorously until a DVC position was allocated 10 marks, but we could not win the case against the case of the distance learning issue,” the source added.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the insertion of the distance learning experience into the guidelines was targeted at boosting the score of a specific candidate.
This newspaper also learnt that following the new advertorial placed in the paper, more applicants surfaced, and the list of shortlisted applicants increased from nine to 14.
Meanwhile, the VC also reportedly insisted on attending the selection board meeting which was held at the same venue on December 14, and that following a walk-out threat from two of the members, Mr Soremekun then left the venue.
“He had to apologise profusely on December 15 at a reconvened governing council meeting where the selection board’s activities were reviewed. We learnt the VC also had to write a letter of apology to the minister and the NUC as directed by the NUC following his persistent meddlesomeness after the clear directive from the federal government,” the source further explained.
The vice-chancellor confirmed this to our reporter on the phone, saying as to err is human.
“CBT test for applicants illegal”
Currently, insinuations are rife on the campus that the university is planning to conduct computer-based test (CBT) for the 14 shortlisted applicants. Some of the stakeholders who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES on the matter have described the planned test as illegal and an attempt to boost the score of an unnamed preferred candidate.
“It is the same process that was deployed in the appointment of both the new bursar and registrar. For instance, when the test for bursar was conducted, their preferred candidate scored 50 of 50 while the second-best result was 28 out of 50. It was the same with that of the registrar. But the law establishing the university is clear about the appointment of a VC and there is nothing like the conduct of a CBT test in the guidelines,” one of the applicants, who does not want to be quoted, told PREMIUM TIMES on the phone.
According to sources, the CBT test is scheduled to take place on the morning of Monday, January 4, 2021, while the oral interview with the selection board is scheduled for the afternoon of the same day.
Council chair, VC speak
In separate telephone interviews with our reporter, both the chairman of the governing council and the outgoing vice-chancellor, Muhammed Yahuza and Kayode Soremekun, confirmed that mistakes were committed at one stage of the selection process or the other. They have, however, vowed that the relevant sections of the university’s law governing the appointment of a vice-chancellor will be followed to the letter.
Speaking on the allegation of meddlesomeness, Mr Soremekun said; “I mistakenly attended a meeting of the Selection Committee. Once I was reminded that I should not be part of the meeting, I immediately withdrew. In other words, I spent less than 5 minutes at the meeting. I am human and I am prone to error. And I have since apologised. Show me the man who is error-free, and you will have a liar on your hands.”
He added that “I have since taken myself out of the process in consonance with the relevant statutory provisions. So I do not have information about the alleged planned use of CBT and the alleged involvement of the pioneer vice-chancellor of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Olugbemiro Jegede, in the CBT matter.”
On his part, Mr Yahuza said he would not comment on the alleged plan to use CBT to test applicants. He also denied involvement in the appointment of the university’s incumbent bursar and that his council only completed the process of registrar’s appointment.
Mr Yahuza said; “I retired as a director in the federal civil service, so you need to understand that I am a man of rules. As the chairman of the governing council of FUOYE, I assure you that the best decision would be taken in the appointment of a new VC. We realised our mistakes and we retraced our steps.
“So, the new processes are in compliance with the rules and nothing will comprise that.”
Since its establishment in 2011, FUOYE, which is among the 11 universities established by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, has been embroiled in one crisis or the other.
Its location was also a subject of conflict when the duo communities of Oye-Ekiti andIkole-Ekiti battled fiercely to host the institution. The development led to the choice of the two communities as host communities with Oye-Ekiti hosting the main campus.
Also, at one stage or the other, the university has had conflicts with its workers’ unions, and the development has led to the balkanization of ASUU on the campus.
The chairman of an ASUU faction that is recognised by the national leadership of the teachers’ union, Akinyemi Omonijo, has been on suspension since 2018. The matter has also lingered at the national industrial court in Akure, Ondo State.
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