…As ASUU, stakeholders, take on VCs over promotion of ‘unqualified’ academic staff
By Gabriel Dike
Many universities are currently enmeshed in crisis over the appointment of some academic staff who their colleagues and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), alleged did not meet the requirements for elevation to the position of professorship.
Professor is the highest rank in the Nigerian University System (NUS) and there are laid-down rules/procedures as to how one can gain promotion to the position. Some vice chancellors are said to be in the habit of circumventing the process of appointing academic staff to the exalted position by recommending friends and cronies who do not meet the requirements.
For one to be elevated to the position of a professor in the university, such academic staff is expected to have published articles/research findings in international and local academic journals. But of recent, this is not the case as the appointment to the position has been politicized as those who merit it are not considered by the vice chancellors either because they are unionists or did not back the VC during the selection process or were those the VCs’ godfathers do not like their faces.
The trend in Nigerian university system
An educationist, Chief Matthew Oladele, confirmed the trend in the university system, adding that several academic staff members who qualify as professors are never considered for promotion by the VCs. Rather those who get elevated are cronies of the administration who do not have the required number of publications.
Mr. Clement Amaechi disclosed how his elder brother at a university in the South East was denied promotion to the professorial cadre for over 13 years while his juniors and even his students were made professors ahead of him. He said his brother resigned and joined a private university and within three years, he was elevated.
In the 60s, 70s, and 80s appointment/promotion to professorial level in the university system was purely based on merit and qualified academic staff did not need to lobby the VC nor have political godfather to champion his course, in order to get there.
During the period being referred to, there were no petitions arising from colleagues of those promoted to the level because the exercise followed due process. But in the 90s and 2000s, the promotion of academic to professorial cadre became politicised. It is common knowledge in the university system and even among students that some members of academic staff are favoured when it comes to promotion. In their discussions among peers, they wonder why some brilliant lecturers remained stagnant as senior lecturers without being considered for promotion to the elevated position.
In some instances, students have had the cause to doubt the professorial status of some academic staff in comparison to others who merits it in terms of meeting the requirements but because of extraneous factors, the university administration would not look their way.
Investigation by The Sun Education revealed that many of the unlucky senior lecturers remain in that position until they retire from the university. Those who cannot bear the frustration leave to other universities and are appointed professors within few years. The advent of private universities in the country has helped to redress the issue a lot as many of such victimized academic staff resign from the public university to take up appointment with private institutions with the promise of being elevated to the position during promotion exercise.
As you read this, many petitions are before various universities’ Governing Councils, the Minister of Education and Federal lawmakers, including, in some instances, the Education Committees of the Senate and House of Representatives, on the issue.
Requirements for professorial appointment
In the NUS, there are laid-down procedures for the promotion/appointment of professors but in the current situation, the VCs hold, as it were, the yam and the knife. Ordinarily, the screening and promotion pass through the University Appraisals Committee and Appointment and Promotion Committee but most often, the members are made of the VC’s’ cronies.
Report from LASU
At the Lagos State University (LASU), the former Vice Chancellor, Prof. John Obafunwa was accused, by ASUU Lagos Zone and ASUU-LASU as well as some staff of promoting some academic staff who did not meet up with the requirements for promotion to the professorial chair. One of them, from the university’s College of Agriculture, is facing a council panel headed by a Professor from the Lagos State University College of Medicine (LASUCOM), for not having the required number of publications needed for promotion to a professor.
The Coordinator of ASUU, Lagos Zone, Dr. Sola Nassir, had in 2014 and, early, 2016, accused the former administration of promoting some academic staff assisting the VC in his ‘scheme of destruction,’ adding that “this is not acceptable culture in the academia. ASUU will not allow any form of patronage in the system.’’
He alleged that the former VC appointed a candidate to the position of Senior Lecturer, with two academic publications, in the Faculty of Law as well as promoted a lecturer, with less than 15 papers, contrary to the principles and rules governing promotions and appointment, to the position of a Professor. These 15 papers, he said, included lecture notes and conference proceedings while the percentage of acceptable papers could not have earned him a Senior Lecturer status.
Another academic staff in the Department of Political Science, Prof. Abubakar Momoh, was denied promotion to the professorial chair by Prof. Lateef Hussien administration for several years. It took the intervention of the then governor, Babatimde Raji Fashola, for his promotion papers to be processed and approved. Recently, the governing council of LASU, at its 111th statutory meeting, approved the promotion of some academic staff to the position of professor. Of interest is a Professor in the Faculty of Science whose promotion was backdated to 2011 and also a former Provost at the Adeniran Ogunsaya College of Education, Ijanikin, whose promotion was overlooked by two former VCs.
Happenings at UNILAG AND OAU
At the University of Lagos (UNILAG), during the administration of the Late VC, Prof. Jelili Omotola, his administration was accused by the ‘Ogoni 9’ of appointing his cronies to the professorial chair while several others opposed to his style of administration but qualified were ignored for years. On the issue of promotion of its members, ASUU-UNILAG chairman, Dr. Adelaja Odukoya, assured The Sun Education that the current administration is looking into some cases.
At Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, two former ASUU chairmen were not considered for promotion as professor by two former VCs: one left the institution to a university in the South South and within a year, was made a professor while the other retired as Dr. but was engaged by a university in North Nigeria which later elevated him to the position of a professor.
Rumblings at UNN
The University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) has been turned into a war theatre over the promotion saga, with Prof. Chibuike Uche, in the Faculty of Business Administration, accusing a former VC, Prof. Bartho Okolo, of promoting Prof. (Mrs.) Uche Modum, from the same faculty, without the required number of publications. Not satisfied by the response of the UNN administration, Prof. Uche petitioned the governing council which investigated the allegation against Prof. Modum but cleared her of it. Still not satisfied, he queried the council for exonerating her and continued the battle to prove the case against his former lecturer.
The governing council asked Prof. Uche to apologise to Prof Modum for the wrong accusation but he stood his ground and was sacked. His sack generated ripples on campus with Prof. Uche accusing the VC and Prof. Modum of using their connections to get him out of their way. He demanded that the council give him the opportunity to meet face-to-face with Prof. Modum and cross-examine her on the issue of not having the required number of publications in academic journals.
Prof. Uche later took his case to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) but for years, the university administration did not respond to issues raised by the commission. It took a new VC to respond to NHRC letters and at the end, the commission said Prof Uche was not given fair hearing by the council before he was sacked.
“The UNN council has, till date, refused to release the report of their investigation to either myself or the National Human Rights Commission,” Prof. Uche said. “We will continue to fight this attempt to cover up brazen multiple forgeries and falsifications using all legal means at our disposal. This is because it is the right thing to do in the interest of tertiary education and academic decency in Nigeria. As Edmund Burke once noted, the only condition necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’’
In his attempt to seek redress over his sack, Prof. Uche, had sought the intervention of the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu and the House of Representatives. He condemned both the Council’s exoneration of Prof. Modum and its decision to ask him to apologize to her over what it tagged ‘character assassination’ of the lady. “I protested and requested the council to send me a copy of the investigation report and supporting documents to enable me understand the basis of its decision. My request was declined in writing by the council,’’ he noted in the letter. “If, however, there was need to sanction me, the UNN law and the rules of natural justice require that I be tried, after being formally informed of the specific offence (s) I have committed, be allowed legal representation, be allowed to call witness and be allowed to interrogate my accusers if known.’’
Responding to the allegations levied against her, Prof. Modum told The Sun Education: “I am more than qualified for the professorship.’’ Expressing her shock over Prof. Uche’s action, she noted that he and his elder brother (now late) were once her students (as undergraduates) adding that, “you can come to the Enugu campus of UNN to ask from staff and students the kind of woman I am. I can’t pinpoint what I did to him that will result in this action of his.’’ She vehemently denied the allegation of forgeries and falsification of her CV and of not having the required number of published articles in academic journals insisting that she merited her promotion which she said went through the normal process.
The Professor of Accounting said she scored 92.8 per cent to earn her promotion and denied also altering her age while insisting that she met the required number of journals to be considered as a Professor and supported her claim with the UNN Yellow Page booklet that outline the process and requirements for promotion as academic. “The only thing I have or cherish in life, is my integrity,” she said. “My colleagues and students on campus know that I don’t joke with it,’’ she added.
A former Commissioner with the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), told The Sun Education that the governing council resolved the issue in 2011 after a panel exonerated her of the allegation. Speaking on the raging battle between the two professors, the Public Relations Officer of UNN, Mr. Okwun Omeaku, said the issue is with the governing council and beyond him to comment on.
The crisis at MOUAU
Another university that is currently enmeshed in the professorial appointment saga is the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture Umudike (MOUAU). The issue formed part of the reasons the Buhari administration set up a panel to investigate the petitions from ASUU and some staff of the institution. ASUU MOUAU branch disclosed in a petition to the panel that Prof. Raphael Echebiri was unilaterally promoted to the rank of Professor when he was neither assessed in the department nor in the faculty.
According to the union, the process leading to his promotion did not comply with the provisions of sections 4.2, subsection i (a) of the Conditions of Service for senior staff of MOUAU. In order to cover up the breach of the due process in his promotion, it alleged, the immediate past VC, Prof. Hilary Edeoga had, in a letter claimed that Senate, at its 153rd regular meeting, directed that Dr. Echebiri’s papers should be forwarded to an independent external assessor.
The union stated that the Senate of MOUAU has no statutory role in the process of staff promotion and no evidence in the minutes of its 153rd regular meeting to show that its gave such a directive. It added that at the time of the meeting, Dr. Echebiri had already been promoted to the rank of Professor.
ASUU said promotions to professorial cadre done since February 2011 and approved by the Prof. Anya O. Anya-led governing council have been evidently anything but transparent and demanded that all such promotions be reviewed using the criteria stipulated in the Conditions of Service. It noted that, “the individuals promoted should revert to status quo ante until they are properly assessed. Those that fail the assessment should be made to pay back the salaries they earned as a result of the irregular promotion.’’
How it is done at U.I.
Shading more light on the issue, former ASUU chairman, University of Ibadan (UI), Prof Segun Ajiboye, disclosed that criteria for appointment of Professors in the Nigerian University System differ from one university to another but that an intending Prof must have about 20 publications in international and local journals.
Prof. Ajiboye said UI uses the point system: thus an academic staff aspiring to be a Prof must have 70 point (percentage) while the papers would be sent to three assessors, two within NUS and one abroad and the staff must have two positive recommendations from the assessors for his/her promotion to scale through.
He condemned two cases in which some persons not qualified were appointed as Professor stating that, “somebody who never taught in any university was appointed Prof. at MOUAU and another, a polytechnic lecturer, who he claimed obtained his Masters and PhD within two years from UNN was appointed Prof. at Kogi State University.’’
Stakeholders’ take on the issue
At its last meeting in May 2016, LASU governing council set up a panel to look into similar case, a sign that some university councils are living up to their responsibilities. Stakeholders like the Proprietor of Royal Academy International, Ota, Mr. S.K. Bankole, who is familiar with UNILAG case under late Prof Jelili wants the various councils and NUC to take action against VCs that promotes unqualified lecturers to professorial position. Chief Francis Nzeh, Director, Academic Programme, Holy Trend Education Consult, Enugu said the government and the regulatory agency must put an end to the fraudulent trend of elevating academic staff not qualified for professorship.
The federal government resolve to tackle the academic fraud in the university system would be tested when it releases the White Papers on the ten visitation panels’ reports. Investigation by The Sun Education revealed the NUS does not have a uniform criterion for promotion/appointment to a professorial cadre. Each university applies different rules and regulations and VCs have taken advantage of the lack of a uniform standard to appoint some of their cronies.