By Fred Ezeh
Abuja, the nation’s capital, last week, played host to a large number of visitors as the governing councils of federal universities and the boards of federal polytechnics were inaugurated.
There was traffic gridlock along Aguiyi Ironsi Street and other adjourning streets in the highbrow Maitama District, for the most part of Tuesday and Thursday, following the unprecedented presence of distinguished Nigerians from all walks of life who came to grace the events.
The Nigerians appointed to serve as chairmen and members of the various university and polytechnic bodies were accomapanied by excited friends and family members, who came to rejoice with them. The vice-chancellors, rectors and principal officers of the various institutions were not left out.
The immediate-past administration of President Goodluck Jonathan had held a similar ceremony at the Congress Hall of Transcorp Hilton with fanfair, but the National Universities Commission (NUC), venue of this year’s event, did not take the shine off the ceremony.
Vendors of various products and services, including taxi operators and photographers, had a field day. Hotel owners and operators of parks and gardens, where the receptions eventually held after the inauguration, also made good business.
The acts establishing the institutions recognised the governing councils and boards as the highest policy-making organs responsibile for making statutes for the institutions, policies, structures, powers, development, financial activities and general management of universities and polytechnics.
In addition, they would be responsible for the control of the affairs of their respective institutions, approve their financial guidelines, determine terms and conditions of appointment of the vice-chancellors, rectors and principal officers of the universities and polytechnics.
With a five-year life span, the councils and boards would also be responsible for appointments, promotions and discipline of staff of the institutions, on the advice of appropriate committees; they would in addition deliberate on the annual budget as well as short, medium and long-term development proposals of the institutions, among several duties, as clearly specified in their establishment acts.
Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, who administered the oath of office on the new appointees, reminded them that their appointments were based on merit and competence.
He, therefore, challenged them to justify the appointment by deploying their wealth of experience to the cause of their respective institutions, using their ingenuity to transform the schools.
Adamu urged them to study the operational guidelines and operate within their statutory responsibilities, to avoid clashes or misunderstanding with the vice-chancellors, rectors or any other management staff of their respective institutions.
The minister highlighted possible areas of conflict and pitfalls encountered by the governing councils, which in many cases might force the government to take a drastic decision, including the dissolution of such a body, in line with certain sections of the establishment act.
He said, “In handling disciplinary issues that are related to the vice-chancellors or rectors, council must demonstrate a great deal of maturity, patience, tact and learn to consult widely before taking action.
“You are likely to come under immense pressure from labour unions and other stakeholders in the course of discharge of your duty but you should be bold and mature enough to withstand undue interference by being honest, transparent and always guided by the laws and statutes.”
He reminded them that governing council powers were derived from extant laws and statutes of each institution, and they should carefully study the laws, in addition to government policies on education, white papers, gazettes, circulars and other relevant documents that would assist them in making decision for their universities.
Daily Sun gathered that various regulatory agencies were already packaging retreats for the council and board members to further update them on what was expected of them, to enjoy cordial relations with the principal officers for a successful tenure.
Chairmen of governing councils include Prince Tony Momoh (UNIJOS), Senator John Kennedy Waku (FUT, Akure), Senator Nkechi Nwaogu (UNICAL), Prof. Ibrahim Gambari (BUK) and Prof. Femi Odekunle (FUT, Minna).
Dr. Wale Babalakin (UNILAG), who spoke on behalf of other appointees, thanked government for finding them worthy to contribute to the growth and development of the nation’s education system.
He expressed sadness over the continuous slide in quality of education in Nigeria, assuring government that the current crop of council members, with the support of the universities, would correct the anomalies.
Meanwhile, a council member, Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), Dr. Ben Igwenyi, in an interview with our correspondent described the appointment as a position of responsibility particularly in a school like FUTA that has been crisis-ridden for a while now.
Igwenyi said: “We received little briefing from the university authority on the crisis that had held the school down for long. It borders on the relationship between the school and host community.
“Though we are new, we would soon meet with all the aggrieved interests, including the host community. We would hear their cry and take decisions in accordance with the laid down laws guiding the operations of the school.”
The associate professor of law was optimistic that the new members of the governing council led by Senator Waku are capable of handling and returning the school to the path of progress.
The federal government recently suspended the VC of FUTA, Prof Adebiyi Daramola, for alleged corrupt practices and other issues that had left the institution under lock and key for several months.