This is not the best of time for our academics in Nigeria. The ivory tower is under a renewed focus, not for groundbreaking research or new innovations, but corrupt acts and overbearing attitude of some administrators. The last seven days have shown us that our universities are not really different from the rest of us in the rot we see around.
First is a damning indictment of Bayero University academics by a former vice chancellor of the institution and our former electoral chief, Attahiru Jega, who complained bitterly about the conduct of his fellow academics in the heist we call election in Kano State. Not sure there could be stronger words from someone who straddles both words: academia and elections management. Hopefully, we will get to hear the full story of what went down in Kano one day.
Similarly, my alma mater, the University of Ibadan is in the news for the wrong reasons. The institution’s vice chancellor, or maybe more fittingly, emperor; Idowu Olayinka, with the active connivance of its senate, rusticated a former student leader for four semesters for leading a protest over non issuance of identity cards that students paid for amidst other issues. More painful is the fact that our alumni body, of which Olayinka is a member as alum of the university, had interceded and pleaded with the school’s management with the student leader eating the humble pie over the issue. Granted there would be excesses on students’ part, but must we kill a mosquito with an AK47? Which better environment should foster a culture of dissent, debate and demonstration?
While we must acknowledge the toiling academics who strive daily to make something worthwhile of their scholarly pursuits in an unfavourable environment like ours, and I should know as I have them as family, friends and former mates, the fact is that too often our academics remain insular to societal needs and thereby unable to fashion appropriate responses to our challenges.
However, the two instances pale into insignificance when we look closely at happenings in the Lagos State University, LASU. This column once described the institution, as one in “perpetual crisis” and sadly, it appears things have not changed for the better. We have a journalist, Nicholas Ibekwe, incidentally an alumnus of the school, to thank for shining his investigative lights on happenings in his former school. Full disclosure – Ibekwe was once my reporter or colleagues as he prefers I refer to him, but I had no hand in his two investigative reports on LASU. The first told of how a professor in the school falsified his age so as to stay in service beyond the retirement age. No big deal, we might be tempted to say as this is a common occurrence in our society, but when this continues with the active connivance of the vice chancellor, a professor of law for that matter, who knows more or should know about laws, we are done for.
His second story is on how staff pension were withdrawn ostensibly to fund accreditation exercise when the state government did not release money in time for it. Nothing untoward at least but when the funds expended were not up to what was taken out, we should ask further questions. The story also alleged that the fund was released without authorization as only the vice chancellor and council chairman, himself a former academic, were in the know of its release without the authorization of the council. The surplus, or remainder, as you can only have surplus when the requirements have been met, was spent in buying vehicles. These include cars for the council chairman and the vice chancellor’s personal assistant with some buses sprinkled for effect. I think there must be something with our public officials and cars, this theme has been nicely explored by Tope Fasua, economist and presidential candidate in the last presidential election, who has been compiling figures of how much we usually budget for vehicles’ purchase even when we don’t produce them.
I remember how on getting to the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta last year, a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado drove past us. It was with the university’s number plate and my son; an automobile enthusiast declared magisterially that it is a 2017 model. Upon asking some lecturers in the institution, they confirmed my son’s observation and that the one I saw belongs to the vice chancellor while there are two others for his deputy. Can’t remember the exact figure they said the vehicles were bought, usually inflated as it would have been contracted out, but the three cost over N200 million.
The tepid defence from LASU’s management on the pension money withdrawal and disbursement should cause us all sleepless nights. We can be sure that the lame duckAkinwunmi Ambode administration will do nothing as it went to sleep since last year, but the least we can demand of Babajide SanwoOlu as he assumes officenext month is a thorough investigation of this sordid act. It should not be swept under the carpet, as LASU ought to be free from the clutches of those who continue to hold it hostage, stifling her from becoming a university indeed.
Have a wonderful Easter, people.