Citadel of Learning should be separated from  Political, Business influence:  The UNN Vice Chancellorship Case

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The University of Nigeria Nsuka (UNN) is a significant citadel of learning in Nigeria.  Established in 1960, it is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities

By Peter Dibia

The University of Nigeria Nsuka (UNN) is a significant citadel of learning in Nigeria.  Established in 1960, it is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Nigeria.

Despite its significance, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), confronts several obstacles such as inadequate staff compensation, insufficient funding, and the pervasive influence of politics and business.

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Dear readers, the aforementioned issues are not the primary focus of today’s discussion. As a dedicated journalist committed to advancing development and progress, particularly in academia, fulfilling my role as a watchdog is crucial for the overall enhancement of the society.

UNN as a higher institution of learning should be separated from political and business influence, to ensure its autonomy and service to the society.

Over the past decade, the position of UNN Vice Chancellor has consistently been occupied by individuals appointed from Anambra State, Nigeria, irrespective of their qualifications. This long-standing practice is as a result of external influence from a certain Anambra business cartel who have converted the university to their personal businesses for personal gains. This has sparked considerable discontent within the academic circles.

From 2014 to 2019, the Vice Chancellorship was held by Prof Benjamin Ozumba, a native of Anambra. Following him, Prof. Charles Igwe, also from Anambra, assumed the role from 2019 to 2024. On June 7, 2024, the same external interest influenced the election of Prof Romanus Ezeokonkwo, another Anambra man.

It is interesting to note that the directive from the office of the Honourable Minister of Education clearly stated that the University Senate should elect one of the Deputy Vice Chancellors (DVCs) to oversee the affairs of the University pending when a council is fully constituted. The council will appoint an acting VC who will be in acting capacity for not less than 6 months while the council will commence the selection process for a substantive VC. However, the manipulators of the system flagrantly disregarded this directive and ostensibly elected Professor Romanus Ezeokonkwo as an Acting VC.

This recurring appointment of Vice Chancellors exclusively from Anambra State appears to conflict with principles of academic fairness and diversity. It raises valid concerns about the selection process’s transparency and adherence to meritocracy. Academic institutions, particularly universities are expected to uphold standards of impartiality and competence in leadership appointments to ensure effective governance and academic excellence.

Critics argue that the prolonged dominance of Anambra businessmen in the selection process of Vice Chancellorship position of the university undermines the broader educational community’s trust and the university’s reputation. They advocate for a more transparent approach based on merit and capability rather than regional affiliations.

The presence of these business interests continues to fleece the university of its meager resources and also expose some sensitive official information of the university to external bodies. For example, despite the fact that the university has a very functional management information systems (MIS) unit, these business interests have managed the university’s information and communication technology (ICT) unit as contract for over ten years now, taking full responsibility of collecting all fees/levies that are paid into the university coffers, with a huge percentage of the payments going into their companies, as commission. The same interest wants to continue to control UNN’s ICT unit which is the administrative and financial engine of the university. This is a most obnoxious rent-seeking that denies the university full value for paying hundreds UNN MIS staff, loss of revenue because of the unnecessary and opaque commission charged and most dangerously exposes confidential information of staff and students to unauthorized access outside the university.

Another glaring example is the rather murky details of the contract of the concession given to a certain catering company to operate the most lucrative refectory in the university, for the past ten years now and counting. These two examples highlight why the Anambra Business Mogul and his hecnchmen are at work again to ensure the enthronement of another Anambra Professor as VC of UNN.

Moving forward, stakeholders urge the University Senate and relevant authorities to review and possibly reform the selection criteria for Vice Chancellors of UNN, emphasizing qualifications, experience, and above all commitment to academic integrity. This step is crucial for restoring confidence in the university’s leadership and fostering a more equitable academic environment.

Against the above stated standards, the recent UNN Senate “election” of Prof. Ezeokonkwo as “acting VC”  has dismayed the academic community. It has come to light that the same business mogul from Anambra State is attempting to perpetuate the pattern that has long influenced the institution. This raises serious concerns about the need to safeguard educational institutions from undue political and business influences.

Sources close to the Senate management have disclosed plans orchestrated by this influential figure to install the same Professor from Anambra State as the substantive Vice Chancellor, bypassing the established electoral and due process norms. Such actions undermine the principles of fair governance and meritocracy that are essential for the credibility and effectiveness of academic leadership.

The institution, renowned for its commitment to excellence, risks becoming embroiled in a cycle of external interference, jeopardizing its reputation for integrity and impartiality. There is a growing consensus among stakeholders that steps must be taken to preserve the autonomy and academic integrity of the university, ensuring that leadership appointments are based solely on competence and merit.

Putting an end to political and business influence would enable the university to refocus on its primary mission of delivering high-quality education and conducting impactful research, free from external pressures.

The university must have the autonomy to determine its governance structure, allocate budgets, and develop academic programs independently, without undue external interference. This autonomy is essential for fostering an environment where academic freedom thrives and where decisions are made in the best interests of students, faculty and the broader academic community.

In conclusion, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, holds a significant place in Nigeria’s educational landscape. Preserving its autonomy and shielding it from external influences is imperative for its continued advancement and effectiveness as a center of learning and research excellence. By safeguarding its independence, the university can uphold its commitment to academic integrity, innovation, and service to society, ensuring it remains a beacon of knowledge and opportunity for future generations.

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