As repositories of knowledge, the ivory tower, as universities are known, should be sequestrated from mundane politics, raw influences of tendencies that would mitigate its role as the hatchery where knowledge and academic excellence are generated and dispensed. It is therefore a given that merit and competence should rule such an environment and not bare considerations that rather diminish and impede on the capability of universities to provide knowledge.

But the tragic reality we have in Nigeria today is that universities have been debased like every other sector in Nigeria. The hallowed ground of academe has been soiled and trampled and factors that are extraneous to the generation and dispensing of knowledge have been stolen in and given places of high regard in our universities. Given what is seen as a deliberate weakness of officialdom to protect the sanctity of the university structure, clannishness, pettiness, nepotism, politics (of the raw and base type played in Nigeria) have been brought to erode the capacity of the country’s university system such that merit has been forced to the lowest deck among factors that should govern a university environment. The immediate and remote casualties are the entire educational sector and the output of the universities in form of graduates and these have  burdened the already wobbly Nigerian state with the excess weight of ill baked graduates.

My concern in this report is provoked by issues arising from the race for the appointment of a Vice Chancellor for the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, to replace the out-going Vice Chancellor, Prof. Boniface Egboka. I read a report from an online news portal, NewsExpress.com claiming that the race had been narrowed to two contestants; Prof. Greg Nwakoby of the Faculty of Law and Prof. Joseph Ahaneku of the Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences and that Governor Okorocha is set to decide who eventually emerges the next VC of the university. Let me make a copious quote from the report; “Until last week, Nwakoby was said to be on the lead, but the alleged sudden interest of the Imo State Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, on who becomes the next VC of UNIZIK has brought the 2015 presidential election into the picture. UNIZIK is a federal university named after Nigeria’s first President, the late Rt. Hon. Nnamdi Azikiwe.

“Information gathered by News Express has it that the Imo Governor is rooting for Prof. Ahaneku who, incidentally, is from Mbaise in Imo State. Okorocha is said to be reaching out to some members of the Governing Council of the institution in a bid to achieve his goal.

“Speaking to journalists, a notable member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Awka said that all the intrigues concerning the appointment of the next VC of UNIZIK were part of the strategy for the 2015 election, adding that Governor Okorocha, who is of the All Progressives Congress (APC), was trying to ensure that his trusted person emerges as the VC in view of its political implications in next year’s election.

“According to him, “We want to draw the attention of the Presidency to this development. The UNIZIK VC race is part of the 2015 campaign and the federal government might not be aware that those in charge of selecting the VC may be falling into the hands of opposition political parties.

“It is politically and strategically wise to dismantle all obstacles that will create undue political tension in this university during the 2015 presidential election by appointing a vice chancellor that will not sabotage the presidential election in 2015.”
 
Reading through this report, one will hardly believe that the issue in contention is who heads an ivory tower. You may be pardoned if the report was meant to capture the race for prime political position, with all the attendant blackmail, intrigues, back-biting, dirty tricks and bad politics. One does not need to read far to know that this was a poor hatchet effort to help one candidate over and above the other and you wonder why it should be so in the ivory tower. And audaciously dragging partisan war farers into the race? What does it even tell of whoever this report was meant to assist? It is tragic that what should be a race ruled by the best obtainable academic standard available to the university, is being intentionally turned into a partisan struggle for turf with all the dirty pranks and oddities Nigerian politics is known for.
 
One needs not go far to know that Prof. Ahaneku may have the edge over the candidate the report wanted to assist for if not, what could be the weird linkage between Governor Okorocha and who emerges the VC of a federal university situated in Awka? The intrigue is very simple and flows from a pedestrian feeling that knowing that Governor Okorocha is of APC, the simplest way to dim the chances of Ahaneku is to say that he is being sponsored by Okorocha because he is from Imo State and even brazenly appealing to the sentiments of the PDP leadership to tilt the scales to favour the other candidate as PDP federal government is the appointing authority. Building strange political scenarios about 2015 and how whoever is appointed the Unizik VC helps such calculation is a further attempt to debase the academia and muddle it on the murky waters of partisan politics.

That the report should be shamelessly touting partisanship and waving clear bandana of political parties and even making an undisguised linkage between the race for a Vice Chancellorship of a university to the contest for 2015 says so much for the factors responsible for the free fall of the country’s educational sector since politicians have annexed the academia and captured it within their pristine political considerations. So, going by the report, the race for the Vice Chancellorship of Nnamdi Azikiwe University should be given to the politically astute, those who are in PDP and trusted to protect whatever interests the PDP is fancied to seek to protect and not to the academically astute? So the university needs a politician that will fit into whatever political calculation these people fancy they are hewing for the 2015 election? It is really tragic.

I am concerned that the university has become a vassal of the debasing politics played in Nigeria today. I am concerned that without any qualms, politicians and their amorphous interests have continued to denigrate the core values of the academia. I am concerned that succession to the headship of a university is so hugely devalued as to equate it with the arcane partisan politics played in Nigeria, with all debris, dirt and mucks. My concern is that politicians and their allied interests are seeking to influence choice of headship of the ivory tower and seeing no qualms about it. Forget the clannish undertones packed in the above report but it is a tragedy of epic proportion that we are losing the academia to such fiendish forces and such considerations as espoused by the report above. The question is that if by deeds and academic achievements, Ahaneku is best qualified to head UNIZIK, should he be denied because some clannish politicians and their allies cooked up such hollow clannish and political alibi against him?
 
By emerging alongside Ahaneku as the two front runners for the race of UNIZIK VC, there is no doubt that Prof. Nwakoby is eminently qualified. Who amongst them gets eventually appointed should not generate the kind of rough and dirty tactics the report in contention sought to create. Such self-help which is the intent of the report is needed in appointing the head of a university for the university is the embodiment of the sacredness of knowledge over and above cheap political touting. The university, UNIZIK in particular, should be insulated from the kind of brazen blackmail the report aimed to achieve so as to allow merit have its deserved place as the ultimate decider of who gets to whatever position in a university.
 
Peter Claver Oparah.
Ikeja Lagos.
E-mail: [email protected]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters

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