As of today, the three federal universities of agriculture,—Abeokuta, Makurdi and Umudike—have no governing councils almost a year after those of the other federal universities were constituted. This is allegedly because of a subsisting controversy between the Federal Ministry of Education and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development on who should nominate external members of the governing councils of federal universities of agriculture. Yet, the Governing Council of the Federal University of Agriculture, by its enabling statute, is ‘charged with general control and superintendence of the policy, finance and property of the university’ and through its Finance and General Purposes Committee, the council exercises this function and other functions that the council may delegate to it from time to time.
In the absence of the governing councils, the university is in the doldrums and the vice-chancellor is a de facto sole administrator. In this circumstance, the actions or inactions of the vice-chancellor could be inimical to the overall interest of the university.
On the vexatious question, who appropriately is to make recommendations for external membership of the governing councils of the federal universities of agriculture, the answer is self-evident from the enabling statute 1992 number 48 for the universities. Section 7(d), recognises that the University of Agriculture is an educational institution in the provision for ‘one person from the Ministry responsible for Education’ as a member of the governing council. This is consistent with the broad mandate of the university which gives premium to human capital development and research in agriculture and allied disciplines in accordance to which more students are admitted, by choice or otherwise, into agriculture programmes, in some cases in the percentage ratio 70:30 in favour of the latter. In section 7(e), there is provision for broad representation, inter alia, ‘nine persons representing a variety of interests and broadly representative of the whole Federation to be appointed by the president’. For the federal universities of agriculture, the latter provision permits the representation of the FMARD in the governing councils. From the foregoing, it is incomprehensible that the controversy between the two ministries is such as to put on hold, sine die, the constitution of the governing councils of the federal universities of agriculture.
I am aware that the tenure of principal officers of one of the universities is expiring and there is a need for their replacement in accordance with the due processes. In the absence of the Governing Council, such processes cannot commence, creating a lacuna. This is amid an ongoing negotiation between the Academic Staff Union of Universities and the Federal Government. ASUU has over the years engaged governments on the need for autonomy of universities, and indeed, of the governing council to minimise external interference in the management of universities. It is instructive to recall that in the 80s through 90s, governing councils of federal universities were constituted and whimsically dissolved at frequent intervals by military governments with no security of tenure and in ways that dislocated the administration of universities. Gladly, ASUU has succeeded in addressing this anomaly as governing councils now have a secured tenure of four years. In addition, the governing councils of federal universities can appoint vice-chancellors with finality following the due process without recourse to the Visitor. However, there is the question of quality, calibre and character of the external members of the council. In some cases, government appoints men and women with proven experience in public and corporate affairs management into councils with pleasant reports. In others, such appointments are impelled by political imperatives and persons in this category do not add value to the university but are prebendal in their engagement in council. The Federal Government will do well to constitute the governing councils of the three federal universities of agriculture without any more delay.
On the heels of alleged money laundering and diversion of funds to the tune of N80bn by Mr Ahmed Idris, the Accountant-General of the Federation, and his consequent arrest by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, there was payment of years of outstanding arrears of consequential adjustment on salaries for staff of some federal universities. But curiously or incidentally, payment for staff of the federal universities of agriculture is among those pending with no clear explanation. Whatever the reason, it is incontrovertible that the IPPIS, as a payment platform, is an abysmal failure and that the office of the AGF is a cesspool of corruption.
There is no doubt that the lingering FGN-ASUU face-off is telling on parents and students. Regrettably, many parents do not understand the fundamental issues that need to be addressed for their wards to have quality and functional university education. Some parents will be content with having their wards graduate on time, regardless of the low levels of academic content and skills acquired in the process.
It will be unpatriotic and against the run of our training as academics to allow a situation like this to subsist without any action. The incessant strike by ASUU is simply a reaction to insincerity on the part of government to put premium on education for the benefit of citizens and for the future of this country. It is our fervent hope that the renewed engagement between ASSU and Federal Government will yield positive results for the university, staff and students.
- Professor Ighodalo Eromosele is former Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta