Disquiet Over Pro-Chancellor's Removal
(AllAfrica Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Though, the five months industrial action embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) ended last December, academic activities are yet to resume in full at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). This is because workers in the INSTITUTION are protesting the sudden removal of the school's Pro-Chancellor, Dr. Emeka Enejere, writes CHRISTOPHER ISIGUZO
Since December 18, 2013, the peace and serenity that existed at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, (UNN), one of the nation's foremost universities had evaporated following the sudden removal of the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the institution's Governing Council, Dr Emeka Enejere.
Since then, academic and other business activities have equally remained grounded as workers of the school, led by the four unions that exist on campus, have positioned themselves for a total showdown with the school authorities "unless the Enejere's removal and his replacement by one Mr. Emmanuel Ukala by the Supervising Minister of Education, Nyesom Wike, is reversed."
Specifically, the four unions at the UNN including the Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASUU), the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities, (NASU), the National Association of Academic Technologists, (NAAT) and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) have all rejected Enejere's removal and expectedly mobilised hundreds of their members for a daily demonstration in the school.
A visit to the institution by THISDAY last Tuesday simply showed a university that can best be described as a ghost of its old self following the grounding of academic activities by labour unions in the area. Also, the five month industrial action embarked upon by ASUU last year may have contributed in stalling academic activities.
Apart from demanding for the reinstatement of Enejere, the unions are also accusing the school's Vice Chancellor, Prof Bartho Okolo, of monumental corruption and therefore are equally demanding for his immediate sack and prosecution by the relevant government agencies. Specifically on Wednesday December 18 when the protests started, the union leaders, including Dr. Ifeanyichukwu Abada for ASUU, Godfrey Ugwu for NASU, Mr Anthony Onwu of NATT and Mr Paul Obodoike of SSANU under the platform of Joint Action Committees (JAC), mobilised members numbering over 1000 for the protest. They carried placards which read "Pro-chancellor must come back", "Enejere must come back", "Batho must go".
Briefing newsmen at the end of their protest march, the leaders of the unions decried the leadership style of the university under Prof Okolo, alleging that "we have to reiterate that the University of Nigeria under the leadership of Prof Batho Okolo is in ruins. The history of the university today is the history of maladministration, financial impropriety and recklessness, contract splitting and money laundering". The unions noted with dismay the rationale behind the suspension of Dr Enejere by the minister who "until now has been discharging his functions as council chairman effectively" and challenged the minister to explain the justification for suspending without reason. It also demanded from the minister why he was "shielding and encouraging a corrupt vice chancellor, which is against the basic principles of Mr. President's Transformation Agenda.
"We challenge the supervising Minister of Education and his partner /adviser in chief and collaborator Prof Okojie to explain the following: "Why he hastily suspended a council chairman without any form of query; justification for suspending Dr Enejere without reason; why he is encouraging corruption in the universities; why he is shielding and encouraging corrupt vice chancellors and tainted officers in his ministry; why he refused to react to the compendium of corrupt activities of the vice chancellor, UNN, which were articulated by the unions."
The JAC continues: "In view of the foregoing, the unions demand the immediate and unconditional reinstatement of Enejere as the chairman UNN Governing Council. We have had enough of this impunity; we request Mr. President to intervene and call the minister to order."
The protesters again resumed their action last Monday after the Christmas and New Year festivities beginning with a prayer session at the UNN Freedom Square, after which the workers marched to the second gate opposite Zik's Flat hostels, chanting solidarity songs. As result of the protest, all academic and administrative activities were paralysed in the institution.
Addressing journalists, spokesman of JAC, Abada and chairman of ASUU-UNN said that workers want government to remove the VC for allegedly running the university as his personal business. They equally demanded the setting up of a panel of inquiry to probe the VC. He said: "Government should reinstate the suspended pro-chancellor or make public the offence he committed. UNN workers want government to remove Okolo and set up a panel of inquiry to probe him on his financial recklessness and refusal to adhere to due process in awarding contracts." He said that the protest was one of the ways the workers were using to show that they were not comfortable with Okolo's administration, adding "we will continue to carry this protest until justice is done through government's intervention."
Another dimension was also added to the crisis as it took ethnic colouration last week with the people of Nsukka, where Enejere hails from joining in the demand for the reinstatement of their kinsman.
In an open letter to President Goodluck Jonathan, which was made available to journalists in Enugu, the people of Nsukka zone said Enejere was suspended for insisting on due process in running the affairs of the university.
The letter titled, "Removal of Emeka Enejere as Chairman, Governing Council, University of Nigeria, Nsukka" and signed by the President General of Nsukka Town Union, Mr. Austin Alumonah, called on Jonathan to stop Wike from destroying UNN.
The letter read in part: "Permit me, Your Excellency, to reach you through this medium in view of the urgency. The joy of Nsukka people knew no bounds earlier this year when one of her illustrious sons, Emeka Enejere was appointed Chairman of Governing Council, UNN. It was the first time that someone from the Zone got to that position in UNN. It, therefore, gave us all a sense of belonging.
"We keenly followed the zeal and audacity with which Enejere zoomed into the rot in the UNN and positioned himself to clean up the place with his Council. Reports of his exploits in this regard had started coming out, causing all lovers of the University to rejoice because the dignity of man was being restored. Unfortunately, reports just hit us that Enejere has now been removed, less than a year into his tenure, and one Mr. Emmanuel Ukala has replaced him. This is as stunning as it is dumb founding.
"The decision, which is very ill advised, if allowed to stand shows that the government is more interested in continuation of squandermania in the university. We cannot dictate to government who to appoint or not, but we believe Government saw something good in Enejere hence the appointment.
"The few months the Professor has been on seat showed he was about to give the university a new lease of life. So, why was he suddenly removed, less than a year in office and a much younger and less experienced person appointed to replace him? Nsukka people seek explanation to this unprecedented discrimination. The university community is traumatised by this removal and their morale has no doubt sunk to all time low. Therefore, we call upon you Mr. President to please urgently intervene and reverse this ungodly decision, which we believe was done without your knowledge."
Another group, the Nsukka Youths Association (NYA) led by Comrade Victor Ezeugwu and Dr Fabian Ugwu have also mobilised youths of the area to protest against the continued stay of Okolo as the vice chancellor, while urging the reinstatement of their kinsman, Enejere. Okolo hails from Udi, in Enugu-West senatorial zone.
However beyond what appears on the surface, THISDAY investigations revealed that as the largest federal government institution in the South East of Nigeria, the institution has witnessed some level of revival in infrastructure, academic standard and in attracting corporate and institutional funding since Prof Okolo came on board. It was equally gathered that no less than 95 mega projects hadbeen initiated and executed in the last four years.
A senior lecturer in the institution who spoke with THISDAY on grounds of anonymity said the Vice-chancellor had leveraged on the UNN brand for the benefit of UNN in getting buy-in to infrastructure projects by corporate bodies and institutions. Recent donors, according to him, include Shell Petroleum Development Company that put down an initial $1m for the Centre for Environmental Management and Control at the Enugu Campus. The centre would train staff of oil companies, carry out laboratory analyses of environmental samples and earn revenue for the institution. A consortium including MTN, Main One Cable Systems, Google Inc and Microsoft built the institution's N3 billion Internet System, and even local giants like the Ibeto Group's, building a diagnostic centre and Capital Oil with a data centre to support the internet infrastructure.
It was also gathered that the school is now afiliated to over 40 universities and research institutes across the world. With the support of the Federal Government, UNESCO has established the International Centre for Biotech at UNN and in May 2013, sent a team of experts both to inaugurate it and to hold a scientific conference. The university's management has also built an International Scholars Village of 86 rooms in anticipation of the arrival of international scholars in consequence of the affiliations and exchange programmes as well as a Presidential Guest House of 17 rooms and eight suites for the very many international engagements ongoing and envisaged.
In the area of manpower, it was learnt that under Okolo, the school has recruited 46 senior faculty from across the globe including places like Harvard University. Over 300 First Class Honours graduates engaged in the last three years as junior faculty. Over 100 of the fresh faculty are training across the globe at institutions such as the universities of Kyoto, Sukuba and Hokkaido in Japan; the universities of Maryland, Johns Hopkins and Oswago in the United States of America as well as Strathclyde and Middlesex in the United Kingdom, among others.
But in the midst of these feats recorded in the institution by the current management, the unions insist that due process had taken flight as most of the projects executed did not follow procedures and as such should be probed in order to checkmate what they call the monumental corruption that had been allegedly perpetrated by the Prof Okolo-led management.
When contacted, the embattled Vice Chancellor said he would not want to join issues with anybody, noting that his achievements were there for anybody to see. According to him, posterity would judge them as leaders when they would have left office.
With the way things are presently, it is doubtful if normalcy would return anytime soon, more so with no response coming from either the Federal Ministry of Education or the Presidency as demanded by the various protesting groups.
Founded in 1955 and formally opened on October 7, 1960, the University of Nigeria has four campuses - Nsukka, Enugu and Ituku-Ozalla - located in Enugu State and one in Aba, Abia State, Nigeria.
The university was the first full-fledged indigenous and first autonomous university in Nigeria, modelled upon the American educational system. It is the first land-grant university in Africa and one of the five elite universities in the country. The university has 15 faculties and 102 academic departments. It offers 82 undergraduate and 211 post-graduate programmes.
The university over the years has produced several personalities that have made landmark impact in their various areas of endeavours. It has also paraded world class academics. Noted author, late Chinua Achebe held research and teaching appointments at the university, starting in the early 1970s. Renowned Astrophysicist, Sam Okoye, founded the Space Research Center in 1972. The SRC remains one of the few institutions in Africa that researches and offers courses in astronomy at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
The medical school, in Enugu is one of the best in the country. Doctors and nurses trained in the institution have contributed to the advancement of medicine.
The first open heart surgical operation in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa was undertaken in 1974 at the UNTH. The team was led by visiting Professor Yacoub from the UK and others in the team included Professors F.A. Udekwu and Anyanwu. The College of Medicine has since evolved into the center for cardiothoracic surgery and tropical cardiology excellence for the West Africa region with the citing of the National Cardiothoracic Center at UNTH Enugu. A lot of medical research is also being carried out in the college. Most of the projects are nearing completion, but it is pertinent to note that some too, have fallen short of completion due to lack of funds and the government's reluctance to fund private research.
Copyright This Day. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).
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