Currently, the Rivers State Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities are enmeshed in a controversy over the reappointment of the vice-chancellor of the State University of Science and Technology, Prof. Barineme Fakae. While members of the institution’s chapter of ASUU are kicking against Fakae’s reappointment, Governor Rotimi Amaechi, who is the visitor to the university, has maintained that the reappointment is in order.
But the governor’s insistence has further drawn the ire of the majority of the lecturers, who met on several occasions before embarking on an indefinite strike on Aug. 13, 2012, a few days after Fakae was reappointed the VC. The members of the union had argued that Amaechi breached the law guiding the appointment of a VC for the university. According to the chairman of ASUU RSUST, Dr. Felix Igwe, due process was not followed in the reappointment of Fakae.
Igwe, in an electronic statement sent to SATURDAY PUNCH, says there is no going back on the union’s strike until the governor rescinds his decision. He explains that the academic staff in the university had, to no avail, urged the visitor to RSUST to overturn his decision on Fakae’s reappointment and follow due process.
“The appointment of the acting vice-chancellor violated the university law. Considering the failure of the visitor to rescind Aug. 13, the appointment and act in accordance with the university law, members of the union have unanimously agreed to withdraw their services from 2012, until the university law is obeyed. All members have been advised to comply accordingly,” the statement read.
Reacting to the lecturers’ position, the Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, expressed the need for ASUU, RSUST branch to show responsibility. Semenitari maintained that ASUU did not possess the right to determine who would be a VC in any university, adding that due process was followed in the appointment of an acting VC for the university.
“On matters of due process, it is clear that ASUU is not the Ombudsman. They (ASUU) know what regulations are and should abide by such regulations guiding the university. When you come to a community, you have to obey the laws guiding that community,” the commissioner stated.
Before the announcement of Fakae’s reappointment, ASUU had cautioned against the move, threatening to resist it by all means. The action, rather than discourage the visitor, buoyed him to go ahead with his decision. Many believe that the governor’s decision to reappoint the VC was based on the transformation of the institution by the Fakae administration within a spate of four years.
RSUST was in a decrepit state until 2007 when the professor of veterinary parasitology was asked to man the affairs of the institution. The mandate given to Fakae then was to rescue the institution from its obvious infrastructural and academic decay. His performance within a year prompted the governor to confirm his appointment as the sixth substantive VC of the university.
Two years ago, a high court in Port Harcourt presided over by Justice Daniel Kalio, had dismissed a suit challenging the appointment of Fakae as the VC of the institution. The RSUST branch of ASUU had in suit No PHC/236/2010 dragged the attorney-general of the state, Fakae and others to court over his (Fakae) appointment as VC. During his first term, Fakae was able to recover the environmental and academic strength eroded by the inactions of the previous administrations. While courses that were partially accredited gained full accreditation, those that were not certified at all were accredited.
However, all these developments appeared not to mean much to members of the academic union when they embarked on an indefinite strike over the reappointment of the VC. To worsen the already bad situation, the ASUU had on Aug. 30, 2012, embarked on a nationwide strike in solidarity with its members in RSUST. The union’s National President, Dr. Nasir Isa, told newsmen in Abuja that Amaechi smuggled Fakae into office as acting VC after his (Fakae) first tenure.
Isa expressed sadness that the government went ahead to direct the Secretary to the State Government, Mr. George Feyii, to announce Fakae as the acting VC, adding that the development had led to the incessant harassment of members of the university community. The ASUU president recalled how a meeting of the union in RSUST was disrupted by armed policemen and students. According to him, a former student of the institution attacked the chairman of ASUU, RSUST chapter.
The controversy surrounding the appointment had continued unabated. Like the proverbial grass that suffers when two elephants fight, the students of the institution have remained at home with little or no hope on when the fight between the state governor and ASUU would come to an end. Amaechi, who had remained quiet on the issue for some time, broke his silence in Germany. Many stakeholders were surprised when the governor called on ASUU to take his government to court if it was convinced that it (government) breached the law.
Amaechi said that RSUST was governed by state law and could not be dictated to by ASUU’s national leadership with regard to the appointment of its VC. “There is a difference between the federal law which the president had signed, and governs federal universities and the state law. They (ASUU) want me to disobey the law that sets up RSUST. I wish them luck, but this will not happen within the period that I am governor of Rivers State. There is what is called the rule of law and true federalism; unitary system should not be applied in a state. The law setting up RSUST allows its VC to run for a second term of three years after the expiration of his first term,” Amaechi added.
He expressed dissatisfaction that professors in the university, who were members of the governing council, made themselves candidates for the post of the VC, an action, which he described as improper. The governor said he reappointed Fakae in an acting capacity at the end of his first tenure based on the law and pending the nomination of another candidate by the university council.
He said, “ASUU in Rivers wants to take up the position of a governor to appoint the VC. There has to be discipline and there has to be implementation of law and order.”
But the Chancellor of the International Society for Social Justice and Human Rights, Chief Jackson Omenazu, disagreed with the governor, describing the decision to reappoint the VC as a fundamental misnomer. He said, “The sacred institution of a university must outweigh the whims and caprices of any governor and the university also outlives the tenure of a governor. ASUU is an integral part of the university. Though the governor has the right to take some decisions, when it comes to fundamental policies that affect the life of a university, the governor is expected to stay away from them.”
The President of the National Association of Nigerian Students, Mr. Adam Mohammed, called on ASUU members in RSUST to return to work in the interest of the students. Mohammed, who made this call while briefing newsmen in Port Harcourt, expressed surprise that the reappointment of the VC could ignite an ASUU strike.
He pointed out that the governor, who is the visitor to the school, had the right to appoint a VC, appealing that ASUU, RSUST chapter should have a rethink on its position and call its members back to the classroom.
The unending disagreement between Amaechi and ASUU members is, therefore, stalling the academic progress of the institution and the earlier the crisis is resolved the better for thousands of students of the citadel of learning. Rather than continue to politicise education in the school, some opinion moulders in the state believe that more energy should be exerted on research, discoveries and the training of future leaders.