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The case of Profs Obafunwa and Edeoga

By CHIKA ABANOBI

On the surface, nothing seems to connect Profs John Obafunwa Vice Chancellor, Lagos State University (LASU) with Hilary Edeoga, Vice Chancellor, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Umuahia (MOUAU). One is Yoruba and the other Igbo. One is a professor of forensic pathology and, the other, of plant taxonomy and cytogenetics.

But a closer look will show that the two Vice Chancellors have a lot in common, though tongues and tribes may differ. They are great achievers in their own rights. They came, saw and conquered a system and expanded territories.

Take Prof. Obafunwa, for instance. Before he donned the mantle of academic leadership, academic culture was nothing to write home about at LASU. It seemed nobody was in charge and every staff, academic and non-academic, did what seemeth ‘good’ in their eyes. It was either that the man at the helm of affairs, heard no evil and saw no evil or did but chose, for the sake of his life and that of his dependants, to turn the blind eye.

Results were hardly published, leading to a situation where many students ‘graduated’ without knowing or seeing their results much less their certificates. Cases of missing scripts and results were quite rampant. Embezzlement of funds by the academic and non-academic staff simply cried to high heavens. For years, students’ matriculation and convocation never took place or did once in a while. Final year students missed their National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) because of non-or late release of results while final year law students missed the mandatory law school for the same reason.

In stepped Obafunwa. Disgusted by the situation he met on ground, he busied himself with the cleaning up of the Augean stable. Some staff cheered, others jeered. He also plugged some financial loopholes as well as executed some laudable physical projects. The result? Today, LASU is a much more organized academic environment than was the case before Obafunwa assumed leadership. What with the signing and clearing signing backlogs of results and certificates! Not to talk of the newly constructed car park behind Admin. Block 2, the twin lecture theatre at the Faculty of Law and the massive science block located opposite it, at LASU main campus, the Students Union building (arcade), the seven-storey Senate building, the massive Central Library, the new Faculty of Management Sciences complex and six blocks of staff quarters (Lagos Homs), the lecture theatre built (through TETFund intervention fund) at Epe campus, etc.

One interesting feature of Prof. Obafunwa administration is its successful conduction of four matriculations and three convocations, back-to-back, since its inception, which is something of a record in the history of the university.

“One of the things that the students are happy about is the pursuit of having a stable academic calendar,” Obafunwa says to you, in reaction to your observation. “You cannot compromise that.” He attributes success on this area to his administration’s insistence that results be prepared and released on time, at least, two weeks after the end of each semester exam.

In addition, to prompt release of results, he embarked on prompt payment of staff salaries, on or before 28th day of every month, provision of land, car and furniture loans to qualified staff, financial support of staff for international training and conferences and workshops through TETFund grants.

At Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Prof. Edeoga holds similar record. According to sources, before his ascension, the place was like a glorified secondary school. Results were hardly released nor certificates issued on frequent basis, especially in the university’s Continuing Education Centre, meant for students of part-time studies.

In fact, Dr. Yusuf Ndudaku Omeh, who joined the university staff, in 2007, from the Institute of Management Technology (IMT), Enugu, and who is, today, the Head, Department of Chemistry, in the College of Natural Sciences (COLNAS), confessed to Education Review that he nearly went back when he saw the situation.

“When I got in here I thought that this place was a secondary school,” he said. “I expected a place that would give me a higher value in terms of infrastructure, academic culture, in fact, the beauty and aesthetic beauty of the environment and the maturity of the people. But I didn’t see that. It was like, is it not better that I go back from where I was coming from?”

There were not enough chairs and lecture rooms for both students and staff. Nor well-equipped library. Staff morale was at its lowest ebb. In the absence of good university structures, law and order, campus cultism exam malpractices and indecent dressing had a field day.

In fact, many people often heard the name of the university but could not say exactly where it is located; others often confused it with the College of Agriculture, Umuagwo, Imo State. Edeoga told Education Review a funny story of how NTA television crew who were on their way to cover the first matriculation of new students held under his administration initially headed to Umuagwo before they were recalled, all because they couldn’t distinguish the difference between the two institutions.

But with some fiscal measures put in place in the past four years, Edeoga has succeeded in turning the university into a beautiful bride in one unforgettable act of re-branding, so much so that whereas in the past not many candidates, about 1,000, a source said, applied for admission into the university, in JAMB exams, now about 15,000 apply annually.

Not only had he succeeded, within the intervening years, in building hostels that can accommodate about 13-15,000 students at the end of the day, but also in stamping out cultism, indecent dressing and examination malpractices. He has helped as well in boosting the morale of the staff by taking care of their professional, physical and financial welfares.

While Prof. Raphael Echebiri, one of the College Deans likes to talk of Edeoga’s construction of befitting structure for his college, Dr. Innocent Aja Okoro, Associate Professor, in the Department of Chemistry makes mention of his provision for the department’s laboratory with adequate equipment and, their offices with air-conditioners. Dr. Emmanuel Onyekweodili, senior lecturer in the Department of Veterinary Pathology, points to his regular training of staff, his sponsorship of them to national and international workshops and conferences or to further studies overseas, payment of staff salaries and allowances as when due, and his buying of cars for college deans and campus shuttle vehicles for students and for the purpose of internally generated revenue.

“This administration has been able to retire all the unions,” Dr. Omeh said. “If the baby that a baby-sitter came to tend dies, that baby-sitter has no job again. I believe that the main job of a union, both academic and non-academic, is to agitate for the welfare of their members. That is the sacrosanct view. But when those welfares have been taken care of, to the extent that it even surpasses what it is supposed to be, then you are retired except those who feel they can continue to brew unnecessary crisis or chaos.”

Edeoga himself talks about his completion of many projects started by his predecessors before launching into his own. Right now they are many ongoing physical projects in the university. They include the new Senate building, biscuit and bread factory, six new student hostels, a big examination hall that will host 1,500 students at a time, when completed, lecture theatres, central laboratory and library.

Despite their landmark achievements, both Obafunwa and Edeoga, who, by way, still lecture and supervise students, despite being the Vice Chancellor, have continued to face stiff opposition to their administrations from some members of the Association of Academic Staff of Universities (ASUU).

Whereas the subterranean war going at LASU came to the fore after Prof. Obafunwa administration withdrew the PhD certificates of some of the academic staff, including that of Dr. Adekunle Idris, chairman, LASU-ASUU, over some alleged irregularities, prompting the cries of victimization, from the Lagos Zonal ASUU chairman, Dr. Sola Nasir, and allegations of impunity and high-handedness, crisis began to brew at Michael Okpara University of Agriculture when its ASUU branch chairman, Dr. Uzochukwu Onyebinama, was removed as Acting HOD, Agricultural Economics and later suspended and placed on half-salary, over alleged “gross misconduct.” As in LASU case, it also prompted solidarity rally, and the call for the reversal of the suspension, by the Owerri Zonal ASUU Chapter chairman, Prof. Ike Odimegwu.

In LASU case, the problem later snowballed into demand for promotion, part-payment of the owed arrears (immediate payment of 25% and another payment of 25% percent within a month of the first payment), executive approval of the result of the congregation elections by the Vice-Chancellor, regularization of appointment of casual security staff, termination of the contract appointment of the Acting Chief of Security and commencement of the process leading to the appointment of a new Vice-Chancellor.

But at MOUAU, a different scenario is playing out. Onyebinama who is said to have gone to court top seek redress, is, like Idris, also accusing Prof. Edeoga of “impunity and high-handedness.” But the university authorities, comprising the Senate and the Governing Council insist that he has a case to answer based on the reports of the panel of investigation and staff disciplinary committee set up to try him on the case of misconduct brought against him.

Some of the offences which are said to have led to his suspension include his alleged willful refusal to sign the bound copies of project reports of three Agricultural Economics students undergoing part-time programme with the university’s Continuing Education Centre (CEC) on the excuse that they were not bona-fide students, his alleged refusal to sign results or deliberate delay in submission of the same, unilateral changing of requirements for post-graduate admission in the Department of Agricultural Economics for the 2014/2015 academic session and adoption of different guidelines in assessing the performance of 19 students who took the course CAE 411 under him. While 18 out of 19 students scored zero the last student whose result was said to have been entered after the result sheet had been crossed became the only student who scored above 40%. “This is a case of manipulation of results and disregard for extant senate guidelines which tantamount to examination fraud,” a statement from the staff disciplinary committee’s report, read. “Onyebinama is also guilty of victimizing or had a clear intent to victimize all or any of the 19 students who took the course under him, perhaps, with the exception of the student whose score he smuggled into the result sheet after it had been closed. This is a case of gross misconduct. In line with the extant laws, Committee recommend dismissal from service.”

But rather than dismissal, the Senate opted for his suspension. It is the grounds of that suspension that Onyebinama had gone to court to contest. “In every society, community, organization or institution, subject to the rule of law, misconduct is not a matter of opinion nor is it determined by whims and caprices of leadership,” he argued in a goodwill message he sent to ASUU members, during the solidarity rally held, on the university campus, on Sunday, June 14, 2015.

There is nothing like “whims and caprices of leadership” involved in this case, the university authorities insist. Maintaining that Onyebinama disregarded and ignored a letter written to him by the Acting Director, Continuing Education Centre and by his Dean, requesting him to explain how he arrived at such a surprising result, they tagged his conduct “a clear case of insubordination and disregard for constituted authority.”


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