Governor Anayo Okorocha has effected a sudden change in the top management of Imo State University: Professor B.E.B. Nwoke has been removed as Acting Vice Chancellor while Professor Ukachukwu Awuzie, the former National President of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), is now the new Acting Vice Chancellor of IMSU.
What immediately flashed through my mind was whether IMSU was under a demonic spell, a jinx and who would extricate this university from its litany of travails. Perhaps, there is a need to do a brief rehash of the travails of IMSU with special emphasis on the crisis that has bedeviled IMSU in the area of having a substantive Vice Chancellor for about four years.
It all started on Friday, 18th April, 2008 when the Chief Ohakim government set up a Visitation Panel into the affairs of Imo State University from 2004 till date. The panel was inaugurated by Her Excellency, the Deputy Governor of Imo State, Dr. Ada Okwuonu, on behalf of His Excellency, Governor Chief Ikedi Ohakim. The 10-member Visitation Panel was given 16 Terms of Reference as a guide. A cursory observation of the Terms of Reference and the composition of the panel betray the fact the panel was set up to achieve a set objective of sacking Professor Innocent Chuka Okonkwo, the then substantive Vice Chancellor of IMSU. A cross section of keen analysts felt that his major sin was that he hails from Orlu Zone and, worse still, he comes from the same village, Amaifeke, with Chief Achike Udenwa, the former Governor of Imo State and who had become a sworn enemy of Chief Ikedi Ohakim. Matters took a dramatic turn when Hon. Justice S.A. Nsofor JCA (Retd) who was appointed chairman of the Visitation panel declined the offer. Hon. Justice Nsofor who belongs to the generation of the great jurists in the Temple of Justice was not satisfied with whole affair hence he opted out probably because knew that the panel was stage managed for the purpose of crucifying Professor Innocent Okonkwo. He refused to play the role of the Biblical Judas who was used to betray and crucify the risen Christ.
The Visitation Panel received 43 memoranda from the public. It conducted public hearings and received oral evidence from 150 persons including documentary evidence from some of the witnesses, most of who were hostile witnesses. When the government released the White Paper on June 2009, it became overwhelmingly clear that the Visitation Panel merely carried out the biddings of Chief Ikedi Ohakim to sack Professor Innocent Okonkwo and all those who were loyal to him.
As already stated, the panel submitted reports in the sixteen areas under its Term of Reference. Surprisingly, the only recommendation which was swiftly executed was the dismissal of Professor Innocent Okonkwo on the grounds of a number of trumped-up allegations. Professor Innocent Chuka Okonkwo swiftly addressed a press conference to express his innocence on the allegations. Professor I.C Okonkwo’s clarifications were published in the Announcer Express Newspaper of Monday,DEC 7-8th,and December 9th-10th,2009. Others who were sanctioned include the former Vice Chancellor of IMSU, Professor A.G. Anwuka, and a number of young academics and staff who were manifestly loyal to Professor Innocent Okonkwo(the so-called prof okonkwo boys). Dissatisfied with the White Paper report, Professor Innocent Okonkwo challenged the White Paper/Report in court. In a judgment delivered by Justice Nonye Okoronkwo, he was completely discharged and acquitted of all the alleged offences. The court issued a consequential order that he be reinstated as Professor and Staff of IMSU and all his salaries and allowances must be paid in full from the day he lost his job up to date.
However the court did not allow his prayer to be reinstated as Vice Chancellor of IMSU because his five year tenure elapsed during the period he was in court. Dissatisfied with the denial of his rights to be reinstated as Vice Chancellor of IMSU, he has since challenged the decision in the Court of Appeal, Owerri. Since the case is in court, it may not be wise to go further into discussing it.
Since that judgment by Justice Nonye Okoronkwo, I have written several viewpoints calling on the then Governor Ohakim and now Governor Okorocha to reinstate Professor Innocent Okonkwo to serve out the residue of his tenure (about 14 months) but neither Ohakim nor Okorocha has acceded to my entreaties. I have severally made the point that the only authentic means of restoring tranquility and calm in IMSU is to use administrative fiat to reinstate Professor Okonkwo to the position of Vice Chancellor of IMSU. The injustice meted out to Professor Innocent Okonkwo cries to heaven for vengeance and I am afraid IMSU management will continue to be haunted and hounded by that injustice.
When Governor Okorocha became governor, I felt that he would regularize the anomaly by reinstating Professor Innocent Okonkwo, more so, since he won the election as a Rescue Imo Governor. Unfortunately, he was given a bad advice by some bigwigs in the engine room of his government. Instead of reinstating Professor Innocent Okonkwo, he compounded the problem by appointing Professor B.E.B. Nwoke as Acting Vice Chancellor. He had earlier sacked the then incumbent acting Vice Chancellor, Professor Nwebo before appointing Professor Nwoke. I wrote a viewpoint in which I congratulated Professor B.E.B. Nwoke on his appointment but I was vehement in maintaining that the action was an escapist approach as the injustice meted out to Professor Innocent Okonkwo was still not redressed. I then asked in my viewpoint. “Is there any guarantee that Governor Okorocha will not sack Professor BEB Nwoke tomorrow”? Today, I am vindicated as “what goes round comes round”.
The only cogent solution to restoring normalcy in IMSU is to reinstate Professor Innocent Okonkwo and allow him to serve out his remaining tenure of about 14 months or thereabout. Within this period, the Governing Council of IMSU will commence the task of shopping for a new Vice Chancellor. A search committee will be set up to start searching for a Vice Chancellor to take over from Professor Innocent Okonkwo. This is the path of justice, equity and fair play. A Vice Chancellor is not a politician but an academic. It is only politicians that lose their tenure when they are arbitrarily sacked, suspended or the like. There are decided cases to corroborate the fact that while politicians don’t enjoy elongated tenure, the matter of academics and other employees who are on tenure many not be the same. Perhaps, while the Court of Appeal case between Professor Innocent Okonkwo and Imo State Government IMSU raises fundamental issues on a recondite point of law, Governor Okorocha should resolve the crisis by simply asking the Attorney general to withdraw the case from the Court of Appeal, Owerri and thereby reinstating Professor Okonkwo, more so since the court has declared him innocent of the allegations leveled against him.
I want to congratulate Professor Aloy Ukachukwu Awuzie on his new appointment as the Acting Vice Chancellor of IMSU. In fact, the appointment does not add much to his stature because, by his antecedent, he is already beyond a Vice Chancellor, so to speak. He was the President of Academic Staff Unionof Universities (ASUU) and Professor of landscape Architecture. In fact, some records state that he is the first (or is it the only) Professor of landscape Architecture in Nigeria. As President of ASUU, he was “TheFirst Academic” in Nigeria for the duration of his tenure. Still, is there any guarantee that he, Professor Awuzie, will not be sacked tomorrow, more so, since he is an independent minded academic and ,above all, after six months, the Governor can decide to drop him in the same way other Acting Vice Chancellors were removed from office unceremoniously? In an ideal situation, an Acting Vice Chancellor should not serve beyond six months. So, on a general note, a Governor who sacks an Acting Vice Chancellor after six months has committed no offence. So, a governor can always give that reason to justify the sacking of any Acting Vice Chancellor since such a sacked Acting Vice Chancellor has no locus to seek judicial intervention as he holds office at the pleasure of the Governor. He can be removed like any political appointee who is not sitting on tenure.
In a free and fair search for a Vice Chancellor, Professor Awuzie will always be the man to beat, more so, since the Visitor to the University, Governor Okorocha, now favours him. So, I still advice that Professor I.C. Okonkwo be reinstated and the search for a substantive Vice Chancellor after Professor Okonkwo should continue immediately.
One wonders why the Governing Council of IMSU which was constituted since December, 2011 has not been formally inaugurated. A situation where IMSU does not have a Governing Council for over a year is an absurdity. Again, IMSU is the only University that does not have a substantive Vice Chancellor for about three years. It’s a monstrosity which is deleterious to effective management of a normal university. Furthermore, IMSU is the only university that operates from a temporary site for over 20years. HABA!!!I am not aware of any other University with such dismal antecedents.
Tasks facing Prof Awuzie: While we await the authentic reasons for the sacking of Professor B.E.B.Nwoke,I wish to state that the new Acting Vice Chancellor, Prof,Awuzie, is a classic case of a round peg in a round hole. In keeping with the adage that “a new broom sweeps well but an old broom knows all the corners”, Prof Ukachukwu Awuzie is a combination of both a new and an old broom. He is a new broom as a newly appointed Acting Vice Chancellor and an old broom because he has been in the academia for over two decades and most of which he spent in IMSU and as Professor. Furthermore, as the former National President of ASUU, he has seen it all.
So, ceteris Paribus, it is believed that he will not only sweep well, he knows all the corners. He is expected to roll his sleeves and get down to work immediately in order to resolve the myriad of contentious issues which have made IMSU a hotbed of atavism,rancour and recrimination. One major dividend of Professor Awuzie’s appointment is that his presence will chase away all those academics in politics who have been using their positions in Governor Okorocha’s Administration to fan the embers of discord in IMSU.
Some of the problems facing IMSU include the failure to inaugurate the Governing Council of IMSU. Although members of the proposed Governing Council were appointed since December 2011,the Governing Council has yet to be formally inaugurated .The Governing Council has Prince Arthur EZE of Anambra State as the Pro-Chancellor. It is expected that Professor Awuzie will create the enabling environment to hasten the convocation and inauguration of the Governing Council.
It is pertinent to state that some members of the citizenry are not comfortable with some of the members of the proposed Governing Council. Some of the members played an active part in the travails of IMSU in the last Administration through the ignoble roles they played in the IMSU Visitation Panel and related matters. The Governor may deem it fit to rejig the list in order to enhance its performance in the long run. In fact,witth Professor Ukachukwu Awuzie in power in IMSU, it is expected that the IMSU Governing Council can be formally inaugurated before the year runs out. It is as urgent as that. Until the Governing Council is inaugurated, no reasonable progress can be done in resolving the intractable problems in the university.
Again, IMSU has been running without a substantive Vice Chancellor for over three years. This is an abnormality which must be redressed now. No meaningful work can be done in an academic environment where there is neither a Governing Council nor a substantive Vice Chancellor. It is hoped that the cankerworm of interminable crisis will be expunged from IMSU presently. An ideal university is run with a full complement of a substantive Vice Chancellor, and a Governing Council and, of course, the Senate. It shall be the responsibility of the new Acting Vice Chancellor (Prof Awuzie) kick off the machinery to get these issues resolved now.
Professor Awuzie is expected to make a strong case for the resolution of the Prof I.C.Okonkwo/IMSU case which is now in the Court of Appeal, Owerri. Governor Okorocha’s policy of withdrawing the White Paper on IMSU has been merely used to grant reprieve to some of those who were severely indicted in the IMSU Visitation White Paper report instead of using it to resolve the festering problems in IMSU.It has been used to fan the embers of selective justice. The Rescue Imo Government should decide whether it wants the case of the suspended Vice Chancellor, Professor Innocent Okonkwo, to be resolved through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) or through the regular court .In deciding which way to go, Governor Okorocha should be fully briefed on the pros and cons of the various options available to resolve this protracted logjam between the Government and Professor I.C. Okonkwo.
The Governor should be fully briefed of the lingering litigation between University of Ilorin and the 49 lecturers who were sacked by the UNILORIN in 2001.The crisis which started in 2001 are still in the courts with no end in sight. What happened was that theUnilorin sacked 49 of her academic staff on the grounds that they participated in a strike declared by ASUU. The 49 lecturers challenged their sack in court and asked to be reinstated and also to be paid all their outstanding salaries and entitlements. On July 26, 2005, the Federal High Court, Ilorin, presided over by Justice Peter Olayiwola ruled that the termination of the lecturers without giving them a fair hearing was illegal and unconstitutional. The Court ordered their reinstatement and ordered for the payment of their outstanding salaries and allowances. The university challenged the ruling in the Court of Appeal, Ilorin. On July 12, 2006, the Court of Appeal, Ilorin ruled in favour of UNILORIN when it held that the university was in order by sacking the lecturers.
The judgment of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin was challenged in the Supreme Court. On December 11, 2009, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the Federal HIGH Court, Ilorin when it held that the 49 lecturers should be reinstated and all their outstanding salaries and entitlements should be paid to date (i.e. from 2001 to date).Even now, the lecturers have gone back to court asking that the Vice Chancellor should be jailed for non-compliance with the order of court. Unilorin is finding it difficult to pay the arrears, more so, since they allege that the lecturers were in other jobs during the period of their sack. The legal tussle is ongoing and we are watching with interest. Is this what anybody wishes for IMSU?
If a court of competent jurisdiction has ruled that somebody was unjustly sacked, why is Government afraid of sitting down with the person in order to settle out of court, more so, since the university cannot appoint a substantive Vice Chancellor while the court case persists. Do we need placard –carrying students before the Government resolves this impasse? Do we need an ultimatum from the National Universities Commission (NUC) before we attend to this singular crisis which was caused by the immediate past Administration in IMO State? Governor Okoroha who won the election on the crest of a Rescue Governor and Godfather of Education in Nigeria should not have any difficulty in rescuing all those who were the victims of the gross inequities, dichotomy, and injustice of the previous Administration.
This matter has lingered because some academics at the corridors of power are giving the government toxic advice in order to serve their vested interests. Again, there is a feeling that some people both within and outside the universities are enjoying some monetary leverage as a result of the huge legal fees that are being spent to retain the services of the lawyers who are handling this messy case for IMSU. This is why the Governing Council of IMSU must be inaugurated now so that Governor Okorocha can be availed of professional advice on how to resolve this issue.
I feel reluctant to state that the Commissioner for Education has been too silent and indifferent on the leadership tussle in IMSU. Often, people forget that there is a Commissioner for Education in Imo State. The Honourable Commissioner for Education who is herself a Professor and member of The Academy should please get down to work in order to redress the anomalies in IMSU. I regret that various efforts made to seek her opinion on the stalemate in IMSU proved futile. As a revered technocrat and Professor, she should assert her right over the running of IMSU, more so, at a time when there is no Governing Council and no substantive Vice Chancellor. She should not allow meddlesome interlopers and agents of vendetta and witch hunt in the political class to hoodwink her and hijack IMSU with the sole aim of fomenting interminable crisis in the university.
The removal of Professor B.E.B. Nwoko should have been an opportunity to redress the injustice meted out to Professor Innocent Okonkwo. In fact, some youth groups in Okigwe had already indicated their willingness to accept the return of Professor Okonkwo as Vice Chancellor of IMSU. The reinstatement of Professor Okonkwo as Vice Chancellor would have obviated a new wave of agitation from the Okigwe nation who may now condemn the way and manner their son, Professor B.E.B. Nwoke, was removed; it is a missed opportunity to restore peace and tranquility in IMSU. But what does anybody lose by reinstating Professor I.C Okonkwo? Will his reinstatement pose any danger to either Imo State or to IMSU?
IMSU Permanent Site: Finally, it is heartwarming to hear that the Panel set up by Governor Okorocha to identify a suitable permanent site for IMSU has recommended Ogbaku in Mbaitoli Local Government Area. This is a perfect choice which must satisfy all interest groups inImoState. In fact, the IMSU Visitation Panel set up by Chief Ohakim recommended Ogbaku in its report on page 34 of the Government White Paper on IMSU Visitation Panel Report. Those who are pointing fingers on the Deputy Governor, Chief Jude Agbaso, are exhibiting shear perfidy and malice. On Ogbaku we stand because it is a line of least resistance. The panel that recommended OGBAKU was set up by the immediate past Governor, Chief Ikedi Ohakim. But, what is wrong with the present IMSU site in Owerri? I feel that with proper management of space, the present site can still be retained with several high rise buildings to serve the IMSU student community. Professor Ukachukwu Awuzie who incidentally is the new helmsman of IMSU is a Professor of Landscape Architecture and he is in a position to give professional/professorial advice on the suitability or otherwise of the present site to serve as permanent campus of IMSU.
All in all, I am of the opinion that the only way to restore calm and tranquility on campus is to reinstate Professor I.C. Okonkwo to serve out his tenure as substantive Vice Chancellor. Within that period, the search for a brand new substantive Vice Chancellor should commence. It is not about Professor Okonkwo per se;rather ,it is about protecting the integrity of the academics in general and the occupant of the office of Vice Chancellor(whoever he may be).
In one of my viewpoints during Chief Okakim’s tenure, I advocated for the introduction of a bill by the ASUU-IMSU which will protect and strengthen the tenure of the Vice Chancellor.In the proposed Bill,IMO Legislature will approve a Bill to the effect that before the removal of a Vice Chancellor prior to the end of his tenure, Imo State Legislature will give its assent by a 2/3 vote.
This is the only way to put an end to the arbitrary sacking of Vice Chancellors in Imsu.Since most of the members of the State Legislature are graduates coupled with the fact that the State Governor,Owelle Rochas Okorocha, is an Education-Friendly governor, any such Bill will be accorded expedited and accelerated approval. But what does anybody lose by reinstating Professor I.C Okonkwo? Will his reinstatement pose any danger to either Imo State or to IMSU? The answer is a matter for personal conjecture.
As the Acting Vice Chancellor,Professor B.E.B.Nwoke put in his best in order to move the university forward. One of the areas he exhibited a superlative performance is in the area of Inaugural Lectures. Perhaps, the inaugural lectures organized during his brief tenure supercede the total Inaugural Lectures organized since IMSU was established. It is expected that the new Vice Chancellor will keep up the tempo in those areas of excellence since management is a continuum. It is not necessary for people to embark on all manner of speculations on why he was removed as Vice Chancellor.In fact; there is no provision for an Acting Vice Chancellor in the Law establishing IMSU. Again, the creation of the office of the Acting Vice Chancellor in IMSU is an AD HOC arrangement which should not last beyond six months. So, if Professor B.E.B.Nwoke served over a year,it is possible that the Visitor of IMSU,Governor Okorocha, removed him as Acting Vice Chancellor because he has overstayed his tenure and not because he committed any offence or because he hails from a particular Senatorial Zone as is now being speculated by propagandists and those who do not wish IMSU well.However, this is a personal opinion as I am not speaking for either the Government or for Professor B.E.B.Nwoko.IMO is in the Hands of God.
JOHN I. MGBE