When Intervention wondered whether it is congratulations or commiseration that Prof Kyari Mohammed deserved upon his recent appointment as Vice-Chancellor of the Nigerian Army University, Biu, (https://intervention.ng/19478/), a Professor of Fulani identity sent a short reaction saying “Both congratulation and commiseration, I suppose. It’s a challenge and opportunity, however you look at it but the Kanuri warrior, groomed by Fulani throughout his career at MAUTECHY can handle it”
That reaction came to mind when news filtered in that Prof Kyari went to resume as VC of the new university, thereby bringing back memories of another similar story years back. Prof Attahiru Jega had just been appointed Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano in September 2005 and Nigerian academia was in some uproar about it. Most academics were wondering how a former president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASUU) could fit into the club of Vice-Chancellors perceived to be a key part of the problem of the university system. And Prof Jega was confronted at a gathering in his honour at Sheraton Hotel in Abuja. “How are you going to come out clean from this hole you are creeping into now” would be a nice way to put what his interrogators were throwing at him.
When it was time to respond, Jega told the story of a young man who was seen as heading for a big trouble if he was not careful. In fact, the young man’s father told him he was actually in a hot Okro soup. To the father’s surprise, this young man told the Dad, “I will lick it”. It was Jega’s own way of saying he was going into the job with all his eyes open, sure to manoeuver to safety. Moving from the Vice-Chancellorship to INEC Chair can only be interpreted to mean that he did not soil his hands in the VC job. Rather, he was able to lick the hot Okro soup in a manner as to leave there to an even more challenging national task.
Something similar is happening with Prof Kyari. Although he is not as much a household name as Jega, he is no less the activist’s activist. It is not clear if any caucus has called him to Sheraton or somewhere in Kaduna to warn that he is creeping into a hot Okro soup but the university system is tougher than the time Prof Jega was being appointed VC 15 years ago. Also, BUK, a very lucky university in many respects, was a much more established place than the Army university which is still a pie in the air at this point.
By resuming, Prof Mohammed is saying he will lick the hot Okro soup the way Jega must have done it although each of them confronts a different set of problems. While Jega’s was how a former president of ASUU was going to implement some of the government policies that most academics perceive to be slave boy errands for the IMF, the World Bank and other controllers of global political economy, Kyari’s would be the disturbing level of decay in the system over which most activists cannot sleep because they believe Nigerian undergraduates deserve a better deal.
The Nigerian Army University, Biu might be luckier than the rest in terms of the ingredients for plausible exceptionalism. For one, it will end up being the beneficiary of all the problem-solving experience its pioneer VC must have accumulated from MAUTECHY, (Modibbo Adama University of Technology, Yola).