By Prof Chima Onuoha, (University of Portharcourt)
In the political lexicon and life of this country, it is common to read or hear about the cabal in the Presidency, Kaduna Mafia, Langtang Mafia, Magu Boys (or the Chairman’s team), the General Overseer’s boys (GO’s Boys), etc. The cabal in the Presidency consists of very few individuals close to the President. They make or influence all the strategic decisions in the country, and by extension, how the nation’s resources are shared or used. Kaduna Mafia consists of highly astute northern politicians and technocrats. Their main job is to ensure that the strategic interests of northern Nigeria are protected or secured. During the military era, Langtang in present Plateau State was known to have produced a good number of top military officers who were also occupying strategic positions in government and the armed forces. They were the Langtang Mafia. The actions and inactions of Magu – the former Acting Chairman of EFCC and his boys (or the Chairman’s team) are currently under investigation by Justice Salami Panel. So I won’t comment further on that.
The ‘GO’s Boys’ are the children, relations, in-laws and few favoured pastors of the General Overseer – the founder or owner of a church. They are often posted to strategic, visible and rich parishes or stations (mainly in the big cities) including overseas. They head important and more rewarding units in the church headquarters. The non-GO’s boys are posted to rural or less visible cum poor areas. When you see these GO’s boys, their wives and children, you will see a remarkable difference in appearance with the non-GO’s boys and their own families. I was discussing informally with a colleague who was wondering why all the younger brothers of a popular church owner in this country should be pastors. And working in his church. I then asked him what type of employment in Nigeria (either in the private or public sector) given the prosperity-seeking nature and emphasis of the church can give these young men the kind of wealth they have? Favouritism also takes place in the orthodox churches like the Anglican and Catholic churches, but to a very limited extent. This is because they have very long history of administrative structure, which helps to reduce idiosyncrasies. Again, their orientation and emphasis are on soul-winning and eternity, as against prosperity. The celibacy vow of the Catholic Reverend Fathers also makes the tendency for acquisitiveness unnecessary. I hope that I am not derailing…
It is always desirable to have a small group of persons in an organization to advice the CEO or map out strategies for success for him or her. The overall intention is to leave the organization better and stronger than the CEO met it. This body of advisors must be made up of contended, independent minded and trustworthy persons. Better still, it should be made up of CEO’s previous superiors, or very smart and intelligent younger colleagues – those that have been tested in terms of principles, expertise, objectivity, experience and not clannish. That explains why corporate organizations have board of directors and councils for tertiary institutions.
There is a new trend that has crept into the nation’s university system. It is the concept of Vice Chancellor’s Boys (VC’s Boys). The term ‘VC’s boys’ is used in generic form for those a Vice Chancellor surrounds himself or herself with and wishes to work with throughout his/her tenure. It also includes ladies/women. The achievements of the Vice Chancellor’s tenure depend on his/her personality (those in organizational behaviour talk about personality traits); his/her administrative capability and lastly; on the quality of his/her boys. It also depends on the quality of advice (wise counsels) given and utilized. My worry in this article is how this concept is currently being abused particularly, by unpopular Vice Chancellors to the detriment of the university system in Nigeria.
The question to ask is if I can justify the existence of this malady in the university system. My answer is yes. Having spent more than 33 years as an academic staff in the university system; starting as a graduate assistant; rose through the ranks; held many administrative and labour positions; been a member of the university governing council; held tenured, visiting and adjunct-ship appointments/professorships in many universities; have first-hand experiences and an ardent student of history; I am qualified enough to write on this topic.
I have closely studied some universities where this concept has been practiced. And have tried to identify the remote and immediate factors leading to the concept. The factors include:
(1).Where there was a bitter contest to the position of Vice Chancellor and an unpopular person eventually emerged. This person is ascending the throne with a baggage and probably with vendetta in mind. All contestants and senior Professors are suspects and must be avoided or ‘quarantined’. All local ASUU leaders are enemies, where a referendum is required to ascertain the acceptable candidate in the university community, is required. There was a case in one particular state university.
(2). Where the VC blackmailed the Council and other contestants to emerge. This happened in a particular federal university.
(3) Where an appointed Vice Chancellor rightly or wrongly feels that he knows it all, cannot take wise counsels from his/her seniors/superiors, is highly egoistic, has dictatorial disposition or vengeance driven. This is the case in a federal university.
(4). Where a total ‘stranger’ is imposed on a university. He or she will naturally feel resented and unaccepted. This have happened in few other universities. This tendency is most pronounced in state universities where the Governors, as Visitors, double as Emperors. Such a Vice Chancellor is not accountable to the internal stakeholders of the university. Hero-worshipping the Governor is enough.
Any chief executive that so much crave for ‘banana’ boys – unquestioning boys, is also suffering from the ‘social reproduction theory’. In a nutshell, this theory talks about the tendency of entities or persons to significantly reproduce the qualities they personify. In this case, to reproduce personalities who are all-knowing, vendetta-driven, greedy, pugnacious, empire-building, power drunk and suppressed complex. A popular saying has it thus: “put a small man in a big office, he has two choices: to shrink the office to his size or grow to the size of the office”.
Where can VC’s boys be recruited from? Mostly from lecturers 1 and senior lecturers or from those who feel marginalized by the system like delayed promotions. The senior lecturers among this group are quickly promoted to Readers and Professors. They are too fresh as senior academics to oppose or contradict the Vice Chancellor. In fact, they are perpetually grateful to their benefactor – the Vice Chancellor. There may be few older professors that need serious rehabilitation, or who have not done well for themselves materially or career wise, maybe very eager to be VC’s boys (not men). Having mortgaged their seniority or status, they are also treated like boys. For example, in a particular university, there was violent students’ riot. The school was closed down. The almighty VC gathered his boys in his lodge and arrogantly told them that he doesn’t need students to survive or run a university. No single ‘boy’ had the gut to correct that erroneous statement. That without students, there wouldn’t be any university or there is no need for the services of university workers – academic and non-teaching. How about the adverse effects of school closure on the economy of the host communities and other stakeholders? The boys were all hailing him. Can someone like me be there without educating him on the far reaching implications of school closure on all strategic stakeholders of the university including himself and lecturers. In any case, this man has little or no knowledge about the economy or development.
The VC’s boys often assign themselves certain duties and responsibilities, in addition to the mundane ones by their boss. These include:
(1) They are the gossip machine of the Vice Chancellor. They make effective use of gossips if they have studied the oga and found out that he or she likes and makes use of gossips. They also ‘fabricate’ stories against their rivals or enemies to the VC.
(2). They are ever ready to ‘attack’ real or perceived enemies of the ‘oga at the top’.
(3).They regularly and religiously defend the actions and inactions of the VC. The VC cannot make mistakes even when his decisions are having negative impacts on the system. The defense is done everywhere – on campus, radio and television stations, newspaper publications, etc. He or she is infallible.
(4). They are readily available to be used to sabotage unions’ efforts, if not in the narrow interest of the VC. They do all these things to show total (if not blind) loyalty to the chief executive. The boys’ actions, sometimes, self-serving create more problems and needless enemies for the chief executive officer.
(5). They mobilize themselves for the IPPIS saga.
What are the benefits of being a VC’s boy or in the camp of VC’s boys? They are many and include:
(a). Rapid promotion I mentioned earlier. Sometimes, promotions are ‘packaged’ for the boys. One can fail promotion interviews two or three times, no problem, the person will still be promoted or converted from non-teaching to academic. Someone not from the lecturer’s field/discipline or research area can be ‘arranged’ to interview the boys. Against extant regulation or policy of the university, someone can be both external examiner and promotion interviewer, simultaneously.
(b). The boys are those posted to all the strategic units, agencies and institutes of the university.
(c). It is only the VC’s boys that are entitled to renewal of appointments in their various positions/institutes (not based on performance or competence) or arbitrary elongation of tenure at the expiration of their statutory periods.
(d).In a university where there are many senior and competent professors, some of the more favoured, or ingratiated VC’s boys may hold multiple appointments or positions. And they are flaunted brazenly to the resentment of the university community.
(e). Employment, contracts and other favours can be secured through the boys. They are also involved in admission racketeering for themselves and their boss.
(f). The VC’s boys and their own loyal boys are mostly the beneficiaries of TETFUND and other staff development programmes.
(g).They can get university accommodation faster than others. The list of applicants in the Housing unit is irrelevant. They can be given accommodation above their status/ranks. In other words, they are given accommodations designed for their senior/superior colleagues. In everything or policy, there are exceptions. Where there are security issues or challenge, I support that a university can provide accommodation to staff in this category. Human lives are sacrosanct and irreplaceable. Another exception is when an expatriate is being engaged.
(h). If there are disciplinary issues hanging on their heads, these can be overlooked. Sometimes, they become untouchables – not attending lectures, submitting results very late, do anything with impunity, etc.
(i). Some of the most powerful boys, for their own ‘strategic’ selfish goals, can influence who to promote and who not to; when papers for external assessments will be sent out and those to be dumped or disappeared; whose employment will be regularized, delayed and who will not; who to give official positions above their superiors; can also make frantic efforts to determine people’s destinies; etc. In all, they overlook the role of God in other people’s lives.
What are the demerits of VC’s boys in the university system? They are many and highly dysfunctional.
- If a university is unlucky to have a gossip-listening Vice Chancellor or one on a vendetta mission, or suffering from any form of complex, some of his or her vicious boys, will take that opportunity to run down their rivals or enemies, to their own advantage.
- VC’s boys exhibit blind loyalty, to the point of ‘ass licking’. They don’t think through any instruction given to them by an empire-building Vice Chancellor, however absurd. They are ready tools in sabotaging their union – NASU/SSANU/ASUU. Any person that had attained the exalted rank of a professor before the emergence of a Vice Chancellor, begged to be VC’s boy cannot be a role model or good academic leader to the younger or junior colleagues. Imagine a senior professor being asked to sabotage ASUU by joining a splinter group/union sponsored by the vice chancellor! And you see him or her sitting in front roll like a primary school pupil in their meeting. Or sitting at the back roll and covering his/her face like a thief caught in the market square. A professor should have some honour; should not be a rubber stamp to any administration. It is even funny that a Professor will be ready to answer a patron of a splinter union.
- The blind loyalty from his or her boys often leads to a Vice Chancellor to suffer from ‘messiah complex’ or ‘superiority complex’. In a particular university, a Vice Chancellor had a 20-year succession plan – his own 5-year tenure and three other tenures of 5 years for three of his boys. It is either he erroneously assumed that there are no other men in that university; or he was playing god. If this plan succeeds, the university system will start having its equivalent of political god-fatherism.
- The existence of VC’s boys in the university system negatively affects work ethics. Instead of engaging in serious research and development; publishing outstanding articles; taking their teaching or work seriously; or impacting the environment/society positively; enormous efforts are expended in the rat race to belong to that ‘privileged’, or ‘immune’ group.
- The awareness that some staff are holding multiple appointments while other equally qualified (if not more qualified) persons have none create resentment, poor attitude to work, and other wasteful organizational practices in the system. Some of the elements of wasteful organizational practices include: avoiding responsibility, spreading accountability, hoarding authority, formalism and ritualism, bureaucratic sabotage, and stalemate. For lack of space, detailed discussion of these wasteful practices and their managerial, morale/performance implications is outside the scope of this article. The other preferential treatments given to them like – TETFUND programmes – scholarships, research grants, and conference sponsorships, sabbatical approvals, money to publish books, etc, have debilitating effects on the system.