By Prof Chima Onuoha (The University of Portharcourt)
Few years ago, it was almost impossible for those being assessed for the professorial cadre (Readers and Professors) to know their external assessors. As an external assessor to over 10 universities, it is embarrassing to get calls from those being assessed, thus:
(a). “Sir, have you received my papers”.
(b). “Sir, I am told that you are my external assessor, kindly help me”.
(c). “Sir, can I know the outcome of my assessment”, etc.
Some may even go into a subtle religious blackmail of praying for you and your family if you assess them positively. What is really going on in the system? Be sure that these are the VC’s boys or cronies. Who gave them the names and phone numbers of their assessors?
For those of us who had no godfathers, worse still, were labour activists; very vocal and courageous; had not worked in our home states; abhor hero worshipping or sycophancy; had no political strings to pull (powerful traditional rulers, senators, Rep members, ministers – to intervene for us); or blackmailing instruments to fall back on (no alibi or sentiments, like – nativity, locality, state of origin, catchment area); etc, we never cared to know our external assessors. We were just prepared, since it was unlikely to get undeserved favours. In other words, the concept of VC’s boys is diluting or polluting the external assessment processes. This definitely is not god for the system.
This concept encourages what Abraham Nwankwo called Top-Tropism. This is the inordinate quest or penchant by young people to get to the top (very rapidly) without adequate grounding or experiences in their previous ranks. This is aided by an empire-building chief executive or weak system. A good number of VC’s boys suffer from the Peter Principle, propagated by Lawrence J. Peter. It states “in a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”. This principle applies to all organizations. Most universities have income-yielding units, particularly institutes or centres. Regrettably, these ‘boys’ are often appointed as heads of these revenue-generating units. Top-Tropism and Peter Principle, combined, are leading to the running down of these units in most universities. Instead of baking bigger cakes, they are only interested in eating the available cake. Ab initio, they don’t even have the skills to bake any cake – small or big. They also don’t have any marketing strategy to sell the products/services given to them. In one university, the director and his deputy (all VC’s boys) of a viable academic centre were known members of two leading but opposing political parties in this country. Unfortunately, they could not take the advantage of their political connections to grow the place in terms of attracting more students. Rather, the population of the students they inherited continued to reduce year in, year out for a period of 4 years. In another academic centre, allocation of courses was not based on merit or competence but on a very narrow ethnic consideration. Being a high profile academic centre, in terms of the caliber of the students, and the huge school fees, of course, these students complained and resisted these ethnic cum weak lecturers. Surely, they want value for their money. Some of the vicious ones sponsor the disappearance of colleagues’ documents (assessment documents) and personal files.
Another inanity which the concept of VC’s boys has introduced into the university system is ‘morbid loyalty’. Someone, say a Dean or director. will see a colleague, mostly junior colleagues, and say: “Look, you have not come to my office for two weeks now, you are not loyal”. Or, “I saw you in the company of that other Professor, you are not loyal” or “I didn’t get your birthday message on my birthday, you are not loyal”. That is when it is not “If you comment on that Professor’s write-ups again, you are not loyal”. Or, “If you don’t vote my anointed candidate, it means that you are not loyal, and I will never forgive you in my life”. It could also be “If you don’t convene the meeting to rectify the list of candidates for employment in your department, you are not loyal”, etc.
Being loyal also means bringing negative reports or stories about rivals or enemies. Why all the quest to dominate the environment or craze for lordship?
They openly antagonize or threaten any person not supporting their candidate(s) in any election or contest. It does not really matter if the person one is supporting is a long-time friend, benefactor or relation. What kind of self-centered or greedy persons are these? Not only that it is unfortunate that they do this brazenly, but the tragedy is that adults (enlightened minds like lecturers) succumb to these empty threats. Are they your God? When they are not threatening, they are making promises, which from day one, they don’t intend to honour. Again, people fall into this power cum fake trap. It is pathetic!
In a particular federal university, there was a long-term succession plan at the entire university level. Efforts were also made by some of the boys to replicate such long-term succession plan in their faculties. This is strategic positioning akin to the Berlin Conference of 1884/1885. In that conference, European countries partitioned Africa among themselves. Some of the boys became so audacious by such prospects because, to them, the whole university is populated by ‘banana’ men and women. They will always overlook providence, divinity, destinies, environmental influences and other persons’ capacities or strategies, etc. Just raw greed …
Some institutes or academic centres have external funding or joint funding with the host universities. These external funding organizations, expectedly, insist on competent and renowned Professors as the directors of these institutes and often withhold their funds if less qualified persons are put forward. We have instances where if no suitable VC’s boy is qualified to hold such high caliber positions, some tyrannical or less visionary Vice-Chancellors preferred that these funding organizations keep their money. Sometimes, the money runs into millions or billions of naira.
Regrettably, the facilities in those units remain idle, under-utilized, or start to deteriorate, and the society is denied of their services. We keep talking of universities impacting the environment positively. How can this happen with such backward mindset of some Vice Chancellors?
It amounts to arrogance, insensitivity, or stupidity that while many Vice Chancellors are working very hard to attract more funds to their organizations, others are rejecting funds, and mortgaging future funding prospects because of his/her un-qualified boys.
In addition to administrative prowess, one of the major criteria for appointing presidents of American universities is ability to attract enormous goodwill and funding to their organizations. It is, therefore, not surprising that many notable American universities (Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, MIT, Penn, Columbia, just to mention a few) have huge endowment funds running into billions of Dollars. For example, Harvard University alone has about $40 billion endowment fund (2020). The huge financial resources, in turn, enable these institutions to impact the environment and society positively. Check out the role of Stanford University in the emergence, visibility and prominence of Silicon Valley in California, USA. In a particular university, the Vice Chancellor was at logger head with virtually all the stakeholders of the university. Where will the goodwill and funding come from?
For three and half years, I was the Director of Consultancy, Linkages and Revenue Mobilization (COLIREMU) in my former university – Abia State University, Uturu. My experience showed that the willingness of individuals and corporate bodies to assist any university depends on the perception and respect they have for the chief executive of the organization. Luckily, my boss – the Vice Chancellor, Prof Ogwo E. Ogwo, was held in high esteem by all and sundry. Having a cantankerous, capricious or highly legalistic chief executive will be a big minus in this direction. So, to attract goodwill and funding, Vice Chancellors and potential ones should take note of this fact.
Some outstanding scholars with research prowess have the knack for attracting research grants, equipment, fellowship and exchange programmes to their institution. If unfortunately, these scholars fall into real or perceived enemies of a vicious Vice Chancellor, rather than take the credit, the university will be ready to forfeit them. Meanwhile, there is no evidence in most universities, for obvious reasons, that most VC’s boys attracted funds, equipment (like generators, vehicles), scholarships, grants or professorial endowments to their universities.
Some institutes and academic centres run courses or programmes that are domiciled in certain faculties. It is, therefore, natural and the practice that the directors and deputy directors come from the servicing faculties. Currently, some empire-building Vice Chancellors and their greedy boys are now taking these positions to other departments or faculties that have no courses or programmes offered in these institutes or centres. Where the servicing faculty has many Professors or senior academics, this usually creates disaffection or low morale in the system. The main tragedy is that these Professors and their faculties for whatever reason could not protest or resist this administrative recklessness. It appears to me that the spirit of ‘banana-ness’ is being entrenched in the university system. We are beginning to have emperors as Vice Chancellors. They can do anything they like and get away with it.
Given the many shortcomings of Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), ASUU instructed her members not to enlist. Unfortunately, in many departments and faculties, the VC’s boys were coercing and intimidating their colleagues to register into IPPIS. In my faculty, I advised my fellow members not to register. I told them that in addition to having honour, they don’t have much to lose. My prediction came to pass. How can an ASUU leader like myself disobey my union? It will be infragid. Today, everybody is crying. Many lecturers are not paid for months, those paid receive about 50% less of their salaries. With this dislocation in financial planning, many university staff are unable to meet their loan and other financial commitments. Meanwhile, majority of the proponents of IPPIS have salary as their only source of income.
The Igbos will always say that the heart is a bag, full of deceits. When an ‘oga-at-the-top’ leaves office, most of his or her boys will abandon him or her and start moving towards the new oga. That explains why people are lonely, if not in melancholy, when they leave exalted positions. They will realize belatedly that most people flocking around them are fakes or these so for entirely personal benefits.
On closer observation, the VC’s boys should know, though they may pretend, that at end of the day, because they would have stepped on many toes, knowingly and brazenly, they will have more enemies than friends. They will also have damaged reputation. They will inherit all their oga’s known and hidden enemies. And whatever benefits they got, with time, patience, ako-na-uche, God’s grace, others will surely get them. So, what the heck?
Before I am completely misunderstood … It is important to emphasize that not all the VC’s boys gloat or suffer from ‘arrival syndrome’ or ready to insult people including their superiors. Some have been able to manage the privilege of being close to or direct beneficiaries of the powers that be. They are conscious that every position and power are transient. I know of one university where one VC’s boy was so careful, intelligent and humble that he effectively managed all his relationships with people. He was the Dean of Student Affairs. He treated everyone equitably, respectfully, and unassumingly. He didn’t step on anybody’s toe. He did not block anyone’s chances of getting his/her privileges or rights. He didn’t need to make enemies for himself or inherit another persons’ enemy. That is wisdom. He is just a good Christian – a Catholic. Of course, everybody observed these special qualities and love him.
For many years, I was also a VC’s boy like few others. We were restricted to the responsibilities of our offices, teaching, research and publications. We were bold enough to say our minds. We were never involved in admission racketeering, contracts, employments, the process of appointing Vice Chancellors, legal tussles. Promotions were not packaged for us. We were not used to destabilize ASUU. Let me quickly add, we were radical and courageous enough to resist any unwholesome request or order. We worked under a hard-working, highly disciplined, unassuming, non-acquisitive and incorruptible Vice Chancellor – Prof Ogwo E. Ogwo.
If I am a CEO of any organization like a university, I will surround myself with research-oriented persons, those that have a pedigree in administrative prowess, superb inter-personal relations and entrepreneurial mindset. Those courageous enough to point out my mistakes or excesses. I will be very careful with those only interested in sharing available cake. I need those with wealth creating abilities – helping to bake bigger cakes for all and sundry.
In conclusion, I offer my little wise counsel. If you have been a victim of these over-zealous VC’s boys, be a man. Learn how to persevere or carry cross. Expect undeserved persecutions. Be like the Jews. For me, I am born and trained into toughness – ability to withstand pressures, vicissitudes of life and persecutions. I am always happy. I dance regularly. I don’t give my traducers or persecutors cause to be happier than me. Rather, it is the other way round. My gregarious nature and peace of mind give them great concerns/worries. I will continue to adore God throughout my life for His mercies and grace.
All victims should take solace in the fact that all positions and power are transient in nature. Refer to my article – Spiritual Angle to Development, early April 2020. Murder is not only physical killing. If any of these boys can identify those they deliberately (through set ups, lies, fabrication of stories) contributed to their suspension or sack; played roles in their delayed or non-promotion; disappearance of their documents including personal files; delayed or non-regularization of their appointments; denied employments or contracts; etc, they should go personally to them and seek forgiveness. If they cannot identify all, they should go to those they could and fervently continue to pray to Almighty God for forgiveness for the others. This spiritual cleansing or atonement is also applicable to every other sector of our national life. This is my innocuous advice, which they are free to take or leave. I guess that it will be in their best interest to listen to me – the favoured son of God. I am still thinking aloud …