“SACK” OF VICE CHANCELLORS AND APPOINTMENT OF NEW ONES: THE ROLE OF A VISITOR IN UNIVERSITY ADMINISTRATION

“If the President or Visitor takes over the duty of the Council to appoint a Vice-Chancellor, he has acted ultra-vires. It must be added that the Ministry of Education or the NUC has no legal right whatsoever to direct the term of appointment or order the Council to act in a particular manner in the appointment of Vice Chancellor which is a matter exclusively within the jurisdiction of the Governing Council”.

On the 12th February 2016, the Minister of Education announced the appointment of new Vice-Chancellors for 12 Federal Universities and the National Open University (NOUN). This development was reported in the media the following day as the “sack” of the Vice Chancellors of the said Universities. Some eight months ago, particularly on the 16th July, 2015, the Federal Government announced the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to dissolve the Governing Board of Federal Parastatals, agencies and institutions. The announcement was reminiscent of the announcement made by late President Yar’Adua when the Governing Council of all Universities was dissolved. What we have witnessed over the years is unwarranted interference with the statutory powers of University Council leading to instability in that sector.

Following the outcry of the dissolution of Governing Council last year by Buhari Government including my articles on the illegality of the dissolution of University Councils by government, the Buhari Government announced on the 1st of August, 2015 that the Governing Council of Universities were not affected by the dissolution “for the time being”.

As it was last year when the recent “sack order” was announced, concerned stakeholders continue to question the wisdom of the decision of the government to “sack” the vice Chancellors and appoint new ones in their stead. This concerns stem primarily from the fact that the responsibility for the appointment of Vice Chancellors is by the provisions of the University Miscellaneous Act, solely that of the Governing Councils of each University. Each University Establishment Act provides this much. For example, item 3 of the first Schedule to the Federal University Otuoke (Establishment) Act 2015 provides as follows:

“The Vice Chancellor
3. The procedure for the appointment and removal of the Vice -Chancellor shall be in accordance with the provision of the University (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1993 as amended.”

To be clear, it may not be absolutely correct that the Government sacked all the Vice Chancellors. From available information the tenure of some of the Vice Chancellors had expired and they had as a matter of fact handed over to acting Vice Chancellors. In a statement on the matter, the Committee of Vice Chancellors stated as follows:

“For the nine Federal Universities established in 2011, except the Federal University Oye-Ekiti, the tenure of the vice-chancellors expired on Feb. 15, hence it will be wrong to say they are being sacked. For the three new Federal Universities at Birnin Kebi, Gashua and Gusau, and that of Oye-Ekiti, we are surprised that new vice-chancellors were announced to have been appointed, as this does not conform to the extant practice in the university system.The vice-chancellor at Oye-Ekiti was appointed after the pioneer Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, was named Minister.

The vice-chancellors have inviolable tenure of five years; the situation is even made worse by the announced appointment of a new vice-chancellor for NOUN, which is no stranger to the statutory process of appointing a vice-chancellor.

We plead that these vice-chancellors should be allowed to complete their tenure or proper statutory and transparent procedures be adopted,if they are accused of any wrong doings,’’

Given the above, the question is why government has chosen to act in the manner it has in the appointment of the Vice Chancellors. Is the government unaware of the fact that only the Governing Councils of the Universities can put in place the process of appointment of the Vice Chancellors?

Obviously it appears that the position of the law is not lost on the government for it is reported that the Governing Councils of the affected institutions were dissolved a day to the announcement of the new Vice Chancellors. This thus explains the statement of the Government in August 2015 that the Councils had been exempted from dissolution “for the time being”.

However this itself raises serious questions. Why did the Government not permit the governing councils that had begun the process of appointing new Vice Chancellors complete them before the dissolution?

Alternatively, the government could have waited to reconstitute the Governing Councils of the Universities so that they could perform their statutory duties of appointment of new Vice Chancellors. What is discernible however from this all is that the President in making these appointments has purported to act in his capacity as Visitor to these universities. It is however my view that such capacity does not empower the Visitor to a university to act outside of its laws.

A UNIVERSITY VISITOR

Those universities and colleges which were originally founded by Royal Charter have Visitors. The Visitors exercise supervisory roles over the domestic affairs of the institutions, including entertaining and ruling on complaints by students which cannot be resolved through the internal procedures of the institution.

In England, the Visitor of most universities is the Crown acting through the Lord Chancellor or the Lord President of the Privy Council. Other Visitors are eminent persons who are either specified in the Charter establishing the institutions or appointed by the governing body.

VISITORS IN NIGERIAN UNIVERSITY SYSTEM

Nigerian universities also have provisions in the Acts establishing them, for Visitors. For instance, Section 13(1) of the University of Ilorin Act provides that the President of Nigeria shall be the Visitor of the University.

This is similar to Section 15(1) of the Federal University, Otuoke Act (2015) which provides as follows:
“The President shall be the Visitor to the University.

Section of the Act also provides as follows:
The visitor shall, as often as circumstances may require, not being less than once every five years, conduct a visitation of the University or direct that such a visitation be conducted by such persons as the Visitor may deem fit and in respect of any of the affairs of the University.

The Questions is: Has the Visitor the power to dissolve the Council or appoint Vice Chancellor to the university particularly where a University has been established and a Council has been established by law? The answer is emphatic NO. We have a plethora of cases where this issue had been argued and decided to a finality.

1. In the case of Okaru v. Ndili 1989, 4 NWLR (Pt. 118) Pg. 700. Where the head of government, head of state he is in one capacity dealing with matter of state and in another capacity dealing with affairs of university. In latter capacity, he is Visitor, pure and simple.
2. In Olaofe v. University of Ibadan, 2001 10 NWLR (Pt. 720) Pg. 126, the Court held: The office of the visitor is a creation of statute. Thus, a Visitor cannot have more powers than those set up in the statute of creation of university.

There is no doubt whatever that if the President or Visitor takes over the duty of the Council to appoint a Vice-Chancellor, he has acted ultra-vires. It must be added that the Ministry of Education or the NUC has no legal right whatsoever to direct the term of appointment or order the Council to act in a particular manner in the appointment of Vice Chancellor which is a matter exclusively within the jurisdiction of the Governing Council.

To be continued

AARE AFE BABALOLA SAN, CON.

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