The Lagos State government recently dismissed insinuations of surreptitious attempts to impose a new vice-chancellor on the state -owned university. It assured all stakeholders that the next vice-chancellor of the Lagos State University (LASU) would be selected based strictly on provisions of the law guiding such appointment as well as on merit. But despite these official assurances, there is a growing apprehension among critical stakeholders in the state that what should be a straightforward process has been marred by petty politics and underhand dealings. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu will do well to move quickly in dispelling any such notion in the interest of LASU.
For more than one year now, the state government has found it difficult to appoint a ninth substantive vice-chancellor to replace the last occupant, even after setting up two different committees for that purpose. There are allegations of clandestine plots to compromise the selection process to achieve a predetermined end, with accusing fingers pointing in the direction of the governor. This lack of faith in a process that has dragged on endlessly recently degenerated into a crisis, pitting the university’s Joint Council and Senate Selection Committee against the LASU chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
Unfortunately, crisis over the appointment of a VC has become deeply entrenched in the ivory towers, particularly in government-owned institutions, both in the states and at federal levels. Before the raging malady at LASU, a similar scenario had played out at the University of Ibadan, University of Lagos, Ambrose Alli University (AAU), Ekpoma, University of Jos (UNIJOS), Federal University, Oye-Ekiti and Federal University, Dutse, among others. In the case of the University of Lagos, the war of attrition was between the governing council and a VC who was deposed without due process.
In all, what we have seen in recent times is that the office of the VC has been unduly politicised. It is often left to the whims and manipulation of the Visitors (president in the case of federal universities and governors for those owned by states) who regard the position as another form of patronage for their acolytes. But failure and disregard for laid down criteria that shut out distinguished scholars with proven teaching and research record can only lead to dire outcomes as we have seen in a few cases. Ultimately, it is the university that bears the brunt when standards are lowered to favour half-baked candidates with limited prerequisite qualifications.
Meanwhile, the reason for the politicisation of the office is obvious. The post of the VC is attractive considering the influence whoever occupies the position peddles. VCs not only dispense patronage, they also chair the appointments and promotions committees, which also entitle them to determine external assessors of professorial candidates. By extension, they determine the career progression of many of their peers and colleagues. That is why many now lobby for the job.
Although the Lagos State University Law gives Sanwo-Olu the power to appoint LASU VC as the university’s visitor, he has been accused of overbearing influence on the process through the dissolution of the institution’s 11th governing council based on the recommendation of a Special Visitation Panel he established. Unfortunately, this allegation is one of the grounds why the LASU crisis is festering to the point where there have been accusations and counter accusations between the school’s senate and academic staff union. This neither helps the university nor whatever point the governor is trying to prove.
We urge the Lagos State government to expedite action by appointing a new VC for LASU through a transparent process.