In democracy, government is not just about nominating people into power, providing services and representing people; it is also about building and defending institutions, setting standards, being accountable and transparent. In dealing with their universities, which is part of my own most immediate constituency, the Governors of Edo and Ekiti states, Mr Adams Oshiomole and Dr Kayode Fayemi, have missed many opportunities to act as true patriotic democrats should operate whilst dealing with matter of the state. Like many are quick to point out, albeit sometimes conveniently, it is important to remember that the Nigerian democratic system, in which these two Governors operate, is still rather young and a lot is still work in progress, yes, but unlike many who point out that reality, I infer from it that we need to be vigilant not indulgent.
For those who missed it, here are some facts, it all started from Edo state. About exactly two weeks ago, news came across the world that the Governor of Edo State has suspended (or is it sacked?) with immediate effect, the Vice Chancellor of the Edo State owned Ambrose Alli University (AUU). The press release that made public that action was rather scanty; the crux of the statement seems to be that the Governor did it because he can. In their own words and as reported in the press: “In exercise of his powers under the Act establishing the AAU, the Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole has decided to remove the present Vice-Chancellor of Ambrose Alli University (AAU), Ekpoma, Professor Sam Uniamikogbo with immediate effect”.
If you are thinking sacking a Vice Chancellor is grave, then wait for this: like in a viral attack, just last week, another news came that the Ekiti State Governor had sacked three Vice Chancellors of the state owned universities. Like in the case of Edo State, the sacking of the University heads in Ekiti was done unceremoniously and the press release that made decision public was even less informative. The most important thing one could gather from the press release signed by special adviser to the governor on media was that “the Visitor, the Governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi, has approved the removal of the vice chancellors of the following universities in the state. The University of Ado-Ekiti, the University of Science and Technology, Ifaki-Ekiti; and the University of Education, Ikere-Ekiti” and that “It is imperative to note that the above changes are with immediate effect.”
In the absence of clear and complete explanation and indeed justification of any government action, people are left with no alternative but to speculate. Consequently, a lot of possible reasons and opinions are going around regarding the actions of the Governors. This is however very wrong. A democratic chief executive, no matter how strong or popular, has the duty to fully explain his actions to all those citizens and residents on whose behalf he is exercising his power.
In these cases, the Governors of Edo and Ekiti have missed the opportunity to show the world that they understand what it means to not only care for but also show respect for and have a high opinion of their people. They could and should have taken the time to painstakingly state their case and explain their why before dismissing their Vice Chancellors. They missed the opportunity to show the world that they understand how important an institution like a university is and that as true patriotic democrats with a sense of history they realise that these universities were there before their tenure, will be there after their tenure and that their own actions are dictated by great concerns for the future; in that case, they would have been reluctant to directly intervene and even when they finally did, their statements should have shown regret in tampering with the structure of such institutions.
Let us for a moment blindly and dangerously assume that these Governors are completely righteous and exceptionally competent politicians whose actions are solely dictated by the good of their states and that the sacked Vice Chancellors are totally bad and irremediably inept professionals, even in such a scenario, the state governors in dealing with the affairs of their universities ought to remember that their tenure in office is only for a limited period of time; two terms at most. They ought to bear in mind that after them, a self-serving scoundrel or a lucky imbecile might just come into power and consequently, it is their duty, today, to create precedents and discontinue patterns that, for any reason in the world, might allow Governors to abuse power. These two Governors have just missed the opportunity to show the world that they understand that part of what matters more than any other thing in an emerging democracy is institution building and the nurturing of independent institutions such as their universities. They missed the opportunity to teach other governors around and after them how to have power but not use it by referring the questions to the university senate or other self-regulating bodies within the university world.