IMSU VC: Between politics and performing Amazon

Posted by Collins Ughalaa | 31 May 2017 | 2,811 times

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It is important to begin with a confession: I am not in any way related or known to Prof Adaobi Obasi; and she is not known to me also, except on few occasions when our paths crossed while she was Imo State Commissioner for Education. I have always stood for justice, and that is why my family set up the Justice Foundation. Injustice means one thing everywhere in the world. That is why men who hate injustice fight against it – no matter the colour it wears – at any given time. Therefore, this intervention should not be interpreted to mean any kind of support for the ‘rescue mission’ government. 

I would like to also state that since the emergence of the rescue mission government led by Governor Rochas Okorocha six years ago, the Imo State University has been administered by acting vice chancellors appointed by the government. Okorocha started with Prof BEB Nwoke, from Umuariam-Obowo, Okigwe zone; when he was shown the way out, Prof Ukachi Awuzie from Orlu Zone took over. It was also natural that when Awuzie, a former national leader of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), was booted out, someone else should take over. And the person that took over was Prof Adaobi Obasi. She took over on June 1, 2015. Her emergence was criticised by many, including this writer, on the ground that she was related to the governor. I had argued that the woman who was said to have baby-seated or nursed Okorocha would have no mind of her own but be the perfect stooge for the governor or a perfect channel to emasculate the university. The fear was that the appointments by the governor was becoming too much of family affair. Then events began to unfold, even as she continued to serve in acting capacity, like the two others before her. 

But recently, there was an advertorial for the appointment of a substantive vice-chancellor for the university. Since this advertisement, IMSU has never been the same again, with all kinds of intrigues playing out. The problem is that Obasi has shown interest in the substantive VC position. Typically, petitions have been flying. And someone had already shamelessly circulated them in the school, among workers and students. But it appears there is a silent understanding among the majority of people I saw at IMSU the day I visited the institution. Because, as soon as the people got the petitions and read them, midway, they looked grim, sighed and tore the paper to shreds. They meant to say: “This is rubbish”, or “We don’t have time for this rubbish.”

It appears there is a new approach to pull down a woman who, per chance, has out-performed her predecessors since 2011. And former acting VC and ex-ASUU boss, Prof Awuzie, is said to be at the forefront of the campaign. Awuzie does not seem to appreciate that he was still in acting capacity as VC when he was removed. But he claims he was illegally and ingloriously removed and should be recalled and made the substantive VC. I thought Awuzie had some shame. But I was wrong. Many people in IMSU believe that Awuzie was part of the mess in IMSU, which was inherited by the current VC. IMSU staffers said that staff morale was at its ebb when Awuzie was in charge. They said that the former Ag VC and labour activist did not care a bit about human capacity development, and that during his reign payment of salaries was a big issue. They accused him of running in IMSU with high-level secrecy, employing divide and rule tactics. They opined that “under Awuzie and BEB Nwoke, IMSU lost accreditation in major courses. Yet, they did not do anything about it, notwithstanding that we shouted to the rooftops. Now he wants to return in full substantive capacity,” a source disclosed. 

No one can really forget the stories making the rounds in the campus about a VC that was a drug-addict and how he was messing up the ladies in the school, striking their buttocks publicly. In fact, the summation of his character was that he was a reckless person who had no values and decorum. He was accused of pioneering the current trend of sorting in the institution, which Adaobi is currently battling with, in order to return the institution to its past glory.  

But there is an ugly turn in the whole drama. This ugly turn is coming from a very familiar quarter, Owerri zone. They are up again with the complaint of marginalisation, and I don’t understand it anymore. On daily basis, Owerri zone mesmerises us with the claim of marginalisation. They want to play politics with virtually everything. This marginalisation mantra has been taken to a ridiculous level by the people of Owerri, and they now think or behave the rest of Imo State are fools. Why should Owerri zone play politics with IMSU and the position of the VC? Does it mean an average Owerri man cannot compete in a free and fair environment with opponents? Why whipping up sentiment all the time? In fact, if anybody attaches any more value or merit to the complaint of marginalisation by Owerri zone, count me out of it. I see it as joke taken too far. This cry from Owerri people has become very childish and nauseating. It has lost aroma and, therefore, holds no attraction, except that it provides a veritable opportunity for the incompetent and those suffering from a complex to hide their faces. 

I do not see why the show of interest by Prof Obasi to become the substantive Vice-Chancellor of IMSU should create problems for anybody, or be interpreted to mean discriminating against Owerri zone. By this claim, Owerri zone is taking the rest of the state hostage and threatening us for ransom. Owerri zone does not know that the rest of the state is marginalised by the concentration of development in their area. Mention that the government would relocate IMSU to another zone, and you would see Owerri threaten fire and brimstone. Then, leave the university on their soil and they would complain they are not producing the VC. I would like Owerri zone to agree to let the university be relocated to my village and let them have the VC position perpetually. The Owerri man pretends about the quantum leap in the development in their area, as a result of the concentration of higher institutions and other government (including federal) establishments on their soil. As a matter of fact, I have rooms in the village that are wasting away, whereas the man in Owerri would be making real money from his. But they put it to us that it is nothing, whereas to us, it is a lot of development. 

My point is not that Owerri man does not deserve to be the VC of IMSU. My point is that it is not as of right, because whatever right an Owerri man has to become the VC of IMSU is a shared right. Therefore, the issue of being marginalised should be very far from it. That IMSU is located in Owerri does not confer on any Owerri man any greater right or privilege than the man from Oguta, because anybody can be the VC, provided such a person is qualified to so hold the office. Also, it does not mean that the VC of IMSU must be someone from Imo State. The state government could decide to appoint someone from Anambra State the VC of IMSU, after all, someone from Imo State, Mbaise precisely, is the VC of Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UNIZIK) Awka. He is a friend to my in-law, and no one has asked for his removal. 

We should isolate IMSU and other higher institutions of learning in the state from the dirty grip of politics. My concern here is that for years now, the educational sector in the state has taken a downward trend. And we need something more than an emergency in that sector to restore sanity in it, so that we can have a glorious future once again. Removing politics from academics in Imo State would mean that the politics of zoning and marginalisation should not be heard of. If we zone the governorship of the state to rotate among the three zones of the state, we should not attempt to do so with academics, where we should only promote intellectual excellence. 

I was thinking that the academic community should show the state a pathway to follow out of the doldrums. But I have been proved wrong. Because if the people of Owerri zone could elevate the position of the VC of IMSU to zoning, then we should know that we have greater problems on our hands. Because it also points out the fact that the problem with Imo State is not just with the politicians, but also with those in the academia, who has proffered no solutions to the myriads of problem now bedeviling the state. 

Those who throw up the zoning question in relation to the vice-chancellorship should understand that about five years ago the capacity of workers, particularly lecturers, was at an all-time low, because those at the helm chose to play clannish politics, to the exclusion of those who did not belong. We saw the glorification of corruption in the institution, because they were always tasking people: be it the registrar, bursar, dean, etc, for returns. They were involved in admission racketeering that brought down the standard for which IMSU was known. It used to be that right from 2011 admission into IMSU was up for grabs by the highest bidder. But with the arrival of Obasi, the first thing we saw was that one could get admission on merit in IMSU, as it used to before 2011. Even if one could argue that it is not perfect, the fact that there has been a tremendous deviation in the manner of getting admission into IMSU cannot be ignored. Prof Awuzie did not resolve this problem but passed it on.  

But we now have an Ag VC who saw all the problems and, despite her close relationship with the governor, she was able to isolate academics from the politics of Imo State. Determined, she worked hard to ensure that the glory of the institution must be restored. She never forced the university to dance to the whims and caprices of the governor. Isolating IMSU from the grips of Governor Okorocha and the politics of the state should be the best way to appreciate the restoration of the lost glory of the institution. 

Besides, the Amazon has returned the era of capacity building at IMSU. Under her tenure, the institution’s non-teaching staff and lecturers now travel abroad for training in various hues. These opportunities were buried or cornered for only the caucus of the former VCs since 2011. No one else outside the group they anointed benefitted from the trainings, local or abroad. But today, once opportunities arise for such capacity building programmes, Prof Obasi would waste no time on it. She would order that it be made public and interested workers were availed such a lifetime opportunity. I have benefitted indirectly from this, because some of my friends who are lecturers in IMSU have travelled abroad and spent ample time participating in capacity building programmes, under the able leadership of the incumbent acting VC. No one can imagine the quantum benefit the lecturers have made. And they will transfer much of this to their students. That way, the larger society benefits, because the system would no longer churn out half-baked but full-baked graduates. 

Apart from her capacity building programmes, she has equally demonstrated to the workers what a true mother means. Insider sources inform of the prolonged meetings she has had with the governor, where she made passionate appeals on behalf of the staff and the university at large. They said that at times, she had cause to sharply disagree with the governor, whom many had feared would pocket her and the university. But she has proved that a mother always has her way around her children, and thus, without causing any rift between the university community and the governor, she has silently made the case for the school, and won. 

For example, during the few occasions the university workers have had cause to embark on strike, insider sources disclosed that she did not take sides with the government. And this was at the risk of her job. But she chose to keep her integrity and also keep her head above the water of corrupting politics. She won the case and in no time the issue of salaries was settled, and IMSU workers now take home their salaries as at when due. She did not threaten to sack any worker or make any noise to impress her employer. Recall that as the last convocation ceremony of IMSU drew near, it was feared that the programme would not hold because of the issue of salaries. But the magic worker and Ag VC did her best and the programme was held with wide acclaim of success. Does anyone need to mention that she was the person that defied the culture of not holding the convocation for more than a decade? She broke the jinx, and today that convocation remains fresh in the minds of IMSU community and Imo people at large. 

What would you say about such a performing administrator, who has wiped the tears from the faces of once miserable-looking students, because their varsity lost accreditation in many courses? Imo people had cried that the free education programme was on downward move partly because of the loss of accreditation of courses such as Law, Optometry, English Language, Medicine, etc. These courses did not lose their accreditation during her tenure. But her tenacity and sincerity of purpose have brought back the lost accreditation to the university. 

Have you heard that Obasi is a clean piece of ivory? The reason for this is that she is not corrupt and does not encourage cultism in any way. She has judiciously utilised all funds made available to her. Though she has utilised the funds available to her for the purposes they were meant, such as the utilisation of TETFUND releases. She thinks more about the workers. She believes that only a well-motivated workforce would give their best. Thus, the university has been placed on an enviable pedestal. If the Ag VC were corrupt, she would not have got the huge releases she got from TETFUND, leading to the plethora of projects in the university. Knowing the way TETFUND operates, it would have been very difficult to get more releases if previous ones were not well utilised. 

One thing that causes the Ag VC sleepless night is the issue of salaries. To resolve this problem and ensure that the students get the very best from the lecturers, she has ensured that the salaries of workers remain top on her priority. Once it is time, every worker gets the alert from each bank that IMSU has paid. While this author is in fervent prayer for improved condition of service for the generality of workers in Imo State, many thanks must go to the Acting VC for what she has done in this regard. 

These achievements should not be destroyed on the altar of dirty politics. Her employers should look at her on her merits and see whether she does not deserve a pat on the back, because “one good turn”, they say, “deserves another”. Since this Amazon of integrity has done her best in the circumstance, it is better to encourage her to move on, so that those courses which accreditation have not returned would be pursued more vigorously. I believe in the reward system. It is part of our Igbo culture.     

However, I recognise there is a governing board for IMSU, which I believe would do a good job. While the opportunities are still there for other candidates to show interest and compete for the plum job, we should not fall for those who believe that everything is all about politics. We should look beyond gender issues and ensure that the most competent candidate is given a chance to either exceed or at least maintain the standard of the current holder of the office.

•Colinns Ughalaa writes from Owerri. He can be reached via ughalaacollins@gmail.com


Source: News Express

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