Lagos State University (LASU), the best state university and the 2nd best ranked university as ranked by the Times Higher Education World University Ranking 2021 and also the recent Emerging World Economies University Ranking 2021 has failed a primary test of corporate governance, that of selecting its 9th substantive Vice-Chancellor with dire consequences and costs to the entire university, staff and students alike.
The failure is primarily due to the indecision by the Visitor to the University, His Excellency, Mr, Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu and his political circle who apparently are not pleased that the first three candidates are largely unknown to them. The greatest burden of the crisis is the unnecessary costs. Permit my reference to the Biblical times where lessons can be learnt from a king who chose not to be fully aware of the costs of his actions and inactions choosing rather to remain indifferent even when advised appropriately (Exodus 11:7, King James Version).
It is to the credit of the managers of LASU (both Council and management), the staff, and students that the University has continued to run in the midst of this problem and near-paralysis situation. On a cheering note, the University is to be congratulated for the take-off of its partnership with Cornell University which was launched by Mr. Governor on April 29, 2021.
The first selection process was credible yet cancelled and the second one looks inchoate and was subjected to review by a Special Visitation Panel (SVP). The report of the SVP as being discussed suggests a recommendation of the impossible which is likely to push the university into further problems. Did the members make the recommendation in good conscience, will they want this kind of treatment for their universities and how will they explain away the truth to generations unborn? What a missed opportunity!
However, the real costs of the problem are very grave and include:
- Polarisation and division of Lagos State communities into different camps. Several groups have emerged claiming support for one candidate or rejecting imposition of a candidate rather insisting on merit and due process. The irony is that some of the groups have claimed we can now claim our state of origin according to our pleasure and whenever we like. The trust in government over this problem is almost eroded.
- The tax payers of Lagos State. Enormous resources have been spent on the process and the review. What is the cost benefit of running from the truth? The costs of the interviews, hotel costs, logistics and honoraria for the special visitation panel are not insignificant.
- Justice and the rule of Law are probably the greatest casualties. The process followed due process yet the visitor is vacillating. The panel chose to focus on the lie that one qualification was superior to the other which is alien to the conditions of service of LASU.
Can a referee create his/her own rules or change the rules in the midst of the game or rewrite the results after the game is over? This is what the panel chose to do. How can only those who have a terminal degree sit and judge those who have another equally terminal degree without including any of the latter in the panel? Has justice been done or seen to have been done? Since, the second process picked the best three candidates who are medical doctors in Clinical Medicine and Fellows of the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria/ the West African Postgraduate College of Physicians, the others should do better at the next opportunity.
No one foresaw this when the first process was cancelled. God works in mysterious ways! What message is being communicated to young resident doctors who are training to become Fellows and consultants in accordance with the laws of Nigeria? Can Nigeria afford an exodus of Fellows from the universities since we are declaring that their lawful qualification is not valued in LASU and probably in other universities? What will become of medical education in the country? Will those who are not Fellows treat all of us including the governor when we are sick?
- Loss of confidence by young Nigerians is another cost. It is wise to observe that many are jobless, poor, voiceless and looking for rays of hope in systems built on truth, equity and justice. If this process were to be truncated in Lagos State where the call for justice is loud, what message is being communicated to the entire country? Only recently, governors from the 17 states in southern Nigeria called for restructuring at the Federal level. The Senate president for his own selfish reasons asked the governors to remove at the log in their own eyes before attempting to removing the speck in others. He retorted restructure your states first through inclusive and non-discriminatory governance. What a timely advice!
- Loss of faith by the international community in the Nigerian university system. While there is now some stability in the academic calendar, this is a big slap on the system. In other countries, the immediate concern is to overcome problems associated with the Corona Virus pandemic but we are busy with almost half of the year spent on the selection of a Vice-Chancellor. The whole world is daily kept abreast of the on-going at LASU and other Nigerian universities where government has deliberately created problems over a merit- driven process.
- The University Governing Council has now been subjected to extreme public ridicule and disdain. How can the council function effectively with the Sword of Damocles held by the Governor dangling over its head? To subject the processes to the review by the SVP was but a damming distrust by the visitor on men and women of proven integrity and honour appointed by him who volunteered to render best service to LASU. Will the confidants of such persons who probably felt LASU was not worth their time on account of intense politicking not be proved right? Will this action not discourage others who have altruistic motives from serving our public institutions?
- Polarisation of the LASU community. Some groups have emerged including some dismissed members of staff who seek only to benefit from the present situation to the detriment of the university.
- The work of the community has obviously taken a hit. How can academics work in a state of anomy and uncertainty? How can eminent academics conduct their research and contribute to the ranking and visibility of the university? LASU is becoming the joke of academics in other universities.
- The candidates who have been through intense pressure since September 2020 or even earlier. One candidate who participated in the first exercise did not bother to turn up for the second. The reasons are best known to him. It is unfair to subject our best brains to such torture and indignity.
The direct costs and opportunity costs are huge. There is no need to embark on a third round of selection exercise. This is unchartered territory in the Nigerian university system. Mr. Governor should not allow LASU to set an evil precedent. By the time Mr Governor finishes his term(s) in office as God may provide, what will he say to his grandchildren in years to come and what will his wife who is a Fellow in a hardship area of clinical medicine in the near future also say? Were she in the university system, she will probably be in the professor cadre in the least. Will she not be qualified to lead LASU as a professor in Clinical Medicine if she chose to apply?
I have written this as concerned citizen in a democracy to our elected leader hoping he will listen and act rightly.
The governor should be advised by all those who truly love Lagos State to do the right thing and not let this act of injustice bring him to disfavour before God and man.
Mike Atanda is a Public Affairs analyst and systems transformation professional.