UNIPORT Vice Chancellor: Beyond Ethnic Consideration

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The issue of weaving the appointment of a vice chancellor around ethnic sentiment was an inhibiting factor to the lucid testimonies of academic excellence and improved standard that is the present hallmark of the university.

Within the past 10 years the University of Port Harcourt has come under critical appraisal and accessment in terms of leadership and administrative efficiency. The university, has no doubt, witnessed a rapid transformation and phenomenal rise, and its standards has improved tremendously in all ramifications.

With the quality of leadership bequeathed within the period under review, the quest for leadership succession had equally received more than scanty attention.

With the stewardship of the present Vice Chancellor of the university, Prof. Don Baridam coming to an end in July this year, the Governing Council of the University had since advertised the bid for replacement of the outgoing vice chancellor in some national dailies, with specific standards fixed for the next occupant of the highly coveted but challenging office.

The defined objectives of the said advertisement stipulates that candidates aspiring to be the next Vice Chancellor of the University must be “a candidate with vision, proven academic distinction, managerial ability, integrity, transparency in private and public life and a minimum of eight years in service as a Professor in the university.

There are however, intense clamour for a rethink of the criteria set by the Governing Council for the appointment of the next vice chancellor of the University, especially in the area of eight years professorial service as precondition. This had fleared up agitations within and outside the university community. At the centre of these agitations are some indigenes of Ikwerre ethnic group, host of the university who see the eight years professorial experience as a deliberate plot to frustrate the chances of emergence of a vice chancellor of Ikwerre extraction.

Irked by what is considered a politics of exclusion which had denied the host ethnic group of producing a vice chancellor in the school for the past 35 years of its existence, the people had since registered their discontent through organised protest at different fora. The latest protest was led by the spokesman of Ikwerre workers in the University of Port Harcourt, Comrade Godwin Kenneth at the 26th Convocation ceremony of the Institution penultimate Saturday, May 15, 2010. Addressing the tumultuous crowd a no mean guest and visitor of the University, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, an alumnus of the university and President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Kenneth lamented the marginalisation of Ikwerre people in the appointment of the university’s vice chancellor.

He said; “the university had been here for 35 years; other ethnic groups have had their share of the position except the Ikwerre people who are the owners of the land. He argued that as a matter of concession the appointment of a vice chancellor, especially at this point in time, be allowed to shift to the Ikwerre people who have given a lot to the university.

But a broad spectrum of the society are insisting that the search for the new vice chancellor should be carried through with solemn faithfulness with the spirit of excellence and standard that has guided the university within the past decade. His Excellency the Governor of Rivers State, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, an alumnus of the University and also a prime son of Ikwerre land is pivotal in the quest for excellence and meritorious conduct as the yardstick for the selection of the next vice chancellor for the university.

Addressing the 26th convocation ceremony of the university, Governor Amaechi said the issue of weaving the appointment of a vice chancellor around ethnic sentiment was an inhibiting factor to the lucid testimonies of academic excellence and improved standard that is the present hallmark of the university. He said the campaigns should not be carried to the absurds, and the loath of ethnic prejudice should not be allowed to bite into the university system and truncate the thriving policy of excellence, quality control and the standard that the university had enjoyed within the past years. As a product of the university, Governor Amaechi detested the tendency of the university relapsing into a humdrum existence after a quantum leap for excellence.

A lecturer in the department of Sociology of the University of Port Harcourt, Dr. Steve Wordu shares similar view with Governor Amaechi in selecting a new vice chancellor for the university. Speaking with The Tide On Sunday on the contentions issue, Dr. Wordu said the appointment of the next vice chancellor of the university should go by a democratic process and the best candidate should emerge. Drawing from reports and core comparative studies, Dr. Wordu, an environmental sociologist and Assistant Director of the General Studies Unit of the university described the institution as the fastest growing university in West Africa. He attributed the successes so far recorded by the University to the astute leadership and strategic administration in the system.

He commended and congratulated the outgoing Vice Chancellor of the University Prof. Don Baridam for his exceptional leadership which had turned around the fortune of the institution, “Prof. Baridam is one of those astute academics and University administrators who are dynamic and very knowledgeable about the world of academia to carry a university comparatively and competitvely globally. He had conducted proper administrator in the University to attract such tremendous fund that facilitate the overall development of the University.”

By his strategic capital campaign for fund raising through local and international partnership, he said Prof. Baridam was able to execute and get so many projects commissioned within his period of stewardship.

Dr. Wordu is also the assistant general secretary of the Rivers State Chapter of the University of Port Harcourt Alumnus Assocation. As a proud product of the University he said it was the desire of the alumni association to ensure that the present standard raised by the University is not compromised in any way.

Going down memory lane Dr. Wordu, recalled how as a growing youth, he watched the elders of Choba community negotiate with government officials on the establishment of the University, 35 years after he said the University which was a product of the Willinks commission to provide man power for the neglected minorities had contributed immensely to the development of the Nigerian state, in all fields of human endeavour.

Also commenting on the issue, Dr. Okey Onuchukwu, a senior lecturer in the Department of Economics said he did not subscribe to ethnicity as a yardstick of selecting the next vice chancellor for the University. According to him a University is a repository of excellence and schorly process. As such, he would want the next vice chancellor of the University to be selected strictly on merit. He however pick holes in the requirent of eight years in service as a professor in the University as a pre-condition for the selection. He said the condition will deprive professors who have interest in the job, and could perform well, but had not attained eight years in service of the job.

As far as Dr. Onuchukwu is concerned, a professor is a professor, and the number of years in service may not really be a determinant of excellence and performance. “I don’t subscribe to ethnicity as a basis of chosing a University Vice Chancellor, but the idea of eight years in service as professor may not really be the best option. A professor of one year could do far better than a professor of ten years, people should be given a fare chance to contest the job”.           

A renowned educationist in Rivers State Mr. Paul Nwanikpo also condemned the idea of selecting Baridams successor through ethnicity consideration. To him the advocates of ethnicity may as well be out to deem the noble aspiration and phenomenal success recorded in the institution. He said a university is a place for the acquisition and utilisation of knowledge in practice and should be devoid of ethnic sentiments. Considering the challenges of educational development in Rivers State Mr. Nwanikpo called on the apostles of ethnicity to drop their campaign and embrace the concept of “total transformation through practical demonstration of excellence and collective will for development.”

A public commentator, Mr. Bolaji Ajai who spoke with The Tide On Sunday also detested the idea of appointing a Vice Chancellor based on ethnicity.

Ajai called on the proponent of an ethnic agenda in the ivory tower to drop the idea and make other development requests such as special empowerment and capacity development programmes from the University.

In an earlier reaction to the agitations on the demands, Williams Wodi, Public Relations Officer of the University, had stated that the vice chancellor position was not tied to ethnic consideration, as only qualified candidates irrespective of ethnic affiliation will be selected. He said the issue at stake was sensitive and the university did not operate on any zoning or quota system when it comes to appointing a vice chancellor. He added that the conditions and criteria of selection as stipulated in the advertisement of the Governing Council of the university was not compromiseable.

 

Taneh Beemene