Following the directive of the Visitor that the university senate convenes a meeting to nominate an acting vice chancellor, I have found myself in a deep moral quandary as I reflect on the probable evolution of scenarios and their implications for the sanity of an environment otherwise consecrated for learning. It is a dilemma between my idealistic love of democracy and the practicality of deliberate gerontocracy as we rummage through this mud; a huge shame that the University finds itself dancing shoki naked in the village square.
The unprecedented nature of this challenge in the annals of university administration in Nigeria and the particularities of Obafemi Awolowo University senate incite fear and anxiety that the whole exercise could turn out to be the beginning of another journey through a labyrinth. It offends one’s republican ideal that most of the decisions, which have almost brought the University to its knees are democratically taken in an avowedly democratic institution constituted by men and women of highest learning.
The Senate of the University, as I know it, makes many of her decisions through a democratic process of nomination and voting, presided over by the Chairman (The VC) who has the prerogative to recognize members on the floor as he deems fit. The narratives about how this inevitable democratic prerogative has been deployed by the chairman are preserved in many campus myths and legends.
One version relates that The VC holds a caucus meeting with motley of mediocre academics, who seek refuge in a vertical patron-clientelistic relationship with him to settle some narrow agenda. Such academic clients obligingly attend the Senate assured of recognition by their sponsor. Perpetually, the Chairman has his way no matter how reactionary or nasty his agenda.
The Senate of the University has not demonstrated reliable resilience and sublime courage; it has proven vulnerable to dark machinations by determined reactionary forces and abuse of “administrative powers”. Given that the senate is an institution with such an abysmal record in genuine democratic performance, the responsibility to recommend a Vice-Chancellor democratically in its purest form might be a costly gamble that could over-stretch an otherwise compromised institution.
The crude power and disturbing privileges of the office of the Vice-Chancellor, its many leverages and incentives to bleed the university treasury unencumbered, the numerous opportunities to dole out patronage to mediocre academics, who are ever willing to seek refuge in a vertical patron-clientelistic relationship, and the newly granted power to act like an emperor unchallenged, make the stake really volatile and combustible.
Voting to grant anyone such opportunity will be voting like no other. Besides, given the naked ambition of the so-organized reactionary forces, the aimlessness and formlessness that has plagued the progressive for so long, the less than idealistic motivations of most academics tainted with aims so sordid and passions so petty, allowing such process play out purely democratically might be really combustible.
I suspect the order that brought us here will make attempt to perpetuate itself democratically. After all, they have been democratically lording their evil machination on the campus community. More so, coming up with a modality that is carefully shielded from opportunistic maneuvering and eventual litigious acrimony might be prohibitively expensive in time. Given that so many precious lives are placed on hold, the Senate had better leveraged on a solution that relies on fast and frugal heuristics to make these urgently needed adaptive decisions like we all do in real life with a limitation of time, knowledge and permutation.
The senate must not at this time be tempted to assume the role of classical demons that are boundless in their rationality. To perfect the collapse of the bankrupt moral order that brought us this low, gerontocracy might be a good option. It will be time-effective for the Senate to throw their weight behind the most academic in their midst ranked by years of service as a Professor. This impersonal alternative forecloses any dirty political jockeying in the interim; stabilizes the tensed atmosphere on campus. Such a candidate uses his remaining years of service to coordinate a seamless transition. Hopefully by then, the arrow head of the reactionary camp would have politically bled to death, while their ranks are systematically decimated.
It is very likely that the Visitor cynically redirected autonomy as a detour from his earlier decision with a probable intention of using the full might of his office should the University proves hopelessly irresponsible and utterly incapable of internal self-steering. The Senate could go ahead to stage a genuinely democratic nomination process, and wake up the following day to realize that she has made a self-sabotaging error. This kind of momentary gerontocracy might be our only hope to usher in new administrative order – with a morality that arises from a deeper well than religion, and once again remind the nation who we truly are.
Olumide Awoyemi writes from the Faculty of Pharmacy, OAU.
He can be reached 07065249682, firstname.lastname@example.org