In this piece, STEVE OKO x-rays the far-reaching implications of the brewing feud and blame - games between the immediate-past and the incumbent Vice-Chancellor of the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike ( MOUAU), and the need to avoid the ugly development in the overall interest of the university.
Stakeholders are worried over the unnecessary bulk- passing, bickering and muscle flexing between the incumbent Vice-Chancellor of the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike ( MOUAU) , Abia State, Professor Francis Otunta, and his predecessor, Professor Hilary Edeoga. It is not only disturbing that it is too early for both men to begin to fight but more worrisome that the feud is already having some adverse effects on the institution which has in the recent years suddenly become the envy of many.
The 23-year old institution is the only federal university in Abia State with agriculture as its core mandate. All five states in the South East zone have taken turn to produce the Vice- Chancellor. Professor Edeoga from Enugu State vacated office in February 28, 2016 , and handed over the mantle of leadership to the incumbent VC, Professor Otunta from Ebonyi State.
Expectations were so high that the incumbent who is a professor of Mathematics and a first class product of the prestigious University of Benin would aptly fit into the very big shoes left behind by Edeoga and take the institution to greater heights. The laudable efforts of Edeoga in transforming the university from a mere glorified secondary school into a leading university at least in the South East and South South zones were incontrovertible.
But with the current developments at MOUAU, the hopes of many are being dashed. Instead of sustaining the tempo of transformation put in place by the immediate - past and indeed previous administrations, the current administration seems to have been deceived into engaging in blame games and unnecessary criticism. Analysts view this as a danger signal and an avoidable clog in the wheel of progress of MOUAU.
Firing the first shot during a recent press conference, the incumbent Vice Chancellor accused his predecessor of illegal recruitment and overstaffing the institution particularly at the twilight of his tenure. This, he lamented, has resulted into a huge financial burden on the institution, saying that payment of salaries is now a major challenge. He however promised not to sack any worker despite the pressure on him to do so, saying he did not come on board “to remove food from the table of anybody”.
Otunta also accused Edeoga -led administration of committing “ a lot of atrocities and evil including lack of transparency and respect for due process”. He further added: “Corrupt practices had been on at Michael Okpara University of Agriculture Umudike for the past five years (because) the last administration did not follow due process. All the while, I’ve been trying to remedy the situation created by the past administration”.
Prof Otunta specifically accused his predecessor of introducing unapproved academic programmes and courses outside the core mandate of the institution. He said he had already taken steps to shut down the affected programmes in compliance with a directive by the National Universities Commission (NUC). He identified some of the affected courses as Philosophy, Mass Communication, as well as Peace and Conflict Resolution.
Absolving himself of any wrong doing in scraping the affected programmes, Otunta who described himself as “ slave to the law”, said : “ The affected programmes were introduced by the last administration because of the unwarranted level of impunity to start programmes not approved by NUC, hence, when they said close, I had to obey because I ‘m slave to the law”.
He said that in line with his determination to correct the anomaly he met on ground, the university wrote to NUC and discovered that they had no permission to run the programmes. His words: “When we wrote to NUC, they replied and told us that we are not permitted to run those programmes and that if we have started we should stop.”
The former Rector, Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic Ebuwana, Afikpo, however, explained that the university senate had commenced the process of deploying students in the affected programmes to other disciplines where they fit in to assuage their pains. He vowed that the university would never again derail from its core mandate but focus on agriculture, sciences, engineering, and other related courses in tandem with the NUC mandate guiding the establishment of MOUAU.
On the way forward, Otunta said he had already set up five different committee in his bid to restore sanity in the system. The committees, he added, had been mandated to identify the problems that had hindered development in the institution and come up with a template to address them.
But when contacted for his reactions on the accusations leveled against him by his successor, Professor Edeoga simply said he had left office about a year ago and would not want to join issues with the incumbent. He said his wish would be for his successor to surpass his enviable records which were there for posterity and not to engage him in any blame-game so that he will not lose focus on his job “because the job of a Vice Chancellor is enormous and requires full concentration”.
But a concerned staff who was an integral part of Edeoga’s administration told The AUTHORITY that the brewing feud between the incumbent VC and his predecessor was uncalled for. The senior academic staff who is still a member of the University’s senate blamed the ugly development on rumour mongers and some members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities ( ASUU) who had had a running battle with Edeoga during his tenure.
The source which pleaded for anonymity for fear of victimisation expressed fears that the incumbent Vice Chancellor might have listened to “toxic advice by the anti- Edeoga elements in the system” who he said had vowed to reverse all the achievements recorded under his administration.
“ I am afraid this is a case of rumour mongers trying to curry favour from the incumbent by blackmailing Edeoga who they felt was tough for them. They are the ones ill- advising the VC, otherwise it is unthinkable that in less than one year in office he will so wish to challenge his predecessor who was very instrumental to his emergence as VC.
“I heard the anti-Edeoga ASUU group said the only condition for them to work with the incumbent is for him to reverse all the appointments made by his predecessor. But he should not play into their hands because they are the same people that will pull him down.”