Coalition of Civil Society Organisations in Nigeria (COCSON) has called on the President Bola Tinubu-led federal government to reverse its decision to dissolve Governing Councils of all federal universities in the country, describing the action “as inimical to growth of university education and unlawful”.
The Coalition which is an umbrella body to no fewer than 100 civil society groups in Nigeria made their position known at a press conference addressed by its National President and National Secretary, Obiora Chidozie and Alh. Husseini Ibrahim respectively, Wednesday in Abuja.
The group stressed that the governing council is the highest decision-making body of every university, and once it is dissolved without immediate replacement, it stalls every major decision in the university. They however cautioned that the dissolution is already taking a toll on university administration and that the present situation where presidential powers are being used to usurp the powers of the university system should be urgently reversed.
The Coalition cautioned the federal government that university education must be taken seriously going forward, adding it was an absolute error for President Tinubu to dissolve the Governing Councils of federal universities and demanded the reinstatement of the university boards to avoid further negative impact on the university system.
Their demands read: “If sanity is to prevail, Councils of Universities should be allowed to complete their tenures as enshrined in the law, and on completion, the government can reappoint or bring its own people. If we allow this to be a precedent, then it will take our university system to the past and once more take it away from the global best standards which have been achieved in the past few years. If unchecked, a time will come when politicians and civil servants will take over the entire university system and begin to tell them what to teach, how to teach, and when to teach.
“This is a serious national issue, President Tinubu must show a worthy example in conformity with the extant laws of our great country. The present situation where presidential powers are being used to usurp the powers of the university system should therefore be urgently reversed.
“Let those whose duties it is to supervise our universities, once appointed and assumed office, if nothing is found against them individually, be directed immediately to take charge of the universities and bring the system into normalcy for the period when their tenures are still in place.
“The government should enthrone university autonomy and it is an error for the Governing Councils of federal universities to be dissolved without reference.
“If the Renewed Hope slogan of this government will give Nigerians real hope, it must be founded on Rule of Law not rule of illegality,” the Coalition stated.
Excerpts of the concerns raised by COCSON read:
“We appreciate President Tinubu for his interest and commitment to improve universities, but in the light of this commitment, we believe that it is an error for the Governing Councils of federal universities to be dissolved without reference to the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Act 2003 which is also referred to as the Universities Autonomy Act No. 1, 2007. Section 3(2A) of the Amendment Act states as follows with respect to the tenure of Governing Councils: “The Council so constituted shall have a tenure of four years from the date of its inauguration provided that where a Council is found to be incompetent and corrupt it shall be dissolved by the Visitor and a new Council shall be immediately constituted for the effective functioning of the university.
“The Federal Government, by the existing laws, have no power to dissolve the governing council, unless they are found incompetent or wanting, sadly the university system is left hanging without a head and now subjected to political dictates. As a matter of fact, even recruitment of staff within our universities is subjected to the whims and caprices of powerful civil servants in Abuja.
“This is why, at present, the university system is almost grounded as even promotions, matriculations, and convocations are not held as they should at this time of the year since the Pro-Chancellors and Councils are expected to approve the dates, including honorary doctorate and other awards. At best, Vice Chancellors have to come before civil servants in Abuja for approval.
“Lastly, another clear example of the dangers of dissolving governing councils in varsities comes handy with the raging brawl at the Federal University of Health Science Otukpo, where fear of implosion had gripped the institution after the Vice Chancellor had reportedly sacked his deputy over lack of cooperation. Such a development would not have happened if Council was in place.
“From what we observed the booming chaos is worsened because the Registrar is not fully acquainted with his duties as a university Registrar. Like the Vice Chancellor, he is inexperienced at the university level where he had not worked prior to his being smuggled into the University from National University Council (NUC) on the altar of nepotism. Hence, all these happenings should be of serious concern to President Tinubu.
“There’s been also indiscriminate increment of tuition fees of different universities across the country at the expense of the ordinary Nigerian who is still suffering the excruciating pain occasioned by the removal of petrol subsidy.
“There are other problems such as arbitrary increases in school fees in several universities and a lot of internal fighting in the Universities today.”
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