New VC:  Task before the Governing Council of Joseph Sarwuan Tarka University Makurdi

In making appointments in any university, the Governing Council of such a university must be aware of the existence of internal and external stakeholders. This is the reason the Councils of Universities are made up of external and internal members in the first place.  This also explains why when a Council is inaugurated, the members usually embark on visits to the traditional institutions within the catchment areas, the community leaders in which the university is located, the Governor of the State in which the institution is located and other prominent persons within the catchment area. It is not also out of place for such Councils to meet with various staff Unions, including student union leadership of the Universities. This is with the view to having a broad-based understanding of the system for better change management decisions. This is to prevent a situation where Councils are hijacked by some few members of the community and fed with information that is geared towards selfish ends. A Council Chairman of Ibo extraction, for example, is therefore not expected to surround himself/herself with staff members of Ibo origin to the exclusion of all others but be open to all shades of opinions.

Unfortunately, it would appear, the current pro-Chancellor of the Joseph Sarwuan Tarka University, Makurdi, has been taken captive by a popular and powerful activist who is reportedly rooting for a lame duck female candidate in exchange for nomination and appointment as Deputy Vice Chancellor. It is against this background that it has become necessary to remind the present Governing Council of the University about the things it must be aware of, with respect to the appointment of the next Vice Chancellor.

It is now very clear that in response to the advertisement for the position of Vice Chancellor on October 18, 2022 which closed six weeks thereafter, a total of 18 Professors applied for the job, out of which 16 have been shortlisted. As reported, two were disqualified on the basis that their areas of discipline were not offered by Joseph Sarwuan Tarka University, Makurdi at the time of the advertisement. Insider sources have indicated that a group known as the MINDA Intellectual Coalition has petitioned the Council via a protest letter dated 31st January, 2023 challenging the disqualification of one of the aspirants of MINDA extraction by name Professor Eugene Aliegba, a professor of Political Economy. The petitioners alleged that the action of Council demonstrated not only administrative and scholarly incompetence but that they also smelt a rat as Council by their action has deliberately instituted the doctrine of MINDA phobia in the intellectual recruitment process.

The Group added that since the establishment of the University, no son of MINDA origin who donated lands for the establishment of the Institution and resident in the State has been privileged to occupy the position of Vice Chancellor. The Group also warned that in an event that this misdeed is not urgently addressed, they will view it as a deliberate attempt to frustrate Professor Eugene Aliegba and will have no choice than deploy legal arsenals to seek redress in a court of competent jurisdiction.

The leaders of the coalition: Mr Stephen Ijoh (Coordinating President General) and Ikpam Terundu (Coordinating Secretary General), have made it clear that public administration is the brain child of Political Science, citing the case of Her Royal Majesty Prof. Mrs. Felicia Hembadoon Ayatse, a lecturer in Public Administration department in the University who is a PhD holder of Political Science after earning MSc of Public Administration in Political Science department at the Benue State University, Makurdi. They have therefore requested the Pro-Chancellor to look into this mischief and redirect the inclusion of Professor Eugene Aliegba on the qualified list to enable him attend the awaiting interview.

As at the time of writing this, it was not clear whether Professor Vande of the University of Jos who did not also make the shortlist had protested his non-inclusion in the interview already slated for this month of February, 2023.

Those that are familiar with events in the University in the past will realize that the firing of this first shot by the MINDA Intellectual Coalition is a familiar refrain, characteristic of the process of appointment of Vice Chancellors in the University. And this is where the Governing Council will need to tread cautiously by taking a look at the historical perspective in the appointments of Principal Officers in the University generally.

MINDA is an acronym for Masev, Iharev and Nongov socio-cultural organization, made up of Guma, Gwer-West, Gwer East and Makurdi Local Government Areas of Benue State. Perhaps, the MINDA people need to be reminded that Professor E. I. Kucha, based on his official records with the University, is from Guma LGA whereas Mrs Nyitse from Guma also served as the Registrar. For the first time in the history of the University, there were two Principal Officers from the same Local Government Area of MINDA. It is also instructive to note that Professor E. A. Ajav from the University of Ibadan who has been shortlisted to attend the interview is the son of MINDA except that he is not resident in the State to qualify for the support of the MINDA Intellectual Coalition.

The University in the past had Vice Chancellors appointed from outside the University, such as Professor F. S. Idachaba from the University of Ibadan, Professor Erastus Orseer Gyang from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria and Professor JOI Ayatse from the Benue State University, Makurdi. However, with the maturity of Professors internal to the Joseph Sarwuan Tarka University, the institution has maintained the tradition of appointing Vice Chancellors from within. Examples of those that have benefited from this strategy of appointing internal professors include Professor D. V. Uza, Professor E. I. Kucha and Professor Anande Richard Kimbir in that order. It should be noted that in the history of the University, Professor I. Onyido and Professor E. O. Ogunwolu had served as Acting Vice Chancellors. This is the first time an indigene of Benue State, Professor Aunde Annune, is currently serving as Acting Vice Chancellor. Professor I. Onyido missed being appointed the Vice Chancellor because it was inconceivable at the time to have Chairman of Council and Vice Chancellor from the same ethnic stock.

The strategy of the Council has been to keep the number of years as a Professor to such that internal members would also qualify. It started with 5 years and was moved to 7 years but in the middle of the last process, it was changed to 10 years (a matter that became a subject of litigation by some ex-students of the University but was dismissed by the court on account of locus not being Professors) and now brought back to 7 years. Professor D. V. Uza and Professor E. I. Kucha were appointed under the 5-year regime while Professor Anande Richard Kimbir was appointed under the 10-year regime. This will be the first time that a Vice Chancellor would be appointed under the 7-year regime. It is therefore expected that Council will not go against this 15-year old practice of appointing an internal member as Vice Chancellor. In this wise, therefore, Professor Sadiku of the Federal University of Technology (FUT) Minna, Professor Eniang of UniUyo, Professor E. Agba of BSU Makurdi, Professor S. I. Oluka of ESUT, Professor E. A. Ajav of University Ibadan and Professor G. A. Kazeem of KWASU, Malete may not stand a chance in terms of acceptability by stakeholders, especially the internal stakeholders. It should be noted, however, that as a Federal University, Council may decide to bite the bullet and go against the practice and damn the consequences.

An analysis of the internal candidates indicates that Professor Rufus ShaAto is from Sankera (Katsina Ala, Logo & Ukum) where two past Vice Chancellors have been produced, namely, Professor Erastus Orseer Gyang and Professor Anande Richard Kimbir. In fact, it is believed that the immediate past Vice Chancellor, Professor Anande Richard Kimbir, is from the same village with Professor Rufus ShaAto. However, sympathizers for the appointment of Professor Rufus ShaAto are quick to point to the fact that Professor D. V. Uza became substantive Vice Chancellor after Professor JOI Ayatse and that they are all from Kwande and therefore they see nothing wrong in appointing Professor Rufus ShaAto after Professor Richard Anande Kimbir. To them, since Professor Kimbir did very well in office, it is alright if another Sankera Professor is appointed to continue with his good work. The proponents of Professor ShaAto’s appointment forget that Professor E. O. Gyang was of Sankera extraction. Furthermore, Sankera has benefitted from other Principal Officer appointments such as Mr LHV Tsumbu as Registrar, E. Kureve as Ag. Registrar, Professor Kimbir as Deputy Vice Chancellor, and recently Mr. S. A. Ugaseh as Ag. Registrar. The domination of the Sankera intermediate clan in all aspects of the University is generating so much misgivings and any appointment in that direction will further exacerbate the situation and incense the other members of the community against them.  It is believed that the plan that was hatched to put persons of Sankera in the Governing Council and their surrogates as internal members was to ensure that their own Professor Rufus ShaAto emerge as the Vice Chancellor.

Prof Rufus Shaato

There are three Professors of Jemgbagh intermediate clan (Buruku, Tarka & Gboko) in the race for the position of Vice Chancellor – two of whom benefitted from the lowering of the years as professor from 10 to 7 years: Prof Mrs Tuleun (Buruku) & wife to Prof. L. T. Tuleun that served as Commissioner when Senator (Dr) George Akume, current Minister of Special Duties and Inter-Governmental Affairs, was Governor of Benue State; Prof. Mrs Kembe (Buruku) & wife to the immediate past Vice Chancellor of Benue State University, Makurdi and Professor T. Vange (Gboko). It is believed that the two women from this axis are the favored for the top job, the Council Chairman being a woman and also having another influential Tiv woman on the Governing Council from the same Buruku LGA. The drawback however resides in the fact that the Rector of the Federal Polytechnic, Wanunne is the newly promoted Professor J. T. Utsev who is also from Buruku LGA and as such it will be a moral burden appointing two persons from the same LGA to head the two Federal tertiary Institutions in the State. Moreover, the Jemgbagh axis has had several other principal officer appointments: Professor S. A. Ikurior (Deputy Vice Chancellor), Mr. Sugh Loho (University Librarian), Mr. Kormi (Bursar) & Mr. Iannah (Bursar) but have never tasted the position of Vice Chancellor.

The Jerchira intermediate clan (Konshisha & Vandeikya) has Professor Mrs B. D. Igbabul and Engr Prof. Simon Irtwange as aspirants. The Jerchira people in the University have never had the privilege of serving in any Principal Officer position since the establishment of the University. None has been appointed Vice Chancellor, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Registrar, University Librarian or Bursar. Whereas Prof Mrs Igbabul is a beneficiary of the lowering of the years as professor from 10 to 7 years in the current process, Professor Irtwange was denied the privilege to apply for the position in the previous exercise when the years as professor were changed from 7 to 10 against subsisting Council approved and advertised decision as he had only clocked 9 years as Professor at the time. Despite the fact that for punitive reasons, Prof Irtwange has not been appointed into any substantive position in the University for the past 10 years covering the administrations of Prof. E. I. Kucha and Prof. Richard Anande Kimbir, it is believed that the experiences he gathered during the tenures of Professors Gyang, Ayatse and Uza may just suffice supplemented by his personal exploits, internal and external to the University. His mother being of Jemgbagh extraction may also get him the support of the powers that be from the axis to take him across the finishing line. On the argument by some that since the next Governor of Benue State may come from Jerchira, and as such Jerchira should not be given a chance, a critical analysis has shown that appointing a person of Jerchira extraction will be an advantage for the University rather than a disadvantage – in terms of bridging the town and the gown gaps. If the present Governor of Benue State and the Vice Chancellor of Benue State University, Makurdi are of MINDA extraction, the Governor of Benue State and Vice Chancellor of the Federal University (miles apart) can be of Jerchira extraction.

Prof Simon Irtwange

Professor F. A. Ayatse and Professor Imandeh are from Kwande (Kwande & Ushongo) that has produced Professor JOI Ayatse and Professor D. V. Uza as Vice Chancellors. Professor F. A. Ayatse is the younger brother to Professor JOI Ayatse who is the current paramount ruler of the Tiv nation. It is not clear how much support he is receiving from his elder brother in his pursuit but having served the University as Internal Council Member, Dean, Director and currently as External Council Member of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; it can be seen that Professor F. A. Ayatse wants to pursue his own vision irrespective of the path that his brother has passed. However, being from Kwande which is loaded with appointments already can be  a disadvantage. The Kwande people too seem to be dominant in the University by virtue of being at the helm of affairs in the University for several years except that they are not loud and overbearing as the people of Sankera. They have had the privilege of having Professor Aunde Annune as Deputy Vice Chancellor and currently the Acting Vice Chancellor. Professor F. A. Ayatse vigorously sought to become Deputy Vice Chancellor during Prof Anande Richard Kimbir’s tenure and may likely do so again if he fails to clinch the top job. It is generally reported that he is very ambitious.

Professor Isaac N. Itodo is of Igala extraction from Kogi State and if he is appointed Vice Chancellor, he will be the second Igala indigene of Kogi State to become Vice Chancellor after Prof. FS Idachaba during whose tenure it was reported that no Benue indigene was awarded contract in the University. It will be recalled that Prof IN Itodo came first in the last interview exercise but for the first time in the history of the University, the person that came second was appointed Vice Chancellor. The only other time this was attempted but failed was during Prof JOI Ayatse’s appointment where the candidate preferred by the State Government moved from 8th position to 4th position (by scoring of responsibilities that were initially overlooked) to 3rd position (by elimination of Prof. I. Onyido) and by expression of voting preference by Council members became 1st but lost out in Abuja to Professor JOI Ayatse that took the original 1st position. It remains to be seen whether Professor Itodo has overcome the odds against him that denied him the position, including the penchant for alienation of indigenes in his dealings. In the event he comes first again this time, it will be difficult to deny him the opportunity the second time. It is opined that Professor Itodo will have a hard time getting the support of the alumni who supported him as one of them to make history as the first alumnus of the University to be appointed Vice Chancellor. It is reported that as a result of the bitterness for losing out on the appointment, he abandoned his supporters and is scarcely seen on the campus. However, it is worthy of note that Mr Achema, an Igala man, also served as the University Librarian for many years.

Prof Isaac Itodo

Professor O. N. Agbulu is the only candidate of Idoma extraction who is also the immediate past Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academics) of the University. The Idomas have never risen to the position of Vice Chancellor, same for the Igedes that together with the Idomas make up the Benue South geopolitical zone popularly called Zone C. However, they have enjoyed several Principal Officer positions in the University: Professor Elizabeth Amuta (Deputy Vice Chancellor), Professor Onah (DVC Academics), Professor O. N. Agbulu (DVC Academics), Dr. Ede (Registrar), Dr Mrs CCO Ohemu (Registrar) and Dr. John David (current Registrar). Contrary to all known guidelines, an Idoma man, Comrade Abba Moro, served as Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Governing Council of the University. The fact that the current Registrar is Idoma will make it difficult for Council to appoint another Idoma candidate as Vice Chancellor. It is also believed that the non-appointment of a single Tiv person to principal officer position at the University of Health Sciences, Otukpo is a factor that will further work against Professor Agbulu’s aspiration. Insider sources indicate that this issue was brought up to deny Dr. John David of appointment as Registrar but the argument did not succeed as the gap between him, having come first in the interview, and the person that came second, was too wide to contemplate such a decision.

Prof. Nicodemus Agbulu

The disposition of the pro-Chancellor who currently, as reported, is having a free rough-shod ride with the internal members unable to check mate her, indicates that the University should expect a shocker with respect to the Vice Chancellor and other appointments. It is expected that with the Tiv community in the University so divided, no challenge can be expected from the Mdzough u Tiv, a fact that is now being exploited to possibly appoint a Vice Chancellor of non-Tiv origin from outside or inside the University as plan B. The Mdzough u Tiv can neither bark nor bite in contrast to the days back then in the lead up to the appointment of Prof E. O. Gyang. Individuals such as Mr S. A. Ugaseh and others that used to champion Tiv agenda for the University have all withdrawn to pursue their clannish agendas. The Mdzough u Tiv had boasted of taking all the substantive Principal Officer positions but the first in the series, Registrar, went to Idoma with the same strategy for Vice Chancellor likely to be used where the gap in the interview between the first and second is so wide to warrant skipping. It is envisaged that where this happens, the Tiv people will be compensated with the position of Bursar, the reason the two appointments may be taken about the same time.

The issue of a female Vice Chancellor is one that is being discussed around the campus. It is gathering attention because of three connected women that are in the race (Prof. Mrs Tuleun, Prof. Mrs Kembe and Prof. Mrs B. D. Igbabul) at a time we have a woman Council Chairperson and another influential woman in politics in the Council by the name Nancy Awuese Torhee. There are however indications that the University may not yet be ready for a female Vice Chancellor. Maturity issues for Prof. Mrs Kembe and Prof. Mrs B. D. Igbabul and temperament issues for Prof. Mrs Tuleun are the reasons people are advancing as to why their tenure may not bring the needed reforms required to pull back the University from the brink of the intractable issues that have become the culture of the University such as lateness, lack of commitment to duty and persistent non-release of examination results. Despite the odds, Prof. Mrs Tuleun, a strong catholic faithful, may just emerge as payback for the gun shots she suffered working for INEC and the Party in power.

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