By Jude Atupulazi
The university environment is supposed to be entirely devoted to learning and moulding of character. When it deviates from these and delves into such mundane stuff as we experience in everyday life outside the campus, then there may be cause to worry. That is my concern with the happenings at Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, COOU, lately.
My attention was drawn to this situation through representations made to me by some students and members of staff of the state's elite university.
Now, the situation, as I see it, may snowball into something that may take a long time, if at all, to be put right. But the happy thing is that perhaps, the man at the helm of affairs in the institution as the Acting Vice Chancellor, Prof Greg Nwakoby, may not be fully aware of the machinations of some elements pushing to destabilize the peace in the institution in order to foist their obviously selfish agenda. Thus, based on the supposition that the Ag. VC may not be fully in the know of this plot, I have elected to blow the trumpet loud enough for everyone to hear.
Indeed, the unfolding developments at COOU are akin to the kind of things experienced in developing countries, especially in Africa, where successor regimes find it difficult to retain the policies they meet on ground. Where they want to, some people goad the leaders into making changes even when those changes are unnecessary, just to prove a point.
While any new leadership is at liberty to formulate and execute own agenda, such must not be seen as vindictive or a conscious attempt to undermine the history of the place as represented by the predecessor regimes.
Well, the news coming from some quarters at COOU isn't all that palatable to me, given the ominous implications it bears on the well being of the fast rising citadel of learning. From what I hear, some people are actively working to erase the institution's immediate past for selfish reasons, or so it seems. And in doing that, they are singing the praises of the new helmsman in a way that may not be immediately understood by the boss.
Thus while the new boss goes about doing what he believes may be routine actions for the good of the institution, he may be unknowingly doing the bidding of those who are executing their private agenda.
The problem this has created in the institution is now a situation of ''we and them''. And that is why some people in the place are now alarmed at what they perceive as the dangerous drift of the institution.
According to these people, a situation is being created whereby some people are cast in the mould of ''Okafor's men or women''. For those who don't know, the VC of the university who has been asked to proceed on leave, is Prof Fidelis Okafor. He left in rather strange circumstances, being that his tenure was supposed to end this coming September. But a new man was appointed as Ag. VC, while Okafor is on leave, meaning that there exists a unique situation where an institution has two VCs. But that's by the way.
Nevertheless, that's not forgetting that Okafor's tenureship saga was a subject of controversy as those who wanted him out did not consider what the law stated concerning his actual duration of service. But now, Okafor is on leave and an Acting VC is in the saddle.
The coming of the new man has probably been seen as an opportunity by the anti-Okafor elements in the institution to move into action and ensure that no trace of Okafor is left in the institution.
Now, there are allegations that those perceived as Okafor's sympathisers are being victimised in various ways; some subtle, others virtually overt.
For example, in the area of employment and payment of salaries, some people employed by Okafor in February this year are yet to be paid despite their appointments being regularised. While this is so, those allegedly employed by the new man in May this year have started receiving salaries. When those earlier employed asked why they were not being paid, they were allegedly told there was no money; yet there is money to pay those employed after them.
There is also an alleged with hunting of members of staff ''loyal'' to Okafor, leading to what they perceive as punitive redeployments.
But what is by far more alarming, if true, is the alleged intimidation/victimization of those not from Anambra North. Already, there is talk that redeployments have been made in such a way that those from North replaced those from elsewhere in choice positions.
According to a source, the group fanning the embers of clannishness wrote a letter to the state government in which they sought the support of the governor in the prosecution of their ''northern'' agenda, a letter that was said to have angered the governor for its pettiness.
This dichotomy, no doubt, can be very dangerous in an academic environment. It is a seed that, once allowed to germinate, cannot be uprooted easily later. It is the last thing to be allowed to fester in a citadel of learning.
I learnt that to show any sign that one has links or sympathy with Okafor is to court trouble. This has made those who used to wear uniforms they made during Okafor's time to cease wearing them as it could be interpreted as showing sympathy for Okafor.
For the students, the story isn't much different, but they mainly decry what they see as the lack of human face by the new regime. For instance, they claim that under the previous regime, indigent students were allowed to take their exams even when they could not pay their tuition fees, as long as they paid same before graduation.
Now, however, they claim that such students are prevented from taking exams. But the worrisome thing there, according to them, is that while they are barred from taking exams, some privileged few by virtue of their connections, are allowed to take their exams.
To this end, they claim that 35% of students in their final year were stopped from taking their exams.
They also claim that the security personnel in the institution harass students and workers and can enter any office at any time in a clear contempt of those in those offices.
Beyond this, I was also made to know that some students of the school are being instigated to cast aspersion on the immediate past administration through sponsored press releases.
Well, as I have clearly shown here, all this is what I have been told by aggrieved students and members of staff. I have also pointed out the possibility of the Acting VC not being in the know of all this.
That is why I have decided to write this piece in the hope that he moves to nip what has been alleged in the bud if, indeed, they are true. One of the hallmarks of a great leader is not allowing any self seeking group to influence their decisions.
A university is not a political party where parochial interests are brazenly pursued. It remains a citadel of learning where everything is determined by merit. Should parochial interests be allowed, then it turns to a motor park where anything goes.
The Acting VC should therefore act on these allegations by conducting an investigation at the end of which if these allegations are true, those behind them should be promptly brought to book. If untrue, he will at least have reason to guard against the occurrence of such.
But being that there's hardly smoke without a fire, the new man will do well to look into these allegations.
Any organisation run along clannish lines is headed for disaster and when such an organisation is a citadel of learning, then the consequences are better imagined. One sure fallout of such is that the quality of learning will take a dive as those supposed to impart knowledge may not be the best. Consequently the quality of graduates will not be able to measure up with others.
A stitch in time, as they say, saves nine. In this very case, it can save twenty.
So, Mr Acting VC, the ball is squarely in your court. I wish you luck.