Sunday, February 7, 2016 10:47 pm
By Terka Jam
Without prejudice to the commitment and efforts of President Muhammadu Buhari and many patriotic Nigerians to stamping out corruption from the country, we will one day discover to our greatest dismay that there is another potent problem whose danger to the nation far outweighs any of the other vices plaguing us. That problem is ethnic jingoism, which oftentimes is a key contributory factor to corruption. It is also at the root of the institutional failures that have bedevilled us as a people.
For me, this noxious irritant again came to the fore when I perused a petition, ostensibly written under a nebulous appellation of “Concerned Indigenes of Taraba” to the effect that they do not like the fact that Professor Obitor Geoffrey Okogbaa, “a non-indigene” is the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University, Wukari, Taraba state. At least that was the impression I was left with after struggling to make sense of the petition.
As a background, this petition was written at a time when a Barack Obama, with Kenya ancestry is the president of the United States. I wonder why a group of people took time to compose such venom at a time when several countries in the world run diversity emigration programmes for the purpose of attracting talents from diverse background to enrich and thereby secure their future as countries. For those who will argue that our circumstance in Nigeria is different, this attitude surfaced at a time when the present administration is mulling the concept of “state of residence” as opposed to the present idea of “state of origin”.
Whereas, one can excuse treading this course as the product of individuals with a narrow world view, it is however inexcusable that they tried to mask their attempt at ethnic cleansing as a contribution to the anti-corruption fight. Not only is this disingenuous, it is also a sort of desecration of our collective commitment to rid the nation of fraud. It is like making a joke of the serious issue that the anti-corruption fight is meant to be.
Their petition is laced with claims that are largely unsubstantiated and largely betrayed a profound lack of grasp of how federal organisations work. Each Federal University has a Governing Board. Each university also fall under the supervision of the Ministry of Education. There is also the Senate for each university. So one is constrained to ask how it was possible that Professor Okogbaa was able to muscle these various tiers of oversight to single handedly award contracts. Where were the relevant Senate and House of Representatives Committees when these so called infractions occurred because they exercise oversight over federal universities? The authors of the mischievous document forgot that in addition to both houses having committees for education, they also have committees for Public Accounts, which would have picked up financial misdeeds on the scale suggested.
Professor Okogbaa might have been the target of the unwarranted attack that was largely driven by ethnic sentiments but it is supervisory agencies and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that came out looking bad.
So desperate were those behind this sinister plot that they tried to retroactively apply facts by claiming that the Vice Chancellor is violating the Presidency’s directive on the Treasury Single Account (TSA). They possibly forgot that there were several weeks between when the directive was issued and when federal government agencies were expected to comply. In any way, the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Federal Universities and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) had expressed fears about the practicality of rapidly meeting the deadline set by government. This cherry-picking of facts to suit a set goal is a waste of time.
If those used for fronting the petition would as much as due a little due diligence, they will discover that those bankrolling their operations have their eyes set on replacing Professor Okogbaa as Vice Chancellor, should their wildcard hit the jackpot – not that this will ever happen. Instead of continuing to make themselves pliant tools in hands of would be coupists, those being used to push this petition should give a thought to what the man they are fighting has been able to achieve.
Professor Okogba took the school to its present enviable position within the shortest possible time from inception. He has not only positioned the school for now, he has evolved a blueprint for those who will come after him to implement and retain the institution’s position as an academic leader in the country.
This must be the reason for the a communiqué once issued by a socio cultural based association in the state which stated that the Vice Chancellor has demonstrated the highest level of respect and tolerance for the host community by engaging indigenous contractors owned and managed by Taraba sons and daughters in an attempt to include everyone in the administration of the university.
Right from when he resumed duty, Professor Okogbaa has shown uncommon respect for the traditional institution as he has repeatedly demonstrated by keeping the traditional ruler of Wukari, the Aku Uka in the pictures of things he is doing. One begins to wonder if someone originally from Taraba state could have shown this level of respect to the traditional institution since he could have simply consigned to the campus, being the location for his primary assignment.
Those behind the attacks on Professor Okogbaa must learn from history. Several federal universities had this experience in the past, where indigenous populations aspire to leading institution imply on account that their state is playing host. In the instances where such people had their way, the result was uniform across board. The institutions usually go into decline until competence is again used as the basis for selecting Vice Chancellors. The teaching and non-teaching staff of the Federal University, Wukari must also learn from history and tremble. If Professor Okogbaa is removed, what will follow is an ethnic cleansing that will see the hundreds of staffers who are not from Taraba state having trumped up charges thrown their way as is been done to the VC now. Prospective students and their parents must also be concerned as admissions into the school, which is federal government owned and funded, would become lopsided enough to exclude candidates from other states.
Is this what we all want?
We must therefore be united in condemning the on-going efforts to reduce the administration of the Federal University, Wukari into an ethnic agenda so that the school will not become a stillbirth and a failure. We must fight ethnic jingoism same way we are fighting corruption.
*Jam is a forensic psychologist based in Wukari, Taraba State.