On Thursday, August 30, 2012, universities across Nigeria were shut down following a warning strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to protest the re-appointment of Professor Barineme Bekee Fakae as the vice chancellor of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST), though on acting capacity.
Rivers State Governor and Visitor to RSUST, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi had, on July 31, 2012 reappointed Professor Fakae as the vice chancellor of the state owned University. The announcement, which was signed by the permanent secretary, Rivers State Ministry of Education, Mr. Richard Ofuru, came few days after a Port Harcourt High Court presided over by Honorable Justice Daniel Kalio, dismissed a suit challenging the appointment of Fakae, as vice chancellor of the institution. The ASUU chapter of RSUST had in 2010, in an originating summons, in suit No PHC/236/2010 dragged the attorney general of the State, Fakae, (second defendant) and others to court over the his appointment as Vice Chancellor.
However, there was mixed feelings within the University environment following the re-appointment of the former Vice Chancellor. While some students and lecturers applauded the appointment, others, especially, the leadership of the local ASUU saw it as a violation of laid down rules. These mixed feelings led to the withdrawal of many lecturers from the strike embarked upon by ASUU in the University to press home their protest against Fakae's appointment, as the one-week ultimatum given to the Amaechi by the union to reverse the appointment expired. Some of the lecturers who boycotted the strike were of the belief that the present leadership of the union in the university "has no power to interfere in a matter that has nothing to do with ASUU."
They insisted that the tenure of the present ASUU executive in the university led by Dr. Felix Igwe has expired since June 30, 2012 as Igwe ought to have handed over to a new executive since he did not receive the official endorsement from the national office of the union to carry on. But, the ASUU chairman in the institution described the position of the lecturers as personal, saying that any lecturer, who disagreed with the position of the union, must do so through the congress, stressing that ASUU still maintained its position as it concerned the issue. Igwe also denied that his tenure was over, saying: "I would not be there talking to you, if my tenure has ended. My tenure has ended and I am still there? I am not interested in tenure extension, neither am I interested in re-appointment or re-election."
Wading into the crisis in RSUST, the national leadership of ASUU has accused Amaechi of meddling in the running of the state-owned university. Addressing journalists recently in Abuja, ASUU President, Professor Nasir Isa, stated that the governor has shown a clear violation of the statutes establishing the university by the "undeserved and illegal re-appointment of Fakae as the vice chancellor."
Isa said; "A university is a product of law. Such a law must be respected and protected at all times by those the people have entrusted to govern the university. Anything short of that, as we are witnessing at RSUST, is unacceptable.
"To say the least, the re-appointment of Fakae as acting vice chancellor is morally repugnant and legally in-defensive."
He said that Fakae's appointment by the governor in 2008 was illegal as it was not the responsibility of the governor to do so but that of the university's governing council, adding that the appointment of the vice chancellor did follow due process and when the matter was challenged by the RSUST branch of ASUU, the governor, who attended the congress of the union, pleaded that the matter be laid to rest. Isa also accused pro-chancellor and chairman of the governing council of the university, Justice Adolphus Karibi-Whyte of doing the governor's bidding in the matter.
The ASUU leader said; "Another surprise was that Justice Karibi-Whyte started inventing rationales and justifications for the re-appointment of Professor Fakae as if he is oblivious of the visitor's gentleman's agreement with the university community.
"Rather than address the issues at stake, which are the inappropriateness of the appointment of Professor Fakae and Governor Amaechi's promise not to re-appoint him, both the chairman of the council and the visitor have been playing the ostrich.
"This has empowered the acting vice chancellor to unleash a reign of terror on academics and other workers at the university. His foot soldiers are all out on a campaign of calumny against the leadership of ASUU."
Although, the governor has refused to join issues with ASUU leadership, both at the national and a local level, the state government, through the commissioner for information and communications, Mrs. Ibim Seminatari, has continued to defend the appointment.
Seminatari said that the re-appointment followed due process, noting that the tenure of the vice chancellor improved the standard of the university which now ranks 19 from 76 out of 117 universities in the country. Expectedly, students, especially those who are about to write their final exams, are likely to suffer most in this battle of supremacy between two elephants- the Rivers State government and ASUU.