“Palliatives” and the ignominious destitution of the University of Nigeria by the Vice Chancellor
The first time I saw Prof Charles Igwe, Vice Chancellor, University of Nigeria, towards the end of July 2019, I honestly feared the worst for one of Nigeria’s premier universities.
The professor, who rode into office in a hail of controversy and acrimony, had come to the Enugu State Government House on a courtesy visit to the governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. He arrived in a long convoy, complete with everyone who was any one in the university. I was a media aide to the governor at the time and was there in the hall when the VC and his entourage arrived.
As a product of UNN, I was saddened; almost frustrated by the way Prof Igwe discharged himself during this visit. I had expected an erudite scholar exchanging ideas with government but what I saw was a fawning, beggarly man in suit, struggling to coordinate himself and his speech. I expected the presentation of change-making ideas; a sort of research proposal or partnership from the institution to the government of Enugu State, but I saw a man that arrived, cap in hand to beg.
Prof Igwe could not even articulate the issues he came to pray for Governor Ugwuanyi’s intervention. He stammered through his speech and at a point, the governor bent his head over his desk in apparent embarrassment.
“We know you have been supportive of the university in the past, but as Oliver Twist, we will always ask for some more…”
The humiliatingly servile words of “Oliver Twist” and “we ask for some more” became the highpoint of the professor’s visit. They were timidly repeated so many times with such poor nervous control and quaking of voice that my colleague then, sitting beside me, tapped me and wondered in a loud whisper, whether the man was truly the Vice Chancellor of the University of Nigeria?”
I could not answer his question. He was not a product of UNN and so I felt I was being mocked. And when you witness such situations, you’d always end up praying it was a one-off occurrence that would not be repeated. Sad thing is you almost always end up wrong.
From what has been happening in and around UNN in the last couple of months, it appears the Professor Igwe that I saw in Government House Enugu in July 2019 neither has a high opinion of his status nor does he understand the implications of his conducts and contacts on the brand profile of the university is heads . I had struggled to rationalize his behaviour while on that courtesy visit by trying to convince my reluctant self that he was perhaps intimidated by the aura and circumstances of the office of the Governor, but it has become, from fresh developments, that Mr VC has nothing else to offer in terms of strength of character and, as one of my lecturers in my university days, Prof Sylvanus Ekwelie would call it, “style.”
Around May 23/24, 2020, Facebook ecosystem around Enugu State blazed with news that the Chairman of Igbo Eze South Local Government Area, Mr Peter Andy, had visited the University, with a truck-load of 200 bags of rice in tow. It was the season of political tokenism. Coronavirus had caused the shutdown of the economy and politicians were falling over themselves to be seen to care for the people in their various constituencies. Rice (some in ridiculously small quantities) and other basic food items like yams and noodles were being distributed all over the place. Smart Peter Andy saw an opportunity to make unusually major headlines; instead of limiting his intervention to the local council area that he chairs, he headed towards UNN. There was a buzzword everyone was hooked on in the political beauty pageant of the season – palliatives.
Peter grabbed the headlines. Photos of him and the VC trended around the beer palours and political corridors in and around Nsukka cultural zone. He even featured on a local radio station. A local government council chairman donating “palliatives” to UNN has to be big news.
Not to be outdone, Chairman, Nsukka Local Government Area, Mr. Patrick Omeje, on Sunday, June 7, 2020, loaded yet another truck with bags of rice (I could not get the exact number, although I hear there were 300 bags) and headed towards the university with the same mission – to “donate palliatives” to the university. And just like Peter Andy, he had all the local Social Media influencers and political megaphones in his entourage.
Influence peddling has hit a new notch and the vice chancellor of Nigeria’s second ever university is receiving all the attention from the COVID-19 generosity of our politicians. Good news!
Interrogating the rationale
It has often been said that the reason Nigeria is at this irredeemable low is because the political actors have cleverly pocketed the intellectual faculties of the nation, compromised the moral bastion and converted them to mere tools of interest entrenchment. A society rid of its academia and its religious leadership is the definition of tyranny. It is the conspiracy of the academic and the religious communities, with the political class that has given rise to the virtual sole proprietorship that governments in Nigeria have become. Rather then act as checks on the executive, our houses of assembly and councillors have all become conniving chambers where executive superemacy is rubber-stamped. And while we are lamenting the fall from grace of our institutions of higher learning before Federal and State Governments, the new low of groveling before Local Council Chairmen has to be deprecated by all concerned.
The least I expected of the Vice Chancellor of UNN is to reject these lowly gifts for what they truly are – tokens with profoundly humiliating undertones. I will explain this, although I expected a man of the VC’s standing to know.
First of all is the nomenclature, “PALLIATIVES.”
By its very meaning, a palliative, derived from the medical field, is what is administered to patients suffering severe symptomatic pains in order to relieve them of the ordeal but not to cure the real ailment. For instance, a person that has sickle cell anemia might take strong painkillers to alleviate the excruciating pain associated with the condition, but which has nothing to do with curing it. Similarly, typhoid fever might manifest in severe headache and other conditions. The patient here will get some reliefs by taking analgesics, but that does not in any way attack the causative agent – the Salmonella enterica serotype Typhi bacteria
If we then apply this to the prevailing situation in Nigeria, a palliative would then be stuff given to the poor and vulnerable, which in no way, is designed to lift them from poverty. In other words, palliatives in regard to the current COVID-19 challenge are mere interventions (not enduring solutions) to help in mitigating the effect of the economic lockdown on the most vulnerable segments of the society in the hope that efforts for their economic betterment would be implemented by government in the future.
By accepting “palliatives” from political actors therefore, Prof Igwe has indirectly been telling the world that his university is at the bottom of the pyramid as far as the economic stratification of Enugu is concerned, thereby diluting the university’s proposition, which is “To Restore the Dignity of Man.” Only a man that is not aware of his self-worth would be carrying an elephant on his head and still be using his toes to search for crickets on the ground.
UNN is not in any position to accept palliatives from local councils. The school is far richer and in better financial stead than the councils it is collecting rice and noodles from. A 2017 report by one Alexander O. Onukwue says UNN, as a premier university in Nigeria, received about N13 billion from the Federal Government for that year. This translated to slightly above N1billion every month and does not include grants and monies received from students as fees. Factoring school fees and other income streams would place the university’s monthly income at about N2 billion.
Compare this figure to those of the local government’s that are making these humiliating donations. Igbo Eze South Local Government Area, with a population of about 150,000 people receives an average of N163 million every month or about N1.9 billion per annum. Nsukka Local Government Area on its part, with a population of about 310,000 people receives approximately N205 million monthly or about N2.5 billion per annum. These are 2018 figures.
UNN has a total student population of about 36,000, an academic staff strength of 1,700 and a non-academic staff of about, let us even say 10,000. This means that at its peak, UNN would have a population of no more than 50,000 people. But its monthly allocation is over N1bilion a month; meaning that, for Igbo Eze South, the more pathetic case here, its total annual allocation equates to what UNN receives from the same Federal Government in a month. Yet this local government, whose only source of internally generated revenue are small markets that open once every four days and a horde of commercial motorcyclists, is so generous that it sends palliatives to the university. To achieve what, you may ask?
For Nsukka Local Government Chairman, allocation to the local government per capita per month translates to just N661 (six hundred and sixty-one naira), as compared to that of UNN, which stands at N20,000 (assuming our base population figure of 50,000 is correct) per capita per month.
From the above statistical breakdown, it appears that we are in the ridiculous situation where, as my Nsukka people would say, the person on the ground is falling on top of the person on the tree top. The only way to explain the saying, again, drawing from the rich proverbs of my people, is that it is folly to be transferring water from a half empty pot to another already filled to the brim.
Anyone associated with the university cannot but feel ashamed, watching pictures and videos posted on the Social Media, and which captured the VC, looking like a proprietor of a motherless babies’ home, receiving bags of rice from council chairmen and their retinue of acolytes.
The Coronavirus vaccine, according to Investopedia is expected to fetch about $30 billion during the pandemic and another $25 billion afterwards. This is what the world is running after. But the VC of UNN, a university that has produced seasoned scientists, is busy hobnobbing with council chairmen and collecting; not doling out; palliatives from them.
That a Vice Chancellor is shamelessly accepting these gifts tells you of the low our academic environment has sunk. At a time the global academia has been in a desperate race to discover the vaccine/cure for COVID-19, it saddens to see the University of Nigeria finding better preoccupation with collecting rice and beans from local councils. The Coronavirus vaccine, according to Investopedia is expected to fetch about $30 billion during the pandemic and another $25 billion afterwards. This is what the world is running after. But the VC of UNN, a university that has produced seasoned scientists, is busy hobnobbing with council chairmen and collecting; rather than doling out; palliatives from them.
And we have not even broached the entire reverse osmosis this has come to mean.
You see, Nsukka became a town known far and wide because of UNN. Most of the businesses in the town have survived from the expenditure outflow from this university. How then can one explain the fact that the local councils this university has inspired their developments since 1960 are now the ones giving “palliatives” to it? That this Vice Chancellor has allowed political actors to make the tail to begin to wag the dog is as strange as it is preposterous.
I don’t know what the University of Nigeria Alumni Association is doing, but I think time has come to remind this man that he is not presiding over citadel of learning and not a home for the destitute that survives from tokens, genuine and sanctimonious from the general public.