Looming Crisis In UNIBEN
The University of Benin is in the news again two years after the appointment of a vice chancellor led to the sacking of its governing council for its compromising role. This time, the appointment of the chairman of the governing council and bursar of the institution is tearing the university community apart.
Sir Gabriel Toby, a former deputy governor of Rivers State and Dr. May Nwoye are chairman and bursar respectively whose tenure has expired. The plan to reappoint them to their former position is generating furore in the institution.
Last week, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU UNIBEN chapter threatened an industrial crisis if Toby is reappointed by the federal government. The union said that it would be a great disservice to the management and students of the university to have as governing council chairman, a man who during his first tenure “turned University of Benin into a business centre to enrich himself.” The chapter chairman, Dr. Anthony Monye-Emina told newsmen in Benin City that “a pro-chancellor and chairman of governing council of a university is supposed to be of proven integrity and transparency and seen to attract funding in particular.”
He said apart from being a major contractor to the university, Toby took over the provision of internet services through a dud company he formed and called CINFORES which “completely mismanaged information processing to the discomfort and embarrassment of new students and staff of the university.” The ASUU chairman added that apart from awarding the contract to provide insurance cover for the university through his company, Hallmark Insurance, the former chairman also awarded to himself the N182 million contract for the construction of a clinical therapeutic laboratory and a miniature animal house for N26 million. He said Toby “succeeded with all these because he insisted and made himself the chairman of the university’s tender’s board as well as procurement board against all extant rules while living on the university’s lean resources with supplies of food, fruits and water to him in Port Harcourt.”
He added that though he has since been removed from office, Toby has held on to the two official vehicles that were allocated to his office including a Toyota Prado SUV and a Camry of the same make. He then concluded that since UNIBEN has enjoyed some positive development in recent times with the relative peace now prevailing, the federal government would do well by reconstituting the governing council with the MoU it signed with the national body of ASUU.
Toby however said his tenure in the UNIBEN is one worthy of commendation rather than condemnation. He denied having any company carrying out contracts in the university. “I am not a director or shareholder. It is unfortunate that such frivolous allegations are being made.” He based his action as chairman of the council on the law which “says that council should take the general control of the university, the finances and the welfare of the university and that is what I came in to do and in doing it I found out that the issue of financial responsibility and accountability was paramount.” He noted that the university had no budget before he was appointed chairman of the council.
The planned reappointment of Dr. Nwoye has also caused a division in the university. A group known as UNIBEN Development Stakeholders Forum has petitioned the minister of education, Professor Ruqayatu Rufa’i over plans by the university management to retain her as the bursar. The group which implored the minister “to commence investigation into alleged fraud perpetuated by the bursary department of the University of Benin, under her tenure,” said they would resist all attempts to reappoint her. The petition was signed by Dr. Silas Oghenovo Orhege and Mrs. A Imarhiabe-Ukachukwu, secretary general and publicity secretary respectively. It urged the minister to checkmate any attempt by the university’s management to reinstate the incumbent or stop her from proceeding on the mandatory annual leave at the expiration of her tenure.
But unions in the university however are supporting her reappointment.
Dr. Nwoye declined to comment on the issue because she is a civil servant. Instead, she referred the magazine to the VC for comments.
Toby is said to favour the appointment of Dr. Nwoye’s who is presently an acting bursar pending the reconstitution of the governing council by the federal government.