There is an anecdote in my own part of the Igbo society told about a woman who farted upon attempting to lift a heavy object in public. Thereupon, to clear off the shame, she continued, using her mouth, to make a sound that resembled the fart. An elder in the gathering then said to her, “You cannot deceive us; we know the difference between the sound made with the mouth and that made by the anus.” Just follow me. The university is a citadel of the highest order of learning. To attain professorship in a foremost university, such as the University of Nigeria, is to be (or so it seems) an academic of the highest order. An academic of the highest order should be discerning enough not to take recourse in the fallacy of spurious allegation. That two things exist concurrently does not necessarily mean that one has caused the other. But such a fallacy, it seems, has been Prof Bartho Okolo’s most formidable line of defence in the troubles that have attended his VCship of the University of Nigeria, my alma mater, since late 2013. Prof Okolo, who became Vice Chancellor in 2009, was allegedly running the institution outrageously badly. My inquiries revealed that it was only coincidental that Dr Emeka Enejere, the man whom President Goodluck Jonathan appointed to chair the 14th UNN Council in the period when Okolo began to be exposed, is from the Nsukka area. But how Okolo cherishes this coincidence! For it has provided him with the alibi he so badly needs to divert attention from multifarious revelations made about his graft and malfeasance as Vice Chancellor of UNN.
First, one writer said in the Leadership newspaper of 4 February 2014: “The University (of Nigeria) has become a centre of sleaze, impunity, arbitrariness, and sundry acts of corruption.” The Verbatim magazine reporters, quoting the Governing Council’s official document, said: “The reality is that the administration is Okolo and Okolo is the administration. He is the Bursar and decides what contract to award without a budget. Under the Fiscal Responsibility Act, this is a criminal offence.” However, Okolo’s defence came in the Vanguard of 13 March: “Their (all who objected to his style of administration in the UNN) primary objective was to put their kinsman from Nsukka as vice-chancellor of UNN. To actualize the plan, they have to remove me from office, claiming that I am stubborn. That was the reason for those lies they told against me.” Prof Okolo’s defences in other platforms are more or less in similar lines. But it is easy to determine whether the voices that have arisen against him have all been motivated by no other desire than to replace him with an Nsukka person as Vice Chancellor of UNN.
I live in Abuja. But, as an alumnus passionate about my alma mater, I have gone down to Nsukka to make my own enquiries after having read and heard so much going on in UNN. All said and done, on the balance, Prof Okolo has several billions of naira to account for. Although on-going projects are scattered in the UNN, many of them that are on record as having been almost fully paid for are still in early stages of construction; some have not even been started at all. In any case, I was particularly interested in whether those who have insisted that Prof Okolo be held to account could be pursuing an Nsukka agenda.
First, recall that Mr Ebenezer Fayemi, Deputy Director, Tertiary Education, who represented the Education Ministry in the 14th UNN Council, was the first to get mad at Prof Okolo for the level of dilapidation he saw in the UNN despite the billions of naira he knew was at Okolo’s disposal. After having gone round to inspect the UNN, Fayemi had got angry with the VC. Convinced that UNN had no hope under Prof Okolo, he remonstrated with his council colleagues on the need to suspend him to forestall further damage to the university. Indeed, it was Dr Enejere, the Nsukka man, who had insisted that Prof Okolo be investigated first before a decision would be made about suspension. However, Mr Fayemi was confused when, days later, he got a letter from his ministry withdrawing him from the UNN Council. Meanwhile, I can see that Fayemi is Yoruba, and not Nsukka.
While Dr Enejere insisted on taking it easy with Prof Okolo, findings on his malfeasance continued to grow too egregious to ignore. Council submitted the report of their findings on Prof Okolo to Nyesom Wike, the Supervising Minister for Education here in Abuja. Members of Council were still thinking about what would become of Prof Okolo when an announcement came on air from the Education Ministry suspending, not Prof Okolo whose graft was being exposed, but Dr Enejere himself, perhaps for daring to expose the minister’s friend. As the Leadership newspaper of 4 February 2014 put it, “The general perception … is that the removal of Dr Enejere was because the Enejere-led Governing Council refused to back-pedal from its resolve to release the report of the Petitions Committee set up to look into the over 450 petitions lodged against the Vice Chancellor by various persons and groups.” People were then left in no doubt that there were forces in the Education Ministry whose primary objective was that the UNN should not be saved but be allowed to be destroyed. Those who protested Dr Enejere’s removal included all the unions in the institution as well as the Alumni Association. Majority of the members of these bodies are not from Nsukka. The UNN Alumni are still in court challenging Dr Enejere’s precipitate removal. They insist that besides the fact that no reason was yet given for the Council Chair’s removal, only the president of Nigeria, and not a minister, was empowered by law to either appoint or remove a chairman of a federal university council. In any case, I find that none of the Alumni executive members is from Nsukka.
On January 23, Vanguard reported a petition by the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) to the EFCC, asking it to investigate allegations of embezzlement and corruption against Prof Okolo. The CLO had wondered: “It is unheard of anywhere in the world that a vice chancellor of a university will award contracts running into billions of naira to non-existent companies. They listed the companies to include Enwerem and Sons Enterprises, Ottamo Trading Company, Ozetech Metal Construction, Noble Tech Aluminium Industry and Chronicle Computers and Communications,whereupon they said, “Our findings at the Corporate Affairs Commission shows that these five companies are not registered companies in Nigeria.” The CLO demanded an urgent and thorough investigation and urged the EFCC to ensure that justice was done. Again, I can see that Mr Olu Omotayo, CLO Zonal Coordinator (South East) who signed that petition, is not from Nsukka.
Details of the phantom contracts through which Prof Okolo and friends plundered the UNN, as well as other cases of his malfeasance, are no longer news. They are contained in the Council’s report that ran into 27 pages. The crux of it was served the public in the Verbatim magazine of 17 February, 2014. Several other writers have also exposed as much as their investigations revealed. A Google search will serve anyone who wishes to see more.
Having been inundated with petitions from group- and individual-stakeholders in the university against Prof Okolo’s administration, the Governing Council could not help an investigation. And their inquiries showed that Prof Okolo had awarded 113 contracts. What was shocking was not just that the awarding processes did not follow the rules but that most of them were almost fully paid for even when they were still at less than 20% completion. Some have not even been done at all. In all the releases that have emanated from Prof Okolo, nowhere has he defended all the revelations of graft, contract splitting and money laundering made about his administration. All he labours to do is to divert attention away from such reports. And he does this by suggesting that he is being fought by those who want an Nsukka person to become the next UNN Vice Chancellor.
One does not deny ethnic and locality sentiments in Nigeria. But in this particular case, the facts of Prof Okolo’s malfeasance are there for anyone to see and have nothing whatsoever to do with an imagined Nsukka agenda. I found it to be only a coincidence that an Nsukka man chaired the 14th UNN Governing Council that investigated Prof Okolo. Did Okolo expect Enejere to look away from his (Okolo’s) graft just to avoid being accused of pursuing an Nsukka agenda? Okay, will it then follow to allege that President Jonathan who appointed Dr Enejere to chair The UNN Council was also working towards an imagined Nsukka agenda? That reminds me: Dear President Jonathan, what have you done since you learnt that a minister under you, without a query or explanation, arbitrarily removed a university council chairman that you personally appointed, and whom you alone have the direct authority to remove? Or haven’t you heard that Wike did it?.
Back to you Prof Okolo, please find another defence, unless you want to also convince us that the Nsukka agenda pushed you to plunder the UNN. Mr Vice chancellor, do not deceive us; we can discern between the sound made by the anus and that made with the mouth. I weep for my alma mater. No wonder the world famous UNN is now lost on the world map. It did not even feature in the first 2600 universities in the latest world rankings. With people like Okolo at the helm, no one should be surprised that UNN has kept sliding down the drain. I hope to be alive to see how Okolo will end up.