After two students were killed at the Rivers State University (RSU formerly University of Science and Technology, UST) last week, the vice chancellor, Blessing Chimezie Didia, was queried and thereafter sacked. His sack, along with his first deputy, Magnus Oruwari, and the replacement with Opuenebo B. Owei, brought to a climax series of happenings and decline that set in the very day Bariname B. Fakae (former VC) left after eight years of two successful terms.
The killings opened a pandora’s box as students began to reveal their trauma in the university. This showed that security had broken down irretrievably with daily robberies and attacks. Ladies called into radio stations narrating how armed boys easily sauntered into classrooms and robbed them. They said reports to the security unit brought no sense of alarm. “At best, they recover your item and ask you to forget it”, one lady said.
Students have since complained that “sorting” is fully back, something that was driven far away from the then UST. A graduating student said most students would be busy with phones right in class without bothering with what the lecturer was teaching. “They were sure to pass, no matter”, he said.
The biggest crash seemed to be the e-system of the then UST. This was said to have helped the university to become Nigeria’s number one by wed-ranking carried out by a EU-organ. Lecturers were made to turn in results within two weeks after each exam. They were to submit marking schemes after setting exams, such that any other lecturer could mark any paper. By this, students were no longer able to be held at ransom by any single lecturer. This was said to have freed students from lecturers. “All of this crashed”, a student said.
Another sector that seemingly crashed was the ICT centre which was manned by CINFORES, a group of young IT boys and girls that wowed the nation with digital technology innovations. They, at a point, were said to be providing consultancy services to the Federal Ministry of Education, JAMB, NUC, and private institutions. They were relied upon to conduct competitive exams and tests for bodies such as the NDDC, SPDC, etc. Under Fakae, the UST became a model and others copied, radio callers said last week in Port Harcourt. As shooting and killing returned to the UST (now RSU), many students began to recall the days of BB Fakae with huge nostalgia.
Fakae is a UNN-trained veterinary doctor and researcher of international repute while Didia is a Uniport-trained pathologist. Fakae is in the mould of reformer and academic rebuilder who was brought from the UNN to first rebuild the Polytechnic, Bori (now Saro Wiwa Polytechmic) and was later moved under heavy persuasion by then Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi to the UST (now RSU). Didia, on the other hand, is perceived as an easy-going peace-builder with popularity within university unions.
The UST was seen as a den of evil before rescue came. It was dubbed university of stress and tension. Students were shot right inside exam halls or while defending, with lecturers fleeing. Discipline broke down, and academic work almost ground to a halt. Ethnic rivalry took over from academic contest, according to those who worked there then.
At a point, almost all courses lost accreditation from the National Universities Commission (NUC). Finally, the university stopped graduating students.
It was at this point that then Governor Amaechi used Ogoni-born Magnus Abe (then SSG) to woo Fakae (who was wooed from the UNN to Bori Poly by Peter Odili) to leave the Poly and come rescue the UST in PH. Amaechi, as Visitor, had signed out that the UST was dead and buried. Amaechi had appealed to the professor emeritus, Nimi Briggs (two-time VC of Uniport) to come to the UST on rescue mission, but the professor of Gynaecology was said to have rather recommended Fakae as a young person with sound head and ideas and energy to go for the battle. The problem was that Fakae fought hard not to move over to the UST, until Amaechi allegedly demanded for his resignation letter at the Poly, if he was insisting on rejecting government order. He broke down and accepted, many said.
That night, according to a book, ‘The Priest of Two Temples’, Fakae’s wife and children cried openly over their father’s agreeing to go to the UST. Fakae was said to have called his Nsukka residence to console them, pleading that the same God that saw him through in Bori would do it in dangerous UST. The family revealed later that they did not only fear for their father’s life but for his reputation because he would not compromise.
UST during Fakae
By the time Fakae was leaving after eight years (when no VC in recent history had survived beyond one term), the UST had become the first state-owned university in Nigeria by 2014 ranking and 12th over all; all courses were accredited, lecturers earned the highest salaries in Nigeria, admissions were given with automated system, registration of courses was with automated system, sorting died, cultism was driven away, discipline returned fully, lecturers fought for academic excellence, foreign research grants began to come from hard work, strikes ended, graduation of four sets took place, and academic calendar was restored from September to July every year such that an entrant knew the exact date he would graduate. The UST became an enviable academic centre as many companies began to partner with them. Pride returned.
Impact of Amaechi-Wike political rivalry
The greatest harm to the UST came through the bitter rivalry between the two Ikwerre-born godfathers of the UST. Wike was said to be part of those who appreciated what he did in Bori and thus pressed Fakae to accept to come over to the UST. When Wike became minister in education ministry, he is said to have worked very closely with Fakae to bring goodies home; such that the forum of VCs saw Fakae and Joseph Ojienka (Uniport VC then) as minister’s brothers during meetings.
When Amaechi and Wike fell apart, the entire Rivers State was polarised, such that every public figure was expected to fall behind either Amaechi or Wike. The ASUU of the UST divided into two along this line, leaving the likes of Fakae in the middle, a place too dangerous and suspicious to be.
The ASUU had refused to accept Fakae from day one as VC and Amaechi tried to pacify them with goodies. Many accepted but about 50 refused outright. These ones refused to return to duty after a deadline. They were declared as having resigned. For all the years of Fakae’s second term, they stayed away from classes and new lecturers were engaged. When the Amaechi/Wike fight became open and fierce, the 50 were believed to have joined the Wike side. The moment Wike won, he ordered that they should be reinstated immediately. Paying them for years of no work and no salary took almost N800milion. It also looked like a moral victory to them.
Didia steps in
From the day Wike took over as governor, the sacked lecturers began to hover around the university and many expected Wike to sack Fakae. The day Wike visited the university, Fakae seemed unaware and had to hurry out to receive his guest who inspected abandoned buildings and ordered work to resume immediately at the Law Faculty Building. Many expected to hear Fakae’s sack that day and celebration shoes were on some legs. As Wike made to leave, some shouted sack him, sack him. Fakae was not sacked; he finished his term in August of same year, 2015.
The appointment of Blessing Didia elicited jubilation in ASUU and in some anti-Fakae camps because they saw a pro-ASUU VC coming. Didia swiftly implemented the governor’s directive of recalling the sacked lecturers. He did not stop there. He listened to aggrieved persons and recalled 710 expelled (WAFfed) students, said to be mostly cult-implicated persons and those not serious in academics, according to insiders.
Didia’s achievements in a short period
Didia’s regime made effort to create relationship with the outside community. Thus, the UST created advancement and linkages centre: Bridging the Town/Gown Divide with ‘Actionable’ Solutions to Real Problems of Society. It is not clear if this continued. He also rolled out a N40billion five-year strategic development plan, but nobody knows where the money would come from.
He carried out suspension of the ‘Guideline for Appointment and Promotions of Staff’. The unions said they made no input. Restoration of check-off dues system for all the Labour Unions; ASUU, NASU, NAAT and NASU and subscription for Senior Staff Club; Release of delayed and denied staff promotions, some of which dated back to 2007; Refund of Alumni dues deducted by the University since 2009, not remitted to the association and the establishment of an Alumni Office to track Alumni World-wide; Re-allocation of offices of the former Vice Chancellor, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Registry blocks, to Faculties to ameliorate the inadequate office spaces; Investigation Panel on CINFORES and Computation of Semester Examination results, with a view to returning to the standard University practice of consideration of results through Departments, Faculties to Senate for approval. This brought powers on results to faculties. Many said this was where sorting was incubated.
Others were; Purchase of brand new Toyota bus to replace the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) vehicle allegedly damaged by students during the strike. Also for NASU, Library and Consultancy Unit- a Hilux Van; Reconciliation church service was organised for general forgiveness, rededication and reintegration of staff and students; Return of Prof. Nimi Briggs’ Specialist Hospital formerly contracted to International Trauma and Critical Care Centre back to the University’s Health Services Department; Constitution of a committee to work out a five year strategic development plan for the University; Completion/Commissioning of the portion of Law Faculty in the University; Granted one-year pardon to 710 students formerly deregistered by the University to complete their educational pursuit in the 2015/2016 academic session without payment of fees; Promotion of six additional Deputy Registrars; Re-construction of Institute of Pollution Studies Building, Senior Staff Club and University’s viewing centre; Equipment of Computer Laboratory for Department of Computer science and a Language Laboratory for Mass Communication Department; Commissioning of NDDC prototype hostel; and Equipment of Vice Chancellor’s Conference Room 2.
From the above, it was clear that every single group that had grievance with Fakae was compensated and everything Fakae did was reversed, if possible. The aim was to create peace, but by 2019, the same peace led to killings and shooting.
What Didia may have done wrong
By 2015, insiders predicted that any new VC that continued with Fakae’s legacy would make Fakae a hero, but trying to destroy it would make Fakae a legend. It was to be the burden of any new VC to choose what to make Fakae be. Though Didia always said he was not interested in competing with anybody or out to destroy Fakae, many Fakae supporters said almost everything he did was to undo Fakae.
First, Fakae’s service had been transferred from the UNN to UST, meaning he was to remain as lecturer thereafter. The Didia-led UST stopped this move and stopped his salary and said the transfer was unacceptable. This seemed to be the wish of the anti-Fakae camp. Fakae was said to have told his admirers that he wrote protests to the governor but no word was heard, so he went to court. The case is still in court, but it was enough to rob the UST the experience and strategies found in Fakae that rescued the UST.
Didia may have created the impression that he dreaded any person who worked closely with Fakae and brought closer any person who disliked or fought Fakae. This created the impression that it was Didia versus Fakae in the UST politics. In the process, Didia seemed distracted. It became easy to get a request from him, so long you said it would help prove Fakae bad. Many said the best option would have been to sustain what Fakae did and build on it. There was no need to start a Fakae-Didia battle line or perception, some said.
The recall of 710 sacked students also created the impression that failure was not a bad thing, after all. It created the meme that anybody who failed was due to Fakae and that Didia represented exam success.
Making Fakae to look like Wike’s enemy may have worked for a while but the effect seemed to have peeled off. Many said Wike began to look deeply and began to see more than was said about Fakae and rather began to see rots everywhere in the UST. He began by changing the name. In 2017, Wike exploded when he came for convocation at the UST and lambasted the VC and council.
Return of executive anger
At this point, the days of governors being angry at the UST resumed. By April 1, 2017, on the 29thconvocation event, the Visitor, Governor Wike, took time to lambaste the management of the university. His anger began right at the gates where rowdy traders were hawking their wares to give the UST a bad image. He ordered for immediate action. Before then, the UST offered exquisite imagery and scenery right from the gates with lush garden and well dressed fields. Buildings had good and bright colours and the grasses that once hid bad men were cut while trees were cut down.
Next, the governor who inspected ongoing projects for which he had released N500million said he was not impressed. Wike said he was not satisfied with the quality of job done on building projects at the faculty of Environmental Sciences and Faculty of Management Sciences for the completion of the projects that were long abandoned.
Fuming, the governor ordered the university governing council and the management to ensure the buildings were not commissioned until the proper job was done. The governor equally ordered the contractor handling the buildings to report in the Government House by Tuesday, April 4, 2017, to explain why he was not performing to expectation despite funds released. Insiders said governors used this approach to uncover deals that may be hampering execution of projects.
That must be what he meant by challenging the UST Management (headed by the VC) to shun every temptation faced by it but endeavour to come up with innovative researches that would impact on the development of the state in positive ways.
That was where Governor Wike announced the formal change of name of the then 35-year-old university from Rivers State University of Science & Technology (RSUST) to Rivers State University (RSU) with effect from April 1, 2017, as contained in the amended law setting up the pioneer science and tech institution.
On the state of the environment that was once a tourist delight loved most by the governors that visited, Wike now decried what he described as poor sanitation status and the environment. He said the VC and the management must rise up to their responsibilities by keeping the environment clean at all times. The next day, cutting of bushes began.
Signs that the Governor was still angry were rife. The chairman of council, Iche Ndu, also an Ikwerre man like Didia, was said to be at daggers-drawn with the VC. Situations like this usually inundate the governor’s desk with gossip and petitions. Most chairmen of universities usually demand for large quota of construction jobs (whether they had expertise or not), plus admission and employment quota.
What seemed to break the Carmel’s back may be the governor’s approval to carry out mass employments at the RSU as requested by the VC when Wike won re-election. This was advertised and all manner of applications flooded the place. Wike, himself a down-to-earth grassroots man, chose the moment of the visit of the Governing Council of Captain Elechi Amadi Polytechnic, Port Harcourt at the Government House Port Harcourt, to warn that the UST and others should not dare employ outside merit. He said: “Fresh employments into the Rivers State University (RSU) and the Captain Elechi Amadi Polytechnic, Port Harcourt must be based on merit.”
He added: “We shall closely monitor the process, so that it is not hijacked and made an all-comers’ affair.” It is not clear whether this warning sent enough signals to the VC or not.
When ‘operation deconstruct Fakae’ seemed to become the preoccupation of the new management, some persons were said to have predicted that where Fakae left in a blaze of glory, it may not be so for his successor.
Thus, when killings began in the last week of July 2019, the governor issued a terse query giving the VC mere 48 hours to explain the killings, sorting and employment rackets. By Saturday of August 3, 2019, the tragedy went from gunshots to sacks. The governor sacked the VC and his first deputy. This was contained in a statement by Dagogo Adonye Hart, permanent secretary, Ministry of Education.
It said: “Rivers State Governor and Visitor of the Rivers State University, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike has relieved the Vice Chancellor of the Rivers State University, Prof Blessing Chimezie Didia of his appointment with immediate effect.
“Also relieved of his appointment is the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Administration), Professor Magnus Oruwari. Accordingly, Governor Wike has approved the appointment of Professor Opuenebo B. Owei, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academics) as the Acting Vice Chancellor of the Rivers State University.”
The statement added that Governor Wike has suspended the ongoing employment exercise at the university. Furthermore, a committee has been set up to investigate the employment exercise and report to the Rivers State governor in two weeks.
Fate of ICT
Many said the Didia administration ruined the ICT and that the 1000 computers have been vandalised. BDSUNDAY investigations however, showed that the computers are intact. What may have happened is that the powers and relevance of the centre have gone. The power to decide results, which many lecturers kicked against, has been stripped off it. Some persons have been sacked.
Pro-Fakae people said they were being haunted because of Fakae but insiders told BDSUNDAY that it was not so; that some of the IT boys were found to manipulate scores at a fee and were implicated.
At the moment, the centre is largely idle as the faculties have taken back handling of results. If any sorting is to happen, it would happen at the faculties and departments. This seems to give joy to the departments but fear to students.
Also, exams are said to be no more CBTs (computer-based tests) except screening tests for admission seekers and tests for clients such as the NDDC. The unit is said to have collapsed in activity and relevance. Funding is said to be difficult for the centre at the moment. Again, it was seen as a Fakae heartbeat.
Owei has some Fakae traits?
Insiders hint that the acting VC, Owei, has some Fakae traits and is keen on ICT too. Nobody has said why her up liners (VC and first vice) were sacked and she was retained. It could only be that she was not deeply involved in running the university and thus could not have been implicated in any secret report.
Now, however, she would be on the spot. Some say she would need to bring all factions and camps together, show anger at cultism and sorting, and allow merit to determine those to be employed (as the governor demanded).
Others say the Fakae era allowed the PH press in the task of rebuilding the physical, academic and reputation capital of the UST now RSU instead of cultivating media enemies in a war that media does not ever lose. Owei and any future VCs may be persuaded to toe that line.
Hopes are high that the ICT would bounce back because any attempt to restore credibility would need to remove a lot of decisions away from human hands.
After Fakae, the RSU may dither but it would never fall to pre-Fakae years because people would raise alarm and would recall the Fakae years. Then, government will surely strike.