The Binis and UNIBEN's Topmost Chair
By: Oluwole Osagie-Jacobs
June 23, 2009
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Sensitive and informed minds who have been following the rat race for the position of Vice-Chancellor of the University of Benin would be disappointed by the present turn of events. The mischief and dirty politics that have attended the race for the Vice-Chancellorship of this institution is disturbing. It pales into insignificance the incivilities of the do-or-die elections of motor parks and market associations. The University community has been divided into warring camps rooted in parochial sentiments such as tribe, state of origin, peer group, religious sect, faculty and the alumni association of the contestants.

It is worrisome that the academic who emerges victorious after the selection process would be expected to run an efficient academic programme, ensure fairness and stamp out bad behaviour like, cultism, sexual harassment and the “sorting” of lecturers for marks.

As a Bini, I am concerned about the sustained indictment of the Binis for trying to by-pass due process to install their own as Vice-Chancellor. The Binis are reported to hinge their right to this seat on the fact that in the University’s thirty- nine years of existence no Bini had been the University’s Vice-Chancellor. Those who denounce the Binis in this regard do so with a passion. Some of these critics were so inordinate in their attacks that they sometimes transcend the boundaries of decency. They see the Binis as domineering, inconsiderate and lacking in integrity, thus unfit to occupy responsible positions. The hatred exhibited is more intense than that of a Jew hater. To these people, instead of giving the position to a Bini, it should better go to a Chadian.

My position on this messy situation the University has found itself is clear. Let the best candidate emerge through a due process. To give consideration to extraneous issues such as the tribe of the contestants is a disservice to intellectualism and fair play. I don’t care if the new Vice-Chancellor is a Fulani man or a Filipino.

What is, however, pertinent to be addressed is the cause of the acrimonious succession battles for the position of the Vice- Chancellor in our Universities in recent times. It was not like this before. In the 1960s and 70s there was deference to experience and tradition. The succession to the position of Vice-Chancellor was not an all comers affair as it is today. Most often, the Vice-Chancellor would emerge from among the most senior and experienced academics. Today, if you are a rascal you can become a Vice-Chancellor in record time provided you identify with the right camp. The best materials for this position often stay away to avoid their integrity being ruffled. My room mate in the University in 1980, who is 49 years old this year, was a Deputy Vice-Chancellor of a Nigerian University eight years ago. The current Vice- Chancellor of my University was in school with me. He became a Vice-Chancellor ahead of over 45 lecturers who had earned their doctorate or professorship many years before both of us completed our University entry forms. What a genius! Can we be justified by any index of comparison to place our current Vice-Chancellors side by side with past Vice-Chancellors like Prof. Kenneth Dike, Prof. Ade Ajayi, Prof. Eni Njoku, Prof. Hezekiah Oluwasanmi, Prof. Adeoye Lambo, Prof. Oritsejolomi Thomas, Prof. Ishaya Audu, Prof. Iya Abubakar, Prof. Akin Adesola, Prof. Tekena Tamuno, Prof. Umaru Shehu, Prof. Akinkugbe and Prof. Donald Ekong? Alas! “Two sparrows have been sold for a farthing.”

In a situation where the system is bereft of checks that would allow recognition to be given to seniority, competence and integrity, the stage is set for acrimony. The three nominees often forwarded to Mr. President to choose from always emerge from the strongest camp in the University Senate. To be a favoured candidate you have to bow to their rules however ludicrous.

Do we now single out the Binis for blame for attempting to lay claim to the seat in an arena where lawlessness is bliss? The fear of the minority being dominated by the majority had been with us for a long time. The Binis have found out that other tribes would gang up against them. They have resorted to by passing the strictures erected on their way.

A friend of mine from Ekpoma, Edo State, recently told me that since the Binis were lukewarm in accepting western education, their current enthusiasm for Uniben’s topmost seat was misplaced. I informed him that the first primary and secondary schools in both Edo and Delta States were established in Benin-City in the years 1900 and 1937 respectively. He was further informed that the establishment of the first secondary school, Edo College, was initiated by Oba Eweka II, who reigned from 1914 – 1933. But that the idea was actualised by Oba Akenzua II, in 1937. I told him that this school, not being a missionary school, came to life out of the burning desire of the Binis for western education. I did not miss the opportunity to tell him that no other community achieved this feat of founding a secondary school exclusive of the missionaries in the present Edo State until after about 30 years. Isn’t it interesting that the first Nigerian Vice – Chancellor of Uniben, Prof. Tijani Yesufu, was educated at Edo College?

Many people believe the Binis dislike schooling. There is nothing that can be farther from the truth. It is a manifestation of this belief that made a renowned Nigerian journalist from Edo North, two years ago, to associate ignorance with the Benin monarchy. Little did he know that the present Oba of Benin had earned more than one degree from Cambridge in the year 1951. He also needs to be informed that his father, Oba Akenzua II, passed out of Kings College, Lagos, in 1919. The late Iyasere of Benin Kingdom, Justice Samuel Osarogie Ighodaro, graduated from Fourah Bay College, in the year 1938. He is arguably the first University graduate in Edo State. History has educated us that over 900 years ago, the Binis had exhibited mastery in science and the arts. The Benin indigenous technology for bronze casting, iron smelting and wood carving have produced master pieces sought after all over the world.

Objectivity should be brought to bear when discussing issues of this nature. When I told my friend from Ekpoma that more than half of the Vice – Chancellors of the Edo State University, Ekpoma, since its establishment were from his locality, he kept mute and melted like ice. He was also astounded when I told him how Prof. Tiamiyu Bello-Osagie, a Bini, who was the most senior Nigerian academic of Uniben was denied the Vice-Chancellorship of the institution in 1976.

The solution lies in introducing credibility in to the procedure for the appointment of Vice – Chancellors. That is where the fault lies, and not the Binis. It is only then we can attract the best minds. To heap the blame on the Binis is to strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.

I urge the University Council to present the best candidate to Mr. President irrespective of the candidate’s tribe or race. I don’t mind if the next ten Vice – Chancellors are from Teheran, provided they are the best.

Mr. Oluwole Osagie-Jacobs
Celestial Church of Christ,
2, Otokang Street,

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