Many Nigerian universities about to appoint vice-chancellors are faced with interpreting a military decree of the late General Abacha, who responded to campus protests against violation of human rights by ensuring that his supporters were appointed to senior posts.
The 1996 decree specifies a single five-year non-renewable term of office for vice-chancellors, instead of a renewable four-year term. Abdul Yekini of the law faculty at the University of Ilorin said: "Vice-chancellors caught midstream by the decree may not have their appointments renewed for a further four years, but the decree is not explicit on what such vice-chancellors should do when their term of office runs out."
At the University of Jos, vice-chancellor David Gomwalk faced stiff opposition before he could get the governing council to renew his appointment. At the end of his first term, he sought renewal under the 1996 decree but many dissatisfied lecturers opposed his candidature because they feared possible victimisation if he remained.
"It is absolutely immoral and indefensible that a vice-chancellor should rule the University of Jos for an uninterrupted period of nine years," said one professor of political science.
Professor Gomwalk was reappointed despite his pro-military pronouncements. "Abacha is dead, but Abachism is still thriving in Nigeria," declared Ibrahim Abass of the university's sociology department on hearing of the reappointment.
The same controversy arose at the Southeast Federal University of Benin-City, where Andrew Onokhokhraye was seeking reappointment as vice-chancellor. While the decision was officially approved, the student union and the Academic Staff Union of Universities threatened to make the campus ungovernable if he was reappointed.
The military authorities have now deferred the decision. The chairman of the government council, which approves appointments, Justice Kayode Eso, resigned because of what he called "intractable intrigues and unnecessary politicisation of the appointment of the vice-chancellor".
At the Federal University of Lagos, where vice-chancellor Jelili Omotola is seeking reappointment, eight academics have taken out an advertisement challenging an editorial in the influential daily Guardian that supported Professor Omotola.