Nigerian v-cs told to cross off Malta meeting

March 29, 1996

The Nigerian government has barred the country's vice chancellors from this week's Association of Commonwealth Universities conference in Malta in anticipation of criticism of the execution of Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Although the ACU told its 28 affiliated universities in Nigeria that suspension from the Commonwealth after the execution had not affected their ACU membership, none turned up.

Their absence is also in retaliation to the boycott by African Commonwealth vice chancellors of the Association of African Universities meeting hosted by the University of Ibadan a month after the hangings.

The Ibadan meeting was due to discuss an African position to be put forward in Malta, but vice chancellors from Ghana, the Gambia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania and South Africa stayed away despite assurances they would attend.

Sources said their absence was seen as humiliating for Nigeria and, when invitations for the ACU had arrived, Abdulkadir Idris, executive secretary of the national university commission, warned Mohammed Liman, the minister for education, that the meeting would be used as a forum for further criticism.

On the orders of Nigeria's head of state, General Sani Abacha, Dr Liman told Professor Idris to instruct the country's vice chancellors not to send delegations to Valetta in Malta.

The ministry also felt that vice chancellors should stay at home to deal with a threat by the Academic Staff Union of Universities to call an indefinite strike from April 9.

On Tuesday Anastasios Christadoulou, secretary general of the ACU, confirmed that no Nigerian vice chancellors - including two on the ACU's governing council - had arrived.

Their attendance had been cleared with the Maltese government through the university in Valetta but it appeared that in the event no applications for visas were made.

Dr Christadoulou said: "It is a heavy blow that none of Nigeria's vice chancellors have been able to attend. It appears force majeure has operated - this is our guess."

The ACU has a total of 455 affiliated universities in 34 Commonwealth countries or regions.

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