Battle for control of varsity billions fuels unending rows

UoN Vice-Chancellor Prof Stephen Kiama shaking hands with students of Nairobi University during the orientation and day of giving Vice-Chancellor welcoming speech to students from the college of Social Sciences and Humanity. [Samson Wire, Standard]

The push and pull that followed the appointment of Stephen Kiama as Vice-Chancellor (VC) of the University of Nairobi (UoN) cast a spotlight on the process of hiring top varsity managers.

The council first appointed Prof Stephen Kiama (pictured) as VC, a decision that was overturned by Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha.

Kiama then moved to court and obtained orders allowing him to stay on as VC. In return, the Education ministry also moved to court to have orders issued to Kiama lifted.

Magoha later requested that the matter be resolved out of court.

At Egerton University, the appointment of Prof Rose Mwonya’s as VC in 2016 was also challenged in court.

Mwonya succeeded Prof James Tuitoek who left the university in January 2016.

Mwonya’s appointment saw Prof Njenga Munene, who deputised her at the university’s administration and finance department, move to court obtaining orders to temporarily stop the recruitment process by the University Council.

Munene then cited bias and lack of transparency in the recruitment process. Mwonya, however, prevailed and took over the position.

Political interference

Elsewhere in the Rift Valley, two major public universities in Eldoret – Moi and the University of Eldoret (UoE) have in the last five years fought off political interference in management of the institutions.

In February 2015, protests rocked UoE after politicians led by a former senator, Isaac Melly, staged protests at the university seeking to oust the VC, Prof Teresa Akenga. Melly wanted Akenga out of the university claiming that employment of staff at the university was skewed.

The senator, Uasin Gishu ward reps and students who had joined the protests were teargassed by the police, culminating in running battles that paralysed learning in the institution.

Akenga remains the university’s VC to date.

One year later, in 2016, another fight for control of higher learning institutions rocked Moi University.

A number of North Rift leaders stormed the university’s main campus in Kesses, on the outskirts of Eldoret, to protest against the appointment of Laban Ayiro as the institution’s Acting VC.

The leaders included Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago, his Elgeyo Marakwet counterpart, Alex Tolgos and MPs Oscar Sudi (Kapseret), Silas Tiren (Moiben), James Bett (former Kesses MP) and former Uasin Gishu County Assembly Speaker Isaac Terer.

They vowed to stop a planned university’s graduation ceremony if a substantive VC from their region was not appointed.

Prof Ayiro had been appointed by CS Matiang’i as Acting VC for three months, awaiting a replacement for Prof Richard Mibey whose term had ended.

The leaders demanded that Matiang’i immediately appoints a substantive VC. The demanded that Prof Isaac Kosgey, who was among persons shortlisted for the VCs position, be appointed.

Kosgey was later confirmed substantive VC for the institution.

Kenya Universities Staff Union (Kusu) Secretary-General Charles Mukwaya argues that the law on who should appoint the VCs is not clear.

In the most recent changes to the Universities Act, the role of recruiting VCs and their deputies was moved to the Public Service Commission (PSC). The Commission is expected to call for applications, shortlist candidates and interview them before forwarding the names to university councils.

The councils are then expected to appoint VCs, DVCs, principals and deputy principals in consultation with Education CS.

However, Section 39 of the same Act that empowers the CS to appoint VCs was not amended. This means that university councils and the CS occasionally cite sections of the same Act that serve their convenience. The Act as amended also created a lacuna by not defining what constitutes ‘consultation.’

According to Magoha, consultation is not mere ‘provision of information’ by university councils. It is these interpretations and other considerations of the process, that the CS had used to nullify the appointment of Kiama.

But this was not the first time that the appointment of a new VC at UoN was triggering a row. On January 6, 2015, Prof Peter Mbithi was appointed VC of the university. A row ensued between him and Bernard Njoroge, the DVC for finance and administration.

Prof Njoroge accused the VC of undermining his office in a protracted battle that ended up in court. A year later, the university council, then chaired by Idle Omar Farah, sacked Njoroge citing insubordination.

When Amina Mohammed took over from Matiang’i, another row ensued over the appointment of DVCs when the new CS Amina bypassed candidates shortlisted by UoN’s council chaired by Prof Ojiambo.

CS Amina Vs UoN

The Council that had recommended Prof Mbeche for DVC-Finance, Planning, and Development, Prof Kiama for DVC-Human Resources and Administration and Prof Madara Ogot for DVC-Research, Production, and Extension.

Prof Julius Ogengo had been recommended for DVC-Academic affairs.

But Amina appointed Prof Jama Mohamud the new DVC- Finance, Planning and Development and Prof Julius Ogeng’o the Academic affairs DVC.

She also appointed Prof Lydia Njenga, to be the DVC for Research, Production, and Extension. Prof William Ogara was appointed DVC- Human Resources.

This led to a major battle pitting UoN against CS Amina, with the office of Attorney General dragged into the matter. [Augustine Oduor, Julius Chepkwony, and Stephen Rutto]