University demotes DVC at the centre of succession intrigues

Prof Madara Ogot. University of Nairobi council says the don assumed powers of firing and hiring. [File, Standard]

A memo that a top University of Nairobi lecturer sent out as tension peaked following the appointment of Stephen Kiama as vice chancellor has returned to haunt him.

Prof Madara Ogot, who until recently was the deputy vice chancellor research, innovation and enterprise, has been sent back to the classroom -to teach- after the council asked him to step down.

The council appointed Prof Horace Ochanda to replace him.

Immediately Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha revoked the appointment of Prof Kiama as VC in January, Prof Ogot, then acting deputy vice chancellor finance, planning and development, sent out a memo, informing the staff of the development.

Memo to staff

“This is to inform the university community that Magoha has revoked the appointment of Prof Kiama as VC University of Nairobi and appointed Prof Isaac Mbeche as VC in acting capacity until the process of recruiting a substantive VC is completed,” read the memo in part

Ogot, in the memo dated January 18, also communicated cancellation of the planned installation of Kiama as VC and his subsequent redeployment.

Just hours after the memo, Kiama also released another communiqué.

“For the avoidance of doubt, my appointment as the lawfully and validly appointed VC of University of Nairobi still subsists. As such, I continue in diligent service as your VC and remain available to you all for guidance and direction,” said Kiama.

And to further assert his authority, Kiama released another circular­ – within hours of his earlier communication – giving direction to all university stakeholders and partners.

“Any resolutions originating from any other university organs, which by statue are chaired by the VC, if chaired by a person other than the legally appointed VC or any other person expressly authorised by him in writing, similarly will not be binding,” said Kiama.

Communication from UoN reveals the university council asked Ogot to step down after he was found to have arrogated himself powers of the council.

“The council found that he assumed powers of firing and hiring which is not in his domain. After an elaborate disciplinary process, he was asked to step down. But he is still staff of the university,” said John Orindi, university director of corporate affairs.

Mr Orindi said that during the disciplinary hearings, Ogot said he was directed by the university management board to make the announcement.

“But the board said it did not issue any such orders and so he was found guilty of the charges. After the disciplinary process went through, he was asked to step down,” said Orindi.

Ogot told The Standard yesterday that he was still an employee of the university and would go back to teaching.

“I am a professor of mechanical engineering and I am back to the classroom to teach. I cannot comment further than that,” said Ogot.

Kiama yesterday declined to comment on the matter, saying that Ogot can speak for himself.

“I only speak about institutional issues but that is a personal problem which I cannot comment on,” said Kiama.

During the recruitment for a VC, Ogot emerged second in the interviews. The successful candidate was to replace Prof Peter Mbithi whose term had expired.

The council ranked Kiama top with 82.4 per cent followed by Ogot with 81.2 per cent.

Prof Kameri Mbote was third with 80.2 per cent, Prof Isaac Mbeche scored 79.1 per cent, Prof Elijah Omwenga 77.0 per cent, Prof Lucas Shebairo 75 per cent and Prof Benard Njoroge 73 per cent.

Soon after he took office, Kiama announced the retirement of Mbeche as deputy vice chancellor finance, planning and development.

Prof Mbeche dissolved the university council headed by Dr Julia Ojiambo, arguing that it had erred in making Kiama VC without consultation and input from President Uhuru Kenyatta. The council contested the move in court and was granted stay orders.

The VC’s recruitment at the premier university exposed power play and bad blood among senior staff.

Polarise staff

It was another display of the push-and-pull that ensues after every recruitment process for VCs and DVCs in public universities.

These contests often draw in students and political leaders, and also polarise staff and compromise quest for quality education.

And in most cases, at the centre of the fights have been decisions delivered by  university councils. In some cases it has been the unprofessional conduct among some members, leading to interview results being leaked even before the process is complete.

But this was not the only row that followed appointments at the premier university.

After Mbithi was appointed VC on January 6, 2015, a row ensued between him and Bernard Njoroge who was appointed DVC finance and administration.

Prof Njoroge accused the vice chancellor of undermining his office in a protracted battle that dragged in court and saw the council weigh in heavily.

A year later, the council then chaired by Idle Omar Farah sacked Prof Njoroge citing insubordination. Prof Jacob Kaimenyi was the Education Cabinet secretary at the time.

And when Amina Mohammed took over the Ministry of Education, another row ensured over the appointment of DVCs.

Amina overturned appointment of those proposed by the council that was chaired by Prof Ojiambo.

The council had recommended Mbeche be appointed DVC finance, planning and development.

It also recommended Kiama for DVC human resources and administration and Ogot for DVC research, production and extension.

Prof Julius Ogengo was recommended for DVC academic affairs.

In her decision, Amina appointed Prof Jama Mohamud as the new DVC finance, planning and development and Prof Julius Ogeng’o the academic affairs DVC.

The Standard has established that changing laws governing universities is the solution to the unending rows dogging appointments that have reduced institutions of higher learning to supremacy battle grounds.

New loopholes

It is now clear that the move to trim the powers of university councils in 2018 -through amendment to the Universities Act- created new loopholes that must be addressed.

Under the new law, the critical function of recruiting vice chancellors and deputy vice chancellors was moved to Public Service Commission.

However, Section 39 of the same Act that empowers the Cabinet secretary to appoint vice chancellors was not amended.

This means that university councils and the Cabinet secretary 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.