Implementation of the far-reaching reforms initiated in 2021 at the University of Nairobi, under the previous council chaired by Prof Julia Ojiambo is behind the squabbles that have hit Kenya’s premier institution of higher learning.
The matter has degenerated into turf fights between the office of the vice chancellor headed by Prof Stephen Gitahi Kiama and the two successive university councils.
Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu has also been sucked into the mess as he indicated that he played a part in the removal of the old Council for not working in harmony with VC.
And yesterday, the University of Nairobi Students Association (UNSA) was split on the matter, further exposing the undercurrents.
Today, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua is expected to be the chief guest during the International Youth Day, to be held at the university that is now entangled in a leadership row.
And staff at the institution are now worried that the fight between the University Council and management may take a political twist, further messing up the broader reforms being instituted by President William Ruto.
Last week, Prof Kiama took six months’ leave, revealing the depth of differences between him and the present Council chaired by Prof Amukowa Anangwe. Ahmed Sheikh Abdullai, Dr Darmain Ole Warkae, Caren Kerubo Omwenga, and Dr Sally Ngeringwony Toroitich are Council members. Their three-year term commenced on May 23, 2023.
A short statement from the university said the Council met on July 31 and approved Prof Kiama’s request to proceed on a six-month leave.
It was dated July 28, 2023. In his absence, the University Council appointed Prof Julius Ogeng’o to discharge the duties of the office of the vice-chancellor in an acting capacity.
Ogeng’o is a professor of Human Anatomy and doubles as the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs. The Standard has however established that Prof Kiama and the Council fell out as each side moved to defend their roles, each citing the law granting them the mandate.
Sources at the Council told The Standard that Prof Kiama has overlooked their existence while making critical university decisions.
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But speaking to The Standard, Prof Kiama pointed out the interference of his office mandate as the reason for the leadership conundrum.
Prof Kiama said the role of a vice-chancellor is clear and includes overseeing academic affairs and the day-to-day running of a university.
He said some forces within the university have tried to meddle with his mandate, pushing him to take a sabbatical leave. “There have been some governance issues, when another person wants to take over the role of a vice-chancellor, it is hard to execute my job. So I decided to take my accumulated leave period and see how things play out,” Prof Kiama said.
It emerged that at the heart of the fight are governance issues raised by the old Council that was chaired by Prof Miriam Were, and which remained unresolved.
Details of the Council meeting held in December 2022 and which The Standard has seen, reveal deeper intrigues of power struggles between the old Council and Prof Kiama, some of which spilt to the present Council.
Broadly, the old Council raised issues of friction points being finance, students’ admission and progression, and human resources issues such as employment and promotions which they said were not approved by them.
In the meeting, Council said they were fully constituted by August 2022 but claimed that some decisions were made without their approval.
The Council also claimed they had not been appraised of the recruitment of 127 staff, which had broad financial implications. The Council wanted the recruitment of the staff put in abeyance until further deliberations and necessary approvals are issued.
Other members argued that putting the hiring process in abeyance would affect the running of the university and suggested the matter be handled in various committees.
But some council members objected, arguing that they cannot regularise that which was done when they were fully constituted and in office.
In his response, Prof Kiama said the management would provide a report for Council and other members for relevant considerations.
The Standard established that this back and forth between Council and the VC characterised all decision-making at the institution and this saw the old Council sent home.
Machogu, in a media interview last week, confirmed that he intervened when the old council chaired by Prof Were could not work in harmony with Prof Kiama. However, it is emerging that the same Human Resources issues which formed part of the tiff with the old Council have returned dog the present Council. In July 2021, The University of Nairobi announced changes aimed at cutting the costs of operations and enhancing efficiency.
In those changes, the university abolished offices, merged functions and created new posts with the VC arguing that this was meant to eliminate duplication and cut costs.
The university went further to scrap eight colleges and collapsed faculty functions from 35 to 11.
Communicating the reforms, then Council’s chair Prof Ojiambo announced the abolition of all positions of principals and deputy principals and their roles re-organised under new positions of Executive and Associate Deans.
The new Council has accused the VC of reneging on some of these reforms instituted by Prof Ojiambo Council, especially those touching on human resources. They claimed that some of the reforms have been rewound while others rescheduled without Council’s approval. “To keep the boat afloat, the administrative support services will be consolidated under various functions and respective professional heads, all reporting to a chief operating officer who directly answers to the vice chancellor,” said Prof Ojiambo.
In line with this, Prof Kiama appointed Prof Isaac Jumba the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Education as Prof James Machoki remained boss at the Faculty of Health Sciences.
Prof Rose Nyikal was made acting Executive Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Prof Ephraim Wahome was appointed acting Executive Dean, Faculty of Arts.
Prof Robert Rukwaro was appointed acting Executive Dean at the Faculty of Built Environment with Prof Jackson Maalu made acting Executive Dean at the Faculty of Business and Management Science.
Ayub Gitau was made acting Executive Dean at the Faculty of Engineering while Prof Winfred Kamau was appointed acting Executive Dean, Faculty of Law.
Prof Francis Mulaa was made the acting Executive Dean at the Faculty of Science and Technology and Prof Mohammed Jama was appointed acting Executive Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences. Prof John Mande was appointed the acting Executive Dean, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Brian Ouma was appointed acting Chief Operations Officer.
In 2021, the State Corporation Advisory Committee (SCAC) commended the university reforms.
“The proposed organogram design, is commendable as it reflects a functional structure, which is lean with clear reporting lines,” reads the letter by Wanjiku Wakogi, SCAC secretary dated December 20, 2021.
In reaction to these, Prof Anangwe instructed Prof Kiama to put on hold all contract extensions of staff made without the Council’s approvals until they are deliberated.
In the same letter, Prof Anangwe accuses Prof Kiama of reneging on the appointment of Prof Margaret Chesang Hutchison as DVC in charge of Research, Innovation and Enterprise. Prof Kiama yesterday said that the recent development threatens the institution and borders micro-management. “I was not going to sit and watch the university take a nose dive,” Prof Kiama said.