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How Njuri Ncheke rescued Meru University from leadership woes

 Meru University of Science and Technology. [James Mwangi, Standard]

The Njuri Ncheke Supreme Council of Ameru elders shuns the limelight, but their influence is always felt.

Though this influence is not seen or talked about in public, the Njuri elders are the unseen hand in serious matters that affect the Ameru people who occupy the land between Thuci in Tharaka Nithi County to Ntonyiri, the farthest point in Meru County.

They may not talk much about it openly, but they have been a crucial voice in the protection of the political and economic interests of the Ameru.

A few days ago, the elders came in handy to sort matters affecting Meru University of Science Technology located opposite their shrine headquarters at Nchiru in Tigania West Sub County.

The university is close to the heart of council members since it is the elders who birthed its establishment a decade ago.

Just like they have done over the years, the elders once again went to the rescue of the institution when a section of lecturers rebelled against Vice Chancellor Prof Romanus Odhiambo asking that he steps aside.

The University Council headed by Prof Bosire Mwebi declined to renew his contract, citing performance issues.

But, Prof Odhiambo said he could see the hand of local politicians in his woes, pointing out his stellar development record.

And the Njuri elders, who have been the voice of reason, firmly defended Prof Odhiambo, saying his performance at the learning institution was good.

Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu ordered the immediate reinstatement of Prof Odhiambo.

 Meru University Vice Chancellor Prof Romanus Odhiambo. [Phares Mutembei, Standard]

Machogu said in a press statement on March 7 the Council of Meru University did not follow the law in terminating Odhiambo's contract.

Unfair dismissal

The minister further said that the council's failure to inform him about the decision amounted to unfair dismissal of the VC.

A few days later, he appointed a new council to serve for three years.

He graced the 10th graduation ceremony, which the Njuri Nceke elders attended as special guests.

Njuri Ncheke Secretary General Josphat Murangiri said they had to intervene as they could not sit and watch as "their" university is being destroyed.

Murangiri said the elders donated the 650 acres of land the institution occupies to develop a "Makerere University" in Meru so as to ensure higher education is spread in Meru and its neighbourhood.

"It is a dream that has been actualised; we are stakeholders of Meru university. We are custodians of the university because we donated the land. It was the dream of elders who admired education," he said.

He said the Njuri always works and supports the government (national and county) of the day, and they have to support the university as a government institution.

Murangiri, who was also appointed by Chairman Linus Kathera when matters threatened to get out of hand during the reign of former VC Japheth Magambo, said Prof Odhiambo deserved their protection because he had performed well.

"We want him to stay because he is doing well. When Prof Odhiambo came (2018) there were only 4,000 students, but it has increased to nearly 12,000 now. And it is progressing well," Murangiri said.

"It is the only university in Meru that is intact, and it is doing well. We, as Njuri elders, should not sit and watch as the institution is being destroyed by anybody," said Murangiri.

Elders have intervened during unrest by staff and students against the management.

When lecturers rallied against Prof Odhiambo, who has been a darling of students, Murangiri was sent by Kathera to mediate.

 Njuri Ncheke Secretary General Josphat Murangiri (left). He said when student unrest became too much, the elders restored normalcy. [Phares Mutembei, Standard]

Murangiri convened a six-hour meeting with the lecturers and other parties, ending the stalemate.

"The lecturers had said they would not go back to teach while Odhiambo was there. We sat down and identified issues of conflict. We also met with VC and I escorted them back to school."

"We had a meeting of both parties, and made a resolution, that they will never again fight without involving Njuri Ncheke," he said.

Restore normalcy

Murangiri said when student unrest became too much, the elders restored normalcy.

Irate students stormed the elders' shrine, which also serves as their Parliament, and requested the elders to intervene.

On behalf of elders, Murangiri said he called the then Education CS Amina Mohamed, who landed at the university, and the VC was ejected as students had wanted.

The elders met the students and pleaded with them not to damage properties or engage in chaos with a promise to intervene, and they went back to their hostels.

"I called the minister on a Saturday, and on Tuesday, she was at the university and sent Magambo away. Njuri Ncheke wants peace, it is our clarion call," he added.

Students' association president Kariuki Wachira said they recognise the role played by the elders in community affairs and welcomed their interventions.

"We understand they are the people who control this community. We cannot ignore them. We encourage dialogue with students, elders and university management," said Wachira.

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