The concept of VC’s Boys In The University System – BY Prof B. Chima Onuoha

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*Photo: PROF B. CHIMA ONUOHA

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In the political lexicon and life of this country, it is common to read or hear about the cabal in the Presidency, Kaduna Mafia, Langtan Mafia, Magu Boys (or the Chairman’s team), the General Overseer’s Boys (GO’s Boys), etc.

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 The cabal in the Presidency consists of very few individuals close to the President. They make or influence all the strategic decisions in the country. And by extension, how the nation’s resources are shared or used. Kaduna Mafia consists of highly astute northern politicians and technocrats. Their main job is to ensure that the strategic interests of northern Nigeria are protected or secured. 

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During the military era, Langtan in present Plateau state was known to have produced a good number of top military officers who were also occupying strategic positions in government and the armed forces. They were the Langtan Mafia. The actions and inactions of Magu – the former Ag.Chairman of EFCC and his boys (or the chairman’s team) are currently under investigation by Justice Salami Panel. So I won’t comment further on that.

 The ‘GO’s Boys’ are the children, relations, in-laws and few favoured pastors of the General Overseer – the founder or owner of a church. They are often posted to strategic, visible and rich parishes or stations (mainly in the big cities) including overseas. They head important and more rewarding units in the church headquarters.

 The non-GO’s boys are posted to rural or less visible cum poor areas. When you see these GO’s boys, their wives and children, you will see a remarkable difference in appearance with the non-GO’s boys and their own families. I was discussing informally with a colleague who was wondering why all the younger brothers of a popular church owner in this country should be pastors. And working in his church. I then asked him what type of employment in Nigeria (either in the private or public sector) given the prosperity-seeking nature and emphasis of the church can give these young men the kind of wealth they have?

 Favouritism also takes place in the orthodox churches like the Anglican and Catholic churches, but to a very limited extent. This is because they have very long history of administrative structure, which helps to reduce idiosyncrasies. Again, their orientation and emphasis are on soul-winning and eternity, as against prosperity. The celibacy vow of the Catholic Reverend Fathers also makes the tendency for acquisitiveness unnecessary. I hope that I am not derailing…    

 It is always desirable to have a small group of persons in an organization to advice the CEO, or map out strategies for success for him or her. The overall intention is to leave the organization better and stronger than the CEO met it. This body of advisors must be made up of contended, independent minded and trustworthy persons. Better still, it should be made up of CEO’s previous superiors, or very smart and intelligent younger colleagues – those that have been tested in terms of principles, expertise, objectivity, experience and not clannish. That explains why corporate organizations have board of directors and councils for tertiary institutions. 

There is a new trend that has crept into the nation’s university system. It is the concept of Vice Chancellor’s Boys (VC’s Boys).  The term ‘VC’s boys’ is used in generic form for those a Vice Chancellor surrounds himself or herself with, and wish to work with throughout his/her tenure. It also includes ladies/women. 

The achievements of the Vice Chancellor’s tenure depend on his/her personality (those in organizational behaviour talk about personality traits); his/her administrative capability and lastly; on the quality of his/her boys. It also depends on the quality of advice (wise counsels) given and utilized. My worry in this article is how this concept is currently being abused particularly, by unpopular Vice Chancellors to the detriment of the university system in Nigeria. 

 The question to ask is if I can justify the existence of this malady in the university system. My answer is yes. Having spent more than 33 years as an academic staff in the university system; starting as a graduate assistant; rose through the ranks; held many administrative and labour positions; been a member of the university governing council; held tenured, visiting and adjunct-ship appointments/professorships in many universities; have first-hand experiences and an ardent student of history; I am qualified enough to write on this topic. 

 I have closely studied some universities where this concept has been practiced. And have tried to identify the remote and immediate factors leading to the concept. The factors include:

*1).* Where there was a bitter contest to the position of Vice Chancellor and an unpopular person eventually emerged. This person is ascending the throne with a baggage and probably with vendetta in mind. All contestants and senior Professors are suspects and must be avoided or ‘quarantined’. All local ASUU leaders are enemies, where a referendum is required to ascertain the acceptable candidate in the university community, is required. There was a case in one particular state university.

*2).* Where the VC blackmailed the Council and other contestants to emerge. This happened in a particular federal university.

*3).* Where an appointed Vice Chancellor rightly or wrongly feels that he knows it all, cannot take wise counsels from his/her seniors/superiors, is highly egoistic, has dictatorial disposition or vengeance driven. This is the case in a federal university.

*4).* Where a total ‘stranger’ is imposed on a university. He or she will naturally feel resented and unaccepted. This have happened in few other universities. This tendency is most pronounced in state universities where the Governors, as Visitors, double as Emperors. Such a Vice Chancellor is not accountable to the internal stakeholders of the university. Hero-worshipping the Governor is enough.

 Any chief executive that so much crave for ‘banana’ boys – unquestioning boys, is also suffering from the ‘social reproduction theory’. In a nutshell, this theory talks about the tendency of entities or persons to significantly reproduce the qualities they personify. In this case, to reproduce personalities who are all-knowing, vendetta-driven, greedy, pugnacious, empire-building, power drunk and suppressed complex. A popular saying has it thus: “put a small man in a big office, he has two choices: to shrink the office to his size or grow to the size of the office”.

 Where can VC’s boys be recruited from? Mostly from lecturers 1 and senior lecturers or from those who feel marginalized by the system like delayed promotions. The senior lecturers among this group are quickly promoted to Readers and Professors. They are too fresh as senior academics to oppose or contradict the Vice Chancellor. In fact, they are perpetually grateful to their benefactor – the Vice Chancellor. There may be few older professors that need serious rehabilitation, or who have not done well for themselves materially or career wise, maybe very eager to be VC’s boys (not men). 

Having mortgaged their seniority or status, they are also treated like boys. For example, in a particular university, there was violent students’ riot. The school was closed down. The almighty VC gathered his boys in his lodge and arrogantly told them that he doesn’t need students to survive or run a university. No single ‘boy’ had the gut to correct that erroneous statement. That without students, there wouldn’t be any university or there is no need for the services of university workers – academic and non-teaching. How about the adverse effects of school closure on the economy of the host communities and other stakeholders? 

The boys were all hailing him. Can someone like me be there without educating him on the far reaching implications of school closure on all strategic stakeholders of the university including himself and lecturers. In any case, this man has little or no knowledge about the economy or development.

 The VC’s boys often assign themselves certain duties and responsibilities, in addition to the mundane ones by their boss. These include:

*1).* They are the gossip machine of the Vice Chancellor. They make effective use of gossips if they have studied the oga and found out that he or she likes and makes use of gossips. They also ‘fabricate’ stories against their rivals or enemies to the VC.

*2).* They are ever ready to ‘attack’ real or perceived enemies of the ‘oga at the top’.

*3).* They regularly and religiously defend the actions and inactions of the VC. The VC cannot make mistakes even when his decisions are having negative impacts on the system. The defense is done everywhere – on campus, radio and television stations, newspaper publications, etc. He or she is infallible.  

*4).* They are readily available to be used to sabotage unions’ efforts, if not in the narrow interest of the VC. They do all these things to show total (if not blind) loyalty to the chief executive. The boys’ actions, sometimes, self-serving create more problems and needless enemies for the chief executive officer.

*5).* They mobilize themselves for the IPPIS saga.  
 What are the benefits of being a VC’s boy or in the camp of VC’s boys? They are many and include:

*a).* Rapid promotion I mentioned earlier. Sometimes, promotions are ‘packaged’ for the boys. One can fail promotion interviews two or three times, no problem, the person will still be promoted or converted from non-teaching to academic. Someone not from the lecturer’s field/discipline or research area can be ‘arranged’ to interview the boys.  Against extant regulation or policy of the university, someone can be both external examiner and promotion interviewer, simultaneously.

*b).* The boys are those posted to all the strategic units, agencies and institutes of the university.  

*c).* It is only the VC’s boys that are entitled to renewal of appointments in their various positions/institutes (not based on performance or competence) or arbitrary elongation of tenure at the expiration of their statutory periods.

*d).* In a university where there are many senior and competent professors, some of the more favoured, or ingratiated VC’s boys may hold multiple appointments or positions. And they are flaunted brazenly to the resentment of the university community.  

*e).* Employment, contracts and other favours can be secured through the boys. They are also involved in admission racketeering for themselves and their boss. 

*f).* The VC’s boys and their own loyal boys are mostly the beneficiaries of TETFUND and other staff development programmes.

*g).* They can get university accommodation faster than others. The list of applicants in the Housing unit is irrelevant. They can be given accommodation above their status/ranks. In other words, they are given accommodations designed for their senior/superior colleagues. In everything or policy, there are exceptions. Where there are security issues or challenge, I support that a university can provide accommodation to staff in this category. Human lives are sacrosanct and irreplaceable. Another exception is when an expatriate is being engaged.

*h).* If there are disciplinary issues hanging on their heads, these can be overlooked. Sometimes, they become untouchables – not attending lectures, submitting results very late, do anything with impunity, etc.

*i).* Some of the most powerful boys, for their own ‘strategic’ selfish goals, can influence who to promote and who not to; when papers for external assessments will be sent out and those to be dumped or disappeared; whose employment will be regularized, delayed and who will not; who to give official positions above their superiors; can also make frantic efforts to determine people’s destinies; etc. In all, they overlook the role of God in other people’s lives. 

 What are the demerits of VC’s boys in the university system? They are many and highly dysfunctional. 

 If a university is unlucky to have a gossip-listening Vice Chancellor or one on a vendetta mission, or suffering from any form of complex, some of his or her vicious boys, will take that opportunity to run down their rivals or enemies, to their own advantage.

 VC’s boys exhibit blind loyalty, to the point of ‘ass licking’. They don’t think through any instruction given to them by an empire-building Vice Chancellor, however absurd. They are ready tools in sabotaging their union – NASU/SSANU/ASUU. Any person that had attained the exalted rank of a professor before the emergence of a Vice Chancellor, begged to be VC’s boy cannot be a role model or good academic leader to the younger or junior colleagues. Imagine a senior professor being asked to sabotage ASUU by joining a splinter group/union sponsored by the vice chancellor!

 And you see him or her sitting in front roll like a primary school pupil in their meeting. Or sitting at the back roll and covering his/her face like a thief caught in the market square. A professor should have some honour; should not be a rubber stamp to any administration. It is even funny that a Professor will be ready to answer a patron of a splinter union. 

 The blind loyalty from his or her boys often leads to a Vice Chancellor to suffer from ‘messiah complex’ or ‘superiority complex’. In a particular university, a Vice Chancellor had a 20-year succession plan – his own 5-year tenure and three other tenures of 5 years for three of his boys. It is either he erroneously assumed that there are no other men in that university; or he was playing god. If this plan succeeds, the university system will start having its equivalent of political god-fatherism. 

 The existence of VC’s boys in the university system negatively affects work ethics. Instead of engaging in serious research and development; publishing outstanding articles; taking their teaching or work seriously; or impacting the environment/society positively; enormous efforts are expended in the rat race to belong to that ‘privileged’, or ‘immune’ group.

 The awareness that some staff are holding multiple appointments while other equally qualified (if not more qualified) persons have none create resentment, poor attitude to work, and other wasteful organizational practices in the system. Some of the elements of wasteful organizational practices include: avoiding responsibility, spreading accountability, hoarding authority, formalism and ritualism, bureaucratic sabotage, and stalemate.

 For lack of space, detailed discussion of these wasteful practices and their managerial, morale/performance implications is outside the scope of this article. The other preferential treatments given to them like – TETFUND programmes – scholarships, research grants, and conference sponsorships, sabbatical approvals, money to publish books, etc, have debilitating effects on the system.

Few years ago, it was almost impossible for those being assessed for the professorial cadre (Readers and Professors) to know their external assessors. As an external assessor to over 10 universities, it is embarrassing to get calls from those being assessed, thus:

*a).* “Sir have you received my papers”.
*b).* “Sir I am told that you are my external assessor, kindly help me”.
*c).* “Sir can I know the outcome of my assessment”, etc.

 Some may even go into a subtle religious blackmail of praying for you and your family if you assess them positively. What is really going on in the system? Be sure that these are the VC’s boys or cronies. Who gave them the names and phone numbers of their assessors? 

  For those of us who had no godfathers, worse still, were labour activists; very vocal and courageous; had not worked in our home states; abhor hero worshipping or sycophancy; had no political strings to pull (powerful traditional rulers, senators, Rep members, ministers – to intervene for us); or blackmailing instruments to fall back on (no alibi or sentiments, like – nativity, locality, state of origin, catchment area); etc, we never cared to know our external assessors. We were just prepared, since it was unlikely to get undeserved favours. In other words, the concept of VC’s boys is diluting or polluting the external assessment processes. This definitely is not god for the system.

This concept encourages what Abraham Nwankwo called Top-Tropism. This is the inordinate quest or penchant by young people to get to the top (very rapidly) without adequate grounding or experiences in their previous ranks. This is aided by an empire-building chief executive or weak system. 

A good number of VC’s boys suffer from the Peter Principle, propagated by Lawrence J. Peter. It states “in a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”. This principle applies to all organizations. Most universities have income-yielding units, particularly institutes or centres. Regrettably, these ‘boys’ are often appointed as heads of these revenue-generating units. Top-Tropism and Peter Principle, combined, are leading to the running down of these units in most universities. Instead of baking bigger cakes, they are only interested in eating the available cake.  

Ab initio, they don’t even have the skills to bake any cake – small or big. They also don’t have any marketing strategy to sell the products/services given to them.  In one university, the director and his deputy (all VC’s boys) of a viable academic centre were known members of two opposing leading political parties in this country. Unfortunately, they could not take the advantage of their political connections to grow the place, in terms of attracting more students. 

Rather, the population of the students they inherited continued to reduce year in, year out for a period of 4 years. In another academic centre, allocation of courses was not based on merit or competence, but on a very narrow ethnic consideration. Being a high profile academic centre, in terms of the caliber of the students, and the huge school fees, of course, these students complained and resisted these ethnic cum weak lecturers. Surely, they want value for their money.

 Some of the vicious ones sponsor the disappearance of colleagues’ documents (assessment documents) and personal files. 

Another inanity which the concept of VC’s boys has introduced into the university system is ‘morbid loyalty’. Someone, say a Dean or director will see a colleague, mostly junior colleagues, and say.

“Look, you have not come to my office for two weeks now, you are not loyal”. 
“I saw you in the company of that other Professor, you are not loyal”.

“I didn’t get your birthday message on my birthday, you are not loyal”.

 “If you comment on that Professor’s write-ups again, you are not loyal”.

 “If you don’t vote my anointed candidate, it means that you are not loyal, and I will never forgive you in my life”.

“If you don’t convene the meeting to rectify the list of candidates for employment in your department, you are not loyal”, etc.

 Being loyal also means bringing negative reports or stories about rivals or enemies.Why all the quest to dominate the environment or craze for lordship?    

 They openly antagonize or threaten any person not supporting their candidate(s) in any election or contest. It does not really matter if the person one is supporting is a long-time friend, benefactor or relation. What kind of self-centered or greedy persons are these?

 Not only that it is unfortunate that they do this brazenly, but the tragedy is that adults (enlightened minds like lecturers) succumb to these empty threats. Are they your God? When they are not threatening, they are making promises, which from day one, they don’t intend to honour. Again, people fall into this power cum fake trap. It is pathetic!

In a particular federal university, there was a long-term succession plan at the entire university level. Efforts were also made by some of the boys to replicate such long-term succession plan in their faculties. This is strategic positioning akin to the Berlin Conference of 1884/1885.

 In that conference, European countries partitioned Africa among themselves. Some of the boys became so audacious by such prospects because to them the whole university is populated by ‘banana’ men and women. They will always overlook providence, divinity, destinies, environmental influences and other persons’ capacities or strategies, etc. Just raw greed …  

Some institutes or academic centres have external funding or joint funding with the host universities. These external funding organizations, expectedly, insist on competent and renown Professors as the directors of these institutes, and often withhold their funds if less qualified persons are put forward. 

We have instances where if no suitable VC’s boy is qualified to hold such high calibre positions, some tyrannical or less visionary Vice-chancellors preferred that these funding organizations keep their money. Sometimes, the money runs into millions or billions of naira.

 Regrettably, the facilities in those units remain idle, under-utilized, or start to deteriorate, and the society is denied of their services. We keep talking of universities impacting the environment positively. How can this happen with such backward mindset of some Vice Chancellors?

 It amounts to arrogance, insensitivity, or stupidity that while many Vice Chancellors are working very hard to attract more funds to their organizations, others because of his/her un-qualified boys, are rejecting funds, and mortgaging future funding prospects. 

 In addition to administrative prowess, one of the major criteria for appointing Presidents of American universities is ability to attract enormous goodwill and funding to their organizations. It is therefore, not surprising that many notable American universities (Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, MIT, Penn, Columbia, just to mention a few) have huge endowment funds running into billions of Dollars. 

For example, Harvard university alone has about $40 billion endowment fund (2020). The huge financial resources, in turn enable these institutions to impact the environment and society positively. Check out the role of Stanford university in the emergence, visibility and prominence of Silicon Valley in California, USA. In a particular university, the Vice Chancellor was in logger head with virtually all the stakeholders of the university. Where will the goodwill and funding come from?

 For three and half years, I was the Director of Consultancy, Linkages and Revenue Mobilization (COLIREMU) in my former university – Abia State University, Uturu. My experience showed that the willingness of individuals and corporate bodies to assist any university depends on the perception and respect they have for the chief executive of the organization. 

Luckily, my boss – the Vice Chancellor, Prof Ogwo E. Ogwo, was held in high esteem by all and sundry. Having a cantankerous, capricious or highly legalistic chief executive will be a big minus in this direction. So to attract goodwill and funding, Vice Chancellors and potential ones should take note of this fact.

Some outstanding scholars with research prowess have the knack for attracting research grants, equipment, fellowship and exchange programmes to their institution. If unfortunately, these scholars fall into real or perceived enemies of a vicious Vice Chancellor, rather than take the credit, the university will be ready to forfeit them.

 Meanwhile, there is no evidence in most universities, for obvious reasons, that most VC’s boys attracted funds, equipment (like generators, vehicles), scholarships, grants or professorial endowments to their universities. 

 Some institutes and academic centres run courses or programmes that are domiciled in certain faculties. It is therefore, natural and the practice that the directors, and deputy directors come from the servicing faculties. Currently, some empire-building Vice Chancellors and their greedy boys are now taking these positions to other departments or faculties that have no courses or programmes offered in these institutes or centres. 

Where the servicing faculty has many Professors or senior academics, this usually creates disaffection or low morale in the system. The main tragedy is that these Professors and their faculties for whatever reason could not protest or resist this administrative recklessness. It appears to me that the spirit of ‘banana-ness’ is being entrenched in the university system. We are beginning to have emperors as Vice Chancellors. They can do anything they like and get away with it.

Given the many shortcomings of Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), ASUU instructed her members not to enlist. Unfortunately, in many departments and faculties, the VC’s boys were coercing and intimidating their colleagues to register into IPPIS. In my faculty, I advised my boys not to register. I told them that in addition to having honour, they don’t have much to lose. My prediction came to pass. How can an ASUU leader like myself disobey my union. It will be infragid. 

Today, everybody is crying. Many lecturers are not paid for months, those paid receive about 50% of their salaries. With this dislocation in financial planning, many university staff are unable to meet their loan and other financial commitments. Meanwhile, majority of the proponents of IPPIS have salary as their only source of income.

 The Igbos will always say that the heart is a bag, full of deceits. When an ‘oga-at-the-top’ leaves office, most of his or her boys will abandon him or her and start moving towards the new oga. That explains why people are lonely, if not in melancholy, when they leave exalted positions. They will realize belatedly that most people flocking around them are fakes or these so for entirely personal benefits.  

 On closer observation, the VC’s boys should know, though they may pretend, that at end of the day, because they would have stepped on many toes, knowingly and brazenly, they will have more enemies than friends. They will also have damaged reputation. They will inherit all their oga’s known and hidden enemies. And whatever benefits they got, with time, patience, ako-na-uche, God’s grace, others will surely get them. So what the heck?

 Before I am completely misunderstood … It is important to emphasize that not all the VC’s boys gloat or suffer from ‘arrival syndrome’ or ready to insult people including their superiors. Some have been able to manage the privilege of being close to or direct beneficiaries of the powers that be. They are conscious that every position and power are transient.

 I know in one university, where one VC’s boy was so careful, intelligent and humble that he effectively managed all his relationships with people. He was the Dean of Student Affairs. He treated everyone equitably, respectfully, and unassumingly. He didn’t step on anybody’s toe. He did not block anyone’s chances of getting his/her privileges or rights. He didn’t need to make enemies for himself or inherit another persons’ enemy. That is wisdom. He is just a good Christian – a Catholic. Of course, everybody observed these special qualities and love him. 

 For many years, I was also a VC’s boy like few others. We were restricted to the responsibilities of our offices, teaching, research and publications. We were bold enough to say our minds. We were never involved in admission racketeering, contracts, employments, the process of appointing Vice Chancellors, legal tussles. 

Promotions were not packaged for us. We were not used to destabilize ASUU. Let me quickly add, we were radical and courageous enough to resist such unwholesome request or order. We worked under a hard-working, highly disciplined, unassuming, non-acquisitive and incorruptible Vice Chancellor – Prof Ogwo E. Ogwo. 

 If I am a CEO of any organization like a university, I will surround myself with research-oriented persons, those that have a pedigree in administrative prowess, superb inter-personal relations and entrepreneurial mindset. Those courageous enough to point out my mistakes or excesses. I will be very careful with those only interested in sharing available cake. I need those with wealth creating abilities – helping to bake bigger cakes for all and sundry.

 In conclusion … my little wise counsel. If you have been a victim of these over-zealous VC’s boys, be a man. Learn how to persevere or carry cross. Expect undeserved persecutions. Be like the Jews. For me, I am born and trained into toughness – ability to withstand pressures, vicissitudes of life and persecutions. I am always happy. I dance regularly.

 I don’t give my traducers or persecutors cause to be happier than me. Rather, it is the other way round. My gregarious nature and peace of mind give them great concerns/worries. I will continue to adore God throughout my life for His mercies and grace.

  All victims should take solace in the fact that all positions and power are transient in nature. Refer to my article – Spiritual Angle to Development, early April 2020. 

Murder is not only physical killing. If any of these boys can identify those they deliberately (through set ups, lies, fabrication of stories) contributed to their suspension or sack; played roles in their delayed or non-promotion; disappearance of their documents including personal files; delayed or non-regularization of their appointments; denied employments or contracts; etc, they should go personally to them and seek forgiveness.

 If they cannot identify all, they should go to those they could and fervently continue to pray to Almighty God for forgiveness for the others. 

This spiritual cleansing or atonement is also applicable to every other sector of our national life. This is my innocuous advice, which they are free to take or leave. I guess that it will be in their best interest to listen to me – the favoured son of God. I am still thinking aloud …

  • Prof. Onuoha wrote from University of Port Harcourt.

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