(By Iheanyi Ezinwo) – In the over forty years of existence of the University of Port Harcourt, UNIPORT, the emergence of a vice chancellor has never been as contentious like the stalled choice of the successor to Ndowa Lale, the immediate past chief executive officer of the institution. And what is most worrisome is that this is the first time that an Ikwerre man has gotten so close to being selected to occupy the exalted office.
For those who may not know, the people of Ikwerre ethnic nationality has invested so much to make Rivers State what it is today. For over four decades, the University of Port Harcourt have been accommodated at Choba in the Ikwerre speaking Obio/Akpor local government area of the state. The institution also occupy an almost unlimited space, extending deep into Aluu and other neigbhouring Ikwerre communities. Although these communities have not been enjoying proportionate considerations in terms of employment, appointments and contracts, there have been little concerns over their youths disrupting activities at the ivory over the years. The people had always preferred dialogue to violence of any form, even in the face of the imported culture of cultism that engulfed the state in the last few years.
The well known traditional hospitability of Ikwere people is the reason why their communities and towns have become home to people from other states of Nigeria, and from all over the world. In the history of University of Port Harcourt, Abonnema town in the Kalabari kingdom of Rivers State has produced two vice chancellors: Professors Harrison and Nimi Briggs. Ogoni has produced three: Professors Theo Vincent, Don Baridam and Ndowa Lale.
Regrettably, those who have been directly and remotely in controlling the politics at UNIPORT have consistently neglected or refused to look in the direction of Ikwerre in the choice of a vice chancellor of the institution.
In the 80’s and 90s, the likes of Prof. Elechi, a distinguished medical scholar and Prof. Otonti Nduka in the faculty of Education, among others in and outside the University of Port Harcourt community had all it took to occupy the office but the leadership succession game was always skewed against them, and it does appear that those who do not want an Ikwerre son to take over the leadership position at UNIPORT are at it again, this time, to frustrate the aspiration of Okey Onuchukwu, a distinguished professor of Economics. And what is more worrisome in this case is that, anti – Ikwerre forces are said be using highly placed persons from the Ikwerre ethnic nationality to achieve their narrow interests.
People may have their perceptions but the average Ikwerre man traditionally has a good sense, and that is the reason why he is slow to anger. It is to the glory of Ikwerre people that they have been overlooking the manipulations against them in this regard at UNIPORT over the past 40 plus years. The Ikwerre people are blessed, not because they have much but because, as it is on record, they have given much. They know that the good they give to others will, some how, someday also come back to them in line with the supreme principle that every one reaps what he sows.
What is playing out at the University of Port Harcourt today is the same old strategy that had been employed by some competing forces to prevent the Ikwerre man from holding some important leadership positions in the state while they enjoyed multiple opportunities at the state and at the centre. However, recent developments in the state and the country are enough pointers to political opportunists that no condition is permanent, and that what goes around comes around.
The schemes to frustrate the aspiration of Prof. Okey Onuchukwu is not targeted at the professor per se but an advancement of what looks like a hidden agenda to keep the Ikwerre man away from the leadership position at UNIPORT, even when there is one that has been proved to be fit and proper person, by all known academic and administrative standards. That is the reason why all men of conscience must interrogate the somersaults that have been going on in the last few months at UNIPORT over the choice of Prof. Lale’s successor, and lend their voices to see that justice is not only done but is seen to have been served.
No doubt, many people profess to be friends of Ikwere ethnic nationality but there is no better time for any one to prove loyalty to Ikwerre cause than now that deliberate attempts are being made to frustrate an Ikwerre man from becoming the vice chancellor at UNIPORT. It was Henri Frederick Amiel who observed that Truth is not only violated by false hood, but that it may be equally outraged by silence. This is the right time for all men of good will and beneficiaries of Ikwere magnanimity to lubricate the relationship by lending their support to ensure that an Ikwerre man becomes the vice chancellor at the University of Port Harcourt for the first time.