The saga surrounding the controversial appointment of University of Nairobi vice-chancellor Prof Stephen Kiama Gitahi and dissolution of the council that is chaired by Prof Julia Ojiambo took a new twist Saturday after the Ministry of Education sought the intervention of the anti-corruption agency.
Prof Kiama, in a communication to staff and students, insisted that he was the validly appointed vice-chancellor and would continue to discharge his duties.
However, Prof Madara Ogot, who is the acting deputy vice-chancellor (finance, planning and development) fired another communication to staff and students, cancelling the Tuesday installation of Prof Kiama as vice-chancellor.
Prof Ogot said Prof Mbeche is now the acting VC while Prof Kiama remains the deputy vice- chancellor (human resource and administration). Prof Mbeche later fired a letter late in the evening to the director of ICT at the university warning against allowing Prof Kiama to send communication to staff, saying his appointment had been revoked.
And as the drama was going on, workers allied to Prof Mbeche replaced the locks on Prof Kiama’s office, throwing students and staff into more confusion.
The Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendment) Act 2018, which was signed into law in January last year by President Uhuru Kenyatta, took away the power of university councils to advertise, interview and recommend for appointment top university managers.
Instead, university councils are only allowed to appoint vice-chancellors, their deputies and principals of colleges in consultation with the Cabinet secretary after a competitive recruitment process by PSC.
The dissolution of the council follows a falling-out between the council and the government after it emerged that the ministry had a preferred candidate, which saw some council members receive threatening messages. In an advisory opinion to the University of Nairobi and the Ministry of Education dated June 28, 2017, then Attorney General Prof Githu Muigai said the removal of the council must be in accordance with the law.
Prof Magoha in a letter to Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) chief executive officer Twalib Mbarak called for investigations on the exercise that was conducted by the Public Service Commission (PSC) on December 18 last year.
“As you may be aware, the Public Service Commission completed the process of advertising , shortlisting and interviewing candidates for the position of vice-chancellor and submitted the results to the university council for further action. The action was meant to pave the way for proper consultation before the appointment of a suitable candidate,” reads the letter dated January 17.
He said the ministry had observed that there could have been some ethical and integrity issues that could tarnish the process and ruin the reputation of the university.
“I kindly invite you to audit and interrogate the process as to its integrity, transparency, merit and ethos thereof, to enable the government to make critical and decisive decisions to avoid besmirching the reputation of the university, “said the CS.
A report presented to the university council by PSC chairman Stephen Kirogo and dated December 30 indicated Prof Kiama was the best with 80.44 marks, Prof Madara Ogot had 79.31, and Prof Patricia Mbote had 78.44 while Prof Mbeche had 77.94. Prof Elijah Omwenga had 76.13, Prof Solomon Shibairo had 70.56 while Prof Bernard Njoroge had 70.13.
Prof Kareithi Ruth Nduati was not interviewed as she did not present clearance from EACC and KRA.
The position was advertised on October 29 and closed on November 19 with a total of 14 candidates having applied. Out of the 14 candidates, eight were shortlisted for an interview that was conducted on December 18. The pass mark for the interview was 60 per cent and the panel consisted of eight members.
The PSC distanced itself from the drama, saying it discharged its mandate and handed over the report to the university council to make the appointment in consultation with the Cabinet secretary.
“Our role ended with forwarding the names to the council. We did that and therefore we do not participate in the appointment,” said Mr Kirogo. In his communication to staff, Prof Kiama thanked the university fraternity for keeping calm in the face of the crisis.
“I want to urge you all to continue to remain calm and maintain peace and order that has subsisted since my appointment as vice-chancellor. Do not be given to acts of lawlessness as peace and stability of the university is important to all of us,” said Prof Kiama. On Friday in special gazette notice, Prof Magoha dissolved the council and revoked the appointment of Prof Kiama pending further consultation.
“Prof Kiama will continue dispensing his duties as deputy vice-chancellor human resource and administration,” Prof Magoha said in a press release.
Members of the council who were also kicked out include Flora Mtuweta Mighulo Maghanga, Jocelyn Marie Rarieya, Hassan Abdi Mohamud, Isaac Chebon Kiprop, and Kariuki Muchemi.
He appointed Prof Mbeche to the position of acting VC with immediate effect pending consultation.
Prof Mbeche has been holding the position since July 2019 following the exit of Prof Peter Mbithi.
Prof Kiama had been appointed as the VC for the University of Nairobi on January 5 this year and was to serve for a period of five years.
Early this year, Prof Kiama was caught in the crossfire between then Education CS Amina Mohammed and the University of Nairobi council. Though the council through the chairperson had recommended him for the job, the CS opted for Prof William Ogara.
The Employment and Labour Relations Court later quashed the appointments. The CS appeared to have resorted to dissolving the council after it became clear the council would not accept the government’s demands on its preferred candidates.
Ms Mohamed appointed Prof Ojiambo to the position in September after several court cases that saw two different appointments by the then CS Dr Fred Matiang’i quashed by the High Court over failure to follow the law. After the exit of Dr Idle Farah in February 2017, the university did not have a council until 2018 due to several litigations and which prompted the intervention of Prof Muigai.
In 2017, Dr Matiang’i fired Dr Sanjay Advani, Ms Pascalia Koske and Dr Lucy Kiyiapi as council members and appointed Mr Timothy Mwangi Kiruhi as chairman and Mr Meshack Kidenda, Mr Victoria Otieno, Mr Mahat Somane, Mr Peter Maangi Mitiambo and Ms Jane Wanjiru Michuki.
This was despite Justice Odunga ruling that the CS had no power to disband an existing council.
“Although the Cabinet secretary has the powers to appoint members of the council of the university as per section 36(1) of the Universities Act, the corresponding power regarding the removal of the council members must be in accordance with the University of Nairobi charter 2012, the letter of interim authority and the State Corporations Act,” advised Prof Muigai.
He added: “The Cabinet Secretary is not stopped from commencing the process afresh so long as it complies with the relevant provisions of the constitution, the State Corporations Act, letter of interim authority and the University of Nairobi charter, 2012.”
According to the university charter, a vacancy can only arise in the council through resignation or a member’s inability to exercise duties due to physical or mental infirmity or death.
In 2017, after the sacking of the previous council, Dr Timothy Kiruhi was forced to conduct meetings at a lounge after the management locked the council out of office.