When Prof Aggrey Maina Thuo received the good news on his excellent performance at the Public Service Commission (PSC) interview, he was elated.
The academician had applied for the position of Deputy Vice Chancellor, Administration and Finance at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology (JOOUST).
After applying, Prof Thuo was shortlisted and invited for an interview by the Public Service Commission.
The interviews were slated for Tuesday, February 9, 2021. Five candidates were shortlisted from an original list of 12 applicants.
Among the requirements for the position that attracts a maximum monthly salary of Sh432,257 over a five year contract term are Kenyan citizenship, an associate professorship from a recognized university, at least 10 years experience in a senior position in a university and membership in a professional association.
The comprehensive, eighteen point JOOUST advertisement published in the local dailies also required the successful candidate to demonstrate competence in academic leadership, an outstanding and internationally recognized scholarship record as evidenced by publication in peer reviewed journal publications, university level books, supervision of doctoral students, knowledge of performance contracting and quality management.
Professors Patrick Hayombe, Peter Otieno Wasamba, Francis Angawa Akere, Joseph Kiplangat and Aggrey Maina Thuo were lined up for the interview.
After the rigorous exercise, the academic was ranked first with 74 marks, followed by Prof Wasamba (73 marks), and Prof Angawa coming in third with 72 marks.
Prof Thuo, it seems, had checked all the boxes. All that remained was confirmation of the interview results followed by the required recommendations by the statutory bodies and appointment by Education CS Prof George Magoha.
The PSC forwarded its findings to the University Council which adopted the position and communicated the same to the Cabinet Secretary of Education through the Principal Secretary in charge of University Education.
“The three candidates performed quite well. The council having not participated in the interview was at a big disadvantage in making a decision,”a letter by the university council chair Prof Isaiah Wakindiki which was dated March 30, 2021 and copied to the CS reads.
Prof Wakindiki noted that the council was not a participant at the interviews but was confident of the validity and soundness of the PSC’s findings, ranking and resolutions.
“Nonetheless, it was pointed out that the PSC is usually quite thorough and having taken all factors (performance, regional distribution/spread, gender, persons living with disabilities (PWDs), and other information that was available on the performance of the three candidates into consideration, it was thus important to uphold the results as communicated to the chairman of the council,” he wrote in the letter.
Having been furnished with the necessary documentation, PS (Amb) Simon Nabukwesi forwarded it together with his recommendation for Prof Thuo’s apppointment to the position.
Prof Maina’s elation was shortlived as his appointment was revoked and his position handed to one of the competitors he had beaten in the interviews.
In a move that has since baffled many, University Council chair Prof Isaiah Wakindiki withdrew Prof Thuo’s appointment and instead appointed Prof Angawa.
Prof Wakindiki made the move despite the fact that Prof Angawa was ranked third in the interviews for the position. His decision also ignored the minutes of the university council meeting that approved and adopted PSC recommendations.
To date, there are no records of other council minutes that revoked Prof Thuo’s appointment or amending the council’s resolution.
Prof Thuo’s dream of being confirmed as the DVC, Finance, Administration and planning now hangs in the balance following the decision that saw CS Prof George Magoha and Prof Wakindiki team up to overturn the PSC and university council resolutions.
On his part, Prof Magoha is yet to offer an explanation for his decision.
The Scholar’s call to Prof Wakindiki was fruitless as he promised to call back after a short while and went offline shortly after.
Prof Stephen Agong who is the Vice Chancellor, JOOUST and Secretary to the Council declined to comment on the matter, which is pending in court.
“I would have been glad to provide you the information you require but unfortunately I cannot comment on the matter as it is still in court,” said Prof Agong.
His comments come in the wake of a petition that Anthony Otiende filed at the Employment, Labour Relations Court on April 20, 2021.
Among the pleadings that Otiende is for is that Professor Wakindiki be declared unfit to hold public office, due to his action of altering the Council’s document without authority of the Council.
In the case that has enjoined the Attorney General, the CS, the PSC, the JOOUST University Council, the Universities Council and Prof Wakindiki, the interview participants Professors Thuo, Wasamba and Angawa are named as interested parties.
The petitioner argues that the CS and university council chair violated several sections of the law including Part 5 of the University Act as read together with Miscellaneous Amendments Act Number 18 of 2014.
Mr Otiende also argues that Prof Thuo’s fundamental rights were violated in the decision to appoint Prof Angawa to the DVC position.
“The petitioner is aggrieved that, in refusing to appoint him as the DVC, Planning, Finance and Administration, the candidate who emerged top at the interviews, is in breach of of the specific provisions of the constitution and statute which require appointments to be competitive and on merit,” reads the petition.
Mr Otiende is now seeking orders from the court to quash the appointment.
He alleges that Prof Wakindiki was summoned to CS Magoha’s office last month and compelled to withdraw Prof Thuo’s recommendation for appointment.
“On or about April 9, 2021, Prof Wakindiki was informally summoned to CS Magoha’s office and directed to convene a meeting of the university council, and order that the latter recommends Prof Angawa for appointment, notwithstanding that he had emerged third at the interviews for the position,” the petition reads.
“On April 14, 2021, Prof Wakindiki was summoned to the office of the CS and directed to withdraw the PSC’s recommendation for the appointment of Prof Thuo and instead recommend Prof Angawa, which he solely did without reconvening the council,” Mr Otiende contines.
He says the withdrawal was done in an “opaque, discriminatory manner, without transparency, openness and accountability”, thereby locking Prof Thuo out of the position he had qualified for.
“By appointing Prof Angawa, who was the least qualitified candidate in the interviews, Prof Wakindiki and JOOUST have violated Article 27(1) of the constitution, which guarantees equality before the law and the right to equal benefit of the law,” reads the petition.
The hearing date for the petition is yet to be given by the court due to the current deadlock occasioned by the decision to make all hearings virtual in a bid to reduce the risk of Covid-19 infections in physical hearings.
The Administration Secretary in the Ministry of Education Peter Okwanyo also failed to respond to calls The Scholar made to his mobile line.
Scholarmedia.africa has authoritatively established that the world of academia in the country is fraught with similar cases.
Efforts by the media and other stakeholders to get the council’s minutes and interview results have so far proven fruitless.
Prof Isaac Mbeche was also denied the coveted position of vice chancellor at the University of Nairobi after it emerged that Prof Stephen Kiama had been given the position.
Prof Julia Ojiambo who chaired the interview proceedings has also remained mum on what transpired, and how Prof Mbeche was edged out of contention.
What followed the conflicting announcements of the elevation of both dons was nothing short of comical.
Prof Magoha revoked Prof Kiama’s appointment a mere four days after the announcement, and recalled Prof Mbeche from annual leave.
He also dissolved the university council chaired by Prof Julia Ojiambo based on the fact that it chose Prof Kiama for the position without consulting President Uhuru Kenyatta.
The council appealed the decision in court which led to a protracted legal duel as Prof Kiama headed to Employment and Labour Relations Court to block the CS from kicking him out of office.
Prof Magoha, who was at once time a VC in the same institution, was later to soften his stance and allow Prof Kiama to assume the reigns of office.
The saga was to take farcical proportions with both professors issuing letters and notices affirming their appointment and casting doubts on the rival.
Prof Mbeche later bowed out, opting to go on leave pending his retirement, which was announced on May 7, 2020. He was replaced by Prof Madara Ogot.
His eventual capitulation and exit is viewed in may academic circles as a humiliation of sorts, considering the respected stature he had attained in a long, relatively calm and successful stint in the halls of academia.
In a worrying pattern that is likely to spell doom for other academicians with ambitions of heading tertiary institutions, scholars who score highly in interviews are left out at appointment stage, with the positions often going to interviewees who came second, third or even fifth.
Outright ethnic sentiments often pushed by the vocal political class sometimes soil the noble exercise of identifying the most suitable candidate.
Moi University witnessed a flurry of ethnic protestations from local political leaders when it emerged that Prof Laban Ayiro was set to take over the reigns at the university in 2018.
Prof. Ayiro’s appointment as acting VC which had been sanctioned by then Education CS Dr Fred Matiang’i was to run into troubled waters when local politicians led by Governor Jackson Mandago opposed the move.
The government and the university management were later to cave in to the pressure on March 20, 2018 and appointed Prof Isaac Kosgey who was the community and political establishment favourite in his place.
In Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST), acting VC Prof Joseph Bosire, had also duly fulfilled all the interview requirements, only to see the position awarded to a competitor.
In April 2019, CS Amina Mohammed appointed Prof Bosire, who had replaced the embattled former VC Prof Fredrick Otieno, to serve in acting capacity for six months after which recruitment was to be done.
He was replaced six months later by Prof Asenath Sigot, who lasted one year before being replaced by Prof Solomon Shibairo, who is currently serving out a six month contract.
Prof Bosire has been sucked into a legal battle pitting the Kenya University Staff Union (KUSU) and the PSC.
This follows the decision by the commission to readvertise the position of VC on March 2, 2021.
On March 21st, 2021, the ELRC court in Kisumu issued orders stopping the PSC from recruiting the Masinde Muliro DVC.
The court orders followed a successful application by KUSU.
In their application, the workers union argued that the institution was engaging in unfair labour practices by readvertising the interviews on March 2, 2021.
The union also argues that the fresh interviews are a waste of public resources since substantive interviews and The PSC had already forwarded it’s recommendations to the CS.
KUSU wants the recruitment to be done according to the results of the August 2019 interviews.
In the PSC interviews held in August 2019, Prof Bosire came first, followed by Prof Sibilikhe Makhanu with Prof Gitonga Mburugu ranked third.
The interviewing process is also not above suspicion, with even the PSC chair one time voicing disquiet over the manner and motive in some of the interviews that have taken place before.
“Hiring of VCs by councils has taken a worrying trend where some council members award scores that are outliers. It makes one wonder if the panel members are measuring agreed competencies or had a predetermined candidate,” then PSC chair Prof Kobia told the Daily Nation.
Prof Kobia, who is the Youth, Gender and Cultural Affairs CS, was reacting to questions following the rejection of Prof Ayiro at the interview for the position of Moi University’s VC.
As the protagonists in the JOOUST debacle fight it out in court, unilateral decisions made by the CS remain a matter of great concern to academicians with aspirations for the venerated offices of DVC, VC and others.
Look out for part two of the story in which The Scholar will seek to delve into the murky world of academic appointments that has long been marred by political interference, personal interests, brinkmanship and blatant violations of the recruitment process.