CS orders Meru University reopened, Romanus Odhiambo reinstated as VC

romanus odhiambo

Romanus Odhiambo, then the vice chancellor of Meru University of Science and Technology, during a past function at the institution.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Education minister Ezekiel Machogu Tuesday ordered Romanus Odhiambo's immediate reinstatement as vice chancellor of the Meru University of Science and Technology, saying the decision to send him on terminal leave was ill-timed and unlawful.

The university's council sent Prof Odhiambo on terminal leave on March 3 and declined to renew his five-year contract over underperformance, an accusation which he denied.

A crisis followed - protests by both students and university staff, and the indefinite closure of the university - which meant a graduation slated for March 11 would not have taken place.

The student riots saw them engage in running battles with the police, which prompted the management to ask them to vacate the premises immediately.

Cabinet Secretary Machogu intervened on Tuesday, ordering in a statement that Prof Odhiambo be reinstated no later than close of business on Tuesday, and for the institution to be reopened by Wednesday.

Mr Machogu said: "The decision [to send Prof Odhiambo on terminal leave and appoint an acting VC] is ill-timed because it was made a few days to the scheduled graduation ceremony ... with the obvious consequence that it would undermine preparations for imminent event and destroy the hopes of graduands to transit into the world of work immediately."

He added: "The decision is unlawful because it was made without consulting the Cabinet Secretary ... as require by law; specifically Section 35 (1) (a) of the Universities Act (2012) ... Regrettably, the council fell short of its legal dduty of fidelity to the applicable law."

In a twist to the saga surrounding the management of the public university, Mr Machogu revealed that the term of the council that sent Prof Odhiambo packing will lapse on Thursday and that the ministry will appoint a new council to handle the matter of the VC.

The CS directed that the institution's graduation ceremony, that had been postponed, take place as planned. He said he will be in attendance.

Prof Odhiambo joined the university in August 2018.

In a letter on February 27, the university council's chair, Prof Bosire Mwebi, said: "The university council, in its meeting held on February 27, 2023, evaluated your performance and found it to be below expectations. Therefore, the council declined to renew your contract as requested in your letter dated 20th December 2022."

Prof Mwebi added: “You are not authorised to transact on any capital project in the university but restrict your transactions only to personal emoluments and recurrent expenditure. You are required to proceed on your pending leave of 121 days once a suitable replacement has been identified."

The council appointed Prof Charity Gichuhi to act as VC.

In his response, Prof Odhiambo maintained that he had exceeded expectations and that this was the reason he had handed in a request for the renewal of his contract. According to the law, VCs are appointed for a term of five years but can be hired for a second term, depending on their performance.

"If my performance at Meru University of Science and Technology (MUST), for four years, is below expectations, then as a professor of statistics, I invite you back to my class," he said last week.

"When I requested for the renewal of my term, I gave the council all that information but they said I underperformed. It's all politics. I suspect the council has been infiltrated by politicians."

Reached by phone on Tuesday, Prof Odhiambo told Nation. Africa that CS Machogu and the university chancellor James Mwangi phoned him regarding the new developments, but that he had not received communication from the council.

The other members of the council are Muriira M’Mbwiria, Stephen Kimani Gatama, Dick Waswa Wekesa, Pauline Jeruto Kurgat, Naomi Kipury, Damaris Nyasuguta Onsomu (Treasury) and Paul Mungai (representing the State Department for University Education and Research).