Meru varsity students go on rampage following ouster of VC

Meru University students strike

Meru University of Science and Technology protests at Nchiru, Tigania West on March 6, 2023. The students burnt a vehicle outside the campus gate.

Photo credit: Gitonga Marete I Nation Media Group

"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."

These were the words of MUST Vice-Chancellor Romanus Odhiambo who was last week sent on terminal leave amid claims of underperformance, even as learners engaged police in running battles in Meru on Monday. 

The students claimed the university council’s decision was political and demanded that the VC be immediately reinstated. Students’ organisation president Kariuki Wachira, backed by his predecessor Hunnington Oguk, led students in a demo and engaged police in running battles for the better part of Monday morning.

They set a vehicle near on fire near the university gate and blocked the Meru-Maua road.

The don left on Friday amid protests by a section of students and celebrations by staff unions who accuse the VC of undermining their welfare. 

The VC, who joined the university in August 2018, came in amid unending student strikes that led to the killing of a student leader. 

Four years and seven months later, the university council gave its verdict: that he had performed below expectation and had to go.

But according to Prof Odhiambo, he has blown exceeded expectations in all performance contract indicators and blames the council decision on political interference.

Meru university riots

Meru University of Science and Technology students protests at Nchiru, Tigania West on March 6, 2023. The students burnt a vehicle outside the campus gate.

Photo credit: Gitonga Marete I Nation Media Group

"When I joined the university, there were about 4,500 students but the number has grown by over 100 percent to 11,000. I ended endemic students strikes that had paralysed the university. We are finalising several infrastructure projects that were stalled due to court cases," Prof Odhiambo said.

The VC added that the most recent State Corporations Advisory Committee (SCAC) report had rated his performance at 89 percent. 

"The university farm which was idle is now a beehive of activity. We are building a graduate school of agriculture and established the Miraa research institute," he said.

Prof Odhiambo added that despite the financial difficulties facing public universities, Meru University has been paying workers and suppliers on time.

The don now alleges that he is a victim of corruption and tribalism at the university.

"When I requested for 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," the VC said.

But University Academic Staff Union (Uasu) Meru University Branch officials painted a different picture of Prof Odhiambo's term. Uasu Meru branch chairman Victor Akwalu accused the VC of misusing human and financial resources.

Romanus Odhiambo

Meru University VC Prof Romanus Odhiambo during a past event at the institution. Prof Odhiambo has defended himself after the university council failed to renew his contract citing underperformance. 

Photo credit: David Muchui I Nation Media Group

"The University Council did its work by refusing to renew his term. The VC should tell us which politicians interfered with the council decision. He should not defend his incompetence," Mr Akwalu said.

He accused the ousted VC of nepotism in employment, irregular recruitment of senior staff and mutilating the staff medical cover.

Uasu secretary-general Munyao Mulwa claimed that between 2018 and 2019, the VC earned Sh3.4 million in per diems. 

He accused Prof Odhiambo of running down the university's Meru town campus and spending millions on a Nairobi Liaison office.

"Despite the VC saying there is no money, he has been earning millions for not taking annual leave. In five months, he has hired three senior staff who earn Sh300,000 a month without due process. He has Sh10 million to pay three staff annually but cannot afford Sh5.6 million to address workers' promotions," Mr Mulwa said.

But according to the VC, promotions are earned and the medical cover was based on the university's financial resources.

Mr Mulwa said the VC has also failed to equip and expand science labs employing more technicians. 

The union now wants to the Ministry of Education to constitute a team to investigate Prof Odhiambo.