Makerere don contests rival’s election for top post

Photo combo of Dr Ronald Bisaso (left) and Dr Nicholas Itaaga (right). 

What you need to know:

  • The petitioner claims his rival was given the deputy principal position despite being defeated in the interviews.

A Makerere don has petitioned the University Council praying that the appointment of his rival for the position of a deputy principal be quashed.

Dr Nicholas Itaaga, in his March 9 petition, argues that the election of Dr Ronald Bisaso as Deputy Principal of the College of Education and External Studies (CEES) was “unreasonable and violated the principles of natural justice.”

“Despite my superior performance at both the activities through which data was collected on our qualifications for the position, Senate [has] selected Bisaso instead of me,” Itaaga says.

The petition was filed on the same day the University Council, headed by Dr Lorna Magara, endorsed and sent its recommendations of the appointments to Chancellor Ezra Suruma for approval.

At the behest of Vice Chancellor Barnabas Nawangwe, the Senate on March 3 was called in to vote on the appointment of heads and deputies of five colleges.

The election was called after a search committee had interviewed and assessed the candidates and made recommendations for the respective appointments.

Prof Nawangwe, in a brief email response to this newspaper, said it is a standard procedure in Senate to put all the recommended candidates to a vote.

“It is not the first time the candidate with the highest score does not get the highest vote,” he said without citing any specifics.

While Itaaga and his colleagues agree with the vice chancellor, their grievances arise from how the process was engaged.

“Of course, voting can happen, but at an institution of Makerere’s reputation, a vote must meet certain minimum standards. A candidate cannot nominate voters to represent him as Dr Bisaso did. And voters cannot vote on people who have not been given any opportunity to present themselves to them,” Dr Jude Ssempebwa, an associate professor at CEES, said.

In a rejoinder, Ssempebwa told Daily Monitor that Bisaso is a member of the Senate yet, without giving his competitor any opportunity to campaign or any notice that he will be voted on, allowed for the vote to proceed.

“Even the senate was only called to finalise the selection of deputy principals, and because most of them didn’t know the candidates, it was taken for granted that they would adopt the recommendations of the search committee. But the vice chancellor just declared an election,” Ssempebwa said.

Itaaga lost by three votes of 54 with Ssempebwa claiming some officials like Dr Kizito Maria Kasule, dean of Margaret Trowel School of Industrial and Fine Arts, had tried to argue against the vote.

“He [Kasule] tried to argue against voting without hearing from the candidates but the vice chancellor waved him away and instructed the secretariat to ‘give out the ballots,” he said.

Dr Kitizo was yet to respond to our request for a comment.

The latest fallout comes on the back of a long-running feud at CEES with Itaaga noting that Bisaso has previously been accused of misleading his PhD supervisees to co-publish with him in journals, costing the university losses in court cases, and doctoring of minutes of meetings.

In July last year, this newspaper reported of fights between Bisaso and Ssempebwa that had left several PhD candidates suffering “irreparable damage.”

Ssempebwa and Bisaso, who has been a dean at the East African School of Higher Education Studies, have been embroiled in feuds since 2017 – fights that have left some students victimised.

“I’m the target because my supervisor is Ssempebwa, with whom Bisaso has problems,” Mr Peter Ntale, a student, told Daily Monitor last year.

Like Ntale, who had failed to have a defence for his thesis for more than a year, other students such as Sr Stella Kamanzi, John Habimana, Sophia Geera and Ahmed Katalemwa, had been silently nursing frustrations to.

The search process

On June 10, 2021, the University Council constituted a committee to search for and interview suitable candidates for positions of Principal and Deputy Principal for CEES as well as the colleges of agricultural and environmental sciences; veterinary medicine, animal resources and biosecurity; natural sciences; computing and information sciences; and humanities and social sciences.

For CEES, Bisaso and Itaaga were shortlisted and interviewed on key factors, including vision and strategic direction for the college, knowledge of the higher education sector, ideas for cascading the research-led mantra and their plans to promote inclusive practices at the college.

The committee, led by the acting director of the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda, John Chris Ninsiima, had national IT authority director of planning Edward Kitoogo, Council members Jolly Uzamukunda and Helen Nkabala, KCCA deputy Lord Mayor Doreen Nyanjura, and former MP Jude Mbabali as members.

In its December 2021 report, the search committee scored 69 per cent for Itaaga against Bisaso’s 57 per cent in the interviews, and 41 per cent to 34 per cent, respectively, in the presentation.

The committee recommended the appointment of Itaaga, a senior lecturer of Economics of Education, and Comparative Education, as deputy principal.

Mr Ninsiima declined to comment on the matter but Ms Nyanjura said their recommendation was not a given that whoever was topping on merit would automatically be appointed.

Itaaga, however, says it is a gross procedural irregularity in which Bisaso was given an undue advantage.

“This request is for you and members of your Council use your superior position in the recruitment and selection process for deputy principals to remedy the said irregularity,” Itaaga told Magara.

He also argued that Article 29 (2) of the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act, 2001 and the College Statute, 2012 determines the selection of deputy principals as based on evidence of aspirants’ credentials rather than electoral popularity.

“Senate voted for Bisaso without giving me any opportunity to give it information about my managerial experience and vision for the CEES,” he said.

What next?

With the decision now left to the chancellor, Itaaga and those in his boat are understood to be casting their last baits in the pond hoping the chancellor can take a bite and reject the appointment.

It is a big ask because the Senate, Council and VC have all given their blessings.

And the ominous message wouldn’t have been gloomier with Dr Lorna Magara, the chairperson of the University Council, telling this paper that “even with national elections, the winners are sworn in as petitions are addressed.”

“Every institution has procedures and processes that govern leadership and governance matters. Makerere, too, has these processes in the different laws and statutes governing it. They will be accordingly followed,” said Magara, who added that Itaaga’s petition, that arrived after the boat had sailed, will be “analysed and decision taken accordingly.”