By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU
The crisis rocking the University of Lagos over the removal of the vice chancellor, Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe by the University Governing Council led by Dr. Wale Babalakin has exacerbated the compounded crises rocking the institution since June 2019. Trouble erupted last Wednesday when the Council decided at its emergency meeting held in a room at National University Commission’s office in Abuja to sack Prof. Ogundipe over allegations of infractions and gross misconduct.
In a dramatic escalation of the unfolding saga, hours after the removal of Ogundipe as the vice-chancellor of the institution, the school’s governing council said that it had appointed Theophilus Soyombo in acting capacity. Ogundipe, with a note of cynicism fired back, saying his “purported removal” was a “mischievous disinformation” as “the extant provisions of the law were not complied with” by the council. He sounded a defiant tone backed by the institution’s staff unions – ASUU and NASU.
BusinessHallmark’s checks revealed that the action of the governing council, however, may not have the backing of the law establishing the university. The law situates the power to remove a vice-chancellor on the Nigerian president, who is the visitor to the university.
In the provision of the UNILAG Act, it is only the president of the country who can remove the vice-chancellor after due consultation with the Council and the Senate acting through the Minister of Education.” But the escalation reached a new height when the spokesperson for the education ministry said “the ministry is yet to be briefed.”
Spokesperson of Federal Ministry of Education, Ben Goong, later said the Council has the power to “hire and fire” anybody. Goong was emphatic that “due process” must, however, be followed before removing anybody
All the industrial unions in the University of Lagos, UNILAG, operating under the aegis of Joint Staff Union, JSU, last week held a Congress where the issue of the sack of the institution’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, by the Governing Council was the main item on the agenda. BusinessHallmark learnt that during the Congress, the unions resolved to issue an ultimatum to the Council to reverse its decision.
The unions involved in the meeting are the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities SSANU, the National Association of Academic Technologists, NAAT, and the Non-Academic Staff Union, NASU
A legal expert, Leke Job, SAN, told this newspaper that the removal of Ogundipe was not backed by law. He said what the University Council relied on only applies to removal of deputy vice chancellor which is the section 18 of the university law.
But the council in a statement last Thursday insisted it acted lawfully and that its decision to remove Ogundipe stands. It then announced Theophilus Soyombo as the interim head of the university.
Recall that the crises rocking University of Lagos may have defied resolution as the various dramatis personae in the unfolding drama at the institution appeared not to be in any conciliatory mood for a truce to give peace a chance. The crises date back to 2019. The immediate catalyst for this tense atmosphere was the refusal in June 2019 by the University’s Governing Council to act on a directive by the minister to pause the ongoing probe of the university’s management.
But the Pro-chancellor shunned the minister’s directive and insisted that the council was not answerable to the minister.
Since then, the Babalakin-led governing council has been on a collision course with UNILAG’s management over its decision to probe the university’s finances following the collapse of an uncompleted library building to determine the quality of work and its cost, and investigate other alleged improprieties of the university’s vice-chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, and other top officials of the institution.
Earlier, an audit panel set up by the Council reportedly indicted Prof. Ogundipe, two of his three deputies – Folashade Ogunsola and Oluwole Familoni – and some principal members of the university’s management. The council is also at loggerheads with the university’s union of academic staff over queries issued to seven lecturers then.
The genesis of the crisis emanated from an avalanche of queries issued by the Registrar, who is also secretary of the council to the principal officials of the institution bordering on allegations of travelling without permission, financial impropriety, among others. The first query was issued to, Ogundipe, by the institution’s Registrar, Oladejo Azeez.
The registrar was said to have acted on the instruction of the chairman of the university’s governing council, Babalakin. The university’s former Registrar, Taiwo Ipaye, also received three letters of query on similar allegations, while the immediate past vice-chancellor, Rahamon Bello, was also issued one. The immediate past bursar of the university, Lateef Odekunle, and his successor, Lekan Lawal, were also queried.
Others affected in what some stakeholders in the university have tagged; “harvest of queries,” also include two incumbent deputy vice-chancellors- Folasade Ogunsola and Oluwole Familoni; a former deputy vice-chancellor, Duro Oni; former directors of works, Niyi Ayeye and Adelere Adeniran; head of the university’s procurement unit, James Akanmu; dean of students’ affairs, Ademola Adeleke; director of academic planning, L.O Chukwu and the director of the institution’s foundation programme, Timothy Nubi.
The quartet of Ogundipe, Ogunsola, Familoni and Chukwu are also members of the governing council like the Registrar and Mr. Babalakin. But in a swift reaction, the VC dispatched a strong worded query to the Registrar, who he accused of insubordination and acting arbitrarily against constituted authority; although the Registrar acted as secretary of the council and not in his capacity as Registrar of the institution.
However, and in apparent solidarity with its colleagues who are the targets of the probe, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, has kicked against what it described as the dictatorial action of the council chairman, accusing him of flouting laid down procedures. ASUU, in its letter to the affected union members, signed by its chairman, Dele Ashiru, said a purported report on which the council chairman is acting is yet to be submitted to the council for deliberation.
“This arbitrariness and ‘one man show’ is repulsive and unacceptable to our union as it smacks of vindictiveness,” ASUU said.
In his reaction, the Registrar, Oladejo Azeez, condemned ASUU’s position, saying it shows dishonesty and inconsistency on the part of the union. In a statement titled; “The Need to Tell the Truth,” Mr. Azeez, challenged ASUU to cite specific sections of the institution’s law that is flouted by the council’s action. It accused the union of telling lies about various issues in the past, saying the union had always been defeated with logical argument and facts of history.
“The attention of the Registry has been drawn to the circular issued by Dr. Dele Ashiru, the Chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Lagos Branch, on 2nd May 2019. In the said release, the Union accused the Council of the University of being tyrannical, because Council sought explanation of certain activities and expenditure in the university.
“It is important that ASUU backs up its allegation by referring to (a) specific law that has been violated. Please refer to Section 7 of the University Act, which defines the power of (the) Council. The registrar and secretary to (the) council is in the best position to advise on the procedure of Council. Thank you,” he said in a text message. It was based on the ongoing dispute that the education minister intervened.
However, in his letter dated May 17, 2019 addressed to the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Public Procurement, Oluwole Oke, following a petition against him, Mr. Babalakin threw more light on the crisis although he declined to attend personally for a hearing.
He also addressed the allegation that the council’s investigation of the past and current management of the university was for personal reasons “including his desire to chair the Tenders Board of the university”, which runs afoul of Section 22(2) of the Public Procurement Act 2007.
Section 22(2) of the act stipulates that the National Council on Public Procurement shall approve the appointment of chairmen of Tenders Board in government organisations.
“Subject to the approval of the Council, the Bureau shall, from time to time, prescribe guidelines for the membership of the Tenders Board.”
In his letter to Mr. Oke, the official explained that the allegations made against him were “very grave” and thus required a response since he would not be available to make contributions during the planned meeting. Describing the allegation as “completely untrue and fabrication of lies” he said it should not have occurred in a university environment.
He explained why the university’s council decided to investigate the finances of the university. “The Council found out that it was consistently being given inaccurate figures about finances of the university. It also found itself in a position where it could not state that the account and figures presented to Council were a fair representation of the accounts in the university,” Mr. Babalakin wrote.
Babalakin added that the council suspected that the university management was cutting corners with the manner it executed projects in the university.
“The Council also observed that projects in the University hardly ever comply with terms of the award. The projects are rarely completed on schedule. As of today, there are many projects in the University that have been ongoing for an unreasonable length of time.
“Recently the Library building under construction collapsed in the university which reflects very clearly the weakness in the procurement process and the supervisory capacity of the university. We were very lucky that no life was lost.” He said the council, therefore, set up a committee to investigate the suspected sharp practices of the management.
He added that the council appointed Olutola Senbore, a former chairman of First City Monument Bank, to assist the committee with the investigation.
“The committee in its report amongst other things found out that the procurement process in the University of Lagos was weak and felt that the previous system of having the pro-chancellor chair the Tender Board Committee would ameliorate the situation. The committee felt that the University management had not done well in the exercise of its procurement responsibilities. It felt that the move would reduce the number of uncompleted projects in the University,” he wrote.
He explained that despite the committee’s recommendation, he declined to chair the Tenders Board.
On May 13, Mr. Adamu, through a letter addressed to Babalakin, titled: “Re: Correspondence from the Vice Chancellor and ASUU Chapter, University of Lagos,” signed by a permanent secretary at the Ministry of Education, Sonny Echono, stated that it has received “series of correspondence from the UNILAG’s vice chancellor and “other stakeholders bordering on departure from process in conduct of the affairs of the Governing Council of the University of Lagos (copies attached). We are also aware an Emergency Meeting of the Council has been convened from 13th-14thMay, 2019.”
Echono stated that he has been directed to invite the chairman of the council to a meeting with the management of the ministry “to obtain first-hand information” about the activities of the university. The letter also requested that Babalakin should “stay action and avoid any escalation pending this consultative meeting which is without prejudice to the merit or otherwise of the contemplated action.”
However, in his response dated May 17 obtained by this newspaper, Babalakin frowned at the manner the minister’s directive was originally communicated.
“As a prelude to this letter, at the commencement of the Special Meeting on 13th May 2019, the representative of the Ministry of Education – Ms Ann Haruna – informed Council that she had just received a call from the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education – Arc. S.T Echono, fnia, who has directed that our Council should not discuss the Report that examined the expenditure of the University and the Report that examined the collapse of the library building in the University.
“Members of the Council were taken aback by: (a) this mode of communication with Council, i.e the verbal nature of the communication, and (b) the propriety of the message.”
He explained that in the six years he has been pro-chancellor of the university, “the directive from the ministry was the first time its representative would give an instruction to the Council of the University about the issues to be discussed in a Council meeting.”
Mr. Babalakin then explained that due to the inappropriateness of the minister’s directive, the council resolved “that the message could not have come from the office of the Permanent Secretary acting under the instruction of the Honourable Minister.” The council, then, proceeded with its meeting.
The pro-chancellor said that after the letter from the ministry was “discussed extensively” by the council, it concluded that “the letter was incomplete as there were no attachments delivered, along with the letter which were purportedly attached to the said letter.” He explained that though the aim of the letter was to inform the council of a potential breach of procedure, the letter itself was inconsistent with laid down procedure.
“The Vice-Chancellor wrote about the Council to the Ministry of Education without informing the Council or copying the Council with the letter,” Mr. Babalakin wrote. He said the education ministry did not raise or identify any issues in the letter it sent to the council. He explained that the council was ‘confused’ by the ministry’s request for it to stay action on the on-going probe to avoid escalating the crisis.
“There was no escalation of anything on campus and the campus was calm save for the protest of certain members of the university, who received memos requesting their comments on certain issues in line with the mandate of the council. This mandate and position was confirmed by the council meeting on 14th May 2019. Council is therefore at a loss about the issues referred to by this letter.
“It is council’s position that the only event that could lead to escalation of issues in the University of Lagos is the failure to communicate facts to the University community. No escalation could occur if Council’s position is properly communicated to the community,” he wrote.
Efforts to reach the Registrar failed on two occasions as he was said to have traveled out of town.