Members of the crisis-ridden University of Lagos (UNILAG) community and other stakeholders have expressed satisfaction over last week reinstatement of the Vice- Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe and dissolution of the university’s Governing Council. To them, the action will restore lasting peace and stability to the 58-year-old institution. KAYODE OLANREWAJU writes
Ogundipe: It’s victory for Nigerian university system
ASUU: FG’s action’ll return varsity to path of progress, excellence
For the past two years that University of Lagos (UNILAG) has been bogged down by intractable faceoff between the management and Governing Council, relative peace returned, last week, to the crisisridden 58-year-old institution.
The lingering crisis, which had almost torn the university community apart began since 2017 over allegations of financial misdemeanor and other official misconduct levelled against the management-led by the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe by the university Governing Council also led by the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN).
The trouble began when Babalakin’s council alleged serious financial mismanagement of the university for which Ogundipe was accused of several allegations ranging from acts of financial recklessness, gross misconduct and serious abuse of office.
The council, according to a probe committee set up by Council, allegedly found the Vice-chancellor guilty of involvement in gross financial malpractices while in office. In the probe carried out by the Dr. Saminu Dagara’s committee, Ogundipe among other sins was alleged to have spent more than the amount his office could approve, without due process.
For instance, he was accused of spending over N49 million for the renovation of his official residence (Vice- Chancellor’s Lodge) and over N41 million on the Bursar’s official quarters. The crisis, however, reached a crescendo in March, this year, when the Babalakin’s Council through the National Universities Commission (NUC) suspended the 51st convocation of the university a few days to the ceremony, in which several millions of naira was said to have been spent.
The development elicited wide condemnations from the various stakeholders and members of the uni- versity community, especially the parents, students, staff and other stakeholders, who blamed Babalakin for such action. Irked by the situation, the university chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), led by its Chairman, Dr. Dele Ashiru, therefore, declared the Pro-Chancellor as persona non-grata in UNILAG and slammed a vote of no confidence on him.
The union insisted and threatened that Babalakin should not enter the Akoka campus of the university as his safety could no longer be guaranteed. ASUU hinted that “the vote of no confidence on Babalakin and his persona non grata status was on account of the unfortunate cancellation of the university’s convocation ceremonies. ASUU called on the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu and the Executive Secretary of the NUC, Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, “to please rein in Dr. Babalakin.”
Meanwhile, the crisis took another dimension on August 12, this year, when Babalakin at an emergency meeting of the Governing Council, held at the National Universities Commission Conference Hall, Abuja, where a controversial election was allegedly conducted to remove Prof. Ogundipe, as the Vice-Chancellor of the university.
The Governing Council, following the sacking of Ogundipe during the emergency meeting immediately named Prof. Theophilus Omololu Soyombo of the Faculty of Social Sciences as the new Vice-Chancellor of the institution in acting capacity.
It was learnt that 12 members of the Council were present at the meeting while seven voted for the Vice-Chancellor’s controversial removal, four members voted against and one voted that he (Ogundipe) be placed on suspension. The Council, in a statement signed by the University Registrar/Secretary to the Council, Mr. Oladejo Azeez, said Ogundipe was removed from office based on alleged wrongdoing.
The statement, entitled: “Notice to the general public on the removal of the Vice-Chancellor, University of Lagos,” reads: “The general public is hereby notified that at an emergency meeting held on Wednesday, August 12, 2020 and in accordance with the statutory powers vested in it by law, the Governing Council of the University of Lagos removed Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe from office as the Vice-Chancellor of the university with immediate effect.
“The decision was based on Council’s investigations of serious acts of wrongdoing, gross misconduct, financial recklessness and abuse of office against Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe. But, the sacking of Ogundipe did not go down well with members of the university, including the university Senate; the alumni association, chaired by Dr. John Momoh; the parent forum, ASUU, among others, who also vehemently kicked against the appointment of Prof. Soyombo.
Thus, ASUU kicked against the Council’s action, describing the Abuja Council meeting as “a surreptitious council meeting” summoned by Babalakin. Reacting to his sack then, Ogundipe described his purported sack as a charade, saying in a release that he still remains the Vice-Chancellor of the university.
In the statement, which was entitled: “Re: Notice to the General Public on the Removal of the Vice Chancellor, University of Lagos by Oladejo Azeez, Esq,” Ogundipe said: “Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe still remains UNILAG’s Vice-Chancellor. This is untrue and a figment of his imagination. Therefore, stakeholders of UNILAG and the general public are advised to disregard this mischievous disinformation about the sacking of Vice-Chancellor of UNILAG, contained in that notice.
Professor Ogundipe still remains UNILAG’s Vice- Chancellor.” Ogundipe, who pointed out further that the crisis presented a challenge, and opportunity to attain higher level, even as he rejected his removal by the Council, while addressing some members of staff of the institution on campus, added: “Let us maintain peace. I see it as a point for moving me upward; I see it as a challenge that will throw me to a higher level.
And every one of us will not miss our own opportunity.” Following the outburst generated by the sack, President Muhammadu Buhari, had on August 26, set up a Special Visitation Panel to look into the leadership crisis in the university that led to the removal of the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Oluwatoyin Ogundipe.
The terms of reference of the sevenmember panel, chaired by Prof. Tukur Sa’ad, which was directed by the President to conclude its report and submit recommendations within two weeks, include to review the report of the council’s sub-committee on review of expenditure of University of Lagos since May 2017 and make appropriate recommendations after affording those indicted an opportunity to defend themselves.
The panel was also charged “to examine the step taken by the council leading to the removal of the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe and ascertaining whether due process was followed as stipulated in the universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Act, 2003 and the principle of fair hearing adhered to; determine whether the process (if any) leading to the appointment of the Acting Vice-Chancellor for the university was consistent with the provisions of the enabling Act; to make appropriate recommendations including sanctions to all those found culpable by the special visitation team on the allegations contained in the report as well as other subsequent actions arising from therefrom and to make any other recommendations that will assist the government to make decisions that will ensure peaceful, stable and efficient administration of the university.”
As part of moves to douse the already tense situation on campus, the government directed the Chairman and Pro-Chancellor of Council, Dr. Wale Babalakin and the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe to recuse themselves from official duties during the period of the visitation, and named Dr. John Momoh, acting Chairman of the Council.
Thus, the government also rejected the appointment of Soyombo as Acting Vice-Chancellor, but directed the university Senate to immediately convene to nominate an Acting Vice-Chancellor from among its members for confirmation by the Governing Council, pending government’ decision (s) on the report of the special visitation panel.
The Senate, based on the directive of the Federal Government appointed the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Folasade Ogunsola, a Professor of Medical Microbiology and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Development Service), as the acting Vice-Chancellor. The Special Visitation Panel, however, submitted its report and recommendations on September 17, the very day that Babalakin tendered his letter of resignation as Council Chairman.
The embattled Pro-Chancellor, whose resignation letter was submitted to the Education Minister, Malam Adamu Adamu, in Abuja, a few hours after the panel submitted its report had earlier faulted the composition of the panel. In his resignation, dated September 15, 2020, which was addressed to the Minister and entitled: “Letter of Resignation,” Babalakin said: “There were too many vested interests in UNILAG case, who were not approaching the issues objectively.”
However, sanity returned to the university, last Wednesday, November 11, when President Buhari, while implementing the recommendations of the Special Visitation Panel, announced the reinstatement of Prof. Ogundipe as the Vice-Chancellor and the dissolution of the Governing Council, formerly chaired by Babalakin.
The President, who ordered the immediate reinstatement of Ogundipe, said that his initial removal by the Governing Council did not follow due process. In the announcement contained in a statement signed by the Director of Press for the Federal Ministry of Education, Mr. Bem Goong, President Buhari noted that Ogundipe was not granted an opportunity to defend himself on the allegations upon which he was removed from office.
The statement reads: “President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, Commander- in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Visitor to the University of Lagos has approved the Report of the Special Visitation Panel to the University of Lagos.
“The highlights of the findings and recommendations approved by Mr. President are as follows: That the removal of Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe as the Vice-Chancellor did not follow due process. “The Vice-Chancellor was not granted an opportunity to defend himself on the allegations upon which his removal was based. He should accordingly be reinstated.
All allegations made against the Vice-Chancellor and the management of the university before and after the constitution of the special visitation panel should be referred to the regular Visitation Panel for thorough investigation and necessary recommendations.” The statement further added: “The process adopted by the Council in the appointment of Prof. Omololu Soyombo as Acting Vice-Chancellor of the university was inconsistent with the provisions of the law relating to the appointment of an Acting Vice-Chancellor.
“The Governing Council should be dissolved. Mr. President after careful review of the report has approved all the recommendations of the Panel. Accordingly, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe is hereby reinstated as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos. “The Governing Council of the University of Lagos Chaired by Dr. B. O. Babalakin is hereby dissolved.
“Mr. President hopes these steps will bring peace, stability, focus and direction to the university.” With his reinstatement by the President, Ogundipe returned to the campus on Thursday to a rousing welcome by members of the university community, including ASUU members, members of Senate, principal officers of the university, other workers’ unions, among others, who described the decision of the Federal Government as a right step in the right direction in moving the university forward.
While addressing the university workers and other stakeholders, at the Senate foyer, Ogundipe, who was full of praises to God, lauded President Buhari; Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu; the Executive Secretary of National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Abubakar Rasheed; as well as the workers, students, parents and members of the public for standing firm for what he described as the truth, fairness and justice, while the confusion lasted.
The Vice-Chancellor, who noted that UNILAG was bigger than any individual no matter how highly placed, however, urged the members of staff to always pursue collective rather than personal interests.
He further pleaded with members of the university community to be more united and committed to UNILAG project so as to jointly move the university to greater heights, even as he said that he regarded his suspension as sabbatical and now that he had returned to office better and refreshed, the university would certainly enjoy sustainable peace and development.
Meanwhile, Ogundipe, who described his reinstatement as an “Act of God,” also dispelled the rumour that he planned to sack some workers perceived to work against his reinstatement during the crisis, stating that there was no such plan.
“There was nothing like that. There is bound to be diverse opinions on issues in any system among stakeholders and that would not in any way lead to division let alone victimization of anyone.
“Let us all go back to our duty posts and be more committed to our roles of engagements in the interest of re-branding our university to retain its position as the university of first choice and nation’s pride,” he said. Ogundipe advised further that the workers should not allow outsiders to divide them, but rather to stand firmly on the path of greatness. On his feelings during the crisis and lessons learnt from it, he said: “I didn’t allow the crisis to disturb me; rather I was using the period to move closer to God.”
The Vice-Chancellor, however, received the handover note from the Acting Vice-Chancellor about 11.55am and lauded her for holding forte well while he was away. ASUU, in its reactions to the reinstatement of Ogundipe, commended the Federal Government for its bold step, even as the Chairman, Dr. Ashiru said indeed the reinstatement of the vice-chancellor was a huge relief. He said: “Prof. Ogundipe’s reinstatement is also a step to further boost the government’s efforts in restoring peace in the entire university community.
It feels glorious and I want to thank the Visitor to the university, President Muhammadu Buhari, through the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, for this very historic intervention. “This has put an end to tyranny, authoritarianism and dictatorship which characterised the Dr. Wale Babalakin-led Governing Council. We indeed, thank the Visitor for standing on the path of truth, due process and autonomy of the Nigerian University System (NUS). “It is our conviction that this decision by the government will return our great university to the path of peace, progress and scholarly excellence for which the university is renowned.”