Education

Stability beckons at UNILAG

CRISIS

The seeming crisis confronting the University of Lagos (UNILAG) last week assumed a new dimension following the resignation of the Council Chairman/Pro- Chancellor, Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN), which has been described as “face saving”

 

˜Babalakin: Panel empanelled to exonerate VC, implicate me

 

˜ASUU: With Babalakin’s resignation, varsity’ll regain lost glory

˜Panel: Report’ll bring end to crisis

 

The crisis rocking the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, Lagos, following the protracted face-off between the university Governing Council and management, last Thursday, took a new twist as the Chairman of Council/Pro-Chancellor, Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN) tendered his resignation.

This was as the seven-member Presidential Visitation Panel, headed by a former Vice-Chancellor of Federal University of Technology (FUT), Minna, Niger State, Prof. Tukur Sa’ad, to look into the protracted crisis bedeviling the university, submitted its report to the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu.

 

The 58-year-old ivory tower had been engulfed in a lingering logjam between the Council and the management- led by the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe in the last two years, a development which has continued to threaten the peace and stability of the institution.

 

Babalakin’s Council had levelled various allegations, ranging from official misconduct, financial mismanagement and recklessness, forgery to abuse of office, against Ogundipe-led management.

 

But, the crisis got to a head on August 12, when at an emergency meeting of the Council at the Conference Hall of the National Universities Commission (NUC) in Abuja, that the Babalakin-led Governing Council in a controversial manner removed Ogundipe as the Vice-Chancellor of the university.

 

The Council’s action was vehemently kicked against by various critical stakeholders of the university, who condemned Ogundipe’s sack by Babalakin and described it as reckless, lacking due process and rule of law, as well as outside the extant law of the university.

 

Worried by the protracted logjam, the Federal Government, through the Federal Ministry of Education, on August 21 set up a Special Visit  tion Panel to look into the immediate and remote causes of the crisis, with a view to resolving the intractable face-off.

 

Following the inauguration of the panel, President Muhammadu Buhari, the Visitor to the university, asked the Council Chairman/Pro-Chancellor, Babalakin and the Vice-Chancellor, Ogundipe to recuse themselves from official duties, pending the report and recommendations of the visitation panel.

 

The President, therefore, appointed the President Worldwide of the UNILAG Alumni Association and Chief Executive Officer of Channels Television, Dr. John Momoh, as Acting Pro-Chancellor of the university, while the university Senate was mandated to nominate an Acting Vice- Chancellor for the university.

 

The Council Chairman immediately after the controversial sacking of Ogundipe, named Prof. Omololu Soyombo as the Acting Vice-Chancellor.

 

But, Soyombo’s appointment was also rejected by some sections of the university community, including the alumni, parents’ forum, Senate, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), (except the nonteaching staff unions), among other stakeholders, who also condemned Soyombo’s appointment, which to them, did not follow due process and rule of law.

 

According to them, the university Senate, the highest academic organ of the university and whose responsibility, based on the extant law of the institution, should nominate an Acting Vice-Chancellor for Council’s approval was bypassed by Babalakin.

 

The crisis at the university reached a crescendo in March, this year, when the 51st convocation of the university was abruptly cancelled a few days prior to the event.

 

The development, however, elicited wide condemnations from parents, stu-dents, staff and other stakeholders, who flayed Babalakin for cancelling the week-long activities for which several millions of naira had already been spent.

 

Irked by the cancellation of the graduation and other activities of the council, the university chapter of ASUU at its Congress on March 11, passed a vote of no confidence in Babalakin and declared him persona non-grata in UNILAG.

 

It, however, warned and threatened the Pro-Chancellor to steer clear and should not enter the university campus. “The vote of no confidence passed on Babalakin and his persona nongrata status on account of the unfortunate cancellation of the university’s convocation ceremonies occasioned by him has not been vacated by the congress.

 

The union advised Babalakin to rethink his intention of entering the university, as his presence may rupture the long-cherished peace and tranquility on our campus,” ASUU had warned.

 

Meanwhile, as the seven-member Special Visitation Panel constituted by the Federal Government, submitted its report last Thursday after two weeks’ deadline, Babalakin, immediately tendered his resignation as the Chairman of Council and Pro-Chancellor of the university.

 

Other members of the panel led by Prof. Tukur Sa’ad, are Mr. Victor Onuoha, a legal practitioner; Prof. Ikenna Onyido; Prof. Ekanem Braide, Prof. Adamu Usman, Chief Jimoh Bankole, and Grace Ekanem, a lawyer as Secretary.

 

The panel’s terms of reference, include among others, to review the report of the Council sub-committee on review of expenditure of the University of Lagos since May 2017 and make appropriate recommendations after affording all those indicted an opportunity to defend themselves; examine the steps taken by the Council leading to the removal of the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, and ascertain 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; make appropriate recommendations including sanctions for all those found culpable by the special visitation team on the allegations contained in the report as well as other subsequent actions arising therefrom; and to make any other recommendations that will assist the government to take decisions that will ensure peaceful, stable and effective administration of the university.

 

However, Babalakin, in his letter of resignation submitted to the Minister and President Buhari, accused the panel of bias during his appearance, stating that there were too many vested interests in the issues which have been bedeviling the university.

 

Besides, Babalakin also resigned as the Chairman of the Federal Government Negotiation Team on the Agreement reached with university unions in 2009, saying he would no longer be available for the role he had been playing from January 6, 2017 till date without headway.

 

In the letter, entitled: “Dr. Wale Babalakin Letter of Resignation as Pro-Chancellor and Chairman Gov-  erning Council of the University of Lagos,” he said: “I would like to thank the President of the Federal of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari for giving me the opportunity to serve as the Pro-Chancellor of the University of Lagos (the “University”) from May 2017 till date. Recent events have made my position in these two offices untenable.”

 

to him, he led the Governing Council of the university to remove the Vice-Chancellor from office for among other reasons: corruption and financial recklessness; forgery; complicity in the collapse of the university library and planned cover up; deliberate policy of wrongfully concealing information; depriving the faculties in the university of funds; concealing and distorting finances of the Internally Generating Units of the university; undermining the academic process and seeking to appoint a Professor by fiat; siphoning of the university’s funds through dubious contract awards; undermining the office of the Registrar; failure to follow due process in organising the university’s convocation ceremony; and sponsoring or acquiescing in the unconstitutional actions of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), University of Lagos chapter.

 

, who also faulted the membership of the panel, and noted that the terms of reference of the Visitation Panel clearly indicated to any discerning person that the panel was empanelled to exonerate the Vice-Chancellor and implicate the Pro-Chancellor, insisted that the terms of reference were ultra-vires the visitation panel as constituted.

 

He noted in the letter that the membership of the visitation panel was simply inappropriate in the circumstance, arguing further that how could a Committee of Vice-Chancellors determine the culpability or otherwise of the actions of a Pro-Chancellor and a Governing Council?

 

The Vice-Chancellors on the panel, Babalakin said, were drawn from relatively smaller universities and are not likely to have a comprehensive understanding of the procedure contained in the University of Lagos Act (as amended), saying “even Vice-Chancellors of state universities were included in the panel.

 

 

As Council chair, I know the challenges faced with the administration of state universities.” Babalakin, who pointed out that he only appeared before the panel out of the very great respect for the Minister, said his training as a lawyer revealed to him very clearly, that the panel was inappropriate for the assignment. “During my appearance, I made it very clear that I was appearing in protest and the panel, as constituted, could not determine the issues before it.

 

 

The active participation of the staff of the Ministry of Education in the panel and their contributions throughout the sittings especially the hounding of witnesses who came to testify against the Vice-Chancellor was enough to show very clearly that the technocrats in the ministry had a defined agenda,” the letter added.

 

However, Babalakin insisted that their obvious agenda was to humiliate the Governing Council, saying: “I have discovered that there are too many vested interests in this matter, who are not approaching the issues objectively. For this reason, I strongly advise that the visitation panel should not submit any formal report to the Minister that may hinder my ability to deal with the issues comprehensively.”

 

The Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who recounted several capacities in which he had served the Nigerian university, regretted that the country’s education system requires more funding, and that most importantly, such funds require prudent management of the limited resources.

 

“It was my determination to ensure that the limited resources of the University of Lagos were properly utilised that motivated me to lead the Governing Council to take the decisions which the Council took,” he noted, adding that in all these positions that he had held, he never receive any remuneration or obtained any contract from the system in his relative long sojourn in the sector.

 

Barely 24 hours after Babalakin’s resignation on September 17, another member of the Governing Council, Mr. Bayo Adaralegbe, who works at the Babalakin’s Chambers, also resigned from the Council.

 

, in his resignation letter to the Education Minister on Friday, stated that his continued stay would dishonour his late father, Prof. Adeniji Adaralegbe’s memory.

 

Adaralegbe, one of the Federal Government appointees on the Council and a loyalist of Babalakin, in the letter, lauded Babalakin’s contributions to the university, recalling that Babalakin provided very strong moral leadership as Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of UNILAG.

 

He, however, vilified the Vice- Chancellor, Prof. Ogundipe for threatening to beat him up over alleged falsification of interview results, saying: “Our Council took its work very seriously. We served very selflessly, very diligently and worked extremely hard to manage the scarce resources of the university and improve its standing.”

 

Adaralegbe’s letter reads in part: “Recent developments have, unfortunately, made my continued stay on the Governing Council of the University of Lagos very untenable. I experienced first-hand, the Vice-Chancellor of a university falsifying interview results for the position of Director of Works. Prof. Toyin Ogundipe threatened to beat me up during an interview session for the position of Director of Works because I resisted his attempt to falsify interview results.

 

“It was also in University of Lagos that I experienced a Vice- Chancellor attempting to appoint a Professor in respect of a discipline that the university did not have a department, did not admit undergraduate or postgraduate students, and through a one-page Memorandum to the Pro-Chancellor that touted the candidate as an agent of change.

 

This is of course apart from a litany of corrupt practices. “I consider my continued stay on the Governing Council of University of Lagos, a serious dishonor and desecration of my late father’s memory, Professor Adeniji Adaralegbe.” But, the Federal Government has promised to look dispassionately into the findings and report submitted by the Special Visitation Panel.

 

The Education Minister, while receiving the report of the panel from Prof. Sa’ad’s in Abuja, said the report would be subjected to the closest scrutiny.

 

Adamu, who assured stakeholders that the Federal Government would dispense justice on the UNILAG crisis, said: “I am very happy to learn that the panel worked very hard during the two weeks given to it in order to arrive at recommendations, which I hope will assist the Visitor in taking an informed decision to solve the lingering crisis.”

 

Adamu said: “The Visitor of the university, after due consideration of the report, will take a decision on the matter as appropriate in order to restore peace and conducive learning atmosphere in the University of Lagos and the university system as a whole. “I can assure you that we are for justice whoever it is for or against. This report, we are going to subject it to the closest scrutiny. Nobody will despair of justice at hands.

 

This report, I believe, is what we are looking for, but we will look at it so closely if there is something we are not looking for, we will tell you and we will reject it.”

 

Responding, the Chairman of the panel, Prof. Sa’ad, who recalled that there had been some level of disquiet within the university in the past one year among management, council and some stakeholders, arising from allegations of mismanagement against the management of the university, however, expressed optimism that the report would bring an end to the crisis in the ivory tower.

 

“We cannot divulge any content of the report, but we are happy that we have completed this work and we hope this special presidential visitation panel would have made some contributions towards resolving the problem in the University of Lagos and towards preventing similar problems in other universities all over the country,” he said.

 

But, in his reaction against the backdrop of Babalakin’s resignation, the Chairman of UNILAGASUU, Dr. Ashiru, however, described it as “a welcome development,” saying “may his type never come our way again.” This is as the union advised the Federal Government that only persons with interest in public education should be appointed Pro-Chancellors of universities in the country.

 

Ashiru, who stressed that the university would henceforth know peace, noted that the constant interference in the daily affairs of the institution had caused a setback in the peace and progress of the university community in recent times. ASUU chair further pointed out that the departure of the former Pro-Chancellor would pave way for academic stability in the university, saying: “I feel the sudden resignation of the former Pro- Chancellor is a welcome development.

 

My advice to the Federal Government is to be more circumspect in appointing Pro-Chancellors in federal universities.”

 

Ashiru added: “We thank the Visitor to the university, President Muhammadu Buhari, through the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, for the timely intervention in ending dictatorship and high handedness in our dear university. It should ensure that only those, who have an interest in public education at heart, should be so appointed.

 

Babalakin should understand that his resignation cannot atone for the many setbacks his activities had caused the institution. “We are convinced that with the support of all other stakeholders, the institution will bounce back to the path of peace, progress and academic excellence for which the university is renowned.”

 

He, therefore, said that with the resignation of Babalakin, the university would begin to regain its lost glory

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