Education

Unending controversies tear UNILAG apart

˜Varsity loses grants

 

˜VC pleads with staff

˜ASUU: Vote of no confidence in council chair not yet vacated

 

 

CRISIS

To the management, alumni and students of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), these are not the best of times for the 58-year-old institution, which has been engulfed in a protracted crisis between the Governing Council and the management

 

The disquiet at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, Lagos between the Governing Council and the management is yet to abate, leading to a protracted image crisis in the 58-year-old ivory tower.

 

The uneasy calm, last week, assumed a fresh dimension, when the university chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) threatened and dared the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN) not enter the university campus for a Council meeting fixed for the week.

 

Since 2019 when the conflicts between the management of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) and the institution’s governing council chairman, blew open with the latter accusing the former of financial malfeasance, the story has not remained the same for the ivory tower.

 

The peak of the crisis was the avoidable postponement of the 2020 convocation ceremonies of the institution in March.

 

The ASUU-UNILAG had in March passed a vote of no confidence on the Pro-Chancellor following the suspension of the university’s 51st convocation ceremony.

 

Ahead of the Council meeting slated for Wednesday, last week, however, declared that Babalakin remained persona non grata in the institution, and that the vote of no confidence passed in him had not been vacated by the Congress of the union.

 

The Governing Council, led by Babalakin and the university management, also led by the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, had been at loggerheads over allegations and counter allegations of financial mismanagement of the university funds.

 

Worried by the perennial altercations between the Pro-Chancellor and the university management, the Education Minister, Mallam Adamu Adamu, had ordered the leadership of the National Universities’ Commission (NUC) to rein in the warring parties before the matter degenerated.

 

In its reaction, the NUC leadership called for the suspension of the  ceremony and since then, rather than addressing the crisis, it seems to be festering by the day.

 

 

Penultimate week, the university’s Registrar, Mr. Oladejo Azeez, on the instruction of Dr. Babalakin, announced the convocation of a special governing council meeting, which was slated to hold between Wednesday, July 15 and Friday, 19, 2020.

 

While the letter addressed to the Vice- Chancellor had no venue stated, the one sent to other members of the council fixed the meeting for the Council Chamber on the university’s main campus.

 

The Registrar also informed the members, and the Vice-Chancellor, to send whatever they wanted to include on the agenda within two working days.

 

Surprised by what he described as a strange manner of holding a special council meeting, the vice-chancellor wrote the council chairman to express his concerns including the fear of spread of coronavirus disease, and the violation of extant rules governing the convocation of a special council meeting.

 

Ogundipe’s letter cited relevant positions of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the novel coronavirus disease and its management protocols, suggesting that it would amount to taking avoidable risk if a physical meeting is hosted on the campus.

 

Apart from citing the virtual council meetings held by the University of Ibadan and the Obafemi Awolowo University, the Vice-Chancellor also noted the unfor-  tunate incidence at the Benue State University, where the institution’s Governing Council Chairman, Vice- Chancellor, among others, have reportedly contracted the virus, after holding a physical meeting of the council on the campus.

 

He also disclosed that a staffer of the university, who reportedly had interactions with some council members recently, is currently on admission for the coronavirus disease at an isolation centre in Lagos.

 

The letter reads in part: “My call for a virtual meeting is further reinforced by the fact that a professor in the university has tested positive to COVID-19 and he is currently being treated at the LUTH isolation centre.

 

I have it in good authority that before he was admitted at the isolation centre, he was in contact with some council members, who may be attending this special council meeting.

 

“It would be a high risk to convene a physical council meeting at this time, given the NCDC protocol and guidelines which prohibit any large gathering and also advises that anyone in contact with a COVID-19 patient should immediately self-isolate for a minimum of 14 days.”

 

Also, on the violation of the rule for calling for a special meeting, the Vice- Chancellor wrote: “Recall Sir, that in my earlier letter of June 29, I had made a plea for an emergency council meeting for the purpose of discussing and approving the 2020 budget estimate of the university.

 

I am, however, shocked that the Secretary to Council made a release stating that this special council meeting was requisitioned by the Vice-Chancellor.

 

For the avoidance of doubt a special meeting under Section 7(9) of the University Act is one that is requisitioned by three members of council.

 

Thus, only the Vice-Chancellor singlehandedly requests a special council meeting.”

 

But, in his response to the Vice- Chancellor, the Council Chairman assured that whenever and wherever the meeting would hold, it would comply with the rules stated by the government for holding such. Babalakin, however, announced the postponement of the council meeting, blaming the decision on some unnamed developments.

 

He noted: “Certain issues have arisen that require consideration that will make it impossible to hold the meeting on the suggested.

 

For this reason, the meeting of 15-17 July, 2020, will be postponed to a more suitable time. Council members will be given appropriate notice in accordance with the standing rules about council meetings.”

 

The Registrar later issued the notice informing the council members of the postponement.

 

Meanwhile, some stakeholders in the university have expressed regret  over the lingering crisis, saying the university had lost several million of naira foreign grants as a result of the development.

 

But, indications emerged that the postponement of the council meeting might not be unconnected to the violent reaction of the university’s branch of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), which re-echoed its earlier vote of no confidence passed in the council chairman.

 

According to a statement issued by the union and signed by its Chairman, Dr. Dele Ashiru, the Pro-Chancellor remained persona non grata on the campus, and threatened to confront the council chairman if he dared to enter the campus.

 

The union’s statement reads in part: “Our union wishes to remind members of the university community and the general public that the vote of no confidence passed in Dr. Wale Babalakin and his persona non grata status on account of the unfortunate cancellation of the university’s convocation ceremonies occasioned by him has not been vacated by the congress of our great union.

 

“Consequently, Dr. Wale Babalakin should be advised to rethink his intention of entering the University of Lagos campus as his presence may rupture the long cherished peace and tranquility on our campus.”

 

The union called on the Education Minister, Adamu Adamu, and the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, to intervene.

 

In furtherance of the threat, the union said it had fixed an emergency congress for Wednesday, July 15, and to be held at the foyer of the university’s Council Chamber, where members of the council, including Babalakin, were meant to pass on their way to the Council meeting.

 

Thus, in his reaction, Dr. Babalakin said the union had no power to deny him of his fundamental human right of freedom of movement as guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution, as amended.

 

Another statement issued last Sunday by the Registrar on the instruction of Dr. Babalakin, stated in part: “This Council Meeting, apart from being statutory was also requisitioned by the Vice- Chancellor of the university…

 

The time and topic by ASUU for their congress clearly indicate its plan to disrupt the council meeting, especially since it has issued several threats to prevent the Pro-Chancellor from coming to the university.

 

“This action is violently against the provision of Section 41, Subsection 1 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) (Fourth Alteration), which guarantees freedom of movement of Nigerians within Nigeria.

 

ASUU as a trade union, under the laws of Nigeria is also expected to know that Section 4 of the Trade Union Act states that “No person shall subject any other person to any form of constraint or restriction in the course of persuasion.

 

“Obviously, ASUU, University of Lagos chapter has shown clearly that it is a group that does not adhere to the Constitution of Nigeria or the Trade Union law, which it is a part of.

 

The chairman said the Council will not engage the union “on issues that are beyond its duties, powers and responsibilities under the laws of Nigeria.”

 

 

 

Apart from the council chairman’s reaction, there were other members of the university community who faulted the union’s position.

 

For instance, in a statement entitled: “Re: Threats by ASUU on Freedom of Movement of Council Chairman, Dr. Wale Babalakin,” which is dated July 13, 2020, and signed by two former ASUU Chairman, Professors Ayo Olowo and Yomi Akinyeye, alongside Lai Olurode and Nwabueze, among others, condemned the union’s position. They said: “Our attention has been drawn to various publications in several newspapers by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (UNILAG Branch) restricting the movement on campus of Pro- Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council, Dr. Bolanle Olawale Babalakin OFR, SAN. We want to state unequivocally that this provocative, disrespectful and illogical threat does not represent the collective will of the majority of academic staff and other stakeholders of the University of Lagos.

 

“ASUU, as a union, respects the rule of law especially the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which guarantees the free movement of all Nigerians within Nigeria.

 

Thus, the purported threat of the movement of the Pro-Chancellor, Dr. Wale Babalakin is not in line with the tradition and constitution of ASUU.

 

ASUU, as a union, has a formal procedural way of presenting its grievances, always dialogues and follows due process.

 

“Dr. Babalakin, an illustrious alumnus of the University of Lagos, has since his assumption of office as the Pro-Chancellor, been playing an outstanding role in its oversight functions in the conduct of the affairs of the University of Lagos.

 

We, along with the majority of the stakeholders of the university have full confidence in the leadership of Dr. Wale Babalakin’s led Council.

 

We also dissociate ourselves from any act or action capable of obstructing the oversight function of the Dr. Wale Babalakin’s led Council.

 

We, therefore, want to assure Dr. Babalakin and any other Nigerian citizen of their free movement within the University of Lagos and any other part of Nigeria.

 

It is possible that there could be conflict between ASUU and the university, we will talk to our members to follow the tradition and Constitution of ASUU in pursuing grievances with the university.”

 

But, the union has replied to the dons, describing their action as unwarranted and sparking disrespect for the spirit of collective responsibility.

 

In its latest press release, which is entitled: “Professors Olurode, Nwabueze, et al. and the Unwarranted Vilification of ASUU UNILAG,” the union said its vote of no confidence in the council chairman should not be misconstrued to mean a vote of no confidence in the governing council of the university, saying the body is made up of highly respectable men and women of honour.

 

The statement further reads: “Our union concedes to these our members their right to express their opinions, without let or hindrance. Nevertheless, it is important to note that this can only be done in line with the procedures of our great union.

 

Consequently, this action by our colleagues, individually and collectively, was at variance with provisions of the Constitution and Code of Practice of our great union on grievances procedure.

 

“The leadership of our union holds our Professors in very high esteem and for this reason; the Chairperson has spoken to all the Professors who authored one press release or the other.

 

Based on the conversation with these Professors, it became clear that for the passage of time some critical incidents between the union and the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, Dr. Wale Babalakin, may have been forgotten.

 

They seem not to avert their minds to previous roles they have played when issuing the press releases.

 

The misconceptions, misinformation and inadequate information which came out clearly in the Chairman’s interactions with these Professors, makes it pertinent and important to clarify and provide further information on the roles of the authors of the press releases, as well as illuminate other issues raised by them.”

 

Meanwhile, the Vice-Chancellor has appealed to every member of the university to toe the path of peace, assuring of his commitment to pursue excellence for the university.

 

As a result, the Vice-Chancellor banned all forms of gatherings on the campus, which may have more than four individuals, saying the decision is honour of the new advisory by the Federal Government in its efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease.

 

Ogundipe also said a member of staff of the university who is being managed for the virus at an isolation centre at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital in Lagos is receiving proper care.

 

He said the institution is making efforts to seek the support of the centre for disease control and other concerned authorities to carry out contact tracing on the campus.

 

 

 

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