VC pledges to reposition UNILAG despite challenges

Barely 20 months in office, University of Lagos (UNILAG) Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, has taken stock of his almost two years’ administration, despite the undercurrent protracted crisis between the management and the Governing Council of the 57-year-old institution.

Ogundipe, who took the leadership of the university on November 12, 2017 as the 12th substantive Vice-Chancellor, said the distraction caused by the lingering crisis not withstand, ivory tower in the last 20 months has made some appreciable gains in repositioning the university as a world class 21st Century university.

The Vice-Chancellor, while reeling out achievements of his administration, which on assumption of office was anchored on six dimensional goals, recalled that the university in the period under review, had raised awareness about the need for faculty members to accelerate need-driven research and attract more research grants to the university; established a total of 10 research centres on campus; and well as inspired project award of over Two million Euros for collaborative research among five institutions.

The administration, according to him, has also attracted Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) grants of various amounts won by faculty members; while over N2 billion was attracted as research grants by academic staff of the university in the period under review.

Other achievements of the management in the last two years, Ogundipe listed, include donation of laboratory equipment worth N20 million and $400,000 Dollars; admission of UNILAG to Global Epic, an  international group of 21 institutions working to co-create and adopt world-changing solutions to cyber security all over the world; renovation of hostels and other projects; provision of more security equipment on campus; establishment of UNILAG TV (the first of its kind in Nigeria) and attraction of about N349.2 million and $855,277 Dollars for training and capacity building to staff and students of the university, while moves are on to establish a modular refinery on campus, among others.

Appraising the Vice-Chancellor’s score card in the last 20 months, stakeholders, however, lauded the Ogundipe-led management for sustaining the vision and progress of the institution despite the crisis threatening its stability.

This is as they expressed worry over the crisis concerning the New University Library project under construction, which part collapsed on February 14, 2019, following which the Council constituted a panel, headed by Prof. Peter Fogam to unearth the immediate and remote causes of the collapsed part of the building.

Thus, the Council accused the management of operating a weak procurement process, which it said contributed to the unexpected collapse of the building.

The Governing Council led by the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Governing Council, Dr. Wale Babalakin had accused the UNILAG management of involving in financial recklessness to the chagrin of the Council and grossly abused the Public Procurement System in the award of the new University Library Project and other projects, resulting in huge financial losses.

But, the Vice-Chancellor denied the allegation, saying due process was followed in the award of the contract and other finances of the university.

But, the Federal Ministry of Education and the House of Representatives Committee on Public Procurement had exonerated the management of any wrong doing and ordered the contractor handling the library project, Messrs Dutum Engineering Limited, to return to site.

The House Committee on Public Procurement, while corroborating the Fogam Committee set up by the Council to look into the collapse building, in its observations and findings  on the crisis, said of the Ogundipe-led management: “That there was compliance with the requirements of due process as contained in the Public Procurement Act and Regulations as evidenced by the ‘Certificate of No Objection’ issued by the Bureau of Public Procurement.”

It, therefore, recommended: “The Committee found no infractions and breach of the provisions of the Public Procurement Act 2007 in the award of contracts, particularly the University New Library Project awarded to Messrs Dutum Construction Limited. In view of the above and to avoid further damage to the ongoing University New Library Project, the contractor should go back to site with immediate effect and backfill the foundation and remove the debris of the collapsed framework under the strict supervision of competent experts.”

Meanwhile, the committee had further appealed to the university management, the Federal Ministry of Education and others to make additional funds available for the project so that it would not be abandoned.

As a way forward for peace to return to UNILAG so that academic and research works can continue to flourish, concerned stakeholders, including parents, staff and students, as well as the House of Representatives appealed to the warring parties to shield their swords.

A lecturer, who craved anonymity, said: “This is necessary to allow the vice-chancellor take the university to the next level, as he had promised when he was appointed that the institution would focus on six dimensional goals, which will make the ivory tower number one in Nigeria and the fourth in Africa by 2022.

“We believe in him and we are supporting him to achieve this. Prof. Ogundipe has started so well because looking at his account of stewardship, which he renders regularly, you will see that he is a serious administrator. The least thing he and the entire management needed now is distraction. The Governing Council should cooperate with this Vice-Chancellor to deliver on his promises instead of these frivolous bickering, which will do nobody any good.”

The House Committee in its report, in which it said although the composition of the Governing Council was lopsided and not in tandem with the principle of Federal Character, as there are no representatives from the South-East, South-South and North-Central on the Council, also advised its members and the university management “to cooperate with one another and work together for the progress of the university.”

It added: “The Vice-Chancellor is the Chief Accounting Officer of the university, which is in line with Section 20 of the Public Procurement Act 2007 and should continue to discharge this responsibility as expected by law, while the Governing Council sticks to their supervisory role of policy formulation and funds generation for the university. The Council should not meddle in the internal affairs of the university.”

According to the stakeholders, it is when these are strictly adhered to that peace can eventually return to the institution so as to position the university for the challenges of the 21st Century.

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