• Afe Babalola-Jelili Omotola saga set precedent
Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Dr Wale Babalakin, is engaged in a battle of supremacy with the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, which culminated in the announcement of the latter’s reported sack. As UNILAG boils again over leadership tussle, Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL, reports that this is reminiscent of the Afe Babalola-Jelili Omotola saga.
As of noon on August 14, 2020, the Senate of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, rejected the removal of Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe as Vice Chancellor of the institution by the Governing Council. At an emergency meeting by 88 members last Thursday, chaired by a former Dean of the Faculty of Law, Prof. Chioma Agomoh, the Senate considered the removal of Ogundipe as being in contravention of UNILAG’s regulations.
They argued that the embattled Ogundipe was not given the opportunity to defend himself and thus, kicked against the appointment of Prof. Omololu Soyombo as the acting Vice Chancellor, who has since assumed office amid tight security.
For the institution’s academic and non-academic unions, they want President Muhammadu Buhari to dissolve Babalakin-led governing council, while rejecting Soyombo’s appointment.
Their argument re-echoed that of the Senate that a principal officer should not be removed on flimsy excuses without regard to the law.
Those against the sack claimed there was neither notification to the vice chancellor concerning the allegations against him, nor investigation panel set up to investigate the allegations in line with the university’s Act. They also said the process lacked fair-hearing, and there was no formal report from an investigative committee and no consideration of such a report of an investigative committee since none was set up as provided in the law.
But Babalakin insisted that Ogundipe’s sack followed due process and in line with the laws guiding the university.He accused the embattled administrator of financial impropriety, alleging that Ogundipe was not only given a fair hearing to make his defence, his ouster was decided by the majority of the council.
He dismissed the Senate meeting, which passed a vote of confidence in Ogundipe, saying such is unknown to law, as the university, at the time, did not have a vice chancellor.
Rather than make frivolous statements and engage in media propaganda using “a group of professors,” Babalakin said the right approach is for the VC to make his appeal to the Visitor.
“Ogundipe cannot on his own declare that he has not been removed as he tried to do. He cannot on his own decide to confront his employer. He cannot while still in office institute an action against his employer. In law, apart from being removed, he has impliedly resigned because if you challenge your employer and you’re still in the employment, you have actually left.
“I think the weakness of Ogundipe is that his legal advisers have not done a thorough job. He needs to read the law properly, everything he has done post-removal is a fraud and against the law. It is not in the place of a removed VC to say he has not been removed. He cannot be a judge in his own court.”
While the VC’s approval limit within the university’s rules was N2.5 million, the pro-chancellor alleged that Ogundipe spent N49 million to renovate the VC’s lodge without recourse to due process, and to cover up, he gave the Bursar N41 million to renovate his official residence.
Besides, he alleged that the embattled VC was paying security votes to the Dean of Students Affairs without anybody authorising it.
The Babalakin-Ogundipe saga is reminiscent of the Afe Babalola-Prof. Jelili Omotola crisis that culminated in the latter’s removal as the vice chancellor of UNILAG in 2000 after five years in the saddle.
There was an allegation of corruption against the then vice chancellor that he established an outreach in South Korea where the university’s degrees were being ‘sold.’
Another allegation was that Omotola favoured a number of teachers to whom residential accommodation was given, whereas those who were entitled to such accommodation were not given, including market stalls on campus. Babalola, who had the ears of the then-President Olusegun Obasanjo, went to South Korea in the company of other officials, returning with the verdict that allegations of the ‘sale’ of UNILAG degrees were true.
In an interview with The Guardian, Babalola had said: “But in addition to that, there was serious mismanagement of funds by the university at that time. There were several uncompleted buildings; the roads were bad, the hostels were nothing to write home about, the laboratories, libraries were not better than those you see in good secondary schools.”
In the end, Omotola was ‘advised’ to resign, bringing an end to his tenure as the UNILAG’s VC. History seems to be repeating itself. Babalakin seems to have the ears of President Buhari. So does Ogundipe, some have claimed. But the war of attrition between the embattled UNILAG VC and his nemesis did not start today.
The genesis of the unpleasant drama could be traced to sometime in May 2017, when Babalakin set up two committees to investigate perceived financial recklessness in the institution, and therefore, issued a query to Ogundipe and some other principal officers of the institution over an alleged financial misappropriation. The probe covered 16 months’ financial activities of the university, between May 2017 to September 2018.
Upon the receipt of the report, Babalakin instructed Azeez, who doubles as the registrar and the secretary of the council, to issue a query to those indicted by the probe. But the query ignited more controversies than answers, as the perceived insubordination was too hot for the VC to swallow that he fired back with a how-dare-you-issue-a-query-without-my-authorisation query to Azeez.
In a moment of twist, the situation shifted from the perceived ‘financial misappropriation inquest’ to conspiracy, operating in the guise of a corruption probe. So, it’s not only about the mismanaged institution’s fund, but it’s also about who has the right to ask the questions.
There was a stalemate with bloodied noses. But Babalakin was still baying for blood when he cancelled a planned convocation.
UNILAG’s senate representative said Babalakin’s style is a recipe for disquiet and disharmony in the institution, claiming that the council failed to “properly” consider the Dagari report, “follow procedure” in dealing with alleged misconduct by Ogundipe, inconsistency of the votes cast which was not “verified by an independent person;” the “travesty of justice” on the “predetermined plan” to ridicule and remove Ogundipe by any means.
Rising from an emergency meeting, the institution’s alumni association said while the council had the power to appoint and remove a vice chancellor under the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Act 2003 (No. 1 2007), such must follow due process, particularly as mandatorily provided under section 3(8), (9) and (10) of the Act in the removal of the Vice Chancellor and Section 3(13) in the appointment of an acting Vice Chancellor.
The group appealed to parties to maintain the status quo prior to last Wednesday’s meeting while efforts are being made to restore peace.
The development has, however, polarised the staff unions as they are divided in their support for the gladiators. While the local Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) led by Dr Dele Ashiru protested Ogundipe’s sack, demanded a reversal and dissolution of the council, the Senior Staff Association of Universities (SSANU) and the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) dissociated themselves from the protest and expressed their readiness to support the constituted authority in the interest of peace on campus.
Acting Secretary General of SSANU, Mr Feyisetan Olaoluwa, who dissociated the union from last Thursday’s protest by some aggrieved workers, said the chairman; Olusola Sowunmi, acted on his own.
Olaoluwa condemned the acting chairman for joining in the protest, alleging that the entire scenario was political and that the union would not dabble into the leadership tussle in the institution.
He said: “Sowunmi did not represent SSANU at the protest. That was not our agreement. He was there based on his individual interest.” Olaoluwa said SSANU is for peace and it is ready to work towards achieving it on campus.
“We are ready to work with anyone who has the interest of our members at heart. We are suing for peace but due process must be followed if it has not been followed.
A former Dean of Social Sciences in the university, Prof Lai Olurode, said since an acting vice chancellor has been appointed, the university community should accept him and move on in the interest of peace.
He reminded that UNILAG is greater than any of its individual or institutional stakeholders; hence its survival, rather than that of its individual members, should be the priority.
“The present situation in our university should not be allowed to further degenerate. We craved and agitated for university autonomy. Now that we have it, we must not throw the bad water with the baby. We must avoid further degeneration of the present conundrum. The present legal order is that an acting vice chancellor has been appointed in the person of Prof. Omololu Soyombo. His appointment was by the governing council, which under the law has the mandate to do so. A vacuum can be dangerous, so is an obstruction of the new person on the driver’s seat. Even if the appointment had been wrongly made, [a] resort to self-remedy will be unhelpful. Anyone who is displeased should seek judicial intervention.”
While the university laws give room for civil acts of disobedience to express displeasure, the former Dean said such should not degenerate to violent acts.
He reminded that by virtue of the law governing the institution, only the vice chancellor or anyone acting in that position can authorise a meeting of Senate, adding that to do otherwise is to act recklessly and in defiance of the law.
“An acting vice chancellor has been appointed, he should be allowed to function in that capacity until a contrary pronouncement is issued. Anarchy is not an option in any setting. Under anarchy, core mandates of UNILAG cannot be met. We must all work to build elite and mass consensus in our system. Continuous conflict resolution should be the ultimate in any setting, Olorode added.
A former member of UNILAG Council, Prof. Boniface Oye-Adeniran, lauded President Muhammadu Buhari and the NUC for playing out the anti-corruption script in the university.
The retired professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, College of Medicine, UNILAG, said given the unfettered wide powers assumed by vice chancellors of universities in Nigeria over the years, it can only take unusual will power and courage to dislodge the current rampant brigandage and reckless looting going on in the ivory towers.
But a former Vice Chancellor of Joseph Ayo Babalola University (JABU) Prof Sola Fajana said there is need for the Presidency to wade in at this point to save the institution from needless crisis.
Fajana who is presently a Faculty Member, Industrial Relations and Personnel Management of UNILAG said the university community is confused because of conflicting reports from the governing council and Senate.
He said,” The acting VC has taken over, we are only waiting for the final verdict from the Presidency. I believe government is on top of the situation, top members of the university have gone to the presidency to lodge their complaint, we are waiting for the government to intervene.”
So far, the Federal Government has admitted that the Babalakin-led council can hire and fire a vice chancellor, although with a caveat that such must be in line with due process. But will the firing of Ogundipe stand? Only time will tell.