A Nigerian professor exposed by this newspaper in an age falsification scandal is now heading a process to get a new vice chancellor for a key Nigerian university, the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), reputed as the country’s largest university.
Peter Okebukola was outed last year through an in-depth investigation by this newspaper which showed how the professor of science education changed his record of birthdate twice, thereby presenting three different purported dates of birth.
Mr Okebukola recorded his date of birth as February 17, 1949, when he was employed by the Lagos State University in 1984. By this, he would have retired on age grounds in 2014. Mr Okebukola would later change birthdate twice, to prolong his stay in the system.
The professor could not defend the discrepancies in his documents when confronted by PREMIUM TIMES at the time as he ignored attempts to get his reaction.
He also ignored requests to comment on his involvement in the search for a vice-chancellor in the face of allegations of illegality against him.
Mr Okebukola did not answer calls placed to him on Monday, saying he was in a session. He did not respond to a message sent to him, at his request.
Shopping for VC
However, despite the integrity deficit of Mr Okebukola, as exposed by the stories published by this newspaper, the Lagos State University (LASU) don is now playing a key role in determining the next vice-chancellor of the Open University, an assignment requiring high moral standing.
Mr Okebukola is performing the role in his capacity as the pro-chancellor of the federal government-owned university.
Though he was appointed in 2018 by the Buhari administration, the government failed to take action on the professor or review his appointment in the light of the new revelations.
Multiple sources, who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES and official documents, show that Mr Okebukola is now the “alpha and omega” in the university’s search for a new helmsman.
By the provisions of the Universities Miscellaneous Provisions Amendment Act (2003), the Governing Council of the university, headed by Mr Okebukola, is to lead the process of appointment of a new vice-chancellor.
The university in August advertised for the post, which will be vacant at the expiration of the tenure of the current vice chancellor, Abdalla Adamu, in February, 2021.
Ironically, the criterion for appointment of the new vice-chancellor, as advertised at the instance of Mr Okebukola, is that the candidate is “morally sound and of unimpeachable probity and integrity”.
“Serious Acts of Misconduct”
At different times, Mr Okebukola gave his birth dates as February 17, 1948, February 17, 1949, and February 17, 1951, details of various documents published by PREMIUM TIMES showed.
Documents including multiple memos from the university’s Academic Staff Establishment division, three different curriculum vitae presented at various times by Mr Okebukola and letter written by Mr Okebukola withdrawing an earlier notice of resignation obtained by this newspaper paint a rigmarole Mr Okebukola is involved in his effort to keep staying beyond his legally allowed service age.
This action, classified among “Serious Acts of Misconduct” under the LASU 2017 reviewed conditions of service booklet, attracts outright dismissal as punishment.
PREMIUM TIMES at the time established that Mr Okebukola’s misconduct and subsequent long stay was being covered up by his protégé and LASU vice-chancellor, Olanrewaju Fagbohun.
Mr Fagbohun withheld the personal file of Mr Okebukola and prevented the university’s Academic Staff Establishment division from taking steps that would have ensured that the former NUC boss was retired in 2016.
How the cover was blown
In a memo dated October 2, 2014, Olayinka Amuni, then a deputy registrar, pointed out the inconsistencies in Mr Okebukola’s birth dates.
Mr Amuni argued that based on the birth date presented to the university when he was employed in 1984 (that is February 17, 1949), Mr Okebukola was due for mandatory retirement on February 17, 2014, the day he turned 65.
“Professor P.A.O Okebukola was granted approval for three hundred and thirty-six (336) days deferred leave which should be utilised as terminal leave preparatory to final retirement from the service of the university,” he wrote in the letter with reference number LASU/ASE/REG/002.
In a separate document, the university’s Academic Staff Establishment Division raised similar observations on Mr Okebukola when the professor applied for sabbatical leave in July 2014, and declined approval for the leave.
With the issue now out in the open, Mr Okebukola notified the university that he was prepared to retire from the service of the university, in a letter dated December 5, 2015.
But in a dramatic twist, Mr Okebukola wrote again to the vice-chancellor on January 18, 2016, withdrawing his notice of retirement.
“My letter of December 5, 2015, giving notice of retirement at the age of 65 on February 16, 2016, based on the old provision of the LASU Law refers,” he wrote.
“In view of the revision of the provision extending retirement age to 70, I wish to withdraw the notice,” he added.
In a suspicious manner, Mr Fagbohun swiftly approved the withdrawal of Mr Okebukola’s notice of retirement. Also, almost immediately after the withdrawal notice was approved, the Fagbohun-led management also approved that Mr Okebukola should proceed on sabbatical from February 2016 to February 2017.
The action was, however, problematic, if not outright illegal, as it was anticipatory of a law which had not come into effect at the time.
As of the time Mr Okebukola withdrew the retirement notice, the Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, did not sign the amendment to the LASU law, which extended the retirement age from 65 to 70 until May 2016, though the law was made effective from January 4, 2016.
Falsifying age, criminal – lawyer
A legal practitioner in Abuja, Abdul Mohammed, described the allegation of age falsification against Mr Okebukola as criminal as it falls within the offence of forgery, according to Nigeria’s Criminal Code Act (2010).
“The offence of forgery is provided for in Section 465 of the Criminal Code Act, which states that ‘Any person who makes a false document or writing knowing it to be false, and with intent that it may in any way used or acted upon as genuine, whether in the state or elsewhere, to the prejudice of any person, or with intent that any person may, in the belief that it is genuine, be induced to do or refrain from doing any act, whether in the state or elsewhere , is said to forge the document or writing.’
“Going by the above, the act of forgery is consummated when any person makes a false document or writing”, Mr Mohammed said.
It’s irrelevant to our process – NOUN
Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES on the issues, spokesperson of the NOUN, Ibrahim Sheme, said Mr Okebukola’s unresolved age falsification scandal does not affect his position as the pro-chancellor of the university and the process he is leading.
“If you look at the issue of the moral baggage you are pointing at, I do not think the moral issue you are raising has anything to do with his being chairman of the Governing Council.
“The Lagos State University came out to comment on the issue: It did not indict him on the alleged age falsification.”
Mr Sheme said the university was not the one that appointed him into the position and that both the National Universities Commission (NUC) and the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, “have full confidence” in Mr Okebukola.
The director of media and publicity explained that Mr Okebukola is only leading a process which is stipulated by law and he is not alone in conducting the exercise.