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UNILAG: Before casting the first stone

Chukwuebuka.NwaforChukwuebuka Nwafor
  • 26 Aug

After Prof Oluwatoyin Ogundipe approached the National Industrial Court to withdraw a lawsuit he instituted against the Dr. Wale Babalakin-led University of Lagos Governing Council that reportedly sacked him from his position of Vice-Chancellor, the University Visitor, and President of Nigeria, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), stepped in.

Buhari asked the Pro-Chancellor, the Vice-Chancellor, and Prof Omololu Soyombo, a professor of sociology, appointed by the Governing Council as acting Vice-Chancellor, to recuse themselves of their duties, pending the outcome of a Special Visitation Panel he set up to investigate the sacking of Ogundipe.

He also directed the University of Lagos Senate to nominate an acting Vice-Chancellor from amongst its members, for confirmation by (the rump of) the Governing Council. The acting Vice-Chancellor shall oversee the affairs of the university, pending government’s decision on the Report of the Special Visitation Panel.

The terms of reference of the Prof Tukur Sa’ad-led Panel include: Review of the report of the Governing Council’s subcommittee on review of expenditure from 2017 (when Prof Ogundipe was appointed), and make appropriate recommendations, including sanctions, where necessary.

In addition, the Panel is to ascertain if Prof Ogundipe’s removal conformed with the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendments) Act, 2003, as well as with the principles of fair hearing.

The 2003 Act provides that “the Vice-Chancellor may be removed from office by the Governing Council, on the grounds of gross misconduct, or inability to discharge the functions of his office as a result of infirmity in the body or mind, but at the initiative of the Council, Senate, or the Congregation, after due process.

“When the proposal for the removal of the Vice-Chancellor is made, the Council shall constitute a joint committee of the Council and the Senate, consisting of (I) three members of the Council, one of whom shall be the Chairman of the Committee, and (II) two members of the University Senate.

“The Committee shall conduct investigation into the allegations made against the Vice-Chancellor, and shall report its findings to the Council, (which) may, where the allegations are proved, remove the Vice-Chancellor, or apply other disciplinary action as it may deem fit, and notify the Visitor accordingly, provided that the Vice-Chancellor, who is removed, shall have the right of appeal to the Visitor.”

This new provision seeks to guarantee university autonomy by replacing the part of the previous Act which provides that “The Vice-Chancellor may be removed from office by the Visitor after due consultation with the Council and the Senate, acting through the Minister (of Education).”

In addition, Section 5(13) of The 2003 Act provides that,” In any case of vacancy in the office of the Vice-Chancellor, the Council shall appoint an acting Vice-Chancellor on recommendation of the Senate.”

Chukwuebuka.NwaforChukwuebuka Nwafor
  • 26 Aug

Section 5(14) is a cautionary proviso, which says that “An acting Vice-Chancellor, in all circumstances, shall not be in office for more than six months.” This law is silent on whether the appointment of the acting Vice-Chancellor must be reported to the Visitor, but it goes without saying.

Soyombo’s stepping down as acting Vice-Chancellor led someone to observe that “No one within the university today is qualified to summon a meeting of the Senate… In that case, the Ministry of Education may have to seek legal advice from lawyers, because, statutorily, the Vice-Chancellor has to direct the Registrar to convene (Senate) meeting.”

Anyway, despite a counter notice to an earlier notice that convened a meeting, an emergency committee of the Senate met, and elected Prof Folasade Ogunsola, daughter of Prof Akin Mabogunje, as acting Vice-Chancellor.

And it appears the Federal Government has appointed John Momoh, President of University of Lagos Alumni Association, the interim Chairman of the Governing Council, to cause a speedy approval of the confirmation of the election of the acting Vice-Chancellor, and to uphold the autonomy of the university.

Before anyone casts the first stone against Babalakin, and Profs Ogundipe and Soyombo, it will be wise to think through the foregoing, and confirm if all the players have played by the rules, and not condemn anyone of them only because of vested interests and prejudices. All may, or may not, be victims of circumstances.

This is without prejudice to what a law court may uphold, nor is this an attempt to hold brief, absolve or convict any of the actors. That is the responsibility of the Special Visitation Panel. Looking at the bigger picture of unethical conduct that may have become “normal and acceptable” in all spheres and levels of governance in Nigeria, some questions are pertinent.

In a private discussion, a nonagerian, who retired from Nigeria’s top corporate world, wanted to know, if it was Babalakin, Ogundipe, or the Nigerian system that was on trial. Many federal universities have neither hosted visitation panels, nor submitted audited financial reports, in years. And the Federal Government consistently failed to do the needful.

Prof Abiodun Ogunyemi, President of the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities, has asked the Federal Government to set up visitation panels to universities. He observed: “Some Vice-Chancellors are actually mismanaging their system.”

And could those who accuse Pro-Chancellor Babalakin of highhandedness, or snigger at his motives for donating large sums of money to the University of Lagos, be the vanguard of corruption that is fighting back, to borrow a phrase from the political vocabulary of Buhari’s regime?

Chukwuebuka.NwaforChukwuebuka Nwafor
  • 26 Aug

If, on assumption of office in 2017, Ogundipe immediately rolled over the appointment of Shelter Guards Limited and Nigerian Legion, security companies that had been working with the University of Lagos since 2004, albeit without formal approvals, could he have unwittingly walked into a booby-trap by continuing a tradition of business-as-usual?

Could Ogundipe have approved money to renovate his official residence and that of the University Bursar, with the backdrop of newly appointed principal officers of Nigeria’s legislative houses, ministers, governors and Chief Judges, who, as-a-matter-of-course, replace furniture in their official residences, as soon as their predecessors vacate office?

If so, does that confirm that the unyielding Nigerian factor has found its way into the pristine and hallowed portals of the ivory tower? You could then say the town came to the gown with fury, as in the empire striking back!

This issue is bigger than the University of Lagos, or even the individuals who are playing whatever roles fate has assigned to them in this dreary saga that is playing out as a Nigerian ethical epidemic.

Unfortunately, some individuals end up paying for the systemic faults that have become “normal,” which almost always go unnoticed by ordinarily discerning people.

Recall that Kemi Adeosun resigned as Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, because she unknowingly broke the law. Ironically, she was trying to comply with the law. She was born, and raised, in the United Kingdom, and had no idea how much ethics had degenerated in Nigeria.

To put things in proper perspective, it is disheartening to observe that in all the back-and-forth, no one has quite said much about what serves the interest of the battleground of the fighting elephants, students, the raison d’etre of the university.

Not to lose sight of this omission, the Visitor must initiate a forensic audit of the entire Nigerian university system, find the faultlines, and fix them, in the interest of the students.

–Twitter @lekansote1

UNILAG: Before casting the first stone https://punchng.com/unilag-before-casting-the-first-stone/