The University of Lagos (UNILAG) has been in the news for a fortnight over the removal of its Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe. The Federal Government’s intervention seems to have doused the tension. However, the government’s involvement has been applauded and criticised in different quarters, KOFOWOROLA BELO-OSAGIE reports .
The past two weeks have been turbulent at the University of Lagos (UNILAG). The institution erupted in crisis because of the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe’s removal by the Dr. Wale Babalakin-led Governing council on August 12.
What happened after VC’s removal
A lot of intrigues have followed that contentious Governing Council meeting, held at the National Universities Commission (NUC), Abuja. First, the four workers’ unions – the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) and the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) – came together to condemn Ogundipe’s removal and reject the Council-appointed Acting Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Theophilus Omolulu Soyombo; then, two of the unions, NASU and SSANU, pulled out of that agreement and stood with Soyombo and Babalakin,whom ASUU and the Senate accused of not following due process.
Next, the Ag. VC made a grand attempt to occupy the office last Wednesday, only to be removed by the Visitor to the University, President Muhammadu Buhari, barely two days later.The President acted on the prayers of the institution’s Senate that it was not allowed to play its role in the removal of the embattled Ogundipe and the nomination of an Acting VC. He also asked Ogundipe and Babalakin to step aside.
The Senate elected Prof. Folasade Ogunsola as Ag. VC on Monday (despite attempts by the Registrar, Mr. Oladejo Azeez, to stop the meeting from holding), the Council approved the nomination on Tuesday, making her the first woman to occupy the position in the 58-year history of the university; and yesterday, the Visitor, through the Education Minister, Adamu Adamu, inaugurated a special Visitation Panel of seven members, to investigate the issues at hand.
The panel, which comprises Prof. Tukur Sa’ad (chairman); Mr. Victor Onuoha; Prof. Ikenna Onyido; Prof. Ekanem Braide; Prof. Adamu Usman; Chief Jimoh Bankole and Mrs. Grace Ekanem, has five terms of reference, including reviewing the council’s investigation into the finances of the university since 2017; examining whether Ogundipe’s removal and Soyombo’s appointment followed due process; recommending sanctions for officers found culpable; and steps that would restore peace to the institution.
The registrar, who is also the secretary to the Governing Council, has been defiant in carrying out the Visitor’s directives with people questioning where his allegiance should lie – with his employer, the Federal Government, or Babalakin, who was appointed by the government as Council chair.
Despite directives from the NUC that he convenes emergency meetings of the Senate and the Council, Azeez tried to stop the Senate from meeting, saying there was need to clarify the directive.
In an email to Senate members, Azeez said: “This is to inform all Senate members that no meeting of the Senate has been summoned.
“Members should await proper Notice of Meeting after the Federal Government of Nigeria has clarified some issues germane to the meeting.”
He also instructed that the main auditorium should not be made available to the members of the Senate for the meeting.
His memo to the Head, Auditorium Management Unit, J.J.F Ade Ajayi Auditorium, pasted at the entrance of the venue stated: “It follows that you are not make any of your facilities available for any meeting until otherwise advised.”
However, the Senate convened regardless. A member of Senate (names withheld) told The Nation that Azeez was not a member of the Senate.
“Oladejo is not a member of Senate. Did you notice that he signed as secretary to Council and not Secretary to Senate and Council? Oladejo has exhibited gross ignorance of the statutes and laws of the university thereby misleading the general public with misinformation,” the source said.
On Tuesday, the Registrar and five others boycotted the Governing Council meeting convened by government-appointed interim chairman, Dr. John Momoh leaving only eight members to ratify the new Acting VC’s appointment. The others, The Nation gathered, are all appointees of the Federal Government to the Council. They are: Mr. Bayo Adarelegbe (who works in Babalakin’s chambers); Rev. Yomi Kasali, Dr. Saminu Dagai, who headed a sub-committee to look into the university’s finances since 2017, Alhaji Alli Hussein, and Oluwarotimi Shodimu, a former Registrar of the university. All six are known supporters of Babalakin.
Speaking on Azeez’s role, ASUU-UNILAG chairman, Dr. Dele Ashiru, said he had become openly partisan.
He said: “The registrar is a tool in the hands of the Pro-Chancellor and part of the people fueling the crisis in the University of Lagos. Clearly, he has shown his partisanship. At the appropriate time, the Senate of the University of Lagos will decide on the next line of action against the registrar.”
Calls and messages to Azeez on the issue were not answered or replied.
Reactions to govt’s intervention
Members of the University Senate and indeed ASUU were happy that the President stepped in to correct the errors they accused the Council of. The ASUU-UNILAG Chairman, Dr. Dele Ashiru, told The Nation that it was the right step in the right direction.
“The Visitor of the University through the Honourable Minister should be commended for standing firm in defence of the rule of law – particularly by asking Senate to reconvene with a view to selecting an Acting Vice-Chancellor in compliance with the law,” he said.
However, SSANU does not feel as excited about the government’s decision. Its National President, Comrade Samson Ugwoke, said in a letter to President Buhari that the government might have invariably broken the law it sought to protect by allowing the Senate to convene to selecting an Ag. VC without a substantive VC to call for the meeting.
“An interesting dimension to the Visitor’s directive to convene a Senate meeting without the Vice-Chancellor in place is an aberration as the Registrar is not empowered by law to summon Senate unilaterally. For the sake of emphasis, the Registrar is not a member of Senate but its secretary,” he said.
The union also faulted the composition of the Visitation Panel, which it said, was made up of mostly professors who are members of ASUU and former vice chancellors.
He said: “The crisis in the University of Lagos has the Academic Staff Union of Universities as a major participant. Indeed, ASUU is the complainant in this matter.The composition of the special visitation panel with a preponderance of professors as members is an indication that the decision of the panel would be tampered with by ASUU. The fact that they are former vice-chancellors also implies the tendency to protect one out of their own – an embattled vice-chancellor. It is our informed observation, therefore, that a fair and unbiased panel representative of all stakeholders in the university system should have been included at least a retired registrar, a retired bursar, and a prominent individual with undoubted integrity who should be a former pro-chancellor, and not a professor, as chairman of the panel.
SSANU also questioned the rationale behind Babalakin’s ‘suspension’ instead of the entire Council, saying: “SSANU appreciates the intention of the Visitor by directing the recusal of the pro-chancellor and Prof. Ogundipe from official duties during the period of the visitation. It is assumed that the directive and recusal is to enforce peace in the university pending the outcome of the visitation.SSANU, however, wishes to note that the Visitor may have inadvertently falling into the ASUU position of seeing Dr. Babalakin as the problem of the University of Lagos.
“To the best of our knowledge, the decision to remove Prof. Ogundipe was a decision of Council and not Babalakin. It would have been better if the visitor has directed the entire Council to recuse itself from official duties until the end of the panel’s assignment than asking Babalakin alone to recuse himself.”
Reacting to SSANU’s claim that the Visitation Panel was not representative, ASUU chairman said it included a former Bursar as well as a lawyer. He also decried the claim of bias.
“SSANU’s position is not only illogical, it is fallacious and preposterous. How do you accuse a panel that is yet to commence sitting of bias? This is a well-constituted panel of eminent Nigerians who have served the university system diligently. To the best of my knowledge, there is no member of that committee whose integrity is in doubt.
“SSANU is only playing to the gallery because of the age-old rivalry it sees itself with ASUU.The fact remains that in that same committee there is a retired bursar, there is a seasoned lawyer, there are those who have held positions before, who know what the system is and will come out with recommendations that will be useful for the survival of the university system,” he said.
On the alleged illegality of the Senate convening, Ashiru said there is a provision in the law that Senate could convene without a vice-chancellor.
“The rules and regulations of Senate which the law recognises provides that a Senate can convene itself by getting the signature of one-third of its members. That was what was done in UNILAG. More than 142 professors signed to convene that Senate in compliance with the regulations,” he said.
Concerning Babalakin, Ashiru said ASUU had written to the President to call for his removal.
“Our union has written two letters to the Visitor to the university, President Muhammadu Buhari, which I can make available to you. ASUU has been asking for the removal of Wale Babalakin and not the dissolution of the Council.
“We pointed out in that letter that Babalakin feels that he is the Council of the University of Lagos. He takes unilateral decisions without consultation with Council. He unilaterally the Vice Chancellor and other principal officers of the university without taking the matter to Council. Our union does not have a problem with the University of Lagos Council; we have a problem with the way Babalakin is leading the Council.”
While many have praised the Federal Government’s intervention to restore peace at UNILAG, a professor of Sociology at the institution’s Faculty of Social Sciences, Lai Olurode, does not think it should be celebrated as it challenges the university autonomy that ASUU fought so long to get.
He told The Nation that the courts should have been allowed to settle the cases instead of government’s intervention which though welcome this time around, may be unwelcomed another time.
Olurode said: “The unions on campuses, especially ASUU, have struggled and fought for university autonomy for a very long time. Gone are the days when vice chancellors are imposed on the university. As a byproduct of autonomy, the university now works with Council, Council with Senate and now independently appoints vice chancellors for the University. It is the same thing for their removal without any resort to government.
“But breakdown or crisis in the university is not enough to warrant government interference. So, I am surprised that some university dons are happy at government interference. We have created a basis, it is like justifying a military coup d’etat under any guise or circumstance. I would have preferred that government put in place a Council; if that Council had acted in contravention of the rules that set up the university, there is an organ that should resolve that without government interference. The law court is there. Now we have aborted a conflict, we didn’t allow it to resolve itself through the law court.”
The intrigues at UNILAG are far from over. Various camps in the institution continue to throw salvos to buttress their positions. Whether the Visitation Panel would be able to resolve the crisis in, arguably, the most popular university in Nigeria is yet to be seen.