UNILAG: Trouble in the Ivory Tower

By Eric Elezuo

The anticlimax of a series of skirmishes involving the Pro-Chancellor, Prof Wale Babalakin and Vice Chancellor, Prof Oluwatoyin Ogundipe of the University of Lagos, came to a head during the week when the Registrar, and Secretary of the Governing Council of the apex institution, Oladejo Azeez Esq, released a notice, intimating the general public of the removal of Prof. Ogundipe as the Vice Chancellor.

The notice stated that “the decision was based on council’s investigation of serious acts of wrong doing, gross misconduct, financial recklessness and abuse of office” against the VC.

The council’s meeting, which was held at the headquarters of the National Universities Commission, Abuja, had in attendance at least 11 council members, including Ogundipe. Reports available to the Boss, says majority of the attendees voted for the removal of Ogundipe.

A source told The Boss that both the university’s governing council and the management have been embroiled in irreconcilable conflicts for as long as one can remember, but the whole thing reached a climax in March when its week-long 2020 convocation was abruptly cancelled just before it started.

The cancellation, which was ordered by the NUC, Nigerian universities’ regulatory body, was reportedly in response to a directive by the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu.

Adamu’s directive, the Boss was told, was in response to a letter written to the vice-chancellor by the council chairman, accusing Ogundipe of keeping the council in the dark as regards important details about the ceremony. The postponement of the most important ceremony in the school’s academic calendar brought to the open the unhealthy rivalry that bedeviled the administration of the cherished institution.

Shortly after the council’s letter made the rounds, Prof. Ogundipe circulated a rebuttal, rubbishing the sack notice, saying it was untrue and a figment of the imagination of the writer. He urged stakeholders to disregard the ‘mischievous disinformation’, affirming that he was still in charge. Meanwhile, the council had named a replacement in Prof Omololu Soyombo, being emboldened by the Federal Government’s assertion that the council has the right and power to hire and fire.

“My dear colleagues, the Federal ministry of Education wishes to state that it is yet to be briefed on the developments at the University of Lagos regarding the purported removal of the VC.

“While the ministry awaits proper briefing from the university authorities, it is important to reaffirm that council has the power to hire and fire but that due process must be followed in doing so,” the FG noted.

When The Boss reached out to the Lagos Chairman of the UNILAG Alumni Association, Dr. Lukumon Adeoti, he mentioned that though the process of the removal can be questioned, the council is authorised to take such decision. He hinted that with the announcement of an acting VC, it is almost certain that the Ogundipe era is over.

“However”, he said, “the senate is in a session at the moment and everyone should await the outcome of the meeting while the Alumni will be meeting tomorrow (Friday) after which a definite statement will be made on the next step to be taken.”

Consequent upon the meeting, the Senate rose to reject the removal of Ogundipe as Vice Chancellor by the Governing Council. The emergency meeting which hosted over 80 members and chaired by former Dean of the Faculty of Law, Prof. Chioma Ago, agreed that the removal of Ogundipe was in contravention of UNILAG’s regulation, as the Council removed the VC without giving him the opportunity to defend himself. They also rejected the appointment of Prof. Soyombo as Acting Vice Chancellor.

Among those who also kicked against Ogundipe’s removal were the academic and non-academic unions of the university as they went a step further by calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to dissolve the governing council. In condemning the appointment of an acting vice chancellor, the groups stated that there’s no room for any “surrogate VC”.

But Babalakin on Friday insisted that the sacking of Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe as the school’s Vice-Chancellor by the Governing Council was fair and followed due process, adding that it was in the best interest of the university.

“I assure you that there was full compliance with the law in the removal of the Vice-Chancellor,” he said.

Efforts made by The Boss to speak with the Chairman, UNILAG branch of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Dr. Dele Ashiru, was not successful as his phone rang out without being picked. He however sent a message promising to call back, but never did.

The unions, in their statements faulted the process, saying that it is unheard of that a principal officer could just be removed on flimsy excuses without regard to laws. They said the UNILAG Act, as well as laws and practice of other universities not only in Nigeria but also in other civilised climes, prohibit such and subsequently held that Ogundipe’s sack is illegal based on the fact “that there was no notification to the vice chancellor concerning the allegations against him, no investigation panel set up to investigate the allegations in line with the university’s Act, lack of fair-hearing, no formal report from any investigative committee and no consideration of report of an investigative committee since none was set up as provided in the law.”

But the last has not been heard as while Prof Soyombo has declared himself acting VC and has assumed duties, the embattled vice chancellor have headed for the court in protest of the removal. Reports say that Ogundipe has briefed a leading constitutional lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome to challenge the purported removal from office and replacement.

He claimed that the Council breached all known rules of natural justice and Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution in purportedly removing him as VC.

“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.”

But lending their voice to the matter, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors of Universities (CVC), speaking through its Secretary General, Yakubu Ochefu, also condemned the removal of the Vice-Chancellor and the appointment of Soyombo, saying it was without due process. It further frowned at the fact that appointed Acting VC was even chosen from outside the university’s three deputy Vice-Chancellors.

He said:

“The chairman of the council knows that the tenure of two members of the council has expired, so he waited for the members not to be in council to get the majority vote.

“It is like a hatchet job, we don’t want it to appear like that because of the integrity of (the) University of Lagos.

“The integrity is very high and we don’t want council members to degenerate to that situation.

“As it is now, we have a stalemate and it is looking more in favour of the university senate than the council.”

Ochefu’s stand bothered on the inability of the council to bypass due process in both removing the VC and appointing another in acting capacity.

“Unilag has three deputies, none of them was appointed as acting vice-chancellor but somebody else entirely.

“This is going to pose another problem, senate members will not allow such a person to chair their meeting because they don’t know him within the context of laws establishing universities,” he said.

He went further to explain to process to removing a sitting VC as follows:

“In the procedure for removing a vice-chancellor, you have to set up a joint council/senate committee.
“The vice-chancellor will be given the opportunity to defend himself; from there, a submission will be made to the council which will take a decision.

“As CVC, we advise the council to take a step back and allow the process of removing a vice chancellor, as established by the law, to take its course.

“It is a simple process. If it finds the man guilty, the council can remove him, but it should go through the normal process,” he said.

As things are, it is a trying period for the foremost university as daggers are drawn, ready to draw blood, thereby heightening the tension and trouble in the ivory tower.

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