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The audacity of power and fetishism of due process (1)

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UNILAG, Medicine

By Douglas Anele

For everyone that cherishes the great University of Lagos and what it stands for in terms of swag, upward mobility, production of men and women of substance and character-building, the simmering cold war of attrition between the university’s management and the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman Governing Council, Dr. Bolanle O. Babalakin, is a matter for serious disquiet. This is even truer for those of us who have spent over twenty-five years teaching there with doctorate degrees, not to talk of the years spent in the university at both undergraduate and post-graduate levels. Personally, the lingering disagreement is a challenge and distraction for the university as a respected brand among tertiary institutions in Africa. Therefore, as one of the stakeholders for whom the university occupies a special place in our hearts and minds, it is important to reflect as dispassionately as possible on what is going on and suggest ways of avoiding unnecessary bickering between the university management led by the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin T. Ogundipe, and the Council chaired by Dr. Babalakin.

The question that naturally rears up at this point is: what caused the face-off between the two sides that ought to be working together seamlessly for the progress of the university? According to reports, the problem started when Council issued a query in May, 2019 to Prof. Ogundipe and two out of the three Deputy Vice-Chancellors, Prof. Oluwole Familoni (DVC Academics & Research) and Prof. Folashade Ogunsola (DVC Development Services). Also queried were the immediate past Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Rahamon Adisa Bello, former Registrar, Dr. Taiwo Ipaye and several senior members of management who served or are still serving the university in various capacities. The query was sequel to a report from the committee headed by Dr. Saminu Dagari, a lecturer in the Department of Chemistry at Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi, which looked into the details of how the University of Lagos funds were managed between May 2017 and September 2018.

The committee reported that “there was consistent, brazen, manifest and gross mismanagement of the university’s finances by past and current management.” In addition, the committee recommended ways of enhancing transparency and accountability in the system. It further proposed that Council should sanction all those indicted for financial mismanagement. On Thursday, May 30, the House of Representatives received and approved the report of its committee on Public Procurement that investigated the allegations against those queried by the Council. While presenting its findings on the floor of the House, chairman of the committee, Oluwole Oke, maintained that those queried by the Governing Council on the strength of the Saminu Dagari-led committee’s report did not violate relevant extant laws and did not engage in acts of corruption.

More tellingly, the House committee recommended a review of the composition of the University of Lagos Governing Council because as things stand right now it contradicts constitutional provisions on the federal character principle by not having representatives from the south-east, south-south and north-central geopolitical zones. It also stated that, contrary to the allegation against the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council that he was scheming to hijack the chairmanship of the university’s Tenders Board, there was insufficient evidence to substantiate it. In conclusion, the committee observed that communication lacuna between the university management and the Governing Council precipitated the crisis and pleaded with President Muhammadu Buhari to help resolve the matter amicably. Now, going by the abrupt postponement of the convocation ceremonies slated to hold between March 9 and 13, 2020 because of Dr. Babalakin’s written complaint to the federal Ministry of Education, it is clear that either the President ignored the appeal from the House committee or his intervention did not yield positive result. I suspect that the first alternative was actually what happened, assuming the matter was brought to the President’s attention in the first place.

The indefinite postponement of this year’s convocation ceremonies shows that the disagreement between the Pro-Chancellor and the Vice-Chancellor is yet to be settled. This month alone the Council and the Vice-Chancellor have issued conflicting accounts explaining what led to postponement through the Communication Unit, Corporate Affairs Directorate domiciled in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor. On March 9, 2020, an unsigned release was issued ostensibly from the Council which tried to make the case that its chairman, Dr. Babalakin, was justified in instigating postponement of the convocation. The release captioned “University of Lagos Council Resolutions,” began with a statement of what allegedly transpired on March 4, 2020, when the Council considered a letter from the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC) directing management to suspend this year’s convocation ceremonies.

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This was sequel to the exchange of correspondence between Dr. Babalakin and Prof. Ogundipe regarding claims by the former that management did not obtain Council’s approval for the event. The release further declared that Council was guided by audio recordings of the special meeting held on Tuesday, 21st of January 2020 and the following day to clarify the Vice-Chancellor’s insistence that the convocation ceremonies were brought to Council for approval. The audio recording, minutes of these meetings together with the agenda/notice of meeting confirmed that the convocation budget was the only item formally brought to the special meeting in January. The release affirmed that Council deliberated on the convocation lecturer recommended by the management. However, the convocation programme was not listed on the agenda and no supporting documents were presented to that effect.

Interestingly, the release acknowledged that issues pertaining to the award of honorary doctorate degrees were discussed by the Council, which then directed management on how to go about it, with the ominous warning that the award “will not be treated as a chieftaincy title to be given to the highest bidder.” It stated further that the Pro-Chancellor and chairman of Council communicated with the Ministry of Education and NUC on Monday, 2nd March 2020 because the Vice-Chancellor ignored his letter written on Friday, February 28, and proceeded to hold a press conference on the convocation without addressing “the serious concerns and legal issues” the Pro-Chancellor raised in the letter referred to above. From the foregoing, it is evident that Dr. Babalakin wrote to the education ministry to scuttle the convocation ceremonies which had already began with the press conference by the Vice-Chancellor largely because he felt slighted and sidelined by management in putting together the programme.

Precisely a week after the purported release from Council, the Vice-Chancellor responded with a release of his own entitled “Re: University of Lagos Council Resolution.” He began by declaring that the content of the Council’s publication “does not provide a true reflection of what transpired at the Council meeting of March 4, 2020.” He quotes verbatim a text message he received from the Registrar as follows: “Good afternoon, sir. Pursuant to Council decisions, the Pro-Chancellor has directed that a release be published in the Information Flash/News Bulletin concerning the convocation ceremonies.

Kindly approve that the members of staff in the Communication Unit make facilities available for the publication as the directive was received not long ago. Thank you, sir.” The request was approved. However, the Vice-Chancellor said he was surprised by the Council’s release of March 9. According to him, the Pro-Chancellor’s claim that the convocation programme was “not authorised by the Council of the University of Lagos” was debunked at the meeting of March 4, 2020, when audio recording of the meetings held on January 21 and 22 was played. Records of the minutes of the meeting, he said, also establish that the convocation programme was actually discussed. For the avoidance of doubt, the Vice-Chancellor reproduced excerpts from the January meetings as follows: “Council was informed that the 2019 convocation ceremonies have been scheduled between March 9 and 13, 2020. The Chairman informed members that all matters on the convocation ceremonies shall be considered at the Council meeting of January 22, 2020.”

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