By Douglas Anele
I feel a strong emotional connection to the great, upwardly mobile, University of Lagos, Akoka because, among other things, I have spent the greater part of my productive adult years there with great memories. But like most members of the university community I really did not know in detail until recently the relevant laws that established the institution especially as they pertain to the relationship between the Management team led by the Vice Chancellor and the Governing Council chaired by the Pro-Chancellor.
Generally, it is during crisis particularly between the two groups that most staff and students realise that a harmonious working relationship between them is a desideratum. In the last thirty-seven years the most turbulent and rancorous period in the relationship between the Management of the University of Lagos and the Council was from May 2017 to August 21, 2020 when Dr. Wale Babalakin, a lawyer and businessman, was Pro-Chancellor and chairman of Council. About two years ago I attended a Senate meeting addressed by Dr. Babalakin.
He spoke to Senate members in an arrogant condescending manner that I had to ask a colleague sitting nearby why the Pro-Chancellor was addressing us in that way. He replied that that was his usual attitude even to the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, and his team. From then on I started thinking that the Pro Chancellor’s big man messianic attitude must be the main cause of the unnecessary and avoidable friction between the Management and Council. Any doubt in my mind about that was completely erased when Council at the instigation of Dr. Babalakin cancelled the convocation ceremonies slated for March 2020 before covid-19 became a serious public health concern. Because of that singular error of judgment, Dr. Babalakin lost significant goodwill both within the university and beyond it.
The major reason given by Council for the cancellation, that management did not carry it along in the preparations, even if true seems to be an after thought and pales into insignificance when juxtaposed with the huge emotional and financial cost of the ill-advised cancellation. In other words, it appears that Dr. Babalakin merely wanted to show his power, in this instance to prove that he has the capacity to abort a largely ceremonial but important event without considering the negative repercussions for all those concerned, including the UNILAG brand which Prof. Ogundipe and his team have been working assiduously to upgrade and consolidate.
Let me say it as it is: the frosty relationship between Management and Council since 2017 has had detrimental impact on the smooth functioning of the university, including missing out on investments and research grants from both local and foreign organisations. There is credible information that Prof. Ogundipe and other concerned prominent individuals tried hard to appease Dr. Babalakin; yet he rebuffed all of them. Now, the former Pro-Chancellor probably had good intentions for the university but lacked the appropriate emotional intelligence to interact cordially with the Vice-Chancellor and other principal officers who could have assisted him actualise his vision.
By his persistent disrespect of, and obloquy against, Prof. Ogundipe in the media, Dr. Babalakin created the unmistakable impression that he was on a vendetta mission to malign and remove the Vice Chancellor at all cost. That was a big mistake because in the process he threw away the baby with the dirty birth water, so to speak. The former Pro-Chancellor apparently did not heed the aphorism that you can throw mud and hit your target; but your hand will be soiled in the process. Surely, his allegations against the Vice-Chancellor and others may not be completely groundless.
Unfortunately, his approach was reckless, revanchist, and disingenuous. Moreover, majority of Senate members including myself rallied around Prof. Ogundipe because he is a humble, compassionate, and hardworking administrator very committed to making the University of Lagos the citadel of first choice not just as a mere slogan but in reality as well. I believe his mistakes are the unintended result of his obsession to leave an enviable record and legacy in the university. To deal with the crisis the federal government inaugurated a Special Presidential Visitation Panel on August 26, 2020 and asked both the Vice Chancellor and the Pro Chancellor to vacate their positions pending the outcome of the investigation.
After reviewing the Panel’s report, government dissolved the Council, removed Dr. Babalakin, and reinstated Prof. Ogundipe. As far as I know, to his credit the Vice Chancellor has not engaged in any negative triumphalism against his traducers, particularly the former Pro-Chancellor. He has continued to work with his characteristic diligence, graciousness, and humility. Prof. Ogundipe’s consistent fortitude despite Dr. Babalakin’s hyperbolic belligerence is inspiring. On April 19, 2021, the federal government reconstituted the Governing Council of the university.
At its inaugural meeting held in the Council Chambers on Tuesday May 4, 2021, the new Chairman and Pro Chancellor, Dr. Olanrewaju Tejuoso, extended a hand of fellowship to the Management team led by Prof. Ogundipe. He recalled with nostalgia his days as a medical student in the university and promised to tap into his longstanding relationship with the institution to promote its continued growth and development. Dr. Tejuoso made some optimistic remarks which indicate a welcome departure from the traumatising problematic chairmanship of Dr. Babalakin.
For example, he said that “I have come to you all with an agenda entitled ‘1C for 3C,’ meaning One Council for Cooperation, Creativity, and Consolidation. This agenda shall form the bedrock of my operations and dealings with the various organs of the university that I am expected to relate with, under that Acts establishing our dear university. Let me assure you that I shall be a Pro-Chancellor who presides over a united house with cohesion of purpose that is targeted at engendering unwavering cooperation and innovative creativity in all facets of the university community to enable us as a Council build on the works of the founding fathers of our great university and take it to an enviable height.”
The Pro Chancellor explains further that he would “not accommodate dichotomy in Council in any form, but I will ensure ONE COUNCIL irrespective of whether [member] are appointed by the federal government, Senate, Congregation or Convocation. The Council, as one, has the responsibility to achieve the 3Cs together.” It must be reiterated that the tenor of Dr. Tejuoso’s speech is a refreshing departure from the divisive, I-command-and you-obey, posture of his immediate predecessor.
Therefore, there is realistic expectation in the university that the new chairman of Council will work seamlessly with Management to reposition the university whose enviable brand name was somewhat tarnished during Dr. Babalakin’s turbulent tenure. Since human beings are fallible because they are incompletely evolved bipedal primates, there will be mistakes and areas of disagreement between Council and Management once in a while: such issues can be dealt with successfully without acrimony in the spirit of camaraderie or give-and take as long as the ultimate objective is to make the university one of the best. From the outset the new Council is already making a positive impact.
For instance, at the conclusion of its first meeting which began on May 4, 2021, for the first time since 2017 the Council dealt with every item on its agenda docket,Audit Reports of the university for 2017 and 2018 budget were extensively debated and approved, the 2020 budget was also ratified whereas that for 2021 was slated for consideration and subsequent approval at the next meeting scheduled for May 31.
A member of Council told me that the atmosphere during the meeting was jovial and rancour-free, starkly different from what obtained during Babalakin’s time when members of Management attended meetings with trepidation because of uncertainty about the next unsettling decision the Pro Chancellor might take.Through the efforts of Dr. Tejuoso, Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, collaborated with the university to inoculate staff and students against covid-19 virus.
Given all this, it is gratifying that our great University of Lagos is steadily emerging from the slough of despond to consolidate its status as the primus inter pares in the country. The Governing Council, Management, and the entire university community must sustain the momentum towards lifting our university to the zenith in the pursuit of The True, The Good and The Beautiful.